Do They Know I'm Running?
Barbara Fister

David Corbett is an impassioned writer who mapped the connections between the residents of a hard-luck town at the tip of San Francisco Bay and hardscrabble lives in El Salvador in previous novels, Done for a Dime and Blood of Paradise. In this novel a young and promising musician has to take a detour from his budding career in order to smuggle his recently-deported uncle from El Salvador back to America where his meager earnings keep the family barely afloat.

But there' s a catch: They also have to bring a Palestinian translator who saved his cousin's life in Iraq, but who has been denied a visa. The translator tells them he s making the dangerous trip across Mexico and the border to give his family a future, but nobody' s sure he' s telling the truth. The story grows more tangled as one family member tries to trade information about the Palestinian to the FBI in exchange for citizenship and others get trapped in a battle over drug turf as the musician leads the group north against obstacles in a voyage that begin to feel like a descent through Dante' s circles of hell.

The author has undertaken a difficult challenge teasing out the human cost of US aggression in the Middle East and Central America, making us care about the characters, and giving us a hint of hope without letting us off the hook by downplaying the horrors of the trip immigrants take to el norte. Though the narrative suffers from too many plot lines, and the violence (while never gratuitous) is hard to handle, Do They Know I'm Running? is beautifully written, ambitious, honest, and thought-provoking.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-14 18:45:04

David Corbett is an impassioned writer who mapped the connections between the residents of a hard-luck town at the tip of San Francisco Bay and hardscrabble lives in El Salvador in previous novels, Done for a Dime and Blood of Paradise. In this novel a young and promising musician has to take a detour from his budding career in order to smuggle his recently-deported uncle from El Salvador back to America where his meager earnings keep the family barely afloat.

But there' s a catch: They also have to bring a Palestinian translator who saved his cousin's life in Iraq, but who has been denied a visa. The translator tells them he s making the dangerous trip across Mexico and the border to give his family a future, but nobody' s sure he' s telling the truth. The story grows more tangled as one family member tries to trade information about the Palestinian to the FBI in exchange for citizenship and others get trapped in a battle over drug turf as the musician leads the group north against obstacles in a voyage that begin to feel like a descent through Dante' s circles of hell.

The author has undertaken a difficult challenge teasing out the human cost of US aggression in the Middle East and Central America, making us care about the characters, and giving us a hint of hope without letting us off the hook by downplaying the horrors of the trip immigrants take to el norte. Though the narrative suffers from too many plot lines, and the violence (while never gratuitous) is hard to handle, Do They Know I'm Running? is beautifully written, ambitious, honest, and thought-provoking.

The Chill
Kevin Burton Smith

Are we going through a renaissance of crime comics or what? A case in point: writer Jason Starr and artist Mick Bertiliorenzi's The Chill, the latest in the recently launched DC/Vertigo Crime series. It' s a razor-sharp knife slice of pulpy horror noir one that owes as much to DC's much-beloved House of Mystery/House of Secrets early-'70s horror comic heyday as it does to the usual touchstones of contemporary noir. Whether this is a disappointing harbinger of things to come or not (does a purported crime line really have to mix horror into the mix to stay viable?) remains to be seen, but there' s no doubt The Chill is a rip-roaringly old-fashioned blast of comic book fun.

NYPD homicide dick (and new dad) Pavano is assigned to track down a new female serial killer; one who' s picking up men and disposing of them in particularly sadistic and ritualistic fashion. The good news for Pavano is that there s no shortage of witnesses. The bad news is that none of them can agree on what the woman looks like. And then a booze-besotted old Irish cop from Boston arrives in town, spouting wild tales about Druids and ancient curses and of course, this being Vertigo, the language, sex and violence are far more adult and graphic (blood! nipples!) than anything that could have slipped by the comic book censors in the '70s. Given the carefully plotted sense of impending doom and pure pulp gotcha! that awaits brave readers, I m willing to bet somewhere in crime writer Starr's past there lurks a dusty stack of fondly remembered comic books. The only thing missing in this one is an introduction by Cain or Abel.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-14 18:50:24

Are we going through a renaissance of crime comics or what? A case in point: writer Jason Starr and artist Mick Bertiliorenzi's The Chill, the latest in the recently launched DC/Vertigo Crime series. It' s a razor-sharp knife slice of pulpy horror noir one that owes as much to DC's much-beloved House of Mystery/House of Secrets early-'70s horror comic heyday as it does to the usual touchstones of contemporary noir. Whether this is a disappointing harbinger of things to come or not (does a purported crime line really have to mix horror into the mix to stay viable?) remains to be seen, but there' s no doubt The Chill is a rip-roaringly old-fashioned blast of comic book fun.

NYPD homicide dick (and new dad) Pavano is assigned to track down a new female serial killer; one who' s picking up men and disposing of them in particularly sadistic and ritualistic fashion. The good news for Pavano is that there s no shortage of witnesses. The bad news is that none of them can agree on what the woman looks like. And then a booze-besotted old Irish cop from Boston arrives in town, spouting wild tales about Druids and ancient curses and of course, this being Vertigo, the language, sex and violence are far more adult and graphic (blood! nipples!) than anything that could have slipped by the comic book censors in the '70s. Given the carefully plotted sense of impending doom and pure pulp gotcha! that awaits brave readers, I m willing to bet somewhere in crime writer Starr's past there lurks a dusty stack of fondly remembered comic books. The only thing missing in this one is an introduction by Cain or Abel.

Money to Burn
M. Schlecht

James Grippando' s latest is a timely addition to the Wall Street thriller genre. Written for a post-Lehman Brothers world, Money to Burn begins just as the fictitious Manhattan investment bank Saxton Silvers is crumbling. No more cigars and swagger. No more irrational exuberance. Now it is time to deal with the aftereffects of credit default swaps and government inquiries.

Whether or not there is a likable character to be found on the real Wall Street is debatable, but Grippando has written one in Michael Cantella, a rising star at Saxton Silvers who must deal with both his company responsibilities and a personal crisis. Someone has wiped out his entire savings, including shares of company stock, and transferred it to an offshore account in Bermuda. When Saxton Silvers stock takes a massive hit the next day, he is accused of insider trading. And that s just the tip of the iceberg that is Michael's problems. His current wife wants a divorce, his first dead wife may actually be alive, and a TV personality named Chuck Bell (modeled on CNBC s Jim Cramer) is calling for his head.

Grippando's plotting keeps the pages turning quickly as Cantella works to disprove the accusations against him and keep his loved ones safe. Behind-the-scenes action at an investment bank during the recent financial crisis might have been a good thriller in itself (see Andrew Ross Sorkin' s Too Big to Fail), but for Cantella it s personal. More than the money, he wants the truth about the love of his life and his good name back.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-14 19:07:13

James Grippando' s latest is a timely addition to the Wall Street thriller genre. Written for a post-Lehman Brothers world, Money to Burn begins just as the fictitious Manhattan investment bank Saxton Silvers is crumbling. No more cigars and swagger. No more irrational exuberance. Now it is time to deal with the aftereffects of credit default swaps and government inquiries.

Whether or not there is a likable character to be found on the real Wall Street is debatable, but Grippando has written one in Michael Cantella, a rising star at Saxton Silvers who must deal with both his company responsibilities and a personal crisis. Someone has wiped out his entire savings, including shares of company stock, and transferred it to an offshore account in Bermuda. When Saxton Silvers stock takes a massive hit the next day, he is accused of insider trading. And that s just the tip of the iceberg that is Michael's problems. His current wife wants a divorce, his first dead wife may actually be alive, and a TV personality named Chuck Bell (modeled on CNBC s Jim Cramer) is calling for his head.

Grippando's plotting keeps the pages turning quickly as Cantella works to disprove the accusations against him and keep his loved ones safe. Behind-the-scenes action at an investment bank during the recent financial crisis might have been a good thriller in itself (see Andrew Ross Sorkin' s Too Big to Fail), but for Cantella it s personal. More than the money, he wants the truth about the love of his life and his good name back.

Print the Legend
M. Schlecht

Craig McDonald's third Hector Lassiter novel begins on July 2, 1961 as Ernest Hemingway contemplates the sunrise before loading his shotgun for the last time. The famous suicide ended the life of an icon, but has provided Hemingway scholar Richard Paulson with an academic angle to follow. He and his pregnant wife Hannah, an aspiring writer, have traveled to Idaho for the Sun Valley Hemingway Conference. While there Paulson plans on interviewing Hemingway' s widow, Mary, in order to test his theory that Papa may have been murdered.

But there is much more happening in Print the Legend than academic conferences. Meddlesome FBI agent, Donovan Creedy, is set on complicating the lives of Hemingway's family and friends as he investigates the writer' s death. One of these friends, an aging crime writer named Hector Lassiter, tries to make sense of all this interest from the Bureau while also preserving Papa' s papers from tampering by academics like Paulson or even Widow Hemingway. While Lassiter is a generally decent protagonist, his concern might be less than noble as there are rumors that some of Hemingway' s unpublished work may show Lassiter in a less than flattering light.

It s well known that Hemingway did indeed have an FBI file, and McDonald skillfully and ingeniously mixes fact with fiction in the highly-complicated Print the Legend. The government plot involving this great American writer may seem far-fetched, but is it really? Although academics and critics come in for quite a beating from Mary and Lassiter, McDonald s background as a journalist and crime fiction critic helps him to piece together an intriguing literary thriller.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-14 19:12:41

Craig McDonald's third Hector Lassiter novel begins on July 2, 1961 as Ernest Hemingway contemplates the sunrise before loading his shotgun for the last time. The famous suicide ended the life of an icon, but has provided Hemingway scholar Richard Paulson with an academic angle to follow. He and his pregnant wife Hannah, an aspiring writer, have traveled to Idaho for the Sun Valley Hemingway Conference. While there Paulson plans on interviewing Hemingway' s widow, Mary, in order to test his theory that Papa may have been murdered.

But there is much more happening in Print the Legend than academic conferences. Meddlesome FBI agent, Donovan Creedy, is set on complicating the lives of Hemingway's family and friends as he investigates the writer' s death. One of these friends, an aging crime writer named Hector Lassiter, tries to make sense of all this interest from the Bureau while also preserving Papa' s papers from tampering by academics like Paulson or even Widow Hemingway. While Lassiter is a generally decent protagonist, his concern might be less than noble as there are rumors that some of Hemingway' s unpublished work may show Lassiter in a less than flattering light.

It s well known that Hemingway did indeed have an FBI file, and McDonald skillfully and ingeniously mixes fact with fiction in the highly-complicated Print the Legend. The government plot involving this great American writer may seem far-fetched, but is it really? Although academics and critics come in for quite a beating from Mary and Lassiter, McDonald s background as a journalist and crime fiction critic helps him to piece together an intriguing literary thriller.

Corpse on the Cob
Lynne F. Maxwell

Odelia Grey is a plus-size paralegal with a plus-sized penchant for stumbling upon murder scenes, as evidenced by Too Big to Miss, The Curse of the Holy Pail, Thugs and Kisses, and Booby Trap, predecessors in Jaffarian's highly entertaining series. Happily married to paraplegic graphic designer Greg Stevens, Odelia loves her close-to-idyllic existence in Seal Beach, California, but she can't resist the temptation to visit New England once she discovers that the mother who abandoned her in her childhood is still alive and resides in Vermont. While the surprise reunion never promises to be pleasant, it is complicated by the fact that, upon arriving in Vermont during a fall festival, Odelia finally locates her mother crouching over a corpse in a corn maze (hence the title). Odelia never held an idealized view of her derelict mother, who simply disappeared from her life with no explanation, but is she a killer?

With the assistance of her newly discovered brother, who is the town police chief, her husband Greg and their friend Willie, a resourceful fugitive white-collar criminal, Odelia proceeds to investigate. After narrowly averting death, she arrives at the answer to the murder mystery and to others plaguing the town, as well. The ultimate mystery, though, is why her mother abandoned her in childhood. What plausible explanation, justifiable or no, could there possibly be? Odelia finally obtains her long-awaited answer to the central mystery informing her life, and it is scarcely satisfactory, of course. In solution though, lies resolution, and admirably, with subtle surprise, author Jaffarian resists the temptation to provide a facile, wholly happy ending. Ultimately, Corpse on the Cob offers readers much food for thought.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-14 19:17:48

Odelia Grey is a plus-size paralegal with a plus-sized penchant for stumbling upon murder scenes, as evidenced by Too Big to Miss, The Curse of the Holy Pail, Thugs and Kisses, and Booby Trap, predecessors in Jaffarian's highly entertaining series. Happily married to paraplegic graphic designer Greg Stevens, Odelia loves her close-to-idyllic existence in Seal Beach, California, but she can't resist the temptation to visit New England once she discovers that the mother who abandoned her in her childhood is still alive and resides in Vermont. While the surprise reunion never promises to be pleasant, it is complicated by the fact that, upon arriving in Vermont during a fall festival, Odelia finally locates her mother crouching over a corpse in a corn maze (hence the title). Odelia never held an idealized view of her derelict mother, who simply disappeared from her life with no explanation, but is she a killer?

With the assistance of her newly discovered brother, who is the town police chief, her husband Greg and their friend Willie, a resourceful fugitive white-collar criminal, Odelia proceeds to investigate. After narrowly averting death, she arrives at the answer to the murder mystery and to others plaguing the town, as well. The ultimate mystery, though, is why her mother abandoned her in childhood. What plausible explanation, justifiable or no, could there possibly be? Odelia finally obtains her long-awaited answer to the central mystery informing her life, and it is scarcely satisfactory, of course. In solution though, lies resolution, and admirably, with subtle surprise, author Jaffarian resists the temptation to provide a facile, wholly happy ending. Ultimately, Corpse on the Cob offers readers much food for thought.

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Teri Duerr
2010-04-15 17:41:54
In Free Fall
M. Schlecht

On Fridays, when European physicists Oskar and Sebastian get together for dinner at Sebastian’s peaceful canal-side home, a lot of high-minded banter ensues. The relationship between the two men and their competing views on the ability of science to describe our reality sets the stage for an all too real lesson in impermanence. Sounds like the setup to one of the best literary thrillers you’ll read this year, right?

Actually, yes, it is.

Sebastian is driving with his son, Liam, on the Autobahn when he stops at a service station. After a mysterious phone call, Sebastian returns to his car to find Liam is gone. And just as his son disappears, so does Sebastian’s intellectual and moral grounding. To reveal more would perhaps compromise the plot, but author Juli Zeh, winner of the German Book Prize, has packed quite a lot into this detective novel: quantum theory, love, uncertainty, and, of course, murder. Even the police seem to have a theory of relativity as Detective Chief Superintendent Schilf, whose investigation is more existential than procedural, eventually discerns the killer and then promptly schemes a plot to assist with that person’s defense.

In Free Fall is one of the most original examples of crime fiction in recent memory. Even more impressive that it is translated from the original German by Christine Lo. Do yourself a favor and pick this up.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 17:50:48

zeh_infreefallQuantum theory, love, and, of course, murder in Juli Zeh's intellectual thriller.

The Devil's Star
Bob Smith

Every so often a protagonist comes along who raises the bar for all others. Meet Harry Hole, a Norwegian police detective, who fits that description to a tee. Harry is everything you want in a cop and a hell of a lot more. The Devil’s Star, the latest Harry Hole book translated into English, may be the best yet of this popular European series. It is a murder mystery, a police procedural and a thriller all in one great read. Harry is a fascinating character and although his bouts of alcoholism threw me off at first, gradually I came to understand him, then admire him, and finally to root like mad for him.

Because serial killers are virtually unknown in Norway the police are stymied when a series of murders occur in Oslo. The chief of the major crimes unit turns to his two best detectives to solve the murders. One, Tom Waaler, a favorite in the department, is rumored to be the chief’s replacement; the other, Harry is an alcoholic. They hate each other, and although Harry doesn’t want to work with Waaler, he becomes intrigued with the murders and settles for an uneasy truce with his rival, a truce lacking trust on both sides. Even with his brain befogged by booze, Harry is able to discern a pattern in the killer’s actions by analyzing two clues left behind at each murder—a star shaped diamond, and a pentagram symbol. There is nothing else to connect the victims and both detectives seem stumped. A stunning, yet logical climax has Harry not only unmasking the killer but also overcoming some personal demons of his own. Read this book and I guarantee that, like me, you’ll want more of Harry Hole.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 19:01:51
nesbo_devilsstarPolice detective Harry Hole is back in Jo Nesbø's award-winning Norwegian series.
Mississippi Vivian
Kevin Burton Smith

Although it's set in the early '70s, the hard, tight Mississippi Vivian by Bill Crider and the late Clyde Wilson actually brings to mind an earlier era—it reads like some long-lost Fawcett Gold Medal paperback from the late '50s. And that’s high praise indeed. In fact, the taut, chip-on-the-shoulder vibe created by mystery author Crider and Wilson (a real life private eye), recalls nothing so much as the efforts of Wade Miller, the pen name for the celebrated writing team of Bob Wade and Bill Miller, who put out more than their fair share of hardboiled classics back in the day.

Texas-based insurance investigator Ted Stephens (first introduced in 2007's Houston Homicide) journeys to hot, sticky Losgrove, Mississippi to look into a string of suspicious work injury claims, and soon finds himself immersed in a deep steaming pile of small town corruption, deceit, and dirty secrets that will take more than a motel room shower or two to clean off. This is retro pulp at its best—clear, clean prose; vibrant characters (the cranky, contrary waitress who gives the book its title is a hoot); a finely rendered setting (Ted likens Losgrove air to breathing warm cotton); a stripped down narrative that rockets along; and a terse, business-like and laconic narrator whose navel-gazing fortunately never extends much past his ongoing complaint that nobody ever seems to laugh at his jokes. Readers eager for some high quality, no-frills, private eye action will certainly go for this one. Alas, with Wilson's passing in 2008, we may have seen the last of Stephens. Say it ain't so, Bill.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 19:15:43

No-frills, private eye action in a new novel reminiscent of the Fawcett Gold Medal classics.

Half-Price Homicide
Lynne F. Maxwell

Can it really be? Is Helen Hawthorne, ex-CPA on the lam from her greedy, good-for-nothing ex husband, really coming clean by embracing her true identity? Will she perhaps give up her ever-mounting succession of dead-end jobs? Half-Price Homicide won’t answer all of these questions, but it is clearly a prelude to major changes in Helen’s life, hinting at a whole new phase of her existence. With her mother’s death, her ex-husband’s final exit, her reclamation of her nest egg, and her marriage to the handsome Phil, Helen is entering a brave new world—one that takes the reader unawares. Indeed, it feels like the end of an era.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Elaine Viets’ Dead-End Jobs Series, you have a treat in store. Viets is a talented writer, hilarious and perceptive, and series heroine Helen Hawthorne mirrors her creator in these respects. In order to evade paying alimony to her lazy, parasitic ex-husband, Helen has fled St. Louis and her six-figure salary as a corporate CPA, relocating to a unique Fort Lauderdale apartment complex filled with quirky characters. Wishing to remain anonymous and untraceable, she subsists on under-the-counter jobs. Accordingly, in Half-Price Homicide she is a lowly sales associate in an upscale used clothing boutique. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, murder follows her, as one person is killed in the store and another meets her demise at Helen’s apartment complex. As always, Helen’s investigative acumen, in tandem with that of her new husband, private investigator Phil, triumphs. The biggest mystery in this book, though, is where Helen will go from here. Will she relinquish her penchant for dead-end jobs, now that she has the wherewithal to earn a decent salary? I, for one, hope that the Dead-End Jobs Series hasn’t reached a dead-end.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 19:22:27

viets_half-pricehomicideSigns of major changes in odd-jobber Helen Hawthorne's life hint at a new direction for the beloved Dead-End Job Series.

The God of the Hive
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Laurie King has just published her tenth novel featuring the immortal sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his young wife, Mary Russell. In this latest homage to Conan Doyle, the pair is separated after barely escaping the clutches of a religious madman bent on the sacrificial death of Sherlock’s newly discovered son, Damien Adler. Sherlock and his seriously wounded son take refuge on a boat bound for Holland, while Mary and Damien’s young daughter escape by plane.

But is there a more sinister force behind the madman? Why, even after his apparent death, are they still being pursued, and by whom? Who has the power to make Chief Inspector Lestrade issue an order for their arrest? And, of even greater concern, who has the cunning to successfully capture and imprison Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft? The excitement and suspense build as the scene continually shifts between Mary and Sherlock, each evading hired assassins and the law, while trying to get back to London to reunite. Along the way, they meet some remarkable allies who become instrumental in their safety. One of the highlights for me was getting to know Estelle, Sherlock’s very bright granddaughter, and her interaction with Mary. Meanwhile, Mycroft is desperately trying to figure out who is behind his imprisonment and how long he may yet have to live. Throw in the Baker Street Irregulars, several well-concealed London bolt-holes, some Holmesian cunning, and a rousing finale, and you have all the ingredients of another winning entry in the Laurie King canon.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 19:25:46

Laurie King has just published her tenth novel featuring the immortal sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his young wife, Mary Russell. In this latest homage to Conan Doyle, the pair is separated after barely escaping the clutches of a religious madman bent on the sacrificial death of Sherlock’s newly discovered son, Damien Adler. Sherlock and his seriously wounded son take refuge on a boat bound for Holland, while Mary and Damien’s young daughter escape by plane.

But is there a more sinister force behind the madman? Why, even after his apparent death, are they still being pursued, and by whom? Who has the power to make Chief Inspector Lestrade issue an order for their arrest? And, of even greater concern, who has the cunning to successfully capture and imprison Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft? The excitement and suspense build as the scene continually shifts between Mary and Sherlock, each evading hired assassins and the law, while trying to get back to London to reunite. Along the way, they meet some remarkable allies who become instrumental in their safety. One of the highlights for me was getting to know Estelle, Sherlock’s very bright granddaughter, and her interaction with Mary. Meanwhile, Mycroft is desperately trying to figure out who is behind his imprisonment and how long he may yet have to live. Throw in the Baker Street Irregulars, several well-concealed London bolt-holes, some Holmesian cunning, and a rousing finale, and you have all the ingredients of another winning entry in the Laurie King canon.

Mint Juleps, Mayhem, and Murder
Lynne F. Maxwell

Readers get a look at what it’s like to be a military wife in this series featuring Ellie Avery, a professional home organizer and spouse to career Air Force pilot Mitch. Ellie and her family are accustomed to the trials and tribulations of military life, the frequent reassignments, and the uncertainty involved in everyday missions. What surprises her, though, is the extreme ambition and competition of Air Force officers as they jockey for plum positions and posts. These nasty traits come into play when a highly regarded commanding officer meets an untimely death, garroted after a golf game. Why would anyone wish to harm the popular and respected Colonel Lewis Pershall?

Throughout Ellie’s investigation readers get an education on the culture, politics, and realities of military life as she works her way through a substantial list of officers and their wives. Her suspicions are disconcerting, especially when numerous bizarre, suspicious accidents befall her apolitical husband, Mitch, and it becomes clear that someone they know well is a vicious killer. Ellie’s devotion to her family, her practical perspective, and her resourcefulness as a sleuth all contribute to the charm of this series. As a bonus Rosett’s series offers a profusion of tips for the disorganized among us.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 19:29:08

Readers get a look at what it’s like to be a military wife in this series featuring Ellie Avery, a professional home organizer and spouse to career Air Force pilot Mitch. Ellie and her family are accustomed to the trials and tribulations of military life, the frequent reassignments, and the uncertainty involved in everyday missions. What surprises her, though, is the extreme ambition and competition of Air Force officers as they jockey for plum positions and posts. These nasty traits come into play when a highly regarded commanding officer meets an untimely death, garroted after a golf game. Why would anyone wish to harm the popular and respected Colonel Lewis Pershall?

Throughout Ellie’s investigation readers get an education on the culture, politics, and realities of military life as she works her way through a substantial list of officers and their wives. Her suspicions are disconcerting, especially when numerous bizarre, suspicious accidents befall her apolitical husband, Mitch, and it becomes clear that someone they know well is a vicious killer. Ellie’s devotion to her family, her practical perspective, and her resourcefulness as a sleuth all contribute to the charm of this series. As a bonus Rosett’s series offers a profusion of tips for the disorganized among us.

Invisible Boy
Lynne F. Maxwell

Invisible Boy is a powerful mystery, one that will haunt readers long after they finish the last page. The action begins when Madeline Dare assists her sister in beautifying—or, rather, resurrecting—a cemetery that houses family ancestors. Shortly after commencing her labor, Madeline unearths a tiny skull, clearly that of a young child. Nearby she finds other bones, including a crushed rib cage that suggests the horrifying possibility murder. It doesn’t take long for the police to identify the body as that of a missing boy who endured painfully cruel abuse during his short life. From the time of her discovery, Madeline involves herself in the police investigation and prosecution of the suspects, heartless drug abusers who have neglected and abused—indeed, killed—innocent little Teddy.

In this well-written suspense novel Cornelia Read captures the fashionably profane language and culture of underemployed, privileged, twenty-somethings adrift in Manhattan, circa 1990. While Madeline, her sisters, and mother are listed in the social register, they have long lacked sufficient wealth to maintain their social standing. In fact, the down-to-earth Dares gravitate away from the socialite lifestyle, but still offer up plenty of engrossing and entertaining family dynamics. When Madeline isn’t enmeshed in the murder case, she contends convincingly with the even more tangled complexities of interpersonal relationships with her husband, mother, sisters and unstable best friend—and it’s those relationships that drive the heart of the book. Invisible Boy is so good that it has prompted me to seek out Cornelia Read’s previous mysteries. I predict that others will follow suit.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 19:32:12

A powerful character-driven novel that will haunt readers long after they finish the last page.

From Away
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This is one of the strangest murder mysteries I’ve read in a while. The protagonist, Dennis Braintree, is one of life’s losers—an overweight, under-liked, wisecracking writer for a model train magazine whose main interest in life seems to be antagonizing other people. He also enjoys making up things on the fly, merely for the heck of it. When we first meet him, he has just wrecked his car on an icy road in Vermont and has to spend the night at a local hotel. When a drunken woman he meets that night later ends up dead, he finds himself the chief suspect.

Attempting to leave town, Denny is recognized by a local cop, Nick, not as the suspect, but as a longtime, long-lost townie, Homer Dumpling, who left three years earlier and who looks almost exactly like him. In an outrageous twist Denny, the inveterate improviser who would prefer not being arrested for murder, decides to play along—and is amazingly able to convince most of the townsfolk that he actually is Homer. The only people who are not entirely sold on his impersonation are Homer’s girlfriend Sarah and her current secret lover, Officer Lance. When it looks like he may soon be exposed as an imposter, Denny is induced to discover who actually committed the murder so he won’t be convicted.

One of the things I enjoyed about this mystery was that I never knew where it was going from page to page. And while I didn’t much care for Denny at the beginning, I began warming to him as the strange, humorous story unfolded. Although lying through his teeth for most of it, Denny’s humanity manages to shine through eventually. Someone once told me that, when the main character in a novel is changed by his experience, you know you’ve read a good story. On that basis, David Carkeet, the prize-winning author of four previous novels, has written just that, a good story.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 19:36:07

Murder, mistaken identity, and a dose of dark absurdity.

Drink the Tea
Kevin Burton Smith

It took me quite a while to warm to Willis Gidney, the “half-assed” young, streetwise DC private eye/scam artist hero of this occasionally frustrating but ultimately promising debut, the latest winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel Contest. Gidney seemed vaguely defined, inexplicably abrasive and obnoxious at times, not particularly intelligent and too cute by half, more amusing to himself than to readers. And then somewhere along the way, about the time he takes it upon himself to apologize to a young waitress for someone else’s rudeness, I realized that—despite my reservations—I was beginning to like the jerk, or at least wonder what his deal was. The answer, it turns out, is the real mystery at the heart of this novel; not the ostensible case which involves Willis tracking the long-lost daughter of his friend, jazz musician Steps Jackson, that has the former street kid going up against a powerful congressman, a multi-national conspiracy, and a frightened woman desperate to escape her own dark past. Not that that case isn’t without its own charms, but it’s the revelation of Willis’ painful childhood of abuse and neglect, jostled between endless foster homes, the street, and an over-burdened and incompetent child welfare system that provides the real meat here. In fact, by the time we (and Willis) come to terms with his past, the book is almost over—bringing not the sense of closure that Kaufman might have hoped for, but anticipation for what he (and Willis) will do next. Because if there’s a book that deserves a sequel, it’s this one. Kaufman has come up with a bold and original new detective, and he’s only scratched the surface. More, please.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 19:45:31

New antihero Willis Gidney is inexplicably abrasive, obnoxious and... boldly original.

I Am Not a Serial Killer
Kevin Burton Smith

Utah writer Wells’ dark, clever first novel (the first in a projected trilogy) is definitely something else: an honest-to-goodness coming-of-age serial killer story. It’s also a schizophrenic and occasionally bumpy ride that starts off like a cross between Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter and J.D. Salingers’ A Catcher in the Rye and ends up taking a sharp and surprising left turn. Still, Wells’ strong sense of character and mastery of tone go a long way toward unifying the disparate halves. John Wayne Cleaver, the book’s ill-named narrator, is an affable but troubled 15-year old living in the small town of Clayton. He’s convinced he’s going to grow up to be a serial killer—and after we discover his unhealthy obsession with serial murders, his nonchalance about death, his messy home life (his single mother and his aunt run the local funeral home), some troubling childhood incidents and his own psychologist’s diagnosis of him as a sociopath, most readers will share his concerns.

Surprisingly, despite his apparent blood lust, John really does seem like a good kid—mixed up as hell, certainly, but he does seem to want to be good. It also helps that his first person narrative voice, wise and knowing beyond its years—not to mention his keen eye for sham and hypocrisy—easily recalls such other beloved but precocious child narrators in literature as Holden Caulfield or even To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout. John’s brave attempts to “pass as normal” and avoid what he feels is his fate are oddly touching. But when what appears to be a genuine serial killer comes to Clayton, only John realizes it. And all the precious rules and boundaries John has set up for himself will have to be jettisoned if he wants to save the lives of those nearest to him. I’m not entirely sure I liked the direction Wells went with this one, but I’m anxious to see where he goes with the sequel.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 23:54:41

Utah writer Wells’ dark, clever first novel (the first in a projected trilogy) is definitely something else: an honest-to-goodness coming-of-age serial killer story. It’s also a schizophrenic and occasionally bumpy ride that starts off like a cross between Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter and J.D. Salingers’ A Catcher in the Rye and ends up taking a sharp and surprising left turn. Still, Wells’ strong sense of character and mastery of tone go a long way toward unifying the disparate halves. John Wayne Cleaver, the book’s ill-named narrator, is an affable but troubled 15-year old living in the small town of Clayton. He’s convinced he’s going to grow up to be a serial killer—and after we discover his unhealthy obsession with serial murders, his nonchalance about death, his messy home life (his single mother and his aunt run the local funeral home), some troubling childhood incidents and his own psychologist’s diagnosis of him as a sociopath, most readers will share his concerns.

Surprisingly, despite his apparent blood lust, John really does seem like a good kid—mixed up as hell, certainly, but he does seem to want to be good. It also helps that his first person narrative voice, wise and knowing beyond its years—not to mention his keen eye for sham and hypocrisy—easily recalls such other beloved but precocious child narrators in literature as Holden Caulfield or even To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout. John’s brave attempts to “pass as normal” and avoid what he feels is his fate are oddly touching. But when what appears to be a genuine serial killer comes to Clayton, only John realizes it. And all the precious rules and boundaries John has set up for himself will have to be jettisoned if he wants to save the lives of those nearest to him. I’m not entirely sure I liked the direction Wells went with this one, but I’m anxious to see where he goes with the sequel.

Shoot to Thrill
Bob Smith

Can the Internet be an instrument for murder? According to Shoot to Thrill it most assuredly can and probably is. The latest thriller in the Monkeewrench series offers the premise that there are crazies hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet who murder simply to achieve some sort of fleeting online fame. A series of filmed killings are circulating the globe on YouTube, Facebook and other sites, often before the authorities even suspect foul play. Are these deaths the work of a single murderer or a loose group of thrill seekers out for their 15 minutes of fame?

Tracing the origins of the films is a technological nightmare since they are filtered through a number of national and international sites and servers. The FBI wants to investigate but is handicapped by international law. Enter Harley, Annie, Roadrunner and Grace, the computer geniuses at Monkeewrench, to do the Bureau’s dirty work. The Monkeewrench gang and their FBI contact John Smith, with help from Minneapolis police detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Roleth, tackle the problem and are stunned at the number of actual murders they discover. The tension builds as they hunt for the link to tie all the crimes together.

Regular readers of this series will delight in watching the Monkeewrench team back in action, and should be particularly interested by the potential melting of ice goddess Grace who seems to be thawing for the likeable FBI agent Smith, much to the dismay of longtime admirer detective Magozzi. Patricia J. and Traci Lambrecht, the mother-daughter team who write under the pseudonym P.J. Tracy, prove once again that they are no slouches when it comes to computers, or for that matter in writing a taut, entertaining, suspenseful book. This is the fifth, and one of the best, in the Monkeewrench series after a far too long hiatus. Welcome back gang, we missed you!

Teri Duerr
2010-04-21 23:59:27

Can the Internet be an instrument for murder? According to Shoot to Thrill it most assuredly can and probably is. The latest thriller in the Monkeewrench series offers the premise that there are crazies hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet who murder simply to achieve some sort of fleeting online fame. A series of filmed killings are circulating the globe on YouTube, Facebook and other sites, often before the authorities even suspect foul play. Are these deaths the work of a single murderer or a loose group of thrill seekers out for their 15 minutes of fame?

Tracing the origins of the films is a technological nightmare since they are filtered through a number of national and international sites and servers. The FBI wants to investigate but is handicapped by international law. Enter Harley, Annie, Roadrunner and Grace, the computer geniuses at Monkeewrench, to do the Bureau’s dirty work. The Monkeewrench gang and their FBI contact John Smith, with help from Minneapolis police detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Roleth, tackle the problem and are stunned at the number of actual murders they discover. The tension builds as they hunt for the link to tie all the crimes together.

Regular readers of this series will delight in watching the Monkeewrench team back in action, and should be particularly interested by the potential melting of ice goddess Grace who seems to be thawing for the likeable FBI agent Smith, much to the dismay of longtime admirer detective Magozzi. Patricia J. and Traci Lambrecht, the mother-daughter team who write under the pseudonym P.J. Tracy, prove once again that they are no slouches when it comes to computers, or for that matter in writing a taut, entertaining, suspenseful book. This is the fifth, and one of the best, in the Monkeewrench series after a far too long hiatus. Welcome back gang, we missed you!

Naked Moon
Hank Wagner

The fourth entry in Stansberry’s compelling North Beach Series (including Chasing the Dragon (2004), Manifesto for the Dead (2006), and The Ancient Rain (2008)) finds his protagonist, Dante Mancuso, in a tough bind as his violent past comes back to haunt him. Formerly an operative of a secretive “security firm” known as the Company, Mancuso snared an early retirement from the firm via blackmail. When information that only Mancuso could know comes to light, the Company reacts violently and forcefully, pressuring their former employee to locate the source of the leak by threatening those close to him. Mancuso is thus forced back into his old life, which means the body count is sure to start climbing.

As usual, Stansberry proves adept at keeping tensions high, putting Mancuso through a physical and emotional wringer so intense that it leaves readers as exhausted as his lead, leaving them to wonder just how, or even if, the tightly wound ex-cop, ex-operative can extract himself from a seemingly untenable situation. Stansberry gives the quixotic and dangerous Mancuso plenty of psychological depth, and plenty to lose—readers quickly come to feel as if they too have something at stake in how things turn out. That Stansberry provides such a satisfying, yet ambiguous conclusion to this nasty, noirish tale of suspense is a tribute to his immense skill, and to his ability to subtly manipulate his rapt audience’s emotions.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-22 00:03:17

The fourth entry in Stansberry’s compelling North Beach Series (including Chasing the Dragon (2004), Manifesto for the Dead (2006), and The Ancient Rain (2008)) finds his protagonist, Dante Mancuso, in a tough bind as his violent past comes back to haunt him. Formerly an operative of a secretive “security firm” known as the Company, Mancuso snared an early retirement from the firm via blackmail. When information that only Mancuso could know comes to light, the Company reacts violently and forcefully, pressuring their former employee to locate the source of the leak by threatening those close to him. Mancuso is thus forced back into his old life, which means the body count is sure to start climbing.

As usual, Stansberry proves adept at keeping tensions high, putting Mancuso through a physical and emotional wringer so intense that it leaves readers as exhausted as his lead, leaving them to wonder just how, or even if, the tightly wound ex-cop, ex-operative can extract himself from a seemingly untenable situation. Stansberry gives the quixotic and dangerous Mancuso plenty of psychological depth, and plenty to lose—readers quickly come to feel as if they too have something at stake in how things turn out. That Stansberry provides such a satisfying, yet ambiguous conclusion to this nasty, noirish tale of suspense is a tribute to his immense skill, and to his ability to subtly manipulate his rapt audience’s emotions.

The Executor
Betty Webb

The accepted Creative Writing 101 wisdom is that a book must always have a sympathetic protagonist, but Kellerman’s latest foray (after Sunstroke, Trouble, and The Genius) into the dark side upends that wisdom with a vengeance. The author isn’t exaggerating when he describes The Executor as, “a comedy of extremely bad manners.” Bad-mannered Joseph Geist, an anal-retentive Harvard grad student and all-around layabout, can’t finish writing his doctoral dissertation on Nietzsche & Friends so he sponges off his well-to-do girlfriend until she kicks the bum out. Joseph thinks he’s finally been saved when elderly Alma Spielmann hires him as a “conversationalist,” but self-involved jerk that he is, he soon messes that up, too. As for his dissertation, suffice it to say that page 213 rewards us with one of the most insightful depictions of writer’s block I’ve ever chuckled my way through.

Although most of the book’s action takes place in Joseph’s head, thriller buffs need not fear: there are enough violent, messy, gotta-dispose-of-the-bodies murders to satisfy the most persnickety. The only downside here might be the lengthy treatise on determinism versus free will, but it’s necessary because the argument provides the book’s backbone. That, and the exploration of a dark soul who, after giving free rein to his obsessions, grows even darker. If there is a moral here, it’s that those whom the gods would destroy they first make philosophers.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-22 00:06:53

The accepted Creative Writing 101 wisdom is that a book must always have a sympathetic protagonist, but Kellerman’s latest foray (after Sunstroke, Trouble, and The Genius) into the dark side upends that wisdom with a vengeance. The author isn’t exaggerating when he describes The Executor as, “a comedy of extremely bad manners.” Bad-mannered Joseph Geist, an anal-retentive Harvard grad student and all-around layabout, can’t finish writing his doctoral dissertation on Nietzsche & Friends so he sponges off his well-to-do girlfriend until she kicks the bum out. Joseph thinks he’s finally been saved when elderly Alma Spielmann hires him as a “conversationalist,” but self-involved jerk that he is, he soon messes that up, too. As for his dissertation, suffice it to say that page 213 rewards us with one of the most insightful depictions of writer’s block I’ve ever chuckled my way through.

Although most of the book’s action takes place in Joseph’s head, thriller buffs need not fear: there are enough violent, messy, gotta-dispose-of-the-bodies murders to satisfy the most persnickety. The only downside here might be the lengthy treatise on determinism versus free will, but it’s necessary because the argument provides the book’s backbone. That, and the exploration of a dark soul who, after giving free rein to his obsessions, grows even darker. If there is a moral here, it’s that those whom the gods would destroy they first make philosophers.

Hazard
Betty Webb

Mining might be dangerous profession, but someone has to do it, journalist Gardiner Harris reminds us in this polished debut novel. The opening pages take us inside a mine just before tragedy strikes, and we hear rugged coal miner Amos Blevins and his lifelong friends speaking the language of the mine. Seconds later, nine are dead. When mine inspector Will Murphy is brought in to find the cause of the accident, he discovers a culture of corruption that values profits more than human lives. A deeply flawed man seeking atonement, Will’s own life began swimming out of control years earlier, when he inadvertently caused an explosion that killed his younger brother.

With his haunted past, Will makes a marvelous character, but nothing can hold a candle to the almost-feral Amos, a possum-eating hero who risks his life to save others but who isn’t above killing anyone who gets in his way. Besides being a miner, Amos is a marijuana-growing mystic who hears the voice of God and—to the increasing horror of the mine owners—immediately acts upon it. In Hazard, Harris utilizes all the standard twists and turns we’ve come to demand in a thriller, but the heroic and fatalistic nature of the miners themselves puts this novel in a class by itself. Like Marines, these men refuse to leave their dead behind. Instead, they brave poisonous gases, rock falls, and floods to drag their friends’ shattered bodies into the light. Quite simply, Hazard is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-22 00:10:53

harris_hazardA debut novel centered around a mining tragedy is both timely and touching.

The Name Partner
Betty Webb

Sal Falcone, CEO of BostonMagnifica Pharmaceuticals, is so slimy that he views Hurricane Katrina as a wonderful opportunity to broaden public recognition of Zerevrea, BMP’s anti-depression drug. He’s also evil enough to fight mounting evidence that the drug can trigger acts of violence, so he hires rising Houston attorney Billy Bravo, the son of Mexican immigrants, to defend the drug. Just as Bravo begins to suspect that Zerevrea can, indeed, lead to violence, his daughter is diagnosed with leukemia—and BMP makes the only drug that can successfully treat it. As if this wasn’t grief enough, a skeleton comes rattling out of Bravo’s own closet when he discovers that he is not an American citizen. He could be deported at any moment. Bravo has always believed in the fairness of the US legal system—until it turns on him and his family. His ethical dilemma, and how he resolves it, makes for fascinating reading. While pages of legalese sometimes slow this novel, the stirring human element keeps it alive. Fans of legal thrillers will definitely like Partner, but it should also be read by anyone who believes the immigration issue is black and white. Bravo’s conundrum reveals that it is more complex than it first appears.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-22 00:27:18

::cck::2562

Area 10
Betty Webb

Sometimes a book is so sick you just have to love it. Such a creation is Area 10, an illustrated novel not to be confused with Area 51 (no aliens, folks), a black-and-white thriller that shines its gory light on people goofy enough to drill holes in their heads for kicks. The medical term for this questionable pastime is “trepanation,” which has been around since the cavemen used it as a cure for migraines. In Gage’s sublime splatter-fest, Manhattanites have taken up the practice with a vengeance. Intruding upon their fun is a serial killer the police dub “Henry the Eighth” because like the long-dead Tudor king, he decapitates people. Tracking him is detective NYPD Adam Kamen, who in the past, suffered an injury to the part of the brain that processes memory and sensory input. Kamen believes the damage helps him understand Henry, but then again, he might be hallucinating. Surprisingly, this horrifically fun read contains a tender love story, and the wooing gives us a welcome break from all that blood and brain matter. Delicious fun though the story might be—kids, please don’t try this at home.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-22 00:30:55

gage_area10Another horrifically fun read from Vertigo Crime's series of graphic novels.

Caught
Betty Webb

Harlan Coben is best known for thrillers in which a good man’s loved ones are menaced by extreme evil; the protagonist’s struggles are always personal. In Caught, the author lowers the stakes considerably when New Jersey TV anchor Wendy Tynes merely loses her job after an on-camera “predator” sting results in death-by-vigilante. In an attempt to win back her job and repair her reputation, Tynes reinvestigates the case against accused molester Dan Mercer, and learns that he might have been innocent all along. Mercer, a social worker, was one of several college roommates whose lives have been destroyed by an unknown enemy.

The author is also not exactly famed for his high humor, yet here he delivers a gut-splitting scene centered around an excruciatingly untalented white, middle-aged, suburban rap artist and his white, middle-aged, suburban groupies. Adding to an already convoluted plot is the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl who had known and trusted the murdered social worker, and might—just might—have been murdered by him. One of the major satisfactions in Caught is to watch the television journalist waver back and forth over Mercer’s presumed guilt, as well as the possible criminality of his old college roommates. There is no frenzied race here to save loved ones’ lives, because when the book opens, the damage has already been done. The only question left for Tynes is “Why?” In less expert hands, that wouldn’t be enough; in Harlan Coben’s, it’s plenty.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-22 00:36:53

Harlan Coben is best known for thrillers in which a good man’s loved ones are menaced by extreme evil; the protagonist’s struggles are always personal. In Caught, the author lowers the stakes considerably when New Jersey TV anchor Wendy Tynes merely loses her job after an on-camera “predator” sting results in death-by-vigilante. In an attempt to win back her job and repair her reputation, Tynes reinvestigates the case against accused molester Dan Mercer, and learns that he might have been innocent all along. Mercer, a social worker, was one of several college roommates whose lives have been destroyed by an unknown enemy.

The author is also not exactly famed for his high humor, yet here he delivers a gut-splitting scene centered around an excruciatingly untalented white, middle-aged, suburban rap artist and his white, middle-aged, suburban groupies. Adding to an already convoluted plot is the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl who had known and trusted the murdered social worker, and might—just might—have been murdered by him. One of the major satisfactions in Caught is to watch the television journalist waver back and forth over Mercer’s presumed guilt, as well as the possible criminality of his old college roommates. There is no frenzied race here to save loved ones’ lives, because when the book opens, the damage has already been done. The only question left for Tynes is “Why?” In less expert hands, that wouldn’t be enough; in Harlan Coben’s, it’s plenty.

Early's Fall
Beverly J. DeWeese

The case of wisecracking bank robber doesn't bother Kansas Sheriff James Early, but the death of Judy Smitts, a close friend to his own wife Thelma, is a shock. Who would want to kill the nondescript school teacher?

In his debut novel, author Peterson introduces readers to Sheriff Early, an ex-WWII vet and ex-hobo, who loves both his pregnant wife and his souped up car. Early owns a modest house that floods each spring and lives in a small Kansas town that prides itself on its cowboy history. Set just after WWII, the locals are struggling with tough times, but their attitudes remain easy going and their outlook wryly humorous.

Early soon finds out Judy has an adventurous, violent past that includes an extramarital affair and unexpected connections to a local Jewish temple. Soon Judy's murder is taking him into a world he knows little about: Zionism. But between trying to catch a crook and uncover a murderer, Early neglects to realize his wife has been unhinged by her friend's death, and is suffering from a serious psychological problem. Peterson's historical mystery has a lively plot (though I do think a brief encounter with Harry Truman is a bit much) and a likeable protaganist. With an unusual setting, quiet humor, and some believable characters, Early's Fall is a very enjoyable read.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 02:31:50

The case of wisecracking bank robber doesn't bother Kansas Sheriff James Early, but the death of Judy Smitts, a close friend to his own wife Thelma, is a shock. Who would want to kill the nondescript school teacher?

In his debut novel, author Peterson introduces readers to Sheriff Early, an ex-WWII vet and ex-hobo, who loves both his pregnant wife and his souped up car. Early owns a modest house that floods each spring and lives in a small Kansas town that prides itself on its cowboy history. Set just after WWII, the locals are struggling with tough times, but their attitudes remain easy going and their outlook wryly humorous.

Early soon finds out Judy has an adventurous, violent past that includes an extramarital affair and unexpected connections to a local Jewish temple. Soon Judy's murder is taking him into a world he knows little about: Zionism. But between trying to catch a crook and uncover a murderer, Early neglects to realize his wife has been unhinged by her friend's death, and is suffering from a serious psychological problem. Peterson's historical mystery has a lively plot (though I do think a brief encounter with Harry Truman is a bit much) and a likeable protaganist. With an unusual setting, quiet humor, and some believable characters, Early's Fall is a very enjoyable read.

Fatal February
Verna Suit

Fatal February is Barbara Levenson's first novel. In it, Mary Magruder Katz, a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, has a falling out with her boyfriend/boss and leaves his law firm to open her own. Her first client is a woman accused of killing her philandering husband, co-owner of a family-owned wine company. Meanwhile, a fender bender in a car wash propels Mary into a romance with sexy developer Carlos Martin, a fast mover in both his building projects and romances.

Fatal February has problems, including short choppy sentences, an overlong and repetitive courtroom scene, and a story that's a bit haphazard, but the sunny portrait of Miami and its neighborhoods painted by this longtime resident, a local judge in real life, is a welcome change from the usual sordid Miami crime stories. Other highlights are the various gatherings of Mary's blended Jewish-Baptist family and Carlos's Argentinian clan. Mary herself is sensible and resourceful. When she is physically threatened she is happy to depend on Carlos for protection, but when she faces ethics charges, she turns for help to the old girl network and fellow females in the court system. In spite of its problems, this lighthearted mystery-romance has enough going on that it held my interest and became a fast, fun read.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 02:31:50

Fatal February is Barbara Levenson's first novel. In it, Mary Magruder Katz, a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, has a falling out with her boyfriend/boss and leaves his law firm to open her own. Her first client is a woman accused of killing her philandering husband, co-owner of a family-owned wine company. Meanwhile, a fender bender in a car wash propels Mary into a romance with sexy developer Carlos Martin, a fast mover in both his building projects and romances.

Fatal February has problems, including short choppy sentences, an overlong and repetitive courtroom scene, and a story that's a bit haphazard, but the sunny portrait of Miami and its neighborhoods painted by this longtime resident, a local judge in real life, is a welcome change from the usual sordid Miami crime stories. Other highlights are the various gatherings of Mary's blended Jewish-Baptist family and Carlos's Argentinian clan. Mary herself is sensible and resourceful. When she is physically threatened she is happy to depend on Carlos for protection, but when she faces ethics charges, she turns for help to the old girl network and fellow females in the court system. In spite of its problems, this lighthearted mystery-romance has enough going on that it held my interest and became a fast, fun read.