Whiskey Gulf
M. Schlecht

Clyde Ford's latest Charlie Noble mystery is ostensibly about the search for a missing couple who disappear while sailing through the notorious Whiskey Gulf during military exercises off the coast of British Columbia. The trail, or should I say wake, leads Noble to a Middle Eastern agent, one with a connection to Noble's past as a Coast Guard intelligence officer. More so than the plot or characters, however, the real star of Whiskey Gulf is the scenery--the waters of the Pacific Northwest on the US-Canadian border.

Although sometimes a little heavy on the nautical jargon, Ford paints a realistic portrait of maritime life (he writes aboard a 30-foot trawler in Bellingham, WA after all), and readers will feel like they are boating right along with Noble as he investigates the case. Also accompanying the retired officer is a Native American salvage diver named Raven, who--stereotype alert--talks to animals and performs spiritual cleansings aboard ship with a drum and sage. The characters and plot in Whiskey Gulf are drawn a little thin, but luckily the journey is painted in glorious 3D.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Clyde Ford's latest Charlie Noble mystery is ostensibly about the search for a missing couple who disappear while sailing through the notorious Whiskey Gulf during military exercises off the coast of British Columbia. The trail, or should I say wake, leads Noble to a Middle Eastern agent, one with a connection to Noble's past as a Coast Guard intelligence officer. More so than the plot or characters, however, the real star of Whiskey Gulf is the scenery--the waters of the Pacific Northwest on the US-Canadian border.

Although sometimes a little heavy on the nautical jargon, Ford paints a realistic portrait of maritime life (he writes aboard a 30-foot trawler in Bellingham, WA after all), and readers will feel like they are boating right along with Noble as he investigates the case. Also accompanying the retired officer is a Native American salvage diver named Raven, who--stereotype alert--talks to animals and performs spiritual cleansings aboard ship with a drum and sage. The characters and plot in Whiskey Gulf are drawn a little thin, but luckily the journey is painted in glorious 3D.

Whispers of the Dead
Joseph Scarpato Jr.

Still recovering from a near-fatal stab wound from a previous case, UK forensic anthropologist Dr. David Hunter decides to ease back into work by visiting the anthropological research facility in Tennessee known as the Body Farm. He is soon invited by the director of the facility, Dr. Tom Lieberman, his former teacher, to investigate an unusual murder scene in a remote cabin.

What the two find there is not only horrendous, but also baffling from a forensic standpoint. Before long, they discover clues that lead to the exhumation of another body, and it becomes evident that they are dealing not only with a serial killer, but one with impressive knowledge of forensic anthropology. As the body count multiplies, it soon appears that the killer is targeting the very people who are involved with the case and that he or she is smart enough to always stay one step ahead of the investigators.

In this absorbing whodunit, Simon Beckett's third novel in the Dr. Hunter series, the pace of action quickens as the story moves along and the ante increases. The climax is not only exciting, but completely surprising. Fans of forensic mysteries or the CSI television series should thoroughly enjoy Whispers of the Dead.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Still recovering from a near-fatal stab wound from a previous case, UK forensic anthropologist Dr. David Hunter decides to ease back into work by visiting the anthropological research facility in Tennessee known as the Body Farm. He is soon invited by the director of the facility, Dr. Tom Lieberman, his former teacher, to investigate an unusual murder scene in a remote cabin.

What the two find there is not only horrendous, but also baffling from a forensic standpoint. Before long, they discover clues that lead to the exhumation of another body, and it becomes evident that they are dealing not only with a serial killer, but one with impressive knowledge of forensic anthropology. As the body count multiplies, it soon appears that the killer is targeting the very people who are involved with the case and that he or she is smart enough to always stay one step ahead of the investigators.

In this absorbing whodunit, Simon Beckett's third novel in the Dr. Hunter series, the pace of action quickens as the story moves along and the ante increases. The climax is not only exciting, but completely surprising. Fans of forensic mysteries or the CSI television series should thoroughly enjoy Whispers of the Dead.

Who Killed Art Deco?
Helen Francini

Arthur Deco, the scion of a wealthy, prominent family from Kentucky, makes his home in New York, where he rebels against his parents while living off their money. Then he ends up an apparent suicide in his own fancy Park Avenue apartment. More than one person hates him enough to kill him, among them his domineering, bigoted father and the boyfriend whom he has jilted in a particularly nasty manner. The suicide is an obvious fake, but when the New York City police department shows little interest in the case, Art's father hires Jimmy Netts, a podiatrist-turned-detective, to solve it.

Cloaked in the guise of a simple whodunit, this story is really an examination of the many ways in which things can go horrifically wrong when people do not fit in with their surroundings. Along the way, ex-game show producer Barris skewers all social strata, East and West Coasts, parents and children, northerners and southerners, gays, straights and bigots alike; nothing is safe from his cynicism. If Barris' style tends towards the overly simplistic at times, it is also compulsively readable. The characters are broadly drawn, but he pulls you in and makes you want to find out what happens to these people. Netts is particularly sympathetic, despite his highly unorthodox method of deducing the truth.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Arthur Deco, the scion of a wealthy, prominent family from Kentucky, makes his home in New York, where he rebels against his parents while living off their money. Then he ends up an apparent suicide in his own fancy Park Avenue apartment. More than one person hates him enough to kill him, among them his domineering, bigoted father and the boyfriend whom he has jilted in a particularly nasty manner. The suicide is an obvious fake, but when the New York City police department shows little interest in the case, Art's father hires Jimmy Netts, a podiatrist-turned-detective, to solve it.

Cloaked in the guise of a simple whodunit, this story is really an examination of the many ways in which things can go horrifically wrong when people do not fit in with their surroundings. Along the way, ex-game show producer Barris skewers all social strata, East and West Coasts, parents and children, northerners and southerners, gays, straights and bigots alike; nothing is safe from his cynicism. If Barris' style tends towards the overly simplistic at times, it is also compulsively readable. The characters are broadly drawn, but he pulls you in and makes you want to find out what happens to these people. Netts is particularly sympathetic, despite his highly unorthodox method of deducing the truth.

100 Bullets Vol. 13: Wilt
Betty Webb

These days, graphic novels have become so mainstream that it sometimes seems everyone is getting involved, from Stephen King (The Stand, etc.) and Dean Koontz (Frankenstein, etc.), to Ian Rankin (Dark Entries). But the 100 Bullets series, first introduced a decade ago, remains a classic of this ever-expanding genre.

Summing up the labyrinthine plot developed through 100 issues (now bound into a magnificent 13-volume collection) is nigh to impossible, but for those unfamiliar with 100 Bullets, here's the main story arc. In an area of what would later become Virginia, someone--or some thing--wipes out the Elizabethan colony of Roanoke, thus setting up a mystery that 400 years later remains unsolved. 100 Bullets tells us that this Colonial wipe-out was set in motion by The Trust, a shadowy consortium of European do-badders which still exists in the present day. Over the years, assassinations have decimated the inheritors of The Trust, partially because of a man called Agent Graves.

In previous volumes, Graves, a mysterious figure himself, handed out 100 untraceable bullets to unlikely recipients. Many of these folks have wreaked vengeance on The Trust and their henchmen, the Minutemen. Now The Trust has dwindled down to Augustus, Benito, Megan, Tibo, and Joan. None are averse to killing their enemies, but as the 100 Bullets saga steamrolls towards its end, they may be about to get their comeuppance.

100 Bullets Vol. 13: Wilt opens in 1963 with a Trust-orchestrated killing in Las Vegas, then flash-forwards to the present day and present woes where The Trust's machinations have come to fruition. No one--neither the elderly nor the very, very young--is safe from their violence. Goodness doesn't exist in these pages, only dark shades of gray on a character landscape where righteous avengers have morphed into ice-hearted killers. Beauteous Latina ex-con Dizzy Cordova valiantly attempts to remain above the slaughter, but eventually she, too, is swept into the maelstrom of evil as Trust members turn against each other and friend kills friend. Almost as an aside to this large-scale slaughterhouse--albeit a tragic one--we watch the fate of tiny drug-runner Pip, a child who's been ordered to assassinate another child. Pip's home life is disastrous, a rat-infested walk-up inhabited by a slovenly mother who would sell her own baby for more drugs.

100 Bullets' brilliantly addictive story line is brought to lush life by artist Eduardo Risso, whose tilt-a-whirl angles and gasp-worthy foreshortening perfectly illustrate the mayhem throughout its pages. Explosions tear hands away from hit men in an orgy of crimson and gold (coloring by Patricia Mulvihill); the dank streets of an inner-city slum are shrouded in umber; the groomed symmetry of a Hawaiian plantation sparkles in crisp blue and green. And, oh, the stunning portraiture of the cast of characters: Agent Graves, stern and chiseled; Abe Rothstein, smug and fat; Dizzy Cordova, determined and gorgeous; Loop Hughes, menacing and slick. As the final volume ends, so do lives. The only consolation left for us is to begin reading the series all over again, starting with First Shot, Last Call. I've already started. Warning: Graphic (pun unavoidable) sex and violence.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

These days, graphic novels have become so mainstream that it sometimes seems everyone is getting involved, from Stephen King (The Stand, etc.) and Dean Koontz (Frankenstein, etc.), to Ian Rankin (Dark Entries). But the 100 Bullets series, first introduced a decade ago, remains a classic of this ever-expanding genre.

Summing up the labyrinthine plot developed through 100 issues (now bound into a magnificent 13-volume collection) is nigh to impossible, but for those unfamiliar with 100 Bullets, here's the main story arc. In an area of what would later become Virginia, someone--or some thing--wipes out the Elizabethan colony of Roanoke, thus setting up a mystery that 400 years later remains unsolved. 100 Bullets tells us that this Colonial wipe-out was set in motion by The Trust, a shadowy consortium of European do-badders which still exists in the present day. Over the years, assassinations have decimated the inheritors of The Trust, partially because of a man called Agent Graves.

In previous volumes, Graves, a mysterious figure himself, handed out 100 untraceable bullets to unlikely recipients. Many of these folks have wreaked vengeance on The Trust and their henchmen, the Minutemen. Now The Trust has dwindled down to Augustus, Benito, Megan, Tibo, and Joan. None are averse to killing their enemies, but as the 100 Bullets saga steamrolls towards its end, they may be about to get their comeuppance.

100 Bullets Vol. 13: Wilt opens in 1963 with a Trust-orchestrated killing in Las Vegas, then flash-forwards to the present day and present woes where The Trust's machinations have come to fruition. No one--neither the elderly nor the very, very young--is safe from their violence. Goodness doesn't exist in these pages, only dark shades of gray on a character landscape where righteous avengers have morphed into ice-hearted killers. Beauteous Latina ex-con Dizzy Cordova valiantly attempts to remain above the slaughter, but eventually she, too, is swept into the maelstrom of evil as Trust members turn against each other and friend kills friend. Almost as an aside to this large-scale slaughterhouse--albeit a tragic one--we watch the fate of tiny drug-runner Pip, a child who's been ordered to assassinate another child. Pip's home life is disastrous, a rat-infested walk-up inhabited by a slovenly mother who would sell her own baby for more drugs.

100 Bullets' brilliantly addictive story line is brought to lush life by artist Eduardo Risso, whose tilt-a-whirl angles and gasp-worthy foreshortening perfectly illustrate the mayhem throughout its pages. Explosions tear hands away from hit men in an orgy of crimson and gold (coloring by Patricia Mulvihill); the dank streets of an inner-city slum are shrouded in umber; the groomed symmetry of a Hawaiian plantation sparkles in crisp blue and green. And, oh, the stunning portraiture of the cast of characters: Agent Graves, stern and chiseled; Abe Rothstein, smug and fat; Dizzy Cordova, determined and gorgeous; Loop Hughes, menacing and slick. As the final volume ends, so do lives. The only consolation left for us is to begin reading the series all over again, starting with First Shot, Last Call. I've already started. Warning: Graphic (pun unavoidable) sex and violence.

206 Bones
Beverly J. DeWeese

Forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is in Chicago to defend her autopsy of an aging heiress, whose animal-damaged body had been found in an Ontario woods. Soon, three other elderly Canadian women go missing, presumably murdered. If so, where are their bodies and what is their connection? Even more personally troubling for the perfectionist Tempe, why has she been making serious mistakes in the lab?

206 Bones' complicated, fast-moving plot has at least four subplots: the hunt for the missing Canadian women and their killer; the mystery of Tempe's uncharacteristic forensics goofs; a search for the body of her ex-husband's nephew; and Tempe's seemingly futile (though forensically the most interesting) attempt to identify 50-year-old bones found in a lake.

After 11 previous books in the series, readers see the confident Tempe extremely vulnerable for the first time. A perfectionist and a professional, her recent lab slip-ups are causing her to doubt herself. Additionally, despite admitting to being lonely and afraid, Tempe holds back from a developing relationship with Detective-Lieutenant Andrew Ryan. Tempe even doubts the friendship and integrity of her longtime coworkers, especially when a hardworking new staff member seems intent on making herself "top dog." But the lowest point comes when Tempe finds herself injured, entombed, and terrified.

Lots of action, scads of fascinating forensics, and an intriguing, carefully designed plot, plus Tempe's likeability, make this an excellent addition to this long-running series.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is in Chicago to defend her autopsy of an aging heiress, whose animal-damaged body had been found in an Ontario woods. Soon, three other elderly Canadian women go missing, presumably murdered. If so, where are their bodies and what is their connection? Even more personally troubling for the perfectionist Tempe, why has she been making serious mistakes in the lab?

206 Bones' complicated, fast-moving plot has at least four subplots: the hunt for the missing Canadian women and their killer; the mystery of Tempe's uncharacteristic forensics goofs; a search for the body of her ex-husband's nephew; and Tempe's seemingly futile (though forensically the most interesting) attempt to identify 50-year-old bones found in a lake.

After 11 previous books in the series, readers see the confident Tempe extremely vulnerable for the first time. A perfectionist and a professional, her recent lab slip-ups are causing her to doubt herself. Additionally, despite admitting to being lonely and afraid, Tempe holds back from a developing relationship with Detective-Lieutenant Andrew Ryan. Tempe even doubts the friendship and integrity of her longtime coworkers, especially when a hardworking new staff member seems intent on making herself "top dog." But the lowest point comes when Tempe finds herself injured, entombed, and terrified.

Lots of action, scads of fascinating forensics, and an intriguing, carefully designed plot, plus Tempe's likeability, make this an excellent addition to this long-running series.

A Bad Day for Sorry
Betty Webb

Stella Hardesty is a cranky, menopausal woman with a weight problem and a love for Johnny Walker Black Label. She's also a killer, having dispatched her violent husband via a heavy wrench. Miraculously escaping a prison sentence, Stella spends her free time "counseling" abusive men by tying them up with restraints ordered from an online bondage site, breaking their fingers and other offending appendages, then promising that a second offense will result in a shotgun to the privates. Recognizing the law's limitations regarding serial batterers, "Goat," the county sheriff, normally turns a blind eye to Stella's fevered vigilantism; but when the abusive Roy Dean kidnaps Tucker, the two-year old son of Dean's beaten-down wife, Goat finds himself unwillingly drawn with Stella into a case that might include organized crime.

Stella is obviously nuts, but the town's women love her. You will, too, in this wickedly funny book, especially during the passages where author Littlefield lovingly describes the mayhem Stella inflicts on pond-scum men. What's not to love? A one-woman vengeance committee, Stella oozes charm even as she brandishes guns, knives, pliers, and other instruments of torture. The dialogue is such dead-on Missouri that I'd almost swear Littlefield taped conversations between my rural Missouri kin. Violent, compassionate, and laugh-out-loud funny, this first novel is utterly unique, a can't-put-it-downer narrated in a brilliant, bristly voice. In an interview, Littlefield once disclosed that she'd written several unpublished novels, all rejected because their heroines were considered "too bland." Well, she's vanquished blandness here.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Stella Hardesty is a cranky, menopausal woman with a weight problem and a love for Johnny Walker Black Label. She's also a killer, having dispatched her violent husband via a heavy wrench. Miraculously escaping a prison sentence, Stella spends her free time "counseling" abusive men by tying them up with restraints ordered from an online bondage site, breaking their fingers and other offending appendages, then promising that a second offense will result in a shotgun to the privates. Recognizing the law's limitations regarding serial batterers, "Goat," the county sheriff, normally turns a blind eye to Stella's fevered vigilantism; but when the abusive Roy Dean kidnaps Tucker, the two-year old son of Dean's beaten-down wife, Goat finds himself unwillingly drawn with Stella into a case that might include organized crime.

Stella is obviously nuts, but the town's women love her. You will, too, in this wickedly funny book, especially during the passages where author Littlefield lovingly describes the mayhem Stella inflicts on pond-scum men. What's not to love? A one-woman vengeance committee, Stella oozes charm even as she brandishes guns, knives, pliers, and other instruments of torture. The dialogue is such dead-on Missouri that I'd almost swear Littlefield taped conversations between my rural Missouri kin. Violent, compassionate, and laugh-out-loud funny, this first novel is utterly unique, a can't-put-it-downer narrated in a brilliant, bristly voice. In an interview, Littlefield once disclosed that she'd written several unpublished novels, all rejected because their heroines were considered "too bland." Well, she's vanquished blandness here.

Alibi
Kevin Burton Smith

Urban, schmurban. The latest from Teri Woods falls under "urban fiction" or "ghetto lit," the new crime fiction genre aimed at an ostensibly black, ostensibly younger audience obsessed with "keeping it real." That is assuming of course that "reality" is a world populated almost entirely by one-dimensional gangstas, whores, and hustlers, where the (white) power structure is almost inevitably corrupt, racist and/or incompetent. It's a romantic fantasy rooted in a cynical, unquestioning and nuance-free fatalism--in other words, pure unadulterated pulp as valid and vivid, and as much a part of its time and world, as anything from Hammett or Spillane; offering neither apology nor redemption.

Certainly, none of the designated losers in Alibi seem to see any way out. Even the "hero," 22-year-old Philly stripper and massage parlor prostitute Daisy Fothergill doesn't really escape the life--she simply tumbles out of it for a while through a combination of coincidence, blind luck, and convenient plot machinations. For a thousand bucks, she agrees to provide an alibi for Nard, the lone survivor of a drug heist gone wrong that left three men dead and him charged with murder. But the escalation of violence, the death of her mother, the appearance of a suitor who appears too good to be true, and an unexpected windfall converge to make Daisy reconsider the deal. She bolts, seeking refuge with her remaining family: a church-going aunt and a young cousin in rural Tennessee. It's all roughly told, and crudely plotted, but it gets the job done in suitably pulpy fashion. Woods' dedicated following should lap it up. But the controversies, lawsuits, and rumors surrounding its author (a self-confessed hustler) might make for a more interesting story.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Urban, schmurban. The latest from Teri Woods falls under "urban fiction" or "ghetto lit," the new crime fiction genre aimed at an ostensibly black, ostensibly younger audience obsessed with "keeping it real." That is assuming of course that "reality" is a world populated almost entirely by one-dimensional gangstas, whores, and hustlers, where the (white) power structure is almost inevitably corrupt, racist and/or incompetent. It's a romantic fantasy rooted in a cynical, unquestioning and nuance-free fatalism--in other words, pure unadulterated pulp as valid and vivid, and as much a part of its time and world, as anything from Hammett or Spillane; offering neither apology nor redemption.

Certainly, none of the designated losers in Alibi seem to see any way out. Even the "hero," 22-year-old Philly stripper and massage parlor prostitute Daisy Fothergill doesn't really escape the life--she simply tumbles out of it for a while through a combination of coincidence, blind luck, and convenient plot machinations. For a thousand bucks, she agrees to provide an alibi for Nard, the lone survivor of a drug heist gone wrong that left three men dead and him charged with murder. But the escalation of violence, the death of her mother, the appearance of a suitor who appears too good to be true, and an unexpected windfall converge to make Daisy reconsider the deal. She bolts, seeking refuge with her remaining family: a church-going aunt and a young cousin in rural Tennessee. It's all roughly told, and crudely plotted, but it gets the job done in suitably pulpy fashion. Woods' dedicated following should lap it up. But the controversies, lawsuits, and rumors surrounding its author (a self-confessed hustler) might make for a more interesting story.

Box 21
Barbara Fister

Swedish crime fiction, varied though it is, tends to avoid the sensationalistic cat-and-mouse plot that drives many thrillers and instead uses the genre to examine contemporary society. Victims are often more the focus than the villains, and though police are nominally the heroes, the flaws in the justice system and the corrosive effect of unequal power relationships are implicated. This does not prevent these stories from being thrilling however, and Box 21 is further evidence that social issues can be the stuff of edge-of-the-seat storytelling.

A young woman from a Baltic state who has been trafficked to Sweden by a highly organized prostitution ring is found by police horribly beaten, apparently by an angry pimp. While in the hospital, she asks a friend to retrieve some items from a rental box, and armed with a gun, explosives, and a videotape she takes hostages in the morgue. Though her Swedish is limited, she's able to hold off a police team as negotiators try to find out what she wants. Investigators desperately try to find out who she is and what led to the standoff. What results manages to be brutal and deeply sensitive at the same time.

Roslund and Hellström are, respectively, a criminoligist and an ex-convict who now works with young offenders. There's an authority to their writing; they know the territory firsthand. Published in the UK as The Last Vault, it's a shame the translator's name is not included anywhere in the publication because he or she also deserves high marks.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Swedish crime fiction, varied though it is, tends to avoid the sensationalistic cat-and-mouse plot that drives many thrillers and instead uses the genre to examine contemporary society. Victims are often more the focus than the villains, and though police are nominally the heroes, the flaws in the justice system and the corrosive effect of unequal power relationships are implicated. This does not prevent these stories from being thrilling however, and Box 21 is further evidence that social issues can be the stuff of edge-of-the-seat storytelling.

A young woman from a Baltic state who has been trafficked to Sweden by a highly organized prostitution ring is found by police horribly beaten, apparently by an angry pimp. While in the hospital, she asks a friend to retrieve some items from a rental box, and armed with a gun, explosives, and a videotape she takes hostages in the morgue. Though her Swedish is limited, she's able to hold off a police team as negotiators try to find out what she wants. Investigators desperately try to find out who she is and what led to the standoff. What results manages to be brutal and deeply sensitive at the same time.

Roslund and Hellström are, respectively, a criminoligist and an ex-convict who now works with young offenders. There's an authority to their writing; they know the territory firsthand. Published in the UK as The Last Vault, it's a shame the translator's name is not included anywhere in the publication because he or she also deserves high marks.

Chambers of Death
Mary Helen Becker

Set in the latter half of the 13th century, at the end of Henry III's reign, Chambers of Death is the sixth tale featuring Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal. Eleanor, a young nun, and her trusted friend Brother Thomas have undertaken a journey to settle some land claims; but on their way home, a terrible storm and a serious illness in their party force them to seek shelter at a manor owned by Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln. The detour turns out to be one fraught with temptation and danger in a household of discord, jealousy, and sexual liaisons, which result in several murders. The sheriff, the king's man, is more concerned with his own political advancement than he is with truth and justice, but Eleanor is eager to see right prevail. Along the way, the young nun comes face to face with her own desires and temptations.

While this smoothly-written mystery takes place in the Middle Ages, the religion and sex-obsessed characters could be found in any time period. The author does provide endnotes with information about the period, however, which proves she did her homework. Chambers of Death is a sexy soap opera of a medieval mystery.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Set in the latter half of the 13th century, at the end of Henry III's reign, Chambers of Death is the sixth tale featuring Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal. Eleanor, a young nun, and her trusted friend Brother Thomas have undertaken a journey to settle some land claims; but on their way home, a terrible storm and a serious illness in their party force them to seek shelter at a manor owned by Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln. The detour turns out to be one fraught with temptation and danger in a household of discord, jealousy, and sexual liaisons, which result in several murders. The sheriff, the king's man, is more concerned with his own political advancement than he is with truth and justice, but Eleanor is eager to see right prevail. Along the way, the young nun comes face to face with her own desires and temptations.

While this smoothly-written mystery takes place in the Middle Ages, the religion and sex-obsessed characters could be found in any time period. The author does provide endnotes with information about the period, however, which proves she did her homework. Chambers of Death is a sexy soap opera of a medieval mystery.

Chinese Whispers
Hank Wagner

Li Yan, head of Beijing's serious crime squad, has certainly seen his share of grisly homicides during his long and storied career, but nothing compares to the horror which is wrought by the serial killer who refers to himself as "the Beijing Ripper." The killer literally recreates the original murderer's attacks stroke for stroke and is steadily working his way towards his re-creation of the most vicious of Jack the Ripper's attacks--the slaying of Mary Kelly. What's more, it seems he has taken a particular dislike to Li Yan, taunting the celebrated cop with grisly mementos of his kills, and launching attacks on all those around him, including his colleagues, his American expatriate wife Margaret, and their infant son.

Chinese Whispers is a haunting, enthralling piece of work. It's also a memorable excursion into the landscape of modern China, a country in the throes of simultaneous economic, cultural, and political revolutions. In addition to his mastery of characterization and pacing, May's is exquisite. It's the kind of writing that sends readers back to certain passages to savor them again. The very good news here is that Chinese Whispers is actually May's sixth China thriller. Heretofore published only in the UK, they will all soon be readily available in the States courtesy of the discerning Poisoned Pen Press.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Li Yan, head of Beijing's serious crime squad, has certainly seen his share of grisly homicides during his long and storied career, but nothing compares to the horror which is wrought by the serial killer who refers to himself as "the Beijing Ripper." The killer literally recreates the original murderer's attacks stroke for stroke and is steadily working his way towards his re-creation of the most vicious of Jack the Ripper's attacks--the slaying of Mary Kelly. What's more, it seems he has taken a particular dislike to Li Yan, taunting the celebrated cop with grisly mementos of his kills, and launching attacks on all those around him, including his colleagues, his American expatriate wife Margaret, and their infant son.

Chinese Whispers is a haunting, enthralling piece of work. It's also a memorable excursion into the landscape of modern China, a country in the throes of simultaneous economic, cultural, and political revolutions. In addition to his mastery of characterization and pacing, May's is exquisite. It's the kind of writing that sends readers back to certain passages to savor them again. The very good news here is that Chinese Whispers is actually May's sixth China thriller. Heretofore published only in the UK, they will all soon be readily available in the States courtesy of the discerning Poisoned Pen Press.

Deadly Descent
Oline Cogdill

Charlotte Hinger infuses her regional mystery with a strong plot, lots of family secrets, and interesting Kansas history in her mystery debut. Already known for her award-winning westerns, Hinger's smooth transition to mysteries concentrates on the emotional baggage of families and the joys and problems found in small towns.

Seven years ago, historian Lottie Albright moved to a small western Kansas town to marry a veterinarian more than 20 years her senior. Though she has step-children older than she, and sometimes still feels like an outsider in town, Lottie was "sure of the man" when she married him, and "seven years later, I was still sure of the man."

Lottie finds job satisfaction compiling oral histories for a county book project and helping manage the senatorial campaign for local golden boy Brian Hadley. But the history project turns deadly when Brian's aunt Zelda is murdered, a valuable document goes missing, and anonymous letters questioning Lottie's integrity appear. To find out who is trying to ruin her, Lottie takes on another part-time job as a sheriff's deputy.

Although it seems like a big leap from historian to sheriff's deputy, Hinger's inspired storytelling makes this seem plausible. The author is especially good with her characters, creating an intelligent, compassionate protagonist in Lottie and showing the subtleties of conflict, love, respect, and jealousy between family members without making anyone a villain. This well-paced, well-written debut shows all the promise of a long, intriguing series.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Charlotte Hinger infuses her regional mystery with a strong plot, lots of family secrets, and interesting Kansas history in her mystery debut. Already known for her award-winning westerns, Hinger's smooth transition to mysteries concentrates on the emotional baggage of families and the joys and problems found in small towns.

Seven years ago, historian Lottie Albright moved to a small western Kansas town to marry a veterinarian more than 20 years her senior. Though she has step-children older than she, and sometimes still feels like an outsider in town, Lottie was "sure of the man" when she married him, and "seven years later, I was still sure of the man."

Lottie finds job satisfaction compiling oral histories for a county book project and helping manage the senatorial campaign for local golden boy Brian Hadley. But the history project turns deadly when Brian's aunt Zelda is murdered, a valuable document goes missing, and anonymous letters questioning Lottie's integrity appear. To find out who is trying to ruin her, Lottie takes on another part-time job as a sheriff's deputy.

Although it seems like a big leap from historian to sheriff's deputy, Hinger's inspired storytelling makes this seem plausible. The author is especially good with her characters, creating an intelligent, compassionate protagonist in Lottie and showing the subtleties of conflict, love, respect, and jealousy between family members without making anyone a villain. This well-paced, well-written debut shows all the promise of a long, intriguing series.

Evil for Evil

Billy Boyle is a third generation Irish-American cop from Boston with a distant relationship to Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of American WWII troops in Europe. Billy works in Ike's Office of Special Investigations, a catch-all department of clandestine operations. This time Billy is dispatched to Northern Ireland to investigate the theft of 50 Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), and teams up with subaltern Sl

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Billy Boyle is a third generation Irish-American cop from Boston with a distant relationship to Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of American WWII troops in Europe. Billy works in Ike's Office of Special Investigations, a catch-all department of clandestine operations. This time Billy is dispatched to Northern Ireland to investigate the theft of 50 Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), and teams up with subaltern Sl

For Better, for Murder
Dori Cocuz

Lisa Bork's debut novel, For Better, For Murder, accelerates from 0 to 120 in the first three pages when her main character Jolene Asdale discovers a dead body in the front seat of a pre-owned Ferrari Spider sitting in her exotic car dealership. To make matters worse, the dead man is a zoning board executive with whom Jolene publicly argued about relocating her dealership only a week earlier. Jolene's luck goes from bad to worse when her sister Erica, missing from a psychiatric in-patient home, is implicated in a spree of recent robberies. Plus, evidence related to the murder is discovered at Jolene's home and The Beak, a knife-wielding mob-connected crook, shows up unexpectedly to further complicate matters. To top it all off, Jolene's estranged husband, Deputy Ray Parker is investigating the murder and robberies.

Even though the book starts off briskly with a murder, early parts of the story sometimes seem slow and it may take readers a while to warm up to the stubborn and thick-headed Jolene. From the moment The Beak attacks our heroine midway through the book, though, the story takes off on a fun joy ride. In addition to the action, Bork packs in plenty of romance. She had me even more interested in finding out if Jolene and Ray would get back together than in who the murderer was.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Lisa Bork's debut novel, For Better, For Murder, accelerates from 0 to 120 in the first three pages when her main character Jolene Asdale discovers a dead body in the front seat of a pre-owned Ferrari Spider sitting in her exotic car dealership. To make matters worse, the dead man is a zoning board executive with whom Jolene publicly argued about relocating her dealership only a week earlier. Jolene's luck goes from bad to worse when her sister Erica, missing from a psychiatric in-patient home, is implicated in a spree of recent robberies. Plus, evidence related to the murder is discovered at Jolene's home and The Beak, a knife-wielding mob-connected crook, shows up unexpectedly to further complicate matters. To top it all off, Jolene's estranged husband, Deputy Ray Parker is investigating the murder and robberies.

Even though the book starts off briskly with a murder, early parts of the story sometimes seem slow and it may take readers a while to warm up to the stubborn and thick-headed Jolene. From the moment The Beak attacks our heroine midway through the book, though, the story takes off on a fun joy ride. In addition to the action, Bork packs in plenty of romance. She had me even more interested in finding out if Jolene and Ray would get back together than in who the murderer was.

Hardball
Betty Webb

A dying woman hires Chicago private detective V.I. (Victoria Iphigenia) Warshawski to find her nephew, Lamont Gadsden, a young black man who went missing in 1966 after a visit by Dr. Martin Luther King sparked a riot that resulted in the murder of a Civil Rights worker. After an oddly short trial, a friend of Lamont's confessed to the crime, and 40 years later, rumors of a forced confession by way of police torture are still being whispered around the city's South Side. Digging deeper into the old case, Warshawski finds herself pitted against not only the cops, but also the FBI and Homeland Security. The Civil Rights Movement of the '60s looms large in Hardball, as does Chicago's famously corrupt political scene, but so does family. When Petra, Warshawski's idealistic cousin, moves to Chicago, the PI is reminded of her own long-dead father, Tony, a cop with supposedly inviolate ethics. However, certain facts revealed by her investigation into Lamont's disappearance have cast doubt on even her father's reputation.

Hardball is deeply satisfying on many levels, partially because of Paretsky's ability to create three-dimensional characters who enrich her Byzantine plot. Petra combines innocence and idealism with a sense of entitlement; Johnny "The Hammer" Merton is a ruthless gangbanger whose idealism once matched Petra's; Warshawski herself may be courageous, but she's so temperamental that she's become her own worst enemy. But it is the author's own background--Paretsky was a Chicago community organizer in 1966--that lends such credence to her portrait of a tumultuous time. Read Hardball once for the thrills, then re-read it for its heart-tugging history lesson.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

A dying woman hires Chicago private detective V.I. (Victoria Iphigenia) Warshawski to find her nephew, Lamont Gadsden, a young black man who went missing in 1966 after a visit by Dr. Martin Luther King sparked a riot that resulted in the murder of a Civil Rights worker. After an oddly short trial, a friend of Lamont's confessed to the crime, and 40 years later, rumors of a forced confession by way of police torture are still being whispered around the city's South Side. Digging deeper into the old case, Warshawski finds herself pitted against not only the cops, but also the FBI and Homeland Security. The Civil Rights Movement of the '60s looms large in Hardball, as does Chicago's famously corrupt political scene, but so does family. When Petra, Warshawski's idealistic cousin, moves to Chicago, the PI is reminded of her own long-dead father, Tony, a cop with supposedly inviolate ethics. However, certain facts revealed by her investigation into Lamont's disappearance have cast doubt on even her father's reputation.

Hardball is deeply satisfying on many levels, partially because of Paretsky's ability to create three-dimensional characters who enrich her Byzantine plot. Petra combines innocence and idealism with a sense of entitlement; Johnny "The Hammer" Merton is a ruthless gangbanger whose idealism once matched Petra's; Warshawski herself may be courageous, but she's so temperamental that she's become her own worst enemy. But it is the author's own background--Paretsky was a Chicago community organizer in 1966--that lends such credence to her portrait of a tumultuous time. Read Hardball once for the thrills, then re-read it for its heart-tugging history lesson.

Hell's Kitchen Homicide
Jim Winter

Connor Bard doesn't want to be a cop anymore. He wants to be a musician. That changes when high-priced lawyer Walter Lawton is found along the Hudson, his car missing and a bullet in his head. It looks like it might be a slam dunk with a couple of ready-made suspects, but the widow Lawton is making seductive overtures to Bard, and an Albanian woman drops into his life at a moment that seems less and less like coincidence.

Kipps doesn't present anything in Hell's Kitchen at face value except Bard. Everyone in this book has an angle, even Kipp's least dynamic character, the vindictive police captain named Reynolds. Kipps twists things around until even Mrs. Lawton, who doesn't fake any grief over her husband's death, turns out to be something other than the black widow we first suppose her to be. The author sets up sound theories for Bard and his partner only to knock over the house of cards within a chapter or two. When Bard finally finds the real culprit, the resolution is anything but conventional. Bard makes an imperfect human decision instead of a flawless rational one, because Kipps knows real life doesn't follow the plot lines of Law & Order--nor should it.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Connor Bard doesn't want to be a cop anymore. He wants to be a musician. That changes when high-priced lawyer Walter Lawton is found along the Hudson, his car missing and a bullet in his head. It looks like it might be a slam dunk with a couple of ready-made suspects, but the widow Lawton is making seductive overtures to Bard, and an Albanian woman drops into his life at a moment that seems less and less like coincidence.

Kipps doesn't present anything in Hell's Kitchen at face value except Bard. Everyone in this book has an angle, even Kipp's least dynamic character, the vindictive police captain named Reynolds. Kipps twists things around until even Mrs. Lawton, who doesn't fake any grief over her husband's death, turns out to be something other than the black widow we first suppose her to be. The author sets up sound theories for Bard and his partner only to knock over the house of cards within a chapter or two. When Bard finally finds the real culprit, the resolution is anything but conventional. Bard makes an imperfect human decision instead of a flawless rational one, because Kipps knows real life doesn't follow the plot lines of Law & Order--nor should it.

Her Deadly Mischief
Jackie Houchin

Her Deadly Mischief transports readers to the world of 1742 Venice for a tale of murder and intrigue as shadowy and convoluted as the city's famous canals. It's the third week of Carnavale and all of Venice is wearing a disguise. What better time for a villain to act? On opening night for the spectacular opera Armida, castrato soprano Tito Amato witnesses a murder in one of the lofty fourth tier theatre boxes at the peak of his soaring aria. He alone sees the woman struggle, clutch at the drapes, and then fall to her death with a dagger through her heart.

The victim is quickly identified as a beautiful courtesan who'd made a foolish wager. The only person who can identify her attacker is Tito, from his brief glimpse of the man's malevolent gaze behind a mask as he hesitated just before fleeing. With his singular knowledge, Tito joins Venice's new chief of constabulary in a hunt for the killer. Their investigation produces many suspects with likely motives, but none seem to fit Tito's remembered image of the killer. When the chief is assigned another case, Tito doggedly continues the search, making an astonishing discovery that puts him and his family in deadly jeopardy.

Myers' fascinating, if unusual, crime-solving protagonist quickly captures the reader's sympathy and loyalty. Puzzle mystery fans will enjoy the multi-layered plot, numerous suspects, false leads, and cleverly hidden clues. History buffs will appreciate Myers' vivid, well-researched descriptions of life in 18th century Venice. Fifth in the series, this installment will satisfy returning fans and send first-time readers running to the author's backlist.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Her Deadly Mischief transports readers to the world of 1742 Venice for a tale of murder and intrigue as shadowy and convoluted as the city's famous canals. It's the third week of Carnavale and all of Venice is wearing a disguise. What better time for a villain to act? On opening night for the spectacular opera Armida, castrato soprano Tito Amato witnesses a murder in one of the lofty fourth tier theatre boxes at the peak of his soaring aria. He alone sees the woman struggle, clutch at the drapes, and then fall to her death with a dagger through her heart.

The victim is quickly identified as a beautiful courtesan who'd made a foolish wager. The only person who can identify her attacker is Tito, from his brief glimpse of the man's malevolent gaze behind a mask as he hesitated just before fleeing. With his singular knowledge, Tito joins Venice's new chief of constabulary in a hunt for the killer. Their investigation produces many suspects with likely motives, but none seem to fit Tito's remembered image of the killer. When the chief is assigned another case, Tito doggedly continues the search, making an astonishing discovery that puts him and his family in deadly jeopardy.

Myers' fascinating, if unusual, crime-solving protagonist quickly captures the reader's sympathy and loyalty. Puzzle mystery fans will enjoy the multi-layered plot, numerous suspects, false leads, and cleverly hidden clues. History buffs will appreciate Myers' vivid, well-researched descriptions of life in 18th century Venice. Fifth in the series, this installment will satisfy returning fans and send first-time readers running to the author's backlist.

In This Way I Was Saved
M. Schlecht

In This Way I Was Saved is a New York City story. It is a tragic story that begins and ends with death. It is also a story that will keep readers guessing on every page. Almost as soon as our narrator, Daniel, meets six-year-old Luke Nightingale and his mother, Claire, on the playground near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we know that something is not quite right. The boys hit it off, and Claire nonchalantly allows Luke to bring home Daniel like a stray puppy. Daniel subsequently witnesses Luke's father walking out on his wife and son, and Claire falling into bouts of depression. It is Daniel's job to help Luke through these events, sometimes providing welcome advice, sometimes not. Daniel and Luke are soon bound together like parasite and host.

Where did Daniel come from? Is he an imaginary friend, or something even more sinister? And why is he the one narrating this story? These are some of the questions that make In This Way I Was Saved so compelling. While it is short on thrills, fans of psychological suspense tales will appreciate Deleeuw's insight into troubled minds. As Luke grows up, his relationships with both his mother and Daniel become even more complicated. The tug of war between free will and genetic destiny is one of the themes explored here. The story fast-forwards to Luke's college life when Daniel's influence has grown stronger and more dangerous, leading to serious consequences. Author Brian DeLeeuw has written a chilling debut novel that offers a unique perspective on mental illness.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

In This Way I Was Saved is a New York City story. It is a tragic story that begins and ends with death. It is also a story that will keep readers guessing on every page. Almost as soon as our narrator, Daniel, meets six-year-old Luke Nightingale and his mother, Claire, on the playground near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we know that something is not quite right. The boys hit it off, and Claire nonchalantly allows Luke to bring home Daniel like a stray puppy. Daniel subsequently witnesses Luke's father walking out on his wife and son, and Claire falling into bouts of depression. It is Daniel's job to help Luke through these events, sometimes providing welcome advice, sometimes not. Daniel and Luke are soon bound together like parasite and host.

Where did Daniel come from? Is he an imaginary friend, or something even more sinister? And why is he the one narrating this story? These are some of the questions that make In This Way I Was Saved so compelling. While it is short on thrills, fans of psychological suspense tales will appreciate Deleeuw's insight into troubled minds. As Luke grows up, his relationships with both his mother and Daniel become even more complicated. The tug of war between free will and genetic destiny is one of the themes explored here. The story fast-forwards to Luke's college life when Daniel's influence has grown stronger and more dangerous, leading to serious consequences. Author Brian DeLeeuw has written a chilling debut novel that offers a unique perspective on mental illness.

Loot the Moon
Bob Smith

Can Mark Arsenault do for Providence, Rhode Island what Laura Lippman does for Baltimore or Robert Parker for Boston? On the basis of his early work, Shamus Award nominee Spiked and now Loot The Moon, the answer is a resounding yes. Providence, situated between Boston and New York, has all the history, danger, and intrigue of its larger Northeastern neighbors, but is virtually untouched in the mystery genre and crying out for someone to bring it to life. Arsenault, using his delightful protagonist Billy Povich and an interesting cast of recurring characters, easily accomplishes the task.

In Loot The Moon, a thief murders a prominent judge, kidnaps the victim's son, and carjacks a passing motorist during the getaway. But there is an accident and the thief is killed. Martin Smothers, the judge's former partner, suspects the thief was hired to do the job and turns to Billy, a former investigator and current obituary writer for the local paper, to find out the truth. Billy, with help from his elderly father and young son (two unusual but fascinating sidekicks), begins to investigate organized crime figures, petty thieves, legal associates, and even the judge's own family. In so doing he discovers secret aspects of the respected judge's private life. And the more Billy investigates, the more he puts himself in danger. In one exciting scene, Billy barely survives an effort to bury him alive. To conclude this impressive tale of murder and intrigue, the ending is one of those great, "of course, why didn't I see that?" moments for the reader. Arsenault and Billy Povich have officially put Providence on the mystery map.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Can Mark Arsenault do for Providence, Rhode Island what Laura Lippman does for Baltimore or Robert Parker for Boston? On the basis of his early work, Shamus Award nominee Spiked and now Loot The Moon, the answer is a resounding yes. Providence, situated between Boston and New York, has all the history, danger, and intrigue of its larger Northeastern neighbors, but is virtually untouched in the mystery genre and crying out for someone to bring it to life. Arsenault, using his delightful protagonist Billy Povich and an interesting cast of recurring characters, easily accomplishes the task.

In Loot The Moon, a thief murders a prominent judge, kidnaps the victim's son, and carjacks a passing motorist during the getaway. But there is an accident and the thief is killed. Martin Smothers, the judge's former partner, suspects the thief was hired to do the job and turns to Billy, a former investigator and current obituary writer for the local paper, to find out the truth. Billy, with help from his elderly father and young son (two unusual but fascinating sidekicks), begins to investigate organized crime figures, petty thieves, legal associates, and even the judge's own family. In so doing he discovers secret aspects of the respected judge's private life. And the more Billy investigates, the more he puts himself in danger. In one exciting scene, Billy barely survives an effort to bury him alive. To conclude this impressive tale of murder and intrigue, the ending is one of those great, "of course, why didn't I see that?" moments for the reader. Arsenault and Billy Povich have officially put Providence on the mystery map.

Poisonville
Charles L. P. Silet

In the week he is to be married, Francesco Viscentin finds his fiancee, Giovanna Barovier, dead in her bath--a death that soon proves to be a murder. At the same time three "thrill boys," Rocco, Denis, and Lucio, commit a series of home invasions; a disgraced industrialist, Giovanna's father, returns home from his exile abroad; a local loan shark appears to be involved with an eco-mafia; and several of the city's most prominent families are embroiled in a financial scheme over outsourcing local industry to Romania. When the city authorities seem reluctant to probe too deeply into Giovanna's murder, Francesco turns amateur sleuth and his investigations turn up more than he bargained for, including some nasty things perhaps involving his lawyer father.

Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta have written an exciting noir thriller that explores the themes of industrial corruption and environmental degradation. Northeastern Italy, once prosperous but now losing jobs to Eastern Europe and China, provides a fertile ground for organized crime and rampant municipal corruption. These contemporary issues of first- and third-world economic tensions form the compelling background for the unfolding tale. Poisonville, with its echo of Dashiell Hammet's Red Harvest, depicts a town totally rotten with systemic corruption and rife with ancient antagonisms, a town, in short, that is in need of a thorough cleansing.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

In the week he is to be married, Francesco Viscentin finds his fiancee, Giovanna Barovier, dead in her bath--a death that soon proves to be a murder. At the same time three "thrill boys," Rocco, Denis, and Lucio, commit a series of home invasions; a disgraced industrialist, Giovanna's father, returns home from his exile abroad; a local loan shark appears to be involved with an eco-mafia; and several of the city's most prominent families are embroiled in a financial scheme over outsourcing local industry to Romania. When the city authorities seem reluctant to probe too deeply into Giovanna's murder, Francesco turns amateur sleuth and his investigations turn up more than he bargained for, including some nasty things perhaps involving his lawyer father.

Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta have written an exciting noir thriller that explores the themes of industrial corruption and environmental degradation. Northeastern Italy, once prosperous but now losing jobs to Eastern Europe and China, provides a fertile ground for organized crime and rampant municipal corruption. These contemporary issues of first- and third-world economic tensions form the compelling background for the unfolding tale. Poisonville, with its echo of Dashiell Hammet's Red Harvest, depicts a town totally rotten with systemic corruption and rife with ancient antagonisms, a town, in short, that is in need of a thorough cleansing.

Red to Black
Hank Wagner

Dryden's debut is narrated by KGB operative Anna, who relates the story of her forbidden love affair with the MI6 agent she refers to as Finn. Originally assigned to seduce him and then use her influence to gather intelligence, she instead falls for him and becomes part of his quixotic quest to dash the insidious Soviet operation known only as "the Plan," which was revealed to him by a highly placed mole. Her tale spans nearly two decades, beginning just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and concluding with an epilogue that mentions the beginnings of Vladimir Putin's saber rattling at the West in 2007 when Russia cut off oil and gas supplies to the EU country of Estonia. In between, it tells the story of Finn's growing knowledge of the enormous scope of the Plan, a plot so ambitious it sometimes seems almost absurd, except to those who are killed to keep its details a secret.

Red to Black overcomes a slow, almost tedious beginning, to develop into an intelligent and engaging (although extremely quiet and evenly-mannered) thriller. Heavy on tradecraft, suspense, and intrigue, it forgoes action almost entirely, evoking le Carre more than Ludlum (although both influences are evident). What Dryden deserves the most credit for, however, is expertly weaving fiction and fact to create a novel with a premise both plausible and troubling. Dryden plants disquieting seeds of doubt in the minds of his readers that are almost impossible to ignore.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Dryden's debut is narrated by KGB operative Anna, who relates the story of her forbidden love affair with the MI6 agent she refers to as Finn. Originally assigned to seduce him and then use her influence to gather intelligence, she instead falls for him and becomes part of his quixotic quest to dash the insidious Soviet operation known only as "the Plan," which was revealed to him by a highly placed mole. Her tale spans nearly two decades, beginning just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and concluding with an epilogue that mentions the beginnings of Vladimir Putin's saber rattling at the West in 2007 when Russia cut off oil and gas supplies to the EU country of Estonia. In between, it tells the story of Finn's growing knowledge of the enormous scope of the Plan, a plot so ambitious it sometimes seems almost absurd, except to those who are killed to keep its details a secret.

Red to Black overcomes a slow, almost tedious beginning, to develop into an intelligent and engaging (although extremely quiet and evenly-mannered) thriller. Heavy on tradecraft, suspense, and intrigue, it forgoes action almost entirely, evoking le Carre more than Ludlum (although both influences are evident). What Dryden deserves the most credit for, however, is expertly weaving fiction and fact to create a novel with a premise both plausible and troubling. Dryden plants disquieting seeds of doubt in the minds of his readers that are almost impossible to ignore.

September Fair
M. Schlecht

Mira James is the kind of small-town Minnesota reporter who doesn't like to make a fuss. Sent by her editor to cover the annual State Fair, she plans on a working vacation. So when a beauty pageant contestant, literally the dairy queen, is murdered, her first instinct is to steer clear. She would rather be investigating the deep fried Nut Goodies and other supremely unhealthy treats on offer. Soon enough, however, Mira is deeply involved in the search for Milkfed Mary's killer.

Jess Lourey was raised in Minnesota, and provides plenty of Gopher-state eccentricities, from the cheese curds to Mira's octogenarian no-nonsense sidekick Mrs. Berns, a major Neil Diamond fanatic. Something called "Mutton Busting" also takes place. It's all good high calorie fun with pageant gossip, animal rights protestors, and a mysterious corporate sponsor, Bovine Productivity Management, tossed into the mix to keep the action going until Mira can figure out just what is going on at the Fair.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Mira James is the kind of small-town Minnesota reporter who doesn't like to make a fuss. Sent by her editor to cover the annual State Fair, she plans on a working vacation. So when a beauty pageant contestant, literally the dairy queen, is murdered, her first instinct is to steer clear. She would rather be investigating the deep fried Nut Goodies and other supremely unhealthy treats on offer. Soon enough, however, Mira is deeply involved in the search for Milkfed Mary's killer.

Jess Lourey was raised in Minnesota, and provides plenty of Gopher-state eccentricities, from the cheese curds to Mira's octogenarian no-nonsense sidekick Mrs. Berns, a major Neil Diamond fanatic. Something called "Mutton Busting" also takes place. It's all good high calorie fun with pageant gossip, animal rights protestors, and a mysterious corporate sponsor, Bovine Productivity Management, tossed into the mix to keep the action going until Mira can figure out just what is going on at the Fair.

Skeleton Hill
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

A new Peter Diamond mystery is a cause for rejoicing for any longtime Peter Lovesey fan. The man writes flat-out great British police procedurals that play fair and take the reader step by step through the logical process of solving puzzling murders. In addition, the protagonist, Inspector Diamond who heads up the Bath Criminal Investigation Department (CID), is a delight to follow. Even in the toughest situations, he has a knack for getting what he wants from his crackerjack team and his overbearing boss, as well as his suspects and witnesses.

This tenth mystery in the series begins during the reenactment of a 350-year-old Civil War battle in Bath, when two actors discover a leg bone buried under a fallen tree. Thinking it's centuries old, they re-bury it. Later, one of them, a university professor, goes back to retrieve the bone for educational purposes and immediately goes missing. When the bone is eventually re-discovered by a local woman and her dog, and brought to the police, they discover that it is no more than 20 years old. A careful disinterment of the body reveals that the corpse is that of a young woman whose head was not buried with her.

A second murder, which Diamond believes is related to the first, complicates matters when his supervisor decides it should be turned over to the police in Bristol, where the second victim lived. Despite this obstacle, Diamond finds a way to control both investigations while keeping his boss, who may herself be connected to the cases, at bay.

Unlike some novels where clues magically pop up when most needed, Peter Diamond mysteries are solved through dogged police work. Because of this, readers get to know the personalities and the strengths and weaknesses of the members of Diamond's team, in this case including the Bristol contingent. Peter Lovesey, who has won just about every major mystery writing award on two continents, is in top form here.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

A new Peter Diamond mystery is a cause for rejoicing for any longtime Peter Lovesey fan. The man writes flat-out great British police procedurals that play fair and take the reader step by step through the logical process of solving puzzling murders. In addition, the protagonist, Inspector Diamond who heads up the Bath Criminal Investigation Department (CID), is a delight to follow. Even in the toughest situations, he has a knack for getting what he wants from his crackerjack team and his overbearing boss, as well as his suspects and witnesses.

This tenth mystery in the series begins during the reenactment of a 350-year-old Civil War battle in Bath, when two actors discover a leg bone buried under a fallen tree. Thinking it's centuries old, they re-bury it. Later, one of them, a university professor, goes back to retrieve the bone for educational purposes and immediately goes missing. When the bone is eventually re-discovered by a local woman and her dog, and brought to the police, they discover that it is no more than 20 years old. A careful disinterment of the body reveals that the corpse is that of a young woman whose head was not buried with her.

A second murder, which Diamond believes is related to the first, complicates matters when his supervisor decides it should be turned over to the police in Bristol, where the second victim lived. Despite this obstacle, Diamond finds a way to control both investigations while keeping his boss, who may herself be connected to the cases, at bay.

Unlike some novels where clues magically pop up when most needed, Peter Diamond mysteries are solved through dogged police work. Because of this, readers get to know the personalities and the strengths and weaknesses of the members of Diamond's team, in this case including the Bristol contingent. Peter Lovesey, who has won just about every major mystery writing award on two continents, is in top form here.

Smasher
Oline H. Cogdill

For most of us, particle physics would hardly seem to be fodder for an exciting mystery, but author Keith Raffel manages to make his topic fascinating, while never dumbing down his subject. It helps that Raffel is writing from the heart, exploring his characters' personalities and emotional well-being.

In his second novel following Dot Dead, Raffel continues to explore the life of Ian Michaels, the CEO of a hot Silicon Valley tech firm. He and his wife, Rowena, are out jogging when a car tries to run them down. Ian suffers a broken leg but Rowena is in a coma. Is the accident related to Rowena's job as a deputy D.A.? Or is it part of the shenanigans of a ruthless businessman who is after Ian's company and refuses to take no for an answer? As if he didn't have enough to worry about, Ian is drawn into the decades-old death of his aunt who was linked to Stanford University's physics department.

While the author, the founder of an Internet software company, certainly knows his particle physics, he excels at showing his characters' humanity. Raffel briskly moves Smasher from the callousness of Silicon Valley and big business to the equally cutthroat world of academia and the pursuit of the Nobel Prize.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

For most of us, particle physics would hardly seem to be fodder for an exciting mystery, but author Keith Raffel manages to make his topic fascinating, while never dumbing down his subject. It helps that Raffel is writing from the heart, exploring his characters' personalities and emotional well-being.

In his second novel following Dot Dead, Raffel continues to explore the life of Ian Michaels, the CEO of a hot Silicon Valley tech firm. He and his wife, Rowena, are out jogging when a car tries to run them down. Ian suffers a broken leg but Rowena is in a coma. Is the accident related to Rowena's job as a deputy D.A.? Or is it part of the shenanigans of a ruthless businessman who is after Ian's company and refuses to take no for an answer? As if he didn't have enough to worry about, Ian is drawn into the decades-old death of his aunt who was linked to Stanford University's physics department.

While the author, the founder of an Internet software company, certainly knows his particle physics, he excels at showing his characters' humanity. Raffel briskly moves Smasher from the callousness of Silicon Valley and big business to the equally cutthroat world of academia and the pursuit of the Nobel Prize.

Tasting Fear
Oline H. Cogdill

The prolific Shannon McKenna's forte of mixing a lot of romance with a little mystery shines in Tasting Fear, her 11th novel. Tasting Fear is the umbrella title for three linked suspense novellas about the D'Onofrio sisters--Nancy, Nell, Vivi--each of who is the heroine in her own story. Independent and intelligent, the three sisters unite to find the murderer of their much-loved foster mother and a stolen piece of rare Renaissance art. Along the way, the sisters will also find love.

In the novella Outside the Limit, Nancy quickly falls in lust with Liam whose intensity is matched by his over protectiveness. Nell's sexy boss, Duncan, knows a little too much about cyberspace's dark corners in Ask for More. Vivi is falling in love with the secretive Jack in her story, Ready or Not. Each man is mysterious, hiding many secrets, but does one have violent tendencies?

While the plots of each novella are predictable and the characters one dimensional, McKenna's storytelling skill makes it impossible to not to get caught up in the sisters' lives. Tasting Fear is soap opera, but soap opera of the highest order.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

The prolific Shannon McKenna's forte of mixing a lot of romance with a little mystery shines in Tasting Fear, her 11th novel. Tasting Fear is the umbrella title for three linked suspense novellas about the D'Onofrio sisters--Nancy, Nell, Vivi--each of who is the heroine in her own story. Independent and intelligent, the three sisters unite to find the murderer of their much-loved foster mother and a stolen piece of rare Renaissance art. Along the way, the sisters will also find love.

In the novella Outside the Limit, Nancy quickly falls in lust with Liam whose intensity is matched by his over protectiveness. Nell's sexy boss, Duncan, knows a little too much about cyberspace's dark corners in Ask for More. Vivi is falling in love with the secretive Jack in her story, Ready or Not. Each man is mysterious, hiding many secrets, but does one have violent tendencies?

While the plots of each novella are predictable and the characters one dimensional, McKenna's storytelling skill makes it impossible to not to get caught up in the sisters' lives. Tasting Fear is soap opera, but soap opera of the highest order.

The Amateurs
Bob Smith

Four ordinary people become close friends by meeting for drinks every Thursday night at the restaurant where one of them tends bar. Each wants something more from life than what they have. Jennifer, a clerk in a travel agency, wants adventure; Mitch, a hotel doorman, wants respect, especially from Jenn; Ian, a stockbroker with a drug habit, wants to pay off gambling debts; and Alex, the bartender, wants custody of his daughter from a failed marriage. All's fun and games until the day they decide to rob Mitch's boss, a low-level drug dealer, believing that the money will free them to pursue their individual dreams. But, as happens, the crime goes awry and a killing occurs.

The police don't connect the four amateurs to the murder/robbery, but the crime bosses do and track them down, threatening serious danger unless they return the money and the product that the four initially assumed were drugs, but which turn out to be something far more valuable and deadly. Tension and suspense build beautifully as they try to resolve the dilemma, but the friendships crumble as each is tempted to act in self-interest. The ones who seemed weak in the beginning find hidden strength, while others who had previously been the acknowledged leaders of the group reveal weaknesses. This suspenseful page-turner has the feel of a Hollywood movie and you might find yourself casting specific actors in the roles. Though at times the characters seem stereotypical and the plotting manipulative, Sakey knows how to keep the action flowing and suspense building, right up to the very last word. Don't wait for the movie, read the book now.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:32:33

Four ordinary people become close friends by meeting for drinks every Thursday night at the restaurant where one of them tends bar. Each wants something more from life than what they have. Jennifer, a clerk in a travel agency, wants adventure; Mitch, a hotel doorman, wants respect, especially from Jenn; Ian, a stockbroker with a drug habit, wants to pay off gambling debts; and Alex, the bartender, wants custody of his daughter from a failed marriage. All's fun and games until the day they decide to rob Mitch's boss, a low-level drug dealer, believing that the money will free them to pursue their individual dreams. But, as happens, the crime goes awry and a killing occurs.

The police don't connect the four amateurs to the murder/robbery, but the crime bosses do and track them down, threatening serious danger unless they return the money and the product that the four initially assumed were drugs, but which turn out to be something far more valuable and deadly. Tension and suspense build beautifully as they try to resolve the dilemma, but the friendships crumble as each is tempted to act in self-interest. The ones who seemed weak in the beginning find hidden strength, while others who had previously been the acknowledged leaders of the group reveal weaknesses. This suspenseful page-turner has the feel of a Hollywood movie and you might find yourself casting specific actors in the roles. Though at times the characters seem stereotypical and the plotting manipulative, Sakey knows how to keep the action flowing and suspense building, right up to the very last word. Don't wait for the movie, read the book now.