The Book of Illumination
Sue Reider

Bostonian Esperanza O'Malley is hired as a bookbinder by the Athenaeum Library to help with a recently-donated collection of rare books. Her first day on the job, she encounters the ghosts of two monks, angry about an ancient manuscript stolen from them. When the manuscript itself disappears, Esperanza sets out to find the culprit.

Authors Winkowski, a paranormal investigator and consultant for the TV series The Ghost Whisper, and Foley, a writer and film producer, strike a nice balance between the somewhat bizarre aspects of dealing with ancient ghosts and the less esoteric work involved in finding the perpetrator of the theft. Esperanza, nicknamed "Anza," researches the background of the manuscript and the information is fascinating for a book lover.

The many people (and another ghost) who Anza encounters demonstrate the authors' fine talents for creating rich characterizations in few words. Anza is multi-faceted, talented, and likeable heroine with a very pragmatic attitude about her ghostly encounters. As a single mother, she nurtures her son and his relationship with his father and deals with all of it with a good deal of cheer and dignity.

Like its main character, The Book of Illumination is complex. In addition to the supernatural and the investigation, it offers some hilarious moments as Anza deals with stodgy ancient monks and a preschooler. Many of the appealing characters experience change and growth, and the guilty are brought to justice with a minimum of violence. Besides, who doesn't love a story where the protagonist spends most of her time among books?

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

Bostonian Esperanza O'Malley is hired as a bookbinder by the Athenaeum Library to help with a recently-donated collection of rare books. Her first day on the job, she encounters the ghosts of two monks, angry about an ancient manuscript stolen from them. When the manuscript itself disappears, Esperanza sets out to find the culprit.

Authors Winkowski, a paranormal investigator and consultant for the TV series The Ghost Whisper, and Foley, a writer and film producer, strike a nice balance between the somewhat bizarre aspects of dealing with ancient ghosts and the less esoteric work involved in finding the perpetrator of the theft. Esperanza, nicknamed "Anza," researches the background of the manuscript and the information is fascinating for a book lover.

The many people (and another ghost) who Anza encounters demonstrate the authors' fine talents for creating rich characterizations in few words. Anza is multi-faceted, talented, and likeable heroine with a very pragmatic attitude about her ghostly encounters. As a single mother, she nurtures her son and his relationship with his father and deals with all of it with a good deal of cheer and dignity.

Like its main character, The Book of Illumination is complex. In addition to the supernatural and the investigation, it offers some hilarious moments as Anza deals with stodgy ancient monks and a preschooler. Many of the appealing characters experience change and growth, and the guilty are brought to justice with a minimum of violence. Besides, who doesn't love a story where the protagonist spends most of her time among books?

The Broken Teaglass
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This is a very unusual first novel and the first lexicographical mystery I've ever read. In fact, I don't think I've ever used the word lexicographical before. At any rate, the setting for the story is Samuelson Company, an old, established dictionary publisher in Massachusetts. Here new words come into being through accepted usage and old words assume additional meanings over the years.

Billy Webb and Mona Minot are two young editors who spend a few hours every day reading books, magazines, and newspapers looking for new words and developing cits (short for citations), the brief paragraphs noting where a "new" word is used and the publication in which it was found. One day, they come across an unusual series of references in the cit file attributed to a book that was never published, by a publisher that never existed. The phantom cits are intriguing enough to keep the pair searching for additional ones. But what at first seems like an elaborate hoax soon points to an unsolved murder involving one or more members of the dictionary staff itself. If it's real, who among the current staff might be involved? More importantly, will their sleuthing put Billy and Mona's lives in danger?

As a former lexicographer herself, Arsenault brings the dictionary office and its editors to life, offering readers a glimpse into a surprisingly interesting occupation. What really makes The Broken Teaglass work however, is that readers get to know and care about Billy and Mona, with their differing backgrounds, hidden secrets, and engaging relationships with each other and other characters. If you enjoy a love of words and unusual mysteries, The Broken Teaglass will be your cup of tea.

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

This is a very unusual first novel and the first lexicographical mystery I've ever read. In fact, I don't think I've ever used the word lexicographical before. At any rate, the setting for the story is Samuelson Company, an old, established dictionary publisher in Massachusetts. Here new words come into being through accepted usage and old words assume additional meanings over the years.

Billy Webb and Mona Minot are two young editors who spend a few hours every day reading books, magazines, and newspapers looking for new words and developing cits (short for citations), the brief paragraphs noting where a "new" word is used and the publication in which it was found. One day, they come across an unusual series of references in the cit file attributed to a book that was never published, by a publisher that never existed. The phantom cits are intriguing enough to keep the pair searching for additional ones. But what at first seems like an elaborate hoax soon points to an unsolved murder involving one or more members of the dictionary staff itself. If it's real, who among the current staff might be involved? More importantly, will their sleuthing put Billy and Mona's lives in danger?

As a former lexicographer herself, Arsenault brings the dictionary office and its editors to life, offering readers a glimpse into a surprisingly interesting occupation. What really makes The Broken Teaglass work however, is that readers get to know and care about Billy and Mona, with their differing backgrounds, hidden secrets, and engaging relationships with each other and other characters. If you enjoy a love of words and unusual mysteries, The Broken Teaglass will be your cup of tea.

The Double-Jack Murders
Bob Smith

I can't believe that up to now I hadn't discovered Patrick McManus and his Sheriff Bo Tully books. Well, no longer; I'm hooked. There is much in McManus' work, including two previous novels The Blight Way and Avalanche, that is not to be missed. The series features the slightly egocentric but oh-so-damn-likeable sheriff and his cronies in Blight County, Idaho. Often "fun reads" (and this one with some laugh-out-loud bits definitely fits that description) don't have much of a mystery to them. The Double-Jack Murders is not only a good mystery, but it's loaded with suspense as Bo is stalked by an escaped maniac determined to kill him. Throw in witty repartee, entertaining flirtations with lovely ladies, a beautiful setting, Bo's father Pap, Bo's able deputies, and other assorted characters, and it's a mystery lover's nirvana.

In The Double-Jack Murders Bo is asked by an elderly lady friend to look into the disappearance and possible murder of her father. Eighty-seven years ago her father and his friend discovered a gold mine, but before they could lay claim to it, they vanished. All agree that solving this old mystery is an impossible task, but Bo is more than up to it. While he does, we readers are treated to an unforgettable cast of characters, some wonderful descriptions of the Idaho mountain areas, and a chance to learn a lot about gold mining--including the meaning of double-jack in the title.

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

I can't believe that up to now I hadn't discovered Patrick McManus and his Sheriff Bo Tully books. Well, no longer; I'm hooked. There is much in McManus' work, including two previous novels The Blight Way and Avalanche, that is not to be missed. The series features the slightly egocentric but oh-so-damn-likeable sheriff and his cronies in Blight County, Idaho. Often "fun reads" (and this one with some laugh-out-loud bits definitely fits that description) don't have much of a mystery to them. The Double-Jack Murders is not only a good mystery, but it's loaded with suspense as Bo is stalked by an escaped maniac determined to kill him. Throw in witty repartee, entertaining flirtations with lovely ladies, a beautiful setting, Bo's father Pap, Bo's able deputies, and other assorted characters, and it's a mystery lover's nirvana.

In The Double-Jack Murders Bo is asked by an elderly lady friend to look into the disappearance and possible murder of her father. Eighty-seven years ago her father and his friend discovered a gold mine, but before they could lay claim to it, they vanished. All agree that solving this old mystery is an impossible task, but Bo is more than up to it. While he does, we readers are treated to an unforgettable cast of characters, some wonderful descriptions of the Idaho mountain areas, and a chance to learn a lot about gold mining--including the meaning of double-jack in the title.

The Eleventh Victim
Sue Emmons

TV personality and former prosecutor Nancy Grace serves up a grisly, gripping tale of murder that delves into political corruption and eco-terrorism as she introduces Hailey Dean in the first of a planned series. Grace, whose own fiance was the victim of a senseless street shooting weeks before their wedding, draws on her own experiences in presenting Dean as a feisty Atlanta prosecutor who has never lost a capital case. At the outset of this mystery, Dean is seeking the death penalty for Clint Burrell Cruise, a sociopathic chef linked to the rape and murder of 11 prostitutes. With a wicked twist of dark humor, Cruise is terribly upset at the guilty verdict, not because he is innocent of the first 10 murders, but because he insists the 11th victim was not his handiwork.

Credulity may be a tad strained midway into this mystery when the master prosecutor forsakes the courtroom to take on a less stressful stint as a therapist in New York (her original career goal before she vowed to avenge her fiance's death by prosecuting bad guys). But the author circles around nicely when, back in Atlanta, Georgia Supreme Court Judge Clarence E. Carter enters into a dark deal with the Democratic State Chairman, Floyd Moye Eugene to provide the swing vote that will free Cruise in exchange for a run for governor. The always greedy Eugene is also set on developing the pristine and heretofore protected St. Simons Island off the Georgia coast. Meanwhile, newly-freed serial killer Cruise arrives in New York, still smarting from the conviction for that 11th murder and intent on revenge.

Grace manages to tie all these subplots together in a satisfying mystery that employs the aforementioned hint of humor amidst the horror. In the end, the bad guys get their just desserts in some rather bizarre ways. Moreover, when the real killer of the 11th victim surfaces to threaten Dean's life, the identity will surprise most readers, although there are plenty of clues pointing to the culprit along the way in this twist-and-turn debut.

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

TV personality and former prosecutor Nancy Grace serves up a grisly, gripping tale of murder that delves into political corruption and eco-terrorism as she introduces Hailey Dean in the first of a planned series. Grace, whose own fiance was the victim of a senseless street shooting weeks before their wedding, draws on her own experiences in presenting Dean as a feisty Atlanta prosecutor who has never lost a capital case. At the outset of this mystery, Dean is seeking the death penalty for Clint Burrell Cruise, a sociopathic chef linked to the rape and murder of 11 prostitutes. With a wicked twist of dark humor, Cruise is terribly upset at the guilty verdict, not because he is innocent of the first 10 murders, but because he insists the 11th victim was not his handiwork.

Credulity may be a tad strained midway into this mystery when the master prosecutor forsakes the courtroom to take on a less stressful stint as a therapist in New York (her original career goal before she vowed to avenge her fiance's death by prosecuting bad guys). But the author circles around nicely when, back in Atlanta, Georgia Supreme Court Judge Clarence E. Carter enters into a dark deal with the Democratic State Chairman, Floyd Moye Eugene to provide the swing vote that will free Cruise in exchange for a run for governor. The always greedy Eugene is also set on developing the pristine and heretofore protected St. Simons Island off the Georgia coast. Meanwhile, newly-freed serial killer Cruise arrives in New York, still smarting from the conviction for that 11th murder and intent on revenge.

Grace manages to tie all these subplots together in a satisfying mystery that employs the aforementioned hint of humor amidst the horror. In the end, the bad guys get their just desserts in some rather bizarre ways. Moreover, when the real killer of the 11th victim surfaces to threaten Dean's life, the identity will surprise most readers, although there are plenty of clues pointing to the culprit along the way in this twist-and-turn debut.

The Errand Boy
Jim Winter

Northern Vermont, green and mountainous, a quiet stop on the way to Quebec, sounds like the perfect place for former Boston PD Detective Hector Bellevance to retire. And retire he did. For over a decade, he and his wife Wilma have tended a farm and raised their daughter Myra in the hamlet of Tipton. Bellevance supplements his income and scratches the old policing itch by serving as Tipton's constable.

Bellevance's peaceful existence is shattered, however, after a car crash in which Seb Tuttle, who runs his family's local factory farm, hits the constable and Wilma, putting her in a coma. Tuttle turns up murdered only days later and soon Bellevance is investigating his neighbors, hunting for a one-time murder suspect named Pie Yandow, facing down Hell's Angels out of Quebec, and fighting to keep his family safe. The Errand Boy is a slice of small-town noir fleshed out with local color. Bredes' literary thriller is a relentlessly paced read with a skillfully twisted plot.

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

Northern Vermont, green and mountainous, a quiet stop on the way to Quebec, sounds like the perfect place for former Boston PD Detective Hector Bellevance to retire. And retire he did. For over a decade, he and his wife Wilma have tended a farm and raised their daughter Myra in the hamlet of Tipton. Bellevance supplements his income and scratches the old policing itch by serving as Tipton's constable.

Bellevance's peaceful existence is shattered, however, after a car crash in which Seb Tuttle, who runs his family's local factory farm, hits the constable and Wilma, putting her in a coma. Tuttle turns up murdered only days later and soon Bellevance is investigating his neighbors, hunting for a one-time murder suspect named Pie Yandow, facing down Hell's Angels out of Quebec, and fighting to keep his family safe. The Errand Boy is a slice of small-town noir fleshed out with local color. Bredes' literary thriller is a relentlessly paced read with a skillfully twisted plot.

The Hidden Man
Verna Suit

In 1980, two-year-old Audrey Cutler was snatched from her bed and never seen again. Years later, her older brother Sammy, is arrested for murdering the local pedophile once jailed for the crime. Sammy's childhood friend, Jason Kolarich, is hired by a mysterious intermediary called "Smith," who is working on behalf of an unnamed client. Smith's unusual demands escalate to threats and soon Jason is trying to protect his own family from Smith and he has no clue why.

Author David Ellis knows the legal system well, being the prosecutor who ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich from office in January 2009. In this story set in a Chicago-like city, the importance of family and old neighborhood ties is a recurring motif. Fictional lawyer Jason has a professional background similar to Ellis' own, but is suffering a crisis of confidence after a family tragedy. Ellis demonstrates his skill at letting key information out slowly through flashbacks and memorable moments that shed light on Jason's complex character. A separate thread gives hints to the motivations of the hidden puppetmaster who is pulling Jason's strings. Well-plotted and suspenseful, this sixth novel is the start of a welcome series. The Hidden Man is a worthy successor to Ellis's Edgar-winning debut, Line of Vision, and his 2005 structural tour de force, In the Company of Liars.

Admin
2010-04-22 13:32:33

In 1980, two-year-old Audrey Cutler was snatched from her bed and never seen again. Years later, her older brother Sammy, is arrested for murdering the local pedophile once jailed for the crime. Sammy's childhood friend, Jason Kolarich, is hired by a mysterious intermediary called "Smith," who is working on behalf of an unnamed client. Smith's unusual demands escalate to threats and soon Jason is trying to protect his own family from Smith and he has no clue why.

Author David Ellis knows the legal system well, being the prosecutor who ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich from office in January 2009. In this story set in a Chicago-like city, the importance of family and old neighborhood ties is a recurring motif. Fictional lawyer Jason has a professional background similar to Ellis' own, but is suffering a crisis of confidence after a family tragedy. Ellis demonstrates his skill at letting key information out slowly through flashbacks and memorable moments that shed light on Jason's complex character. A separate thread gives hints to the motivations of the hidden puppetmaster who is pulling Jason's strings. Well-plotted and suspenseful, this sixth novel is the start of a welcome series. The Hidden Man is a worthy successor to Ellis's Edgar-winning debut, Line of Vision, and his 2005 structural tour de force, In the Company of Liars.

The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Jon L. Breen

The countless short Sherlock Holmes pastiches that have appeared in professional print range so widely in both quality and availability, an anthology of the best ones would be invaluable. Editor John Joseph Adams has attempted something of the kind, confining himself to the past thirty years.

Many traditionalists believe a new Sherlock Holmes adventure should be grounded in the world we know, free from occult, supernatural, or science fictional intrusions. Adams feels differently. By my rough count only seven of the 28 contributors are primarily known as mystery writers, and most of the others are identified with fantasy, horror, or s.f. Nearly two-thirds of the stories, however, have non-supernatural solutions, including Stephen King's strong lead-off, "The Doctor's Case," which combines a John Dickson Carr locked room with an Agatha Christie whodunit surprise and is solved (for reasons logically explained) by Watson.

For me, Holmes can work (that is, be himself) in a science fictional context, where rational deduction can be brought to bear on a speculative situation. Indeed one of the two or three best stories in the book is Geoffrey Landis's "The Singular Habits of Wasps," a unique take on the Jack the Ripper case which first appeared in a 1994 issue of Analog. Stephen Baxter's "The Adventure of the Inertial Adjuster," in which H.G. Wells appears as a character, is another good example of a genuine s.f. detective story.

Occult or supernatural stories are a more difficult fit. After all, when Arthur Conan Doyle wanted a fictional mouthpiece for his spiritualist beliefs, it was Professor Challenger he threw under the omnibus, not Sherlock Holmes. Adams has chosen no fewer than three stories from the 2003 anthology Shadows Over Baker Street, which combined the world of Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, a dubious cross-pollination. Barbara Hambly's "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece," does an excellent job with the characters and style but simply doesn't work as a Sherlock Holmes story. More successful is Tim Lebbon's chilling "The Horror of the Many Faces," which begins with an unthinkable situation: Watson finds Holmes in the act of bloody surgical murder. The third may be the finest story in Adams's book, Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald," an alternate universe retelling of A Study in Scarlet that is brilliantly written and ingeniously constructed.

Best of the more traditional puzzle stories are Peter Tremayne's "The Specter of Tullyfane Abbey," which takes a fresh look at the James Phillimore vanishing mystery, and Sharyn McCrumb's "The Vale of the White Horse," a cleverly clued dying-message story. Among well-known science fiction writers contributing non-s.f. tales are Vonda K. McIntyre, Michael Moorcock, and Tanith Lee. Mystery specialists represented include Edward D. Hoch, Laurie R. King, H. Paul Jeffers, Anne Perry, and Amy Myers.

The weakest stories are the least serious. Dominic Green's "The Adventure of the Lost World," involving both Holmes and Challenger, is pure parody, strained in its humor. Anthony Burgess's semi-parodic "Murder to Music" offers a rational plot but isn't as funny as intended. I may have been missing something in the book's oddest entry (quite a distinction in this collection), Tony Pi's "Dynamics of a Hanging," a code and cipher story in which Lewis Carroll and Conan Doyle himself appear as characters along with Watson but Holmes (ostensibly dead) does not.

Has Adams succeeded in gathering the best Holmes pastiches of the past thirty years? I certainly would have included Donald Thomas and June Thomson, two of the very best at the game, and possibly prolific specialists Val Andrews and John Hall. But agree with all the selections or not, this 454-page trade paperback is a bargain for readers and collectors, few of whom will have all the stories in their original appearances.

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

The countless short Sherlock Holmes pastiches that have appeared in professional print range so widely in both quality and availability, an anthology of the best ones would be invaluable. Editor John Joseph Adams has attempted something of the kind, confining himself to the past thirty years.

Many traditionalists believe a new Sherlock Holmes adventure should be grounded in the world we know, free from occult, supernatural, or science fictional intrusions. Adams feels differently. By my rough count only seven of the 28 contributors are primarily known as mystery writers, and most of the others are identified with fantasy, horror, or s.f. Nearly two-thirds of the stories, however, have non-supernatural solutions, including Stephen King's strong lead-off, "The Doctor's Case," which combines a John Dickson Carr locked room with an Agatha Christie whodunit surprise and is solved (for reasons logically explained) by Watson.

For me, Holmes can work (that is, be himself) in a science fictional context, where rational deduction can be brought to bear on a speculative situation. Indeed one of the two or three best stories in the book is Geoffrey Landis's "The Singular Habits of Wasps," a unique take on the Jack the Ripper case which first appeared in a 1994 issue of Analog. Stephen Baxter's "The Adventure of the Inertial Adjuster," in which H.G. Wells appears as a character, is another good example of a genuine s.f. detective story.

Occult or supernatural stories are a more difficult fit. After all, when Arthur Conan Doyle wanted a fictional mouthpiece for his spiritualist beliefs, it was Professor Challenger he threw under the omnibus, not Sherlock Holmes. Adams has chosen no fewer than three stories from the 2003 anthology Shadows Over Baker Street, which combined the world of Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, a dubious cross-pollination. Barbara Hambly's "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece," does an excellent job with the characters and style but simply doesn't work as a Sherlock Holmes story. More successful is Tim Lebbon's chilling "The Horror of the Many Faces," which begins with an unthinkable situation: Watson finds Holmes in the act of bloody surgical murder. The third may be the finest story in Adams's book, Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald," an alternate universe retelling of A Study in Scarlet that is brilliantly written and ingeniously constructed.

Best of the more traditional puzzle stories are Peter Tremayne's "The Specter of Tullyfane Abbey," which takes a fresh look at the James Phillimore vanishing mystery, and Sharyn McCrumb's "The Vale of the White Horse," a cleverly clued dying-message story. Among well-known science fiction writers contributing non-s.f. tales are Vonda K. McIntyre, Michael Moorcock, and Tanith Lee. Mystery specialists represented include Edward D. Hoch, Laurie R. King, H. Paul Jeffers, Anne Perry, and Amy Myers.

The weakest stories are the least serious. Dominic Green's "The Adventure of the Lost World," involving both Holmes and Challenger, is pure parody, strained in its humor. Anthony Burgess's semi-parodic "Murder to Music" offers a rational plot but isn't as funny as intended. I may have been missing something in the book's oddest entry (quite a distinction in this collection), Tony Pi's "Dynamics of a Hanging," a code and cipher story in which Lewis Carroll and Conan Doyle himself appear as characters along with Watson but Holmes (ostensibly dead) does not.

Has Adams succeeded in gathering the best Holmes pastiches of the past thirty years? I certainly would have included Donald Thomas and June Thomson, two of the very best at the game, and possibly prolific specialists Val Andrews and John Hall. But agree with all the selections or not, this 454-page trade paperback is a bargain for readers and collectors, few of whom will have all the stories in their original appearances.

The Silent Hour
Jim Winter

Michael Koryta began his series featuring private investigators Lincoln Perry and Joe Pritchard with the acclaimed debut Tonight I Said Goodbye. But after events in the last book, A Welcome Grave, The Silent Hour finds Perry manning the fort alone. At the start of the novel, Perry is ignoring letters from convicted murderer Parker Harrison, until Harrison forces the issue and drops in on Perry's Cleveland office. His new client wants Perry to find out what happened to Joshua and Alexandra Cantrell, the couple who helped Harrison with his post-prison rehab over a decade earlier. Harrison leaves out some important details though, like the fact that the vanished Joshua Cantrell turned up dead only a few months before, and that Pittsburgh PI Ken Merriman has been working the case since the Cantrell's first disappeared. Perhaps most importantly, he fails to mention Alexandra Cantrell's brother, gangster Dominic Sanabria. Perry tries to blow off the case, but he's soon drawn back in when Merriman comes to town. When someone close to the case is killed because of Perry's investigation, Perry is ready to quit not only the case, but the business altogether.

Koryta scored big points with his first two novels, Tonight I Said Goodbye and Sorrow's Anthem. With his third series novel, A Welcome Grave, Koryta solidified his crime fiction credentials by sending a main character packing after nearly killing him. With The Silent Hour, he very nearly ends the series by asking a question too many PI fiction authors ignore: Just how much can a series protag take? He answers it, making sure that Lincoln Perry is changed by the end of the story. With The Silent Hour, Koryta has come into his own as a writer.

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

Michael Koryta began his series featuring private investigators Lincoln Perry and Joe Pritchard with the acclaimed debut Tonight I Said Goodbye. But after events in the last book, A Welcome Grave, The Silent Hour finds Perry manning the fort alone. At the start of the novel, Perry is ignoring letters from convicted murderer Parker Harrison, until Harrison forces the issue and drops in on Perry's Cleveland office. His new client wants Perry to find out what happened to Joshua and Alexandra Cantrell, the couple who helped Harrison with his post-prison rehab over a decade earlier. Harrison leaves out some important details though, like the fact that the vanished Joshua Cantrell turned up dead only a few months before, and that Pittsburgh PI Ken Merriman has been working the case since the Cantrell's first disappeared. Perhaps most importantly, he fails to mention Alexandra Cantrell's brother, gangster Dominic Sanabria. Perry tries to blow off the case, but he's soon drawn back in when Merriman comes to town. When someone close to the case is killed because of Perry's investigation, Perry is ready to quit not only the case, but the business altogether.

Koryta scored big points with his first two novels, Tonight I Said Goodbye and Sorrow's Anthem. With his third series novel, A Welcome Grave, Koryta solidified his crime fiction credentials by sending a main character packing after nearly killing him. With The Silent Hour, he very nearly ends the series by asking a question too many PI fiction authors ignore: Just how much can a series protag take? He answers it, making sure that Lincoln Perry is changed by the end of the story. With The Silent Hour, Koryta has come into his own as a writer.

The Silent Spirit
Betty Webb

On Wyoming's snow-swept Wind River Reservation, Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and her friend, Father John O'Malley, hunt for the killer of Kiki Wallowingbull. Kiki, a young man with a drug-filled past, had just returned from Hollywood where he was trying to find out what happened to his great-grandfather Charlie Wallowingbull. Charlie disappeared in 1923 after being hired as an extra on the silent film The Covered Wagon. Now Kiki's body lies frozen on the bank of a river. Was he the victim of a drug deal gone bad, or did information he'd uncovered about Charlie seal his fate?

Spirit shifts between the times of the two Wallowingbull men, providing both texture and insight for this harrowing mystery. In 1923, former buffalo hunters struggle to feed their families on a barren reservation where the buffalo herds have vanished. Modern life has proved little better. As Vicky questions the Arapaho and Shoshone families who might provide insight into Kiki's murder, she learns that drugs are destroying the younger generation, and that the older generation is in danger of losing its heritage and its influence. Wind River is sunk in a sadness as deep as the winter snows.

Author Margaret Coel, an expert on Arapaho history and culture, not only brings the past to life, but shows us how government policies have had such a devastating impact on an entire race. Through Vicky's eyes, we see rampant poverty and hopelessness, but also thrill to the courage of men and women who battle tremendous odds simply to keep their culture alive. Heartbreaking yet hopeful, The Silent Spirit provides a strong argument that one person can make a difference.

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

On Wyoming's snow-swept Wind River Reservation, Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and her friend, Father John O'Malley, hunt for the killer of Kiki Wallowingbull. Kiki, a young man with a drug-filled past, had just returned from Hollywood where he was trying to find out what happened to his great-grandfather Charlie Wallowingbull. Charlie disappeared in 1923 after being hired as an extra on the silent film The Covered Wagon. Now Kiki's body lies frozen on the bank of a river. Was he the victim of a drug deal gone bad, or did information he'd uncovered about Charlie seal his fate?

Spirit shifts between the times of the two Wallowingbull men, providing both texture and insight for this harrowing mystery. In 1923, former buffalo hunters struggle to feed their families on a barren reservation where the buffalo herds have vanished. Modern life has proved little better. As Vicky questions the Arapaho and Shoshone families who might provide insight into Kiki's murder, she learns that drugs are destroying the younger generation, and that the older generation is in danger of losing its heritage and its influence. Wind River is sunk in a sadness as deep as the winter snows.

Author Margaret Coel, an expert on Arapaho history and culture, not only brings the past to life, but shows us how government policies have had such a devastating impact on an entire race. Through Vicky's eyes, we see rampant poverty and hopelessness, but also thrill to the courage of men and women who battle tremendous odds simply to keep their culture alive. Heartbreaking yet hopeful, The Silent Spirit provides a strong argument that one person can make a difference.

The Venona Cable
Verna Suit

This third installment in the Volk series finds Russian agent Alexei Volkovoy trying to find out whether the father he never knew, who defected to the US in 1974, was a traitor or remained true to Mother Russia. Volk's quest begins when an American filmmaker is found murdered in his Moscow warehouse studio. Hidden among the man's things is a 1943 partial decrypt from American and Britain's top-secret Venona Cables. The paper refers to a "source 19," a spy who may have been Volk's father. Soon Volk is on his way to the US to trace his father's steps and learn the truth. Meanwhile, someone who is still protecting 19's identity wants Volk dead.

The Venona Cable is a labyrinthine tale of spies and counterspies, steeped in paranoia, brutal Russian prisons, and sleek US corporate offices. The first-person narrative often gives the story breathless immediacy, balanced elsewhere by the distance of reflection on the past. It's easy to get lost trying to keep the double and triple agents straight, but that's the point: Who are people really working for? Who can be trusted? What is real and what is fiction? The "NSA agent" running his own agents and having people killed doesn't sound like the NSA I knew during my career there, but maybe I didn't know everything.

The Venona project, however, is real. It refers to US/UK cryptoanalysis of Soviet messages that produced evidence leading to the Rosenbergs' execution. Digressions into Soviet intelligence, overflight spying, code breaking, etc., will fascinate readers interested in all things espionage.

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

This third installment in the Volk series finds Russian agent Alexei Volkovoy trying to find out whether the father he never knew, who defected to the US in 1974, was a traitor or remained true to Mother Russia. Volk's quest begins when an American filmmaker is found murdered in his Moscow warehouse studio. Hidden among the man's things is a 1943 partial decrypt from American and Britain's top-secret Venona Cables. The paper refers to a "source 19," a spy who may have been Volk's father. Soon Volk is on his way to the US to trace his father's steps and learn the truth. Meanwhile, someone who is still protecting 19's identity wants Volk dead.

The Venona Cable is a labyrinthine tale of spies and counterspies, steeped in paranoia, brutal Russian prisons, and sleek US corporate offices. The first-person narrative often gives the story breathless immediacy, balanced elsewhere by the distance of reflection on the past. It's easy to get lost trying to keep the double and triple agents straight, but that's the point: Who are people really working for? Who can be trusted? What is real and what is fiction? The "NSA agent" running his own agents and having people killed doesn't sound like the NSA I knew during my career there, but maybe I didn't know everything.

The Venona project, however, is real. It refers to US/UK cryptoanalysis of Soviet messages that produced evidence leading to the Rosenbergs' execution. Digressions into Soviet intelligence, overflight spying, code breaking, etc., will fascinate readers interested in all things espionage.

The Water's Edge
Barbara Fister

The Water's Edge is a skillful novel that concerns a particularly vile crime: pedophilia. It also marks the return of Fossum's austere detective Konrad Sejer and his youthful sidekick, Jacob Skarre, who investigate the psychology of small-town Norwegians as crime interrupts the ordinary rhythms of their quiet communities. The surfaces of Fossum's mysteries are always deceptively placid; underneath, disturbing things churn in the dark.

A couple taking their customary walk to a remote lake find the body of a child and call the police. Kristine is horrified when her husband, Reinhardt, bends close to take a photo with his cell phone. As Sejer and Skarre investigate, Reinhardt begins to feed off the publicity, proud to have a central role in the story; Kristine begins to contemplate divorce. Then a second child disappears.

In spite of its grim subject, Fossum handles her story without a grain of sensationalism. Readers know from the start who is responsible for the first child's death; and while we feel no sympathy for him, he's not a larger-than-life threat. He's a sick, stunted man who gave into a dreadful impulse. As Sejer and Skarre probe into the life of the missing child they demonstrate a fundamental law of Fossum's universe: Nobody is blameless; everyone is capable of cruelty. The author handles the most despicable of crimes with restraint while uncovering the hidden violence of ordinary lives. It's a short but brilliant book that ends, as hers often do, on a note of unsettling ambiguity.

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

The Water's Edge is a skillful novel that concerns a particularly vile crime: pedophilia. It also marks the return of Fossum's austere detective Konrad Sejer and his youthful sidekick, Jacob Skarre, who investigate the psychology of small-town Norwegians as crime interrupts the ordinary rhythms of their quiet communities. The surfaces of Fossum's mysteries are always deceptively placid; underneath, disturbing things churn in the dark.

A couple taking their customary walk to a remote lake find the body of a child and call the police. Kristine is horrified when her husband, Reinhardt, bends close to take a photo with his cell phone. As Sejer and Skarre investigate, Reinhardt begins to feed off the publicity, proud to have a central role in the story; Kristine begins to contemplate divorce. Then a second child disappears.

In spite of its grim subject, Fossum handles her story without a grain of sensationalism. Readers know from the start who is responsible for the first child's death; and while we feel no sympathy for him, he's not a larger-than-life threat. He's a sick, stunted man who gave into a dreadful impulse. As Sejer and Skarre probe into the life of the missing child they demonstrate a fundamental law of Fossum's universe: Nobody is blameless; everyone is capable of cruelty. The author handles the most despicable of crimes with restraint while uncovering the hidden violence of ordinary lives. It's a short but brilliant book that ends, as hers often do, on a note of unsettling ambiguity.

Treasure of the Golden Cheetah
Helen Francini

Fade in to Africa, 1920, where Hollywood's reputation for backstabbing pales beside the events at a film industry party where a local man knifes a movie's financial backer to death, then turns the weapon on himself. But the show must go on, so the cast and crew leave the next day as planned for a trek up the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to film their silent picture about the legendary lost treasure of King Solomon. They hire American expatriate Jade del Cameron to take care of the actresses during the trip. For the feisty, independent Jade, this is a perfect opportunity to spend some time considering a proposal of marriage from her longtime boyfriend Sam. As Sam stays behind to investigate the murder/suicide, Jade is off to navigate the African terrain and tend to her bickering charges. Complicating matters further are a thief in the party and a native curse.

In this classic whodunit, the film industry personalities provide as much amusement for the reader as they do annoyance for Jade--especially the picture's director, whose only concern is getting as much good footage on film as he possibly can regardless of who might get hurt in the process. Because the story takes place before the advent of talking pictures, it is fascinating to see him directing scenes that have no dialog. Particularly loveable is Biscuit, Jade's pet cheetah who accompanies her on the journey.

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

Fade in to Africa, 1920, where Hollywood's reputation for backstabbing pales beside the events at a film industry party where a local man knifes a movie's financial backer to death, then turns the weapon on himself. But the show must go on, so the cast and crew leave the next day as planned for a trek up the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to film their silent picture about the legendary lost treasure of King Solomon. They hire American expatriate Jade del Cameron to take care of the actresses during the trip. For the feisty, independent Jade, this is a perfect opportunity to spend some time considering a proposal of marriage from her longtime boyfriend Sam. As Sam stays behind to investigate the murder/suicide, Jade is off to navigate the African terrain and tend to her bickering charges. Complicating matters further are a thief in the party and a native curse.

In this classic whodunit, the film industry personalities provide as much amusement for the reader as they do annoyance for Jade--especially the picture's director, whose only concern is getting as much good footage on film as he possibly can regardless of who might get hurt in the process. Because the story takes place before the advent of talking pictures, it is fascinating to see him directing scenes that have no dialog. Particularly loveable is Biscuit, Jade's pet cheetah who accompanies her on the journey.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Kevin Burton Smith

Frank Zappa once quipped that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Certainly, it's the rare music-inspired crime novel that nails both the passion of music and the deft characterization and tight plotting required by a solid mystery. Too often it's the music that suffers, but in her second JP Kinkaid Mystery (after last year's Rock'n'Roll Never Forgets), the author has managed something quite rare in the genre: She's created rock musicians who are credible human beings and not randy, coke-snorting cartoons.

The novel finds aging superstar guitarist JP sitting in with an up-and-coming local Bay Area group, The Bombardiers, and learning to cope with a slew of health problems, while his longtime American girlfriend Bree, ten years JP's junior, is busy planning their long-delayed wedding and dealing with a few issues of her own. They make an affable and engaging couple--so engaging, in fact, that it took me a while to realize that this book is more a character study and meditation on long-term relationships than it is a mystery. By the time the body of the Bombardiers' obnoxious vocalist/guitarist Vinny Fabiano is discovered--his head bashed in by one of his beloved custom guitars--it's almost intrusive. And yet I kept on reading--long past the point where I actually cared who the culprit was. Such is the charm of the world Grabien has created. Even mystery fans seeking something a little meatier and less quickly resolved (much of the investigation is actually conducted off-stage by others) may be willing to cut JP and Bree some slack. It's almost incongruous, this combining of the larger-than-life rock'n'roll lifestyle and the domestic trappings of a cozy romance, but that's what Gabrien has done--and done wonderfully. But maybe next time, she'll kick out the jams and allow JP and his "old lady" to solo as amateur sleuths and really cut loose. Rock on.

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

Frank Zappa once quipped that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Certainly, it's the rare music-inspired crime novel that nails both the passion of music and the deft characterization and tight plotting required by a solid mystery. Too often it's the music that suffers, but in her second JP Kinkaid Mystery (after last year's Rock'n'Roll Never Forgets), the author has managed something quite rare in the genre: She's created rock musicians who are credible human beings and not randy, coke-snorting cartoons.

The novel finds aging superstar guitarist JP sitting in with an up-and-coming local Bay Area group, The Bombardiers, and learning to cope with a slew of health problems, while his longtime American girlfriend Bree, ten years JP's junior, is busy planning their long-delayed wedding and dealing with a few issues of her own. They make an affable and engaging couple--so engaging, in fact, that it took me a while to realize that this book is more a character study and meditation on long-term relationships than it is a mystery. By the time the body of the Bombardiers' obnoxious vocalist/guitarist Vinny Fabiano is discovered--his head bashed in by one of his beloved custom guitars--it's almost intrusive. And yet I kept on reading--long past the point where I actually cared who the culprit was. Such is the charm of the world Grabien has created. Even mystery fans seeking something a little meatier and less quickly resolved (much of the investigation is actually conducted off-stage by others) may be willing to cut JP and Bree some slack. It's almost incongruous, this combining of the larger-than-life rock'n'roll lifestyle and the domestic trappings of a cozy romance, but that's what Gabrien has done--and done wonderfully. But maybe next time, she'll kick out the jams and allow JP and his "old lady" to solo as amateur sleuths and really cut loose. Rock on.

You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Kills You
Charles L. P. Silet

The year is 1962 and the Rat Pack is in Las Vegas for a couple of shows when Eddie G., who is the pit boss at the Sands and a local fixer, gets a call from Dino. A friend of his is in trouble, and he wants Eddie to look into it. As it turns out the "friend" is Marilyn Monroe who claims some mysterious agents are following her. Marilyn's friends and enemies, many from high places (JFK anyone?), give Eddie a wide field to investigate. Who would follow her and why? The FBI and J. Edgar, the mafia, Joe Kennedy? The list is long and very dangerous.

Pretty soon Eddie's investigation has him running back and forth from Marilyn's place in L.A. to Frank Sinatra's place in Palm Springs (where Marilyn is hiding out). He is also getting into trouble with all sorts of people, including the LAPD and the FBI. He needs somebody to watch his back, and his friend from Brooklyn, Jerry Epstein, shows up to do just that.

Robert Randisi's Rat Pack series are fun novels. He weaves just enough of the "ring-a-ding ding" stuff to give the books the flavor of the world of Ol' Blue Eyes, Sammy, and Dino during the Las Vegas of legend--that period between Bugsy Siegel and Siegfried & Roy. Randisi knows Vegas, the Rat Pack, and how to write an entertaining tale with memorable characters (Jerry Epstein is wonderful), and funny dialogue. Really good stuff!

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

The year is 1962 and the Rat Pack is in Las Vegas for a couple of shows when Eddie G., who is the pit boss at the Sands and a local fixer, gets a call from Dino. A friend of his is in trouble, and he wants Eddie to look into it. As it turns out the "friend" is Marilyn Monroe who claims some mysterious agents are following her. Marilyn's friends and enemies, many from high places (JFK anyone?), give Eddie a wide field to investigate. Who would follow her and why? The FBI and J. Edgar, the mafia, Joe Kennedy? The list is long and very dangerous.

Pretty soon Eddie's investigation has him running back and forth from Marilyn's place in L.A. to Frank Sinatra's place in Palm Springs (where Marilyn is hiding out). He is also getting into trouble with all sorts of people, including the LAPD and the FBI. He needs somebody to watch his back, and his friend from Brooklyn, Jerry Epstein, shows up to do just that.

Robert Randisi's Rat Pack series are fun novels. He weaves just enough of the "ring-a-ding ding" stuff to give the books the flavor of the world of Ol' Blue Eyes, Sammy, and Dino during the Las Vegas of legend--that period between Bugsy Siegel and Siegfried & Roy. Randisi knows Vegas, the Rat Pack, and how to write an entertaining tale with memorable characters (Jerry Epstein is wonderful), and funny dialogue. Really good stuff!

13 1/2
Betty Webb

Nevada Barr has temporarily put aside park ranger Anna Pigeon, her usual sleuth, for 13 1/2, a complex standalone that is her strongest work yet. This chilling novel centers on the horrific acts of the infamous "Butcher Boy," a psychotic 11-year-old who chops up his mother, father, and baby sister. Years later, after a name change and a move to New Orleans, the now-grown Butcher Boy and his protective brother meet Polly Deschamps, a single mother fleeing a dark past of her own.

New Orleans, replete with Tarot card readers and voodoo, makes the perfect setting for a story that has as much to do with the past as it does the present. A time machine of terror, it flips back and forth from Minnesota, where the Butcher Boy's murders occur, to the stark institution that holds him, to the Katrina-ravaged city where people are too busy surviving to notice another killer in their midst. Tying these time-jumps together are the Butcher Boy's admiring meditations on other killers of children: Andrea Yates, John Wayne Gacy, Susan Smith, Scott Peterson.

What keeps 13 1/2 from being just another woman-in-jeopardy outing is its deep plunge into the imaginings of a deeply troubled child and the ominous ambitions of the psychiatrist determined to "cure" the incurable. But there are also wonderful passages of dark poetry in the writing itself, as in Polly's "supernova of memory" when the Butcher Boy finally corners her and her children: "the dirt of her childhood and the dirt of her garden, evils she had run from and evils she had embraced, axes and exes." Brilliant and troubling, unflinching yet deeply compassionate, 13 1/2 is a straight 10.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

Nevada Barr has temporarily put aside park ranger Anna Pigeon, her usual sleuth, for 13 1/2, a complex standalone that is her strongest work yet. This chilling novel centers on the horrific acts of the infamous "Butcher Boy," a psychotic 11-year-old who chops up his mother, father, and baby sister. Years later, after a name change and a move to New Orleans, the now-grown Butcher Boy and his protective brother meet Polly Deschamps, a single mother fleeing a dark past of her own.

New Orleans, replete with Tarot card readers and voodoo, makes the perfect setting for a story that has as much to do with the past as it does the present. A time machine of terror, it flips back and forth from Minnesota, where the Butcher Boy's murders occur, to the stark institution that holds him, to the Katrina-ravaged city where people are too busy surviving to notice another killer in their midst. Tying these time-jumps together are the Butcher Boy's admiring meditations on other killers of children: Andrea Yates, John Wayne Gacy, Susan Smith, Scott Peterson.

What keeps 13 1/2 from being just another woman-in-jeopardy outing is its deep plunge into the imaginings of a deeply troubled child and the ominous ambitions of the psychiatrist determined to "cure" the incurable. But there are also wonderful passages of dark poetry in the writing itself, as in Polly's "supernova of memory" when the Butcher Boy finally corners her and her children: "the dirt of her childhood and the dirt of her garden, evils she had run from and evils she had embraced, axes and exes." Brilliant and troubling, unflinching yet deeply compassionate, 13 1/2 is a straight 10.

7th Son: Descent
Jim Winter

Imagine being pulled off the street, taken to a bunker in Virginia, and told by a man in a white lab coat that the childhood you remember is someone else's. You're just a carbon copy of another person, imprinted with his memories up to the moment you were cloned in your mid-teens. Now imagine six other people just like you, but not quite the same. The punch line? The person you were created from is alive and very much off his rocker.

This is the conundrum that confronts seven men named John Michael Smith in the riveting 7th Son: Descent, genetically identical men, all of whom lead very different lives. There is Michael the soldier, John the musician and bartender, Jack the geneticist, Jay the UN troubleshooter, Dr. Mike the next Dr. Phil, Father Thomas the priest, and Kilroy 2.0, a seemingly insane hacker who is a prophet in cyberspace. Their progenitor, dubbed "John Alpha," is both insane and dangerous. Alpha's first act of terrorism is to kill the President, using a little boy implanted with his memories to do the deed.

Part science fiction and part political thriller, 7th Son is the first of a trilogy. The pacing is rapid fire, and the plight of the seven men not only realistically shows what can happen to genetically identical beings when separated, but also thoughtfully explores the existential angst that goes with learning you're just a bizarre lab experiment. Author Hutchins paints a particularly poignant character study with Father Thomas, as the troubled priest starts doubting that he even has a soul. 7th Son is a fast, tightly-plotted read that left me wanting more.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

Imagine being pulled off the street, taken to a bunker in Virginia, and told by a man in a white lab coat that the childhood you remember is someone else's. You're just a carbon copy of another person, imprinted with his memories up to the moment you were cloned in your mid-teens. Now imagine six other people just like you, but not quite the same. The punch line? The person you were created from is alive and very much off his rocker.

This is the conundrum that confronts seven men named John Michael Smith in the riveting 7th Son: Descent, genetically identical men, all of whom lead very different lives. There is Michael the soldier, John the musician and bartender, Jack the geneticist, Jay the UN troubleshooter, Dr. Mike the next Dr. Phil, Father Thomas the priest, and Kilroy 2.0, a seemingly insane hacker who is a prophet in cyberspace. Their progenitor, dubbed "John Alpha," is both insane and dangerous. Alpha's first act of terrorism is to kill the President, using a little boy implanted with his memories to do the deed.

Part science fiction and part political thriller, 7th Son is the first of a trilogy. The pacing is rapid fire, and the plight of the seven men not only realistically shows what can happen to genetically identical beings when separated, but also thoughtfully explores the existential angst that goes with learning you're just a bizarre lab experiment. Author Hutchins paints a particularly poignant character study with Father Thomas, as the troubled priest starts doubting that he even has a soul. 7th Son is a fast, tightly-plotted read that left me wanting more.

A Cadger's Curse
Lynne F. Maxwell

Midnight Ink has another winner with Diane Madsen's A Cadger's Curse, the first in a new series featuring D.D. McGil, a refugee from academia now employed as a freelance insurance investigator in Chicago. Like other former college English instructors (myself included) D.D. is happy to be gainfully employed, so she eagerly accepts an assignment to perform background checks on several trainees who have been fast-tracked for plum positions in the Hi-Data Corporation, a major player in the cutthroat high-tech industry. Even though her project encroaches upon the Christmas holidays, D.D. begins her investigation, only to stumble immediately upon a corpse, her deceased lover's half-brother. Memories of her partner's unexplained suicide resurface, as D.D. attempts to expose the treachery afoot at Hi-Data.

This, however, is not the only mystery D.D. has to solve. In a parallel plot, D.D.'s idiosyncratic, demanding Scottish aunt descends upon the McGil family. Aunt Elizabeth, "The Scottish Dragon," produces a manuscript purportedly by Robert Burns. Enter D.D. with her PhD in English, to investigate the authenticity of the manuscript but I won't divulge the results. Suffice it to say, they are hard-won and not without danger for D.D.

While the dual plots are at times clumsy and a bit contrived, Madsen has created an engaging heroine who should blossom fully in future D.D. McGil Literati mysteries. Literature lovers will look forward to future chapters in D.D.'s life.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

Midnight Ink has another winner with Diane Madsen's A Cadger's Curse, the first in a new series featuring D.D. McGil, a refugee from academia now employed as a freelance insurance investigator in Chicago. Like other former college English instructors (myself included) D.D. is happy to be gainfully employed, so she eagerly accepts an assignment to perform background checks on several trainees who have been fast-tracked for plum positions in the Hi-Data Corporation, a major player in the cutthroat high-tech industry. Even though her project encroaches upon the Christmas holidays, D.D. begins her investigation, only to stumble immediately upon a corpse, her deceased lover's half-brother. Memories of her partner's unexplained suicide resurface, as D.D. attempts to expose the treachery afoot at Hi-Data.

This, however, is not the only mystery D.D. has to solve. In a parallel plot, D.D.'s idiosyncratic, demanding Scottish aunt descends upon the McGil family. Aunt Elizabeth, "The Scottish Dragon," produces a manuscript purportedly by Robert Burns. Enter D.D. with her PhD in English, to investigate the authenticity of the manuscript but I won't divulge the results. Suffice it to say, they are hard-won and not without danger for D.D.

While the dual plots are at times clumsy and a bit contrived, Madsen has created an engaging heroine who should blossom fully in future D.D. McGil Literati mysteries. Literature lovers will look forward to future chapters in D.D.'s life.

Alone
Kevin Burton Smith

There's always a danger when an author does one thing really well that readers will give short shrift to his other work. And writer Estleman already does two things really well: He's both an award-winning writer of hardboiled detective stories (most notably the Amos Walker PI series) and a slew of dusty, gritty westerns praised for their emotional and historical depth. But damn if he isn't rapidly becoming one of the more satisfying writers of amateur sleuth mysteries as well, thanks to his series featuring Valentino, a UCLA archivist who sardonically refers to himself as a "film detective." Valentino's job--and his obsession--is tracking down and preserving rare films before they're lost forever. Fortunately for readers (if not our movie geek hero) the ego and wealth surrounding almost anything to do with Hollywood ensures that avarice, corruption, and murder are never far away. Such is the case with his second novel-length adventure, wherein an alleged lesbian love letter by the late and notoriously reclusive film legend Greta Garbo surfaces and becomes key evidence when a close friend of Valentino's, a wealthy widower and staunch contributor to UCLA's film program, is charged with the fatal shooting of his personal assistant.

What can a poor film detective do but get involved? The clues are fair, the settings inspired, and the heroes and villains both credible and fresh. Subplots ranging from office politics and romantic dilemmas to an overzealous building inspector's attempts to sandbag Valentino's dreams of restoring The Oracle, a vermin-infested dump, to its glory days as a premier movie theatre may seem like typical amateur sleuth page-padding, but they're not. With Valentino's cranky cynicism and his Chandleresque way with a wisecrack, along with the author's refusal to treat his characters with kid gloves, nobody's ever going to dismiss this as lightweight. Do yourself a favor--grab a copy of this, find a comfy chair and tell 'em you want to be alone.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

There's always a danger when an author does one thing really well that readers will give short shrift to his other work. And writer Estleman already does two things really well: He's both an award-winning writer of hardboiled detective stories (most notably the Amos Walker PI series) and a slew of dusty, gritty westerns praised for their emotional and historical depth. But damn if he isn't rapidly becoming one of the more satisfying writers of amateur sleuth mysteries as well, thanks to his series featuring Valentino, a UCLA archivist who sardonically refers to himself as a "film detective." Valentino's job--and his obsession--is tracking down and preserving rare films before they're lost forever. Fortunately for readers (if not our movie geek hero) the ego and wealth surrounding almost anything to do with Hollywood ensures that avarice, corruption, and murder are never far away. Such is the case with his second novel-length adventure, wherein an alleged lesbian love letter by the late and notoriously reclusive film legend Greta Garbo surfaces and becomes key evidence when a close friend of Valentino's, a wealthy widower and staunch contributor to UCLA's film program, is charged with the fatal shooting of his personal assistant.

What can a poor film detective do but get involved? The clues are fair, the settings inspired, and the heroes and villains both credible and fresh. Subplots ranging from office politics and romantic dilemmas to an overzealous building inspector's attempts to sandbag Valentino's dreams of restoring The Oracle, a vermin-infested dump, to its glory days as a premier movie theatre may seem like typical amateur sleuth page-padding, but they're not. With Valentino's cranky cynicism and his Chandleresque way with a wisecrack, along with the author's refusal to treat his characters with kid gloves, nobody's ever going to dismiss this as lightweight. Do yourself a favor--grab a copy of this, find a comfy chair and tell 'em you want to be alone.

Black Friday
Jackie Houchin

College students relax in the food court of a shopping mall, an FBI profiler prepares for Thanksgiving with colleagues, and a veteran terrorist counts down the seconds to detonation. So begins Alex Kava's seventh Maggie O'Dell novel, set in Minnesota's mammoth Mall of America. It's a complex tale with threads that reach high into government circles and 15 years into the past.

After explosions tear through the shopping mall on the busiest day of the year, top agents from the FBI and Homeland Security, government officials, and local security companies converge to assess the damage and determine responsibility. Profiler Maggie O'Dell leads a team under the disapproving eye of the FBI Interim Director, who seems determined to undermine her credibility.

After analyzing video footage with the mall's security team, Maggie's suspicions shift from the backpack-carrying students to a single deadly mastermind. As time runs out, she bets everything on the incredible revelations of a secret informant, and sends agents to what she believes is the terrorist's next target.

Black Friday starts slowly, giving the reader time to meet or recall characters, understand their roles, and get comfortable with the time and setting. Kava builds tension slowly as well, utilizing the last quarter of the book to amp it to thriller level. Multiple points of view and ultra-short chapters keep the pages turning. There are however, too many backstory digressions for this reviewer (loyal fans know the history; new readers won't care). It certainly enriches character, but at the expense of suspense.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

College students relax in the food court of a shopping mall, an FBI profiler prepares for Thanksgiving with colleagues, and a veteran terrorist counts down the seconds to detonation. So begins Alex Kava's seventh Maggie O'Dell novel, set in Minnesota's mammoth Mall of America. It's a complex tale with threads that reach high into government circles and 15 years into the past.

After explosions tear through the shopping mall on the busiest day of the year, top agents from the FBI and Homeland Security, government officials, and local security companies converge to assess the damage and determine responsibility. Profiler Maggie O'Dell leads a team under the disapproving eye of the FBI Interim Director, who seems determined to undermine her credibility.

After analyzing video footage with the mall's security team, Maggie's suspicions shift from the backpack-carrying students to a single deadly mastermind. As time runs out, she bets everything on the incredible revelations of a secret informant, and sends agents to what she believes is the terrorist's next target.

Black Friday starts slowly, giving the reader time to meet or recall characters, understand their roles, and get comfortable with the time and setting. Kava builds tension slowly as well, utilizing the last quarter of the book to amp it to thriller level. Multiple points of view and ultra-short chapters keep the pages turning. There are however, too many backstory digressions for this reviewer (loyal fans know the history; new readers won't care). It certainly enriches character, but at the expense of suspense.

Broken Jewel
Charles L. P. Silet

Broken Jewel takes place in a Japanese internment camp for the international community, left behind when General Douglas "I shall return" MacArthur pulled out of the Philippines at the beginning of World War II. The focus of the story is Remy Tuck, a gambler and man of many trades; his son, Tal, who is among the gutsiest of the younger internees; and Carmen, a comfort woman servicing the Japanese soldiers at the camp.

The war in the Pacific is winding down and the prisoners, as well as their Japanese guards know it. Both are marking time until the American troops arrive to liberate the camp. The starving inmates are dying of malnutrition, the Philippino guerrillas have stepped up their activities, and the locals fear reprisals.

Tal has developed an attachment to Carmen and makes his father promise that they will rescue her with the others. But time is of the essence as the captors dig a large trench beside the camp, a trench large enough to hold the bodies of the entire population.

David Robbins delivers an exciting novel and handles action sequences exceptionally well as he cranks up the tension and postpones the fates of his main characters until the very end of the book.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

Broken Jewel takes place in a Japanese internment camp for the international community, left behind when General Douglas "I shall return" MacArthur pulled out of the Philippines at the beginning of World War II. The focus of the story is Remy Tuck, a gambler and man of many trades; his son, Tal, who is among the gutsiest of the younger internees; and Carmen, a comfort woman servicing the Japanese soldiers at the camp.

The war in the Pacific is winding down and the prisoners, as well as their Japanese guards know it. Both are marking time until the American troops arrive to liberate the camp. The starving inmates are dying of malnutrition, the Philippino guerrillas have stepped up their activities, and the locals fear reprisals.

Tal has developed an attachment to Carmen and makes his father promise that they will rescue her with the others. But time is of the essence as the captors dig a large trench beside the camp, a trench large enough to hold the bodies of the entire population.

David Robbins delivers an exciting novel and handles action sequences exceptionally well as he cranks up the tension and postpones the fates of his main characters until the very end of the book.

Bryant & May on the Loose
Mary Helen Becker

The marvelously imaginative Christopher Fowler has brought back his dynamic duo Arthur Bryant and John May in their seventh tale. Both detectives are long past retirement age and their WWII unit founded for special cases, the Peculiar Crimes Unit (which is peculiar in the extreme), has been disbanded by bureaucrats who want everything done by the book. Suddenly though, the old unit needs to be reassembled--unofficially--when headless corpses (heads removed with surgical precision) are found in the King's Cross neighborhood where Europe's largest development is being constructed by a highly-efficient (ruthless?) corporation.

The area contains astonishing historical sites and landmarks--some thought lost forever--from the Paleolithic period all the way through English history. Suspicion falls upon a preservationist who roams the area at night dressed as a stag with antlers made of kitchen knives soldered together in a misguided effort to protest the development that would cover sacred spots with concrete. Soon the PCU are on the trail, and Bryant, who seemed to be fading away recently, is seen to be acting younger and livelier as he immerses himself in the case.

Fowler uses arcane historical and legendary stories to create a crime story founded in recent history, but solved by a knowledge of the ancient past. The author, a creative director of a film company, creates scenes in his novels that unfold like a movie. His characters, major and minor, are brilliantly evoked and seem to live on--even off--the page. Lots of humor, a bit of tragedy, and incredible inventiveness characterize all the Bryant and May novels, which are among the best crime stories being written today.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

The marvelously imaginative Christopher Fowler has brought back his dynamic duo Arthur Bryant and John May in their seventh tale. Both detectives are long past retirement age and their WWII unit founded for special cases, the Peculiar Crimes Unit (which is peculiar in the extreme), has been disbanded by bureaucrats who want everything done by the book. Suddenly though, the old unit needs to be reassembled--unofficially--when headless corpses (heads removed with surgical precision) are found in the King's Cross neighborhood where Europe's largest development is being constructed by a highly-efficient (ruthless?) corporation.

The area contains astonishing historical sites and landmarks--some thought lost forever--from the Paleolithic period all the way through English history. Suspicion falls upon a preservationist who roams the area at night dressed as a stag with antlers made of kitchen knives soldered together in a misguided effort to protest the development that would cover sacred spots with concrete. Soon the PCU are on the trail, and Bryant, who seemed to be fading away recently, is seen to be acting younger and livelier as he immerses himself in the case.

Fowler uses arcane historical and legendary stories to create a crime story founded in recent history, but solved by a knowledge of the ancient past. The author, a creative director of a film company, creates scenes in his novels that unfold like a movie. His characters, major and minor, are brilliantly evoked and seem to live on--even off--the page. Lots of humor, a bit of tragedy, and incredible inventiveness characterize all the Bryant and May novels, which are among the best crime stories being written today.

Click to Play
L. Dean Murphy

Following his last Berger and Mitry installment (Sour Cherry Surprise), Edgar Award-winning Handler wows fans with this delightful standalone thriller. Quirky entertainment reporter Hunt Liebling is hired by aging actor Tim Ferris from Ferris' deathbed to expose the shocking secrets of actor-turned-senator Gary Dixon, a dangerous man who seems poised to be the next president of the United States. Rattling the senator's 'closet' skeletons unearths buried secrets around a 1972 series of killings called the Hollywood Massacre, and implicates Liebling as a prime suspect in a new rash of murders. Everyone Hunt knows is killed, as he tries "to keep some very, very dangerous people out of the White House." Penniless and on the lam from the law, Hunt quickly learns how difficult life can be without the ability to use credit cards, bank accounts, and electronic communication. Without a cell phone or access to internet, he teams up with Tim's daughter Alicia to nail the "functioning psychotic" who killed Hunt's family and friends. The result is as fast-paced as a New York minute.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

Following his last Berger and Mitry installment (Sour Cherry Surprise), Edgar Award-winning Handler wows fans with this delightful standalone thriller. Quirky entertainment reporter Hunt Liebling is hired by aging actor Tim Ferris from Ferris' deathbed to expose the shocking secrets of actor-turned-senator Gary Dixon, a dangerous man who seems poised to be the next president of the United States. Rattling the senator's 'closet' skeletons unearths buried secrets around a 1972 series of killings called the Hollywood Massacre, and implicates Liebling as a prime suspect in a new rash of murders. Everyone Hunt knows is killed, as he tries "to keep some very, very dangerous people out of the White House." Penniless and on the lam from the law, Hunt quickly learns how difficult life can be without the ability to use credit cards, bank accounts, and electronic communication. Without a cell phone or access to internet, he teams up with Tim's daughter Alicia to nail the "functioning psychotic" who killed Hunt's family and friends. The result is as fast-paced as a New York minute.

Dancing for the Hangman
Oline H. Cogdill

The curious case of Dr. Hawley Crippen--accused of murdering his wife, Cora, mutilating her body, and burying it in the cellar of their London home--became the trial of the century in 1910. Crippen and his young lover, Ethel Le Neve, disguised themselves as father and son and fled Great Britain on an ocean liner bound for Canada. A wireless telegram aided in the fugitive's capture, the first time this had happened.

British novelist Martin Edwards takes this real crime and reimagines it in the intriguing Dancing for the Hangman. Told through a diary written while the convicted Crippen awaits execution, Edwards blends meticulous research of real events into a psychological study of very flawed characters.

A homeopathic doctor employed by a string of pharmaceutical companies, Crippen was just shy of being a quack. Crippen was easy pickings for his second wife, the domineering Cora, a talentless would-be singer with a penchant for expensive jewelry and affairs. Theirs is a relationship forged in deviant sexual obsession, neediness, and manipulation.

Edwards imaginatively offers up an alternative version of what might have happened as Crippen maintains that Cora's death was an accident. The author also skillfully manages making readers care about Crippen, even though he comes off as emotionally stunted, a little stupid, and just plain clueless. We don't like Crippen but we sure want to know what he has to say.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

The curious case of Dr. Hawley Crippen--accused of murdering his wife, Cora, mutilating her body, and burying it in the cellar of their London home--became the trial of the century in 1910. Crippen and his young lover, Ethel Le Neve, disguised themselves as father and son and fled Great Britain on an ocean liner bound for Canada. A wireless telegram aided in the fugitive's capture, the first time this had happened.

British novelist Martin Edwards takes this real crime and reimagines it in the intriguing Dancing for the Hangman. Told through a diary written while the convicted Crippen awaits execution, Edwards blends meticulous research of real events into a psychological study of very flawed characters.

A homeopathic doctor employed by a string of pharmaceutical companies, Crippen was just shy of being a quack. Crippen was easy pickings for his second wife, the domineering Cora, a talentless would-be singer with a penchant for expensive jewelry and affairs. Theirs is a relationship forged in deviant sexual obsession, neediness, and manipulation.

Edwards imaginatively offers up an alternative version of what might have happened as Crippen maintains that Cora's death was an accident. The author also skillfully manages making readers care about Crippen, even though he comes off as emotionally stunted, a little stupid, and just plain clueless. We don't like Crippen but we sure want to know what he has to say.

Dark Tiger
Oline H. Cogdill

William G. Tapply, who died July 28, 2009, will be remembered for his 24 novels about Brady Coyne, his numerous nonfiction books about fishing and wildlife, and his three novels about Stoney Calhoun--the latest of which is the well-plotted Dark Tiger. Stoney Calhoun doesn't know who he was before he lost his memory in a lightning strike. He suspects he may have been a highly trained federal agent since he has such sophisticated martial arts skills. And those talents certainly come in handy.

Stoney's life as a Portland, Maine bait shop owner and volunteer sheriff's deputy is often disrupted by "the Man in the Suit," a government agent who periodically shows up to ask for Stoney's help. Stoney can't refuse these assignments because the agent has made it quite clear that his life and livelihood, and that of his girlfriend and business partner Kate, are at risk. This time Stoney is asked to take a job as a fishing guide at an exclusive resort in north Maine, a beautiful area that Tapply perfectly captures. But Stoney's real assignment is to find out why a federal agent named McNulty was murdered along with a 16-year-old girl.

Tapply's skills at plotting and creating believable characters shine in Dark Tiger. Each staff member of the small resort is shaped as a unique character. Stoney's inability to remember his past is a vital backstory that never becomes gimmicky in Tappley's able hands. While another Brady Coyne novel is in the pipeline, Dark Tiger and its hero Stoney Calhoun are a good legacy for this author who will be missed.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

William G. Tapply, who died July 28, 2009, will be remembered for his 24 novels about Brady Coyne, his numerous nonfiction books about fishing and wildlife, and his three novels about Stoney Calhoun--the latest of which is the well-plotted Dark Tiger. Stoney Calhoun doesn't know who he was before he lost his memory in a lightning strike. He suspects he may have been a highly trained federal agent since he has such sophisticated martial arts skills. And those talents certainly come in handy.

Stoney's life as a Portland, Maine bait shop owner and volunteer sheriff's deputy is often disrupted by "the Man in the Suit," a government agent who periodically shows up to ask for Stoney's help. Stoney can't refuse these assignments because the agent has made it quite clear that his life and livelihood, and that of his girlfriend and business partner Kate, are at risk. This time Stoney is asked to take a job as a fishing guide at an exclusive resort in north Maine, a beautiful area that Tapply perfectly captures. But Stoney's real assignment is to find out why a federal agent named McNulty was murdered along with a 16-year-old girl.

Tapply's skills at plotting and creating believable characters shine in Dark Tiger. Each staff member of the small resort is shaped as a unique character. Stoney's inability to remember his past is a vital backstory that never becomes gimmicky in Tappley's able hands. While another Brady Coyne novel is in the pipeline, Dark Tiger and its hero Stoney Calhoun are a good legacy for this author who will be missed.

Desert Lost
Sue Emmons

In her brilliant sixth outing, Arizona PI Lena Jones is confronted by the horrors of polygamy and the toll it takes on its victims. Jones is on a stakeout for a client when a body is dumped nearby. The bludgeoned victim is clad in a long calico dress, symbolic of a "sister-wife," soon identified as Celeste King, a prisoner of a polygamous sect that is expanding throughout the southwest.

This taut mystery confronts the inter-relationships of the women who submit to polygamists, but its main thrust is delving into the tortured lives of the unwanted boys born to them--often referred to as "lost boys." Since often-aging prophets within a sect fear competition, these uneducated, uncared-for teens are literally tossed onto metropolitan streets. Lacking both skills and education, many again become victims, turning to drugs or prostitution to survive.

Jones soon learns that the luckiest lost boys are ferried to a halfway house as are many of the women who manage to escape the confines of their cults.

What ultimately compels the reader is that despite the realities of polygamy--retardation, deformities and disease--it is motherhood that prevails within the confines of despair even as it carries with it a burden of sadness.

In an addendum, the author briefly references horrifying real-life practices of polygamist cults while also helpfully listing a handful of agencies that provide help to those--both boys and women--who seek to escape them.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-22 13:35:30

In her brilliant sixth outing, Arizona PI Lena Jones is confronted by the horrors of polygamy and the toll it takes on its victims. Jones is on a stakeout for a client when a body is dumped nearby. The bludgeoned victim is clad in a long calico dress, symbolic of a "sister-wife," soon identified as Celeste King, a prisoner of a polygamous sect that is expanding throughout the southwest.

This taut mystery confronts the inter-relationships of the women who submit to polygamists, but its main thrust is delving into the tortured lives of the unwanted boys born to them--often referred to as "lost boys." Since often-aging prophets within a sect fear competition, these uneducated, uncared-for teens are literally tossed onto metropolitan streets. Lacking both skills and education, many again become victims, turning to drugs or prostitution to survive.

Jones soon learns that the luckiest lost boys are ferried to a halfway house as are many of the women who manage to escape the confines of their cults.

What ultimately compels the reader is that despite the realities of polygamy--retardation, deformities and disease--it is motherhood that prevails within the confines of despair even as it carries with it a burden of sadness.

In an addendum, the author briefly references horrifying real-life practices of polygamist cults while also helpfully listing a handful of agencies that provide help to those--both boys and women--who seek to escape them.