Dixie Noir
Beverly J. DeWeese

Ennis Skinner, a lionized Alabama football player, disgusted everyone when he became a meth addict and criminal. Released from prison, he vows to make amends, especially to his liberal professor father and to the memory of his dead girlfriend. But on his return he finds his father is now a drunk and Dixie, the daughter of Ennis' great love, Alice, has become the victim of sex exploitation and crime. Guilty about not being around for Alice or young Dixie, Ennis vows to find and save the girl.

Dixie Noir is a very apt title for this tragic tale. Alice and her daughter Dixie have both been trapped in a web of drugs, sex, and racism. And just who is Dixie's father? High C, a lowlife who publishes manuals on manufacturing meth, insists he is. But is he?

These dark lives are set against the racism that permeates Dixie Noir's Montgomery, Alabama, setting. It's a place where a black man can run for mayor, but where's he's unlikely to overcome the dirty tricks of his white opponent. Ennis, his father, and the bi-racial Dixie are affected daily by the prejudices just below the surface.

In this fast-paced, violent story of the underside of Montgomery, Ennis struggles for redemption and to adjust to life outside of prison. However, he learns "respectable white men" are as nasty as the crooks and he doubts that good can ever triumph. Dixie Noir, a first novel, is bleak--and very effective.

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

Ennis Skinner, a lionized Alabama football player, disgusted everyone when he became a meth addict and criminal. Released from prison, he vows to make amends, especially to his liberal professor father and to the memory of his dead girlfriend. But on his return he finds his father is now a drunk and Dixie, the daughter of Ennis' great love, Alice, has become the victim of sex exploitation and crime. Guilty about not being around for Alice or young Dixie, Ennis vows to find and save the girl.

Dixie Noir is a very apt title for this tragic tale. Alice and her daughter Dixie have both been trapped in a web of drugs, sex, and racism. And just who is Dixie's father? High C, a lowlife who publishes manuals on manufacturing meth, insists he is. But is he?

These dark lives are set against the racism that permeates Dixie Noir's Montgomery, Alabama, setting. It's a place where a black man can run for mayor, but where's he's unlikely to overcome the dirty tricks of his white opponent. Ennis, his father, and the bi-racial Dixie are affected daily by the prejudices just below the surface.

In this fast-paced, violent story of the underside of Montgomery, Ennis struggles for redemption and to adjust to life outside of prison. However, he learns "respectable white men" are as nasty as the crooks and he doubts that good can ever triumph. Dixie Noir, a first novel, is bleak--and very effective.

Doubleback
Oline H. Cogdill

Teaming up two strong, intelligent lead characters makes for a rich, suspenseful story in Libby Fischer Hellmann's Doubleback.

Chicago private investigator Georgia Davis and video producer Ellie Foreman have each shown they can carry a novel by themselves. Hellmann's decision to have them work together in this followup to Easy Innocence brings new insights into each character and nice depth to Doubleback.

A family friend asks Ellie to help Chris Messenger, a neighbor whose 8-year-old daughter, Molly, has been kidnapped. Dealing with kidnappers isn't part of Ellie's skills set so she calls on Georgia. But there is something not quite right with the kidnapping. No ransom demands have been made and a few days later Molly is released unharmed. Then Chris' boss at the bank where she is the I.T. manager dies in a car accident. Less than a week later, Chris also dies in a suspicious car accident. Hired by Chris' ex-husband, Georgia follows a trail of bank fraud that also leads to extortion, illegal immigration, and drugs reaching from Wisconsin to Arizona. Ellie also is busy as she discovers a paramilitary training camp with ties to Chris' bank.

The alternating narrators give Hellmann a chance to showcase her plotting skills, allowing the story to unfold from two different perspectives. However, this technique also becomes a bit jarring as Hellmann doesn't immediately tell who is narrating each chapter; it takes a few paragraphs to realize who is speaking.

Hellmann briskly moves the setting from urban and suburban Chicago to the farms of rural Illinois, and makes the most of scenes in an eerie Arizona border town. The result is a quick-moving story that leaves readers hoping that Georgia and Ellie will team up again.

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

Teaming up two strong, intelligent lead characters makes for a rich, suspenseful story in Libby Fischer Hellmann's Doubleback.

Chicago private investigator Georgia Davis and video producer Ellie Foreman have each shown they can carry a novel by themselves. Hellmann's decision to have them work together in this followup to Easy Innocence brings new insights into each character and nice depth to Doubleback.

A family friend asks Ellie to help Chris Messenger, a neighbor whose 8-year-old daughter, Molly, has been kidnapped. Dealing with kidnappers isn't part of Ellie's skills set so she calls on Georgia. But there is something not quite right with the kidnapping. No ransom demands have been made and a few days later Molly is released unharmed. Then Chris' boss at the bank where she is the I.T. manager dies in a car accident. Less than a week later, Chris also dies in a suspicious car accident. Hired by Chris' ex-husband, Georgia follows a trail of bank fraud that also leads to extortion, illegal immigration, and drugs reaching from Wisconsin to Arizona. Ellie also is busy as she discovers a paramilitary training camp with ties to Chris' bank.

The alternating narrators give Hellmann a chance to showcase her plotting skills, allowing the story to unfold from two different perspectives. However, this technique also becomes a bit jarring as Hellmann doesn't immediately tell who is narrating each chapter; it takes a few paragraphs to realize who is speaking.

Hellmann briskly moves the setting from urban and suburban Chicago to the farms of rural Illinois, and makes the most of scenes in an eerie Arizona border town. The result is a quick-moving story that leaves readers hoping that Georgia and Ellie will team up again.

Earthway
Betty Webb

When a pipe bomb explodes at a Navajo community college, badly injuring the Navajo policeman sent to deactivate it, special investigator Ella Clah suspects that the bomb was intended for her boyfriend, Bilford "Ford" Tome. Ford, a Christian minister, was slated to give a lecture at the college that day, and Ella knows that his vocal dislike of the old Navajo religion has earned him many enemies among the tribe's traditionalists. As her investigation hits its stride, however, she learns that Ford has also been cooperating with the Feds to uncover a terrorist cell working on the reservation. The terrorists want to derail the building of a nearby nuclear power plant, and they don't care how many people they have to kill in order to stop it.

This Navajo police procedural is strongest when it explores a side of Indian life outsiders rarely see--the ongoing battle between traditionalists and modernists, as illustrated when the book's Navajo shamans are pitted against the Christian minster determined to save them from their "pagan" ways. Reservation politics become personal through Ella's relationship with Ford. Although Ford wants to marry Ella, he disdains her Navajo beliefs. She, in turn, is so wary of his fundamentalist Christianity that some readers will wonder why she even bothers with him.

In its way, Earthway's conflict of values reflects the cauldron of suspicion that exists across much of post-9/11 America. Our Native and non-native customs may differ, the writers seem to be saying, but our loves and fears are exactly the same.

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

When a pipe bomb explodes at a Navajo community college, badly injuring the Navajo policeman sent to deactivate it, special investigator Ella Clah suspects that the bomb was intended for her boyfriend, Bilford "Ford" Tome. Ford, a Christian minister, was slated to give a lecture at the college that day, and Ella knows that his vocal dislike of the old Navajo religion has earned him many enemies among the tribe's traditionalists. As her investigation hits its stride, however, she learns that Ford has also been cooperating with the Feds to uncover a terrorist cell working on the reservation. The terrorists want to derail the building of a nearby nuclear power plant, and they don't care how many people they have to kill in order to stop it.

This Navajo police procedural is strongest when it explores a side of Indian life outsiders rarely see--the ongoing battle between traditionalists and modernists, as illustrated when the book's Navajo shamans are pitted against the Christian minster determined to save them from their "pagan" ways. Reservation politics become personal through Ella's relationship with Ford. Although Ford wants to marry Ella, he disdains her Navajo beliefs. She, in turn, is so wary of his fundamentalist Christianity that some readers will wonder why she even bothers with him.

In its way, Earthway's conflict of values reflects the cauldron of suspicion that exists across much of post-9/11 America. Our Native and non-native customs may differ, the writers seem to be saying, but our loves and fears are exactly the same.

Faces in the Pool
Lynne F. Maxwell

Profit needs three things: decision, a willingness to ignore the law, and money. One extra: bidders break your legs if you baulk the system, says Lovejoy, the eponymous anti-hero in Jonathan Gash's long-running, wickedly irreverent series. You have to love Lovejoy, knowledgeable on the subject of antiques and even more expert on the means of stealing them. His candor about his career and character is part of the fun, as Lovejoy's first-person narratives illuminate his unregenerate, albeit self-aware, attraction to crime.

In Faces in the Pool Lovejoy is up to his old tricks--lying, cheating, stealing, charming--in between frequent sojourns in jail. This time around he is sprung from jail by a winsome woman who conditions his release upon a promise to participate in her speed dating service and to subsequently help her find her ex-husband. Suffice it to say that Gash's depiction of Lovejoy as a speed dater is riotously hilarious and alone worth the price of the book. As always, Lovejoy's forays into larceny are also entertaining, replete with witty, ironic renderings of his capers. Moreover, a reader can develop an entire lexicon of Cockney argot simply by reading the headings of each chapter. The secret language of crime is highly developed, and why should this be surprising since thievery is a profession like any other? Gash, the pseudonym of English writer John Grant, ingeniously portrays Lovejoy and the amoral professional functioning of his loveable criminal's "workplace." And really, can one conclude that Lovejoy is any less a businessman than the wealthy class that he plunders?

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

Profit needs three things: decision, a willingness to ignore the law, and money. One extra: bidders break your legs if you baulk the system, says Lovejoy, the eponymous anti-hero in Jonathan Gash's long-running, wickedly irreverent series. You have to love Lovejoy, knowledgeable on the subject of antiques and even more expert on the means of stealing them. His candor about his career and character is part of the fun, as Lovejoy's first-person narratives illuminate his unregenerate, albeit self-aware, attraction to crime.

In Faces in the Pool Lovejoy is up to his old tricks--lying, cheating, stealing, charming--in between frequent sojourns in jail. This time around he is sprung from jail by a winsome woman who conditions his release upon a promise to participate in her speed dating service and to subsequently help her find her ex-husband. Suffice it to say that Gash's depiction of Lovejoy as a speed dater is riotously hilarious and alone worth the price of the book. As always, Lovejoy's forays into larceny are also entertaining, replete with witty, ironic renderings of his capers. Moreover, a reader can develop an entire lexicon of Cockney argot simply by reading the headings of each chapter. The secret language of crime is highly developed, and why should this be surprising since thievery is a profession like any other? Gash, the pseudonym of English writer John Grant, ingeniously portrays Lovejoy and the amoral professional functioning of his loveable criminal's "workplace." And really, can one conclude that Lovejoy is any less a businessman than the wealthy class that he plunders?

Faces of the Gone
Betty Webb

A novel about the shooting deaths of four young adults seems like unlikely material for comedy, but this debut by a former reporter for the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger manages to wring as much humor from the plot as it does pathos.

The protagonist, Carter Ross, a journalist in crime-ridden Newark wants to snag a Page One, above-the-fold story by beating the Newark cops to the solution to the horrific shootings. The cops believe that the killings are related to a failed bar robbery, and attempt to strong-arm the press into printing it their way. For a while, their tactics work. Eventually, though, Carter begins to suspect a drug link. Helping him track down the truth are intern Tommy Hernandez, a gay man who constantly bemoans Carter's stodgy wardrobe; Tynesha, a stripper/prostitute who thinks Carter is cute; the Browns, gangstas who trick the reporter into getting high on a particularly potent type of marijuana; and the derelicts in a burned-out building who use him as a grocery delivery boy.

Parks' unique voice makes the most out of the frequently-befuddled reporter, an otherwise aimless man who loves Newark in spite of the ruin the city has become. In the end, it is Carter's extraordinary compassion that softens the edges of his dark humor. He is such a likeable character that we can't help but hope he has many more stories to cover--and even more oddball sources to pal around with.

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

A novel about the shooting deaths of four young adults seems like unlikely material for comedy, but this debut by a former reporter for the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger manages to wring as much humor from the plot as it does pathos.

The protagonist, Carter Ross, a journalist in crime-ridden Newark wants to snag a Page One, above-the-fold story by beating the Newark cops to the solution to the horrific shootings. The cops believe that the killings are related to a failed bar robbery, and attempt to strong-arm the press into printing it their way. For a while, their tactics work. Eventually, though, Carter begins to suspect a drug link. Helping him track down the truth are intern Tommy Hernandez, a gay man who constantly bemoans Carter's stodgy wardrobe; Tynesha, a stripper/prostitute who thinks Carter is cute; the Browns, gangstas who trick the reporter into getting high on a particularly potent type of marijuana; and the derelicts in a burned-out building who use him as a grocery delivery boy.

Parks' unique voice makes the most out of the frequently-befuddled reporter, an otherwise aimless man who loves Newark in spite of the ruin the city has become. In the end, it is Carter's extraordinary compassion that softens the edges of his dark humor. He is such a likeable character that we can't help but hope he has many more stories to cover--and even more oddball sources to pal around with.

Final Exam
Jackie Houchin

In Maggie Barbieri's fourth Murder 101 Mystery, Professor Alison Bergeron, a literature teacher at a small Catholic college in New York, finds herself neck deep in trouble when she's told she must replace the mysteriously missing Resident Director (RD) in one of the school's dormitories.

Alison is loathe to give up her home, her dog, and more importantly her steamy romantic evenings with NYPD Detective Bobby Crawford for the rest of the school year, but she grudgingly agrees when she's reminded that her chances of tenure depend on it. Minutes after arriving in the musty dormitory room her toilet explodes, and when Detective Crawford investigates--probing to his armpit in the drain beneath the toilet--he discovers a large cache of heroin.

Despite being warned off by faculty heads who fear her involvement in more campus mayhem and murder, Alison resolves to find the missing RD and connect him to the drugs. Being knocked unconscious, kidnapped, and nearly murdered doesn't stop her. Not even an encounter with the school's dreaded Sister Mary scares her off. Fearlessly, Alison pursues the miscreant, often involving her friends and students in hilarious, hare-brained role-playing schemes. Even the "hot pants" detective finds himself occasionally going along for the ride.

Final Exam is a fast moving, easy to read cozy, packed with laugh-out-loud humor, unpredictable scenarios, and quirky but likable characters. You can't even hate the bad guys. Returning characters, including a flamboyant roommate and a friendly golden retriever, add color, drama, and the occasional "in-the nick-of-time" assistance. A romp of a read that's enjoyable to the end.

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

In Maggie Barbieri's fourth Murder 101 Mystery, Professor Alison Bergeron, a literature teacher at a small Catholic college in New York, finds herself neck deep in trouble when she's told she must replace the mysteriously missing Resident Director (RD) in one of the school's dormitories.

Alison is loathe to give up her home, her dog, and more importantly her steamy romantic evenings with NYPD Detective Bobby Crawford for the rest of the school year, but she grudgingly agrees when she's reminded that her chances of tenure depend on it. Minutes after arriving in the musty dormitory room her toilet explodes, and when Detective Crawford investigates--probing to his armpit in the drain beneath the toilet--he discovers a large cache of heroin.

Despite being warned off by faculty heads who fear her involvement in more campus mayhem and murder, Alison resolves to find the missing RD and connect him to the drugs. Being knocked unconscious, kidnapped, and nearly murdered doesn't stop her. Not even an encounter with the school's dreaded Sister Mary scares her off. Fearlessly, Alison pursues the miscreant, often involving her friends and students in hilarious, hare-brained role-playing schemes. Even the "hot pants" detective finds himself occasionally going along for the ride.

Final Exam is a fast moving, easy to read cozy, packed with laugh-out-loud humor, unpredictable scenarios, and quirky but likable characters. You can't even hate the bad guys. Returning characters, including a flamboyant roommate and a friendly golden retriever, add color, drama, and the occasional "in-the nick-of-time" assistance. A romp of a read that's enjoyable to the end.

Holiday Grind
Dori Cocuz

On the night of her holiday latte tasting party, coffee maven Clare Cosi finds Santa's dead body in an alley near the Village Blend where she works as manager. The police think Alfred Glockner, a volunteer Santa, was the victim of a random mugging, but Clare disagrees and sets out to prove she's right.

As she searches for the killer, Clare discovers Alfred wasn't always such a jolly fellow; a lot of people had reason to dislike him. With the help of an eclectic group of friends, Clare is determined to bring the killer to justice, even if it means risking her own life.

Inspired by A Christmas Carol, Holiday Grind, Cleo Coyle's eighth Coffeehouse Mystery, offers Alfred Glockner as a reformed Scrooge whose past may have caught up with him. But from early on when Clare admonishes her baristas not to forget what the Christmas season is all about, Coyle walks a fine line between preaching and inspiration. Throughout the book Coyle uses a heavy hand with the Christmas spirit moral of the story, but thankfully ends the story on an even note.

Coyle's greatest strength is writing characters that feel real. Clare and company are some of the most vibrant characters I've ever read and Coyle hints at enough backstory for each main character to make me want to get to know them better in future books. Coyle also is a master of misdirection and red herrings. I challenge any reader to figure out whodunit before Coyle reveals all.

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

On the night of her holiday latte tasting party, coffee maven Clare Cosi finds Santa's dead body in an alley near the Village Blend where she works as manager. The police think Alfred Glockner, a volunteer Santa, was the victim of a random mugging, but Clare disagrees and sets out to prove she's right.

As she searches for the killer, Clare discovers Alfred wasn't always such a jolly fellow; a lot of people had reason to dislike him. With the help of an eclectic group of friends, Clare is determined to bring the killer to justice, even if it means risking her own life.

Inspired by A Christmas Carol, Holiday Grind, Cleo Coyle's eighth Coffeehouse Mystery, offers Alfred Glockner as a reformed Scrooge whose past may have caught up with him. But from early on when Clare admonishes her baristas not to forget what the Christmas season is all about, Coyle walks a fine line between preaching and inspiration. Throughout the book Coyle uses a heavy hand with the Christmas spirit moral of the story, but thankfully ends the story on an even note.

Coyle's greatest strength is writing characters that feel real. Clare and company are some of the most vibrant characters I've ever read and Coyle hints at enough backstory for each main character to make me want to get to know them better in future books. Coyle also is a master of misdirection and red herrings. I challenge any reader to figure out whodunit before Coyle reveals all.

Kindred in Death
Jackie Houchin

Kindred in Death is the latest in J.D. Robb's imaginative and well-written In Death series. Lieutenant Eve Dallas is specifically requested by Captain Jonah MacMasters to investigate the vicious rape-murder of his sweetly innocent 16-year-old daughter. Everyone assumes it's a payback killing by one of the hundreds of criminals he's incarcerated. But which one?

As Dallas and her team of detectives and forensic specialists research every detail of the crime scene and the captain's past, a shadowy suspect emerges. But it takes a second, similar crime before the killer's identity is confirmed, sparking a race to stop him before the next victim on his well-planned agenda dies.

When Dallas arrives at a crime scene, she meticulously documents each piece of evidence, beginning at the perimeter and working slowly inward and downward toward the waiting body. Dallas' eyes miss nothing, but Robb keeps the corpse hidden from readers' view until we're ready to jump out of our skin, up to the moment she exposes it in all its gory detail (not for the faint-of-heart).

Suspense is queen in these hardboiled police procedurals written by Nora Roberts under the pseudonym of J.D. Robb. One difference between this series and other procedurals is that Robb's stories take place in 2060. The subtle sci-fi aspect will intrigue readers without stretching credulity. What police force wouldn't love pocket PCs, micro-goggles, and holographic conference capabilities (not to mention off-planet incarceration)? But the legwork, profiling, and human thought processes are of the moment, as is the immensely satisfying conclusion.

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

Kindred in Death is the latest in J.D. Robb's imaginative and well-written In Death series. Lieutenant Eve Dallas is specifically requested by Captain Jonah MacMasters to investigate the vicious rape-murder of his sweetly innocent 16-year-old daughter. Everyone assumes it's a payback killing by one of the hundreds of criminals he's incarcerated. But which one?

As Dallas and her team of detectives and forensic specialists research every detail of the crime scene and the captain's past, a shadowy suspect emerges. But it takes a second, similar crime before the killer's identity is confirmed, sparking a race to stop him before the next victim on his well-planned agenda dies.

When Dallas arrives at a crime scene, she meticulously documents each piece of evidence, beginning at the perimeter and working slowly inward and downward toward the waiting body. Dallas' eyes miss nothing, but Robb keeps the corpse hidden from readers' view until we're ready to jump out of our skin, up to the moment she exposes it in all its gory detail (not for the faint-of-heart).

Suspense is queen in these hardboiled police procedurals written by Nora Roberts under the pseudonym of J.D. Robb. One difference between this series and other procedurals is that Robb's stories take place in 2060. The subtle sci-fi aspect will intrigue readers without stretching credulity. What police force wouldn't love pocket PCs, micro-goggles, and holographic conference capabilities (not to mention off-planet incarceration)? But the legwork, profiling, and human thought processes are of the moment, as is the immensely satisfying conclusion.

London Boulevard
Kevin Burton Smith

Could this affable but at-first-glance simple retooling of Sunset Boulevard finally break Irish novelist Bruen big on this side of the pond? Already an award-winning author with a fiercely dedicated cult following, Bruen is rightly praised for his ferocious, unapologetically literate take on crime fiction; but even after his forays into bash-it-out pure pulp with partner-in-crime Jason Starr, this one seems curiously obvious--not Bruen's most ambitious work at all.

At first, that is.

With his staccato rhythms and trenchant one-liners, his gloriously doomed characters, and his great big poet's heart, London Boulevard finds Bruen at the top of his game, working the noir stage the way a master stand-up comic works the big room; a crime fiction Lenny Bruce set loose on an unsuspecting audience. In the hands of someone less gifted, this sly spin on the 1950 film noir classic might be little more than a trifle or a pretentious rip-off, but in Bruen's hands, it's a fierce (and rather creepy) meditation on celebrity and fate, love and cowardice, and obsession and redemption as it follows British ex-con Mitchell's struggle to carve out some sort of decent life for himself after a three-year stretch for assault. At first it all seems to be going (relatively) smoothly, as Mitchell scores a posh apartment in a trendy part of London, a potentially cushy job as handyman for Lillian Palmer, an aging and reclusive star of the British stage, and even--just maybe--a shot at real love. But the sins and secrets and shady characters of Mitchell's violent past come roaring out of the darkness, threatening to destroy his new life, and those he most cares about. It's bleak, gloriously nasty stuff--you won't know whether to cry or shudder. America, you've been warned.

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

Could this affable but at-first-glance simple retooling of Sunset Boulevard finally break Irish novelist Bruen big on this side of the pond? Already an award-winning author with a fiercely dedicated cult following, Bruen is rightly praised for his ferocious, unapologetically literate take on crime fiction; but even after his forays into bash-it-out pure pulp with partner-in-crime Jason Starr, this one seems curiously obvious--not Bruen's most ambitious work at all.

At first, that is.

With his staccato rhythms and trenchant one-liners, his gloriously doomed characters, and his great big poet's heart, London Boulevard finds Bruen at the top of his game, working the noir stage the way a master stand-up comic works the big room; a crime fiction Lenny Bruce set loose on an unsuspecting audience. In the hands of someone less gifted, this sly spin on the 1950 film noir classic might be little more than a trifle or a pretentious rip-off, but in Bruen's hands, it's a fierce (and rather creepy) meditation on celebrity and fate, love and cowardice, and obsession and redemption as it follows British ex-con Mitchell's struggle to carve out some sort of decent life for himself after a three-year stretch for assault. At first it all seems to be going (relatively) smoothly, as Mitchell scores a posh apartment in a trendy part of London, a potentially cushy job as handyman for Lillian Palmer, an aging and reclusive star of the British stage, and even--just maybe--a shot at real love. But the sins and secrets and shady characters of Mitchell's violent past come roaring out of the darkness, threatening to destroy his new life, and those he most cares about. It's bleak, gloriously nasty stuff--you won't know whether to cry or shudder. America, you've been warned.

Lord of the Far Island
Helen Francini

Victoria Holt is the penname of Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert (who also wrote as Philippa Carr and Jean Plaidy), long considered one of the great authors of romantic suspense. Fans old and new won't want to miss this reprint of the original 1975 story, a seamless blend of mystery and romance in a delightful tale that contains echoes--including a Cornish setting and wrecked boats--of du Maurier's Rebecca.

At the center of this Victorian-era mystery is Ellen Kellaway, a spririted young woman who was effectively orphaned by the death of her mother after her parents split up under circumstances no one has ever spoken of. Ellen has lived in London ever since as a poor relation with her domineering second cousin Agatha, Agatha's timid but kindly husband, and their daughter Esmeralda. Then the son of a neighboring wealthy family unexpectedly chooses her for his bride. Her happily-ever-after ending is short-lived though when she loses her fiance just before their wedding.

In the wake of the tragedy, Ellen receives a surprise invitation from Jago Kellaway, the "lord" of the book's title, to return to the Far Island, her father's old home off the coast of Cornwall. Troubled by old, dark dreams and newly-learned family secrets, Ellen still learns to love her new surroundings. In the midst of this idyllic setting, it's not long before somebody makes an attempt on her life. This classic book is packed with plenty of atmosphere, and the plot, which contains enough twists to keep readers turning pages deep into the night, ultimately leads to a complicated and satisfying denouement.

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

Victoria Holt is the penname of Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert (who also wrote as Philippa Carr and Jean Plaidy), long considered one of the great authors of romantic suspense. Fans old and new won't want to miss this reprint of the original 1975 story, a seamless blend of mystery and romance in a delightful tale that contains echoes--including a Cornish setting and wrecked boats--of du Maurier's Rebecca.

At the center of this Victorian-era mystery is Ellen Kellaway, a spririted young woman who was effectively orphaned by the death of her mother after her parents split up under circumstances no one has ever spoken of. Ellen has lived in London ever since as a poor relation with her domineering second cousin Agatha, Agatha's timid but kindly husband, and their daughter Esmeralda. Then the son of a neighboring wealthy family unexpectedly chooses her for his bride. Her happily-ever-after ending is short-lived though when she loses her fiance just before their wedding.

In the wake of the tragedy, Ellen receives a surprise invitation from Jago Kellaway, the "lord" of the book's title, to return to the Far Island, her father's old home off the coast of Cornwall. Troubled by old, dark dreams and newly-learned family secrets, Ellen still learns to love her new surroundings. In the midst of this idyllic setting, it's not long before somebody makes an attempt on her life. This classic book is packed with plenty of atmosphere, and the plot, which contains enough twists to keep readers turning pages deep into the night, ultimately leads to a complicated and satisfying denouement.

Mariposa
Hank Wagner

Mariposa is Spanish for butterfly; in this novel it's also the code name for a top secret program designed to heal intelligence operatives suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Initially, the program appears to work splendidly, relieving its subjects of their anxieties and granting them extraordinary abilities to boot. The experiment has unfortunate side effects, however, as the program's first patients begin to exhibit sociopathic tendencies. Things come to a head when one of those subjects, now Vice President of the United States, slays his wife. That spells the end of the Mariposa program, but only the starting point of Greg Bear's second Quantico series novel featuring FBI agents Fouad Al-Husam, William Griffin, and Rebecca Rose.

There's a lot for well-known science fiction writer Bear to be proud of here in his crossover thriller, including the clever central conceit of the Mariposa program, the numerous other ideas and concepts he casually offers up along the way, and several witty cultural asides. Bear's dystopian vision of an America that's on the verge of going down for the last time is compelling, and his slam bang action sequence closes the novel on a very high note. On the minus side, the opening third of the book slogs by at an achingly...slow...pace, followed by a marginally better second third. The pacing is only saved by the aforementioned top notch climax. Bear also seems to take for granted that readers have read the first book in the series, Quantico, and devotes precious little time to establishing his characters; those new to the series may have a difficult time getting acclimated. Overall though, Mariposa is worth the work, as Bear delivers a novel whose grace notes substantially outnumber its flaws.

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

Mariposa is Spanish for butterfly; in this novel it's also the code name for a top secret program designed to heal intelligence operatives suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Initially, the program appears to work splendidly, relieving its subjects of their anxieties and granting them extraordinary abilities to boot. The experiment has unfortunate side effects, however, as the program's first patients begin to exhibit sociopathic tendencies. Things come to a head when one of those subjects, now Vice President of the United States, slays his wife. That spells the end of the Mariposa program, but only the starting point of Greg Bear's second Quantico series novel featuring FBI agents Fouad Al-Husam, William Griffin, and Rebecca Rose.

There's a lot for well-known science fiction writer Bear to be proud of here in his crossover thriller, including the clever central conceit of the Mariposa program, the numerous other ideas and concepts he casually offers up along the way, and several witty cultural asides. Bear's dystopian vision of an America that's on the verge of going down for the last time is compelling, and his slam bang action sequence closes the novel on a very high note. On the minus side, the opening third of the book slogs by at an achingly...slow...pace, followed by a marginally better second third. The pacing is only saved by the aforementioned top notch climax. Bear also seems to take for granted that readers have read the first book in the series, Quantico, and devotes precious little time to establishing his characters; those new to the series may have a difficult time getting acclimated. Overall though, Mariposa is worth the work, as Bear delivers a novel whose grace notes substantially outnumber its flaws.

Midnight Fugue
Joseph Scarpato Jr.

If you've never read a Dalziel and Pascoe mystery by Reginald Hill, you're lucky because you've got a great treat in store. They're among the finest of British mysteries and Hill has written some two dozen of them. If you're already a fan, as I am, you won't be disappointed by this latest entry.

Here Fat Andy Dalziel (pronounced "deal"), a Detective Superintendent in Yorkshire, is just recovering from a terrorist bomb explosion that nearly killed him when he is asked to look into a seven-year-old missing persons case as a favor to an old friend. Because he's intrigued by the case, and he doesn't yet know if there is a police case here or not, he decides to check into it without informing Detective Inspector Pascoe, who's been running the department in his absence. However, when a death occurs and a female officer is seriously injured helping out in the "non-case," Pascoe must put his anger aside and work together with Dalziel to solve the mystery. The stolid Sergeant Wield, who is as loyal to both as he is ugly, helps keep the relationship from boiling over.

As the investigation progresses, it appears to involve a rich, well-connected mover and shaker who may have had a criminal background that's never been proven, as well as his son, a rising young politician. How does it all tie in to the seven-year-old disappearance and the death that appears to have been a result of Dalziel's initial sleuthing?

What makes these novels so enjoyable is the very politically incorrect attitude of Dalziel, who is crude, rude, and somehow highly likeable in the process, mainly because he is such a good detective. His interactions with suspects, witnesses, and fellow police professionals are always entertaining and sometimes hilarious.

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

If you've never read a Dalziel and Pascoe mystery by Reginald Hill, you're lucky because you've got a great treat in store. They're among the finest of British mysteries and Hill has written some two dozen of them. If you're already a fan, as I am, you won't be disappointed by this latest entry.

Here Fat Andy Dalziel (pronounced "deal"), a Detective Superintendent in Yorkshire, is just recovering from a terrorist bomb explosion that nearly killed him when he is asked to look into a seven-year-old missing persons case as a favor to an old friend. Because he's intrigued by the case, and he doesn't yet know if there is a police case here or not, he decides to check into it without informing Detective Inspector Pascoe, who's been running the department in his absence. However, when a death occurs and a female officer is seriously injured helping out in the "non-case," Pascoe must put his anger aside and work together with Dalziel to solve the mystery. The stolid Sergeant Wield, who is as loyal to both as he is ugly, helps keep the relationship from boiling over.

As the investigation progresses, it appears to involve a rich, well-connected mover and shaker who may have had a criminal background that's never been proven, as well as his son, a rising young politician. How does it all tie in to the seven-year-old disappearance and the death that appears to have been a result of Dalziel's initial sleuthing?

What makes these novels so enjoyable is the very politically incorrect attitude of Dalziel, who is crude, rude, and somehow highly likeable in the process, mainly because he is such a good detective. His interactions with suspects, witnesses, and fellow police professionals are always entertaining and sometimes hilarious.

Necessary as Blood
Sue Emmons

For the present bled into the past and the past into the present, writes Deborah Crombie in her 13th mystery set in the heart of London's East End. The series, featuring Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James, finds these ex-police partners happily engaged when this marvelous mystery begins to unfold.

On a sunny Sunday in May, in the polyglot East End of London where Jack the Ripper once prowled, textile collage artist Sandra Malik goes missing after leaving her 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte, with a friend for "just a short while." She is never again seen alive. Three months later, Sandra's Pakistani husband, Raj, a solicitor, fails to arrive home where a nanny is caring for his still-grieving daughter. It is soon discovered that Raj had some shady clients and his orphaned child may now be in danger. So, the backtracking begins set against a mixed community of Asians, Muslims, and yuppies described by Crombie with loving detail--a colorful and ever-changing neighborhood where gentrification is forcing out longtime residents.

James discovers clues in Sandra's art, a form of collage combining brilliant silks and other exotic fabrics to create street scenes, augmented by faded photographs. Sandra's eerie collages ultimately provide the clues that lead to uncovering a sadistic killer.

Crombie is at the top of her form in this clever tale. This Texan author deserves to stand alongside fellow Americans Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes, both of whom have found bestseller status by writing mysteries in the British genre.

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

For the present bled into the past and the past into the present, writes Deborah Crombie in her 13th mystery set in the heart of London's East End. The series, featuring Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James, finds these ex-police partners happily engaged when this marvelous mystery begins to unfold.

On a sunny Sunday in May, in the polyglot East End of London where Jack the Ripper once prowled, textile collage artist Sandra Malik goes missing after leaving her 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte, with a friend for "just a short while." She is never again seen alive. Three months later, Sandra's Pakistani husband, Raj, a solicitor, fails to arrive home where a nanny is caring for his still-grieving daughter. It is soon discovered that Raj had some shady clients and his orphaned child may now be in danger. So, the backtracking begins set against a mixed community of Asians, Muslims, and yuppies described by Crombie with loving detail--a colorful and ever-changing neighborhood where gentrification is forcing out longtime residents.

James discovers clues in Sandra's art, a form of collage combining brilliant silks and other exotic fabrics to create street scenes, augmented by faded photographs. Sandra's eerie collages ultimately provide the clues that lead to uncovering a sadistic killer.

Crombie is at the top of her form in this clever tale. This Texan author deserves to stand alongside fellow Americans Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes, both of whom have found bestseller status by writing mysteries in the British genre.

Orders Is Orders
Jon L. Breen

Many millions of words of fiction are disintegrating in the fragile, browning pages of the old pulp magazines, a primary source of entertainment that flourished in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s before dying out in the 1950s. Much, perhaps most of their contents are not worth preserving, but given the talented writers that contributed to the pulps, there must be plenty of worthwhile stories that deserve revival. If an author is commercially successful or important enough--Hammett, Chandler, Woolrich, Lovecraft, L'Amour, Heinlein, Bradbury, Max Brand, Fredric Brown, John D. MacDonald--at least some and sometimes all of the work is likely to be reprinted in more permanent form. One subject of such a reclamation project is L. Ron Hubbard, best known for science fiction but prolific and accomplished in a variety of popular genres--mystery, fantasy, western, air and sea adventure, and espionage. If Hubbard's continued life in print is due mainly to his fame as the author of Dianetics and founder of the Church of Scientology, he was a highly versatile and competent writer whose early work brims with energy and excitement.

Drawing on a seemingly endless supply of previously out of print novellas, Galaxy Press intends to reissue over 150 Hubbard stories in a series of 80 volumes, which are also made available in dramatized form as audiobooks. The reasonably priced trade paperbacks could not be more handsomely produced, with colorful pulp-style covers, interior black-and-white illustrations, and good quality paper. Most consist of one short novel, of a length that could be published in a single issue of a pulp magazine. Each book includes the same foreword by Kevin J. Anderson and concluding biographical piece, illustrated with photographs, both highly laudatory, even hagiographic, as befits a religious prophet. Still, there's not a word about Scientology in the biography, just a statement that Hubbard left pulp writing after his World War II service to devote himself to "his serious research."

Unique to each volume is a glossary, defining specialized terms and allusions and sometimes addressing the inevitable political incorrectness, such as the following on Kipling's 1899 coinage "white man's burden": "Subject to different interpretations, it was latched onto by imperialists to justify colonialism as a noble enterprise. Much of Kipling's other writings suggested that he genuinely believed in the benevolent role that the introduction of Western ideas could play in lifting non-Western peoples out of 'poverty and ignorance.'"

Orders is Orders, from the December 1937 issue of Argosy, is an excellent introduction to Hubbard's writing. As war between Japan and China rages, the United States is officially neutral. Those stranded in the American embassy at Shunkien, a city under siege, face diminishing food supplies and a threat of cholera. From a naval vessel anchored offshore, an alcoholic Marine gunnery sergeant and a lifer Private First Class are dispatched on an impossible mission: to traverse two hundred miles through warring armies in five days to deliver the contents of a keg, known to the reader (but not to the couriers) to contain money and serum. Along the way, the pair encounter a beautiful woman telling an unlikely story and the sergeant's missionary father, an uninspiring representative of organized religion--and an interesting depiction given the author's later career. Vivid action writing, exotic background, suspenseful situations, and general storytelling expertise carry the reader on a fast ride. Attitudes and language are reflective of the time: the offensive term "Chinaman" is used casually throughout, and there's a hint of Yellow Peril in the Asian characters.

Wind-Gone-Mad, from the October 1935 issue of Top-Notch, is also set in China, where heroic pilot Feng-Feng (a.k.a. Wind-Gone-Mad) battles an evil leader known as The Butcher. This air-war tale has some typically fine action writing, but a surprise twist that is easily foreseeable. It is accompanied by two shorter tales: "Tah," an untypical vignette about a Chinese child solider, serious and moving but marred by the decision to render the dialogue of the children in a kind of pidgin English; and "Yellow Loot," an effective pure action story also set in China, the title referring to a cache of amber.

If the Wind-Gone-Mad collection is for the Hubbard completist, Orders is Orders can be more generally recommended as a litmus test for the prospective reader. There's plenty more where these came from.

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

Many millions of words of fiction are disintegrating in the fragile, browning pages of the old pulp magazines, a primary source of entertainment that flourished in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s before dying out in the 1950s. Much, perhaps most of their contents are not worth preserving, but given the talented writers that contributed to the pulps, there must be plenty of worthwhile stories that deserve revival. If an author is commercially successful or important enough--Hammett, Chandler, Woolrich, Lovecraft, L'Amour, Heinlein, Bradbury, Max Brand, Fredric Brown, John D. MacDonald--at least some and sometimes all of the work is likely to be reprinted in more permanent form. One subject of such a reclamation project is L. Ron Hubbard, best known for science fiction but prolific and accomplished in a variety of popular genres--mystery, fantasy, western, air and sea adventure, and espionage. If Hubbard's continued life in print is due mainly to his fame as the author of Dianetics and founder of the Church of Scientology, he was a highly versatile and competent writer whose early work brims with energy and excitement.

Drawing on a seemingly endless supply of previously out of print novellas, Galaxy Press intends to reissue over 150 Hubbard stories in a series of 80 volumes, which are also made available in dramatized form as audiobooks. The reasonably priced trade paperbacks could not be more handsomely produced, with colorful pulp-style covers, interior black-and-white illustrations, and good quality paper. Most consist of one short novel, of a length that could be published in a single issue of a pulp magazine. Each book includes the same foreword by Kevin J. Anderson and concluding biographical piece, illustrated with photographs, both highly laudatory, even hagiographic, as befits a religious prophet. Still, there's not a word about Scientology in the biography, just a statement that Hubbard left pulp writing after his World War II service to devote himself to "his serious research."

Unique to each volume is a glossary, defining specialized terms and allusions and sometimes addressing the inevitable political incorrectness, such as the following on Kipling's 1899 coinage "white man's burden": "Subject to different interpretations, it was latched onto by imperialists to justify colonialism as a noble enterprise. Much of Kipling's other writings suggested that he genuinely believed in the benevolent role that the introduction of Western ideas could play in lifting non-Western peoples out of 'poverty and ignorance.'"

Orders is Orders, from the December 1937 issue of Argosy, is an excellent introduction to Hubbard's writing. As war between Japan and China rages, the United States is officially neutral. Those stranded in the American embassy at Shunkien, a city under siege, face diminishing food supplies and a threat of cholera. From a naval vessel anchored offshore, an alcoholic Marine gunnery sergeant and a lifer Private First Class are dispatched on an impossible mission: to traverse two hundred miles through warring armies in five days to deliver the contents of a keg, known to the reader (but not to the couriers) to contain money and serum. Along the way, the pair encounter a beautiful woman telling an unlikely story and the sergeant's missionary father, an uninspiring representative of organized religion--and an interesting depiction given the author's later career. Vivid action writing, exotic background, suspenseful situations, and general storytelling expertise carry the reader on a fast ride. Attitudes and language are reflective of the time: the offensive term "Chinaman" is used casually throughout, and there's a hint of Yellow Peril in the Asian characters.

Wind-Gone-Mad, from the October 1935 issue of Top-Notch, is also set in China, where heroic pilot Feng-Feng (a.k.a. Wind-Gone-Mad) battles an evil leader known as The Butcher. This air-war tale has some typically fine action writing, but a surprise twist that is easily foreseeable. It is accompanied by two shorter tales: "Tah," an untypical vignette about a Chinese child solider, serious and moving but marred by the decision to render the dialogue of the children in a kind of pidgin English; and "Yellow Loot," an effective pure action story also set in China, the title referring to a cache of amber.

If the Wind-Gone-Mad collection is for the Hubbard completist, Orders is Orders can be more generally recommended as a litmus test for the prospective reader. There's plenty more where these came from.

Overkill
Mary Helen Becker

West's second thriller, Overkill, is a page-turner featuring her heroine Emma Streat, former opera singer and survivor of her first adventure entitled Without Warning. Widowed in the first book, and left homeless by a fire, 47-year-old Emma is camped out in a luxury apartment on Boston's Beacon Hill, trying to deal with her losses when she is summoned to action by a phone call from Venice. The caller, a young Irish woman, is her niece's assistant. She begs Emma to come to Venice to rescue her niece Vanessa from an obnoxious playboy who is about to derail Vanessa's budding opera career. Emma rushes to Venice and finds serious trouble--including Vanessa's accompanist, murdered in her suite. She succeeds in taking Vanessa home, but finds her desperately ill with a mysterious virus that doctors want to keep secret, fearing a public panic. As Vanessa hangs on to life, Vanessa's Irish assistant is murdered and Emma is enmeshed in a plot involving the international sale of deadly viruses that threatens her own life.

Overkill is a combination medical and international thriller, with action ranging from Boston to Venice, to England and Ireland. A crash course in virology does not slow the action. Smoothly written as a first-person narrative, Overkill will grab readers early on and keep them enthralled until the end. Characters are likeable (except for the villains), and mostly believable. Emma's interior monologues about everyday matters make the violence and evil that surround her even more shocking. Without Warning was chosen for publication in the St. Martin's Malice Domestic contest. Overkill is also a winner.

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

West's second thriller, Overkill, is a page-turner featuring her heroine Emma Streat, former opera singer and survivor of her first adventure entitled Without Warning. Widowed in the first book, and left homeless by a fire, 47-year-old Emma is camped out in a luxury apartment on Boston's Beacon Hill, trying to deal with her losses when she is summoned to action by a phone call from Venice. The caller, a young Irish woman, is her niece's assistant. She begs Emma to come to Venice to rescue her niece Vanessa from an obnoxious playboy who is about to derail Vanessa's budding opera career. Emma rushes to Venice and finds serious trouble--including Vanessa's accompanist, murdered in her suite. She succeeds in taking Vanessa home, but finds her desperately ill with a mysterious virus that doctors want to keep secret, fearing a public panic. As Vanessa hangs on to life, Vanessa's Irish assistant is murdered and Emma is enmeshed in a plot involving the international sale of deadly viruses that threatens her own life.

Overkill is a combination medical and international thriller, with action ranging from Boston to Venice, to England and Ireland. A crash course in virology does not slow the action. Smoothly written as a first-person narrative, Overkill will grab readers early on and keep them enthralled until the end. Characters are likeable (except for the villains), and mostly believable. Emma's interior monologues about everyday matters make the violence and evil that surround her even more shocking. Without Warning was chosen for publication in the St. Martin's Malice Domestic contest. Overkill is also a winner.

Red, Green, or Murder
Leslie Doran

In this 16th installment of The Posadas County Mysteries, former Sheriff Bill Gastner has retired and is now a New Mexico Livestock Inspector. While counting cattle, Bill witnesses a tragic accident that sends a ranch worker off to surgery to be reassembled. Because of this delay, Bill misses lunch with his friend George, only to be called hours later by Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman and told of George's untimely death.

Meanwhile the herd that Bill has just counted is found wandering around the highway guided by a faithful dog with nary a cowpoke in sight. Also missing is the owner's expensive truck and rig. Bill sets off to solve the mystery little knowing where the trail will lead, but realizing that no cowboy would willingly leave his dog behind.

Red, Green, or Murder takes readers to rural, folksy and lightly populated Posadas County, New Mexico, home to a laid-back, colorful but highly competent and very persistent law enforcement staff. Author Havill places his series in a compelling landscape unknown to most readers and imbues his stories with rich and multifaceted citizens that soon become friends, especially warm-hearted but tough Bill Gastner. Red, Green, or Murder puts a new spin on western justice.

Admin
2010-04-22 13:35:30

In this 16th installment of The Posadas County Mysteries, former Sheriff Bill Gastner has retired and is now a New Mexico Livestock Inspector. While counting cattle, Bill witnesses a tragic accident that sends a ranch worker off to surgery to be reassembled. Because of this delay, Bill misses lunch with his friend George, only to be called hours later by Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman and told of George's untimely death.

Meanwhile the herd that Bill has just counted is found wandering around the highway guided by a faithful dog with nary a cowpoke in sight. Also missing is the owner's expensive truck and rig. Bill sets off to solve the mystery little knowing where the trail will lead, but realizing that no cowboy would willingly leave his dog behind.

Red, Green, or Murder takes readers to rural, folksy and lightly populated Posadas County, New Mexico, home to a laid-back, colorful but highly competent and very persistent law enforcement staff. Author Havill places his series in a compelling landscape unknown to most readers and imbues his stories with rich and multifaceted citizens that soon become friends, especially warm-hearted but tough Bill Gastner. Red, Green, or Murder puts a new spin on western justice.

Rizzo's War

Although cheered by his new partner's experience and savvy, newly-minted NYPD detective Mike McQueen also has some qualms. First, he's intimidated by the legendary Joe Rizzo's record, as there's nothing the grizzled veteran hasn't successfully dealt with over the decades. Second, he's not sure whether he can adapt to the enigmatic Rizzo's unique style, and ultra pragmatic way of doing things. Finally, there's the looming Internal Affairs Division investigation into Rizzo's dirty ex-partner, Johnny Morrelli. Is Rizzo, who seems to be concealing something, corrupt as well, or merely too loyal?

The answers to these questions form the backbone of Manfredo's solid debut as readers, in tandem with McQueen, discover the many facets of Rizzo's personality. The author, a 25-year veteran of the Brooklyn criminal justice system, reveals his characters through a series of illuminating set pieces before moving on to the chief action of the story

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

Although cheered by his new partner's experience and savvy, newly-minted NYPD detective Mike McQueen also has some qualms. First, he's intimidated by the legendary Joe Rizzo's record, as there's nothing the grizzled veteran hasn't successfully dealt with over the decades. Second, he's not sure whether he can adapt to the enigmatic Rizzo's unique style, and ultra pragmatic way of doing things. Finally, there's the looming Internal Affairs Division investigation into Rizzo's dirty ex-partner, Johnny Morrelli. Is Rizzo, who seems to be concealing something, corrupt as well, or merely too loyal?

The answers to these questions form the backbone of Manfredo's solid debut as readers, in tandem with McQueen, discover the many facets of Rizzo's personality. The author, a 25-year veteran of the Brooklyn criminal justice system, reveals his characters through a series of illuminating set pieces before moving on to the chief action of the story

Stuff to Spy For
Bob Smith

The third entry in Don Bruns Stuff series is a fun-filled farce with fast-paced plotting, witty dialogue and likeable, wacky characters. Longtime pals Skip Moore and James Lessor, two happy-go-lucky losers who can't stay out of trouble, are hired by computer company Synco Systems to upgrade physical security in preparation for a top secret Department of Defense (DOD) contract. As usual, Skip and James are broke so when Sarah, a former high school friend, offers Skip a bonus if he'll "pretend" to be her boyfriend, he accepts. Sarah is having an affair with Synco's boss and needs Skip to cover for her so that the boss' wife, Carol, doesn't find out. Naturally, Synco employees start turning up murdered and everything goes wrong.

Carol tells them she fears for her own life. Suspecting her husband is involved, she hires Skip and James to spy on him. Now they're trying to prevent Carol from finding out about her husband's affair with Sarah, while also reporting to her on his activities. Complications, mishaps, and confusion ensue. Scenes reminiscent of old time silent movie comedies delight the reader as the boys bumble and stumble their way into straightening out the mess, thwarting the killers, and saving the DOD project--not to mention the entire country. Skip and James may not be the world's smartest detectives, but you'd be hard pressed to find any who are more fun.

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

The third entry in Don Bruns Stuff series is a fun-filled farce with fast-paced plotting, witty dialogue and likeable, wacky characters. Longtime pals Skip Moore and James Lessor, two happy-go-lucky losers who can't stay out of trouble, are hired by computer company Synco Systems to upgrade physical security in preparation for a top secret Department of Defense (DOD) contract. As usual, Skip and James are broke so when Sarah, a former high school friend, offers Skip a bonus if he'll "pretend" to be her boyfriend, he accepts. Sarah is having an affair with Synco's boss and needs Skip to cover for her so that the boss' wife, Carol, doesn't find out. Naturally, Synco employees start turning up murdered and everything goes wrong.

Carol tells them she fears for her own life. Suspecting her husband is involved, she hires Skip and James to spy on him. Now they're trying to prevent Carol from finding out about her husband's affair with Sarah, while also reporting to her on his activities. Complications, mishaps, and confusion ensue. Scenes reminiscent of old time silent movie comedies delight the reader as the boys bumble and stumble their way into straightening out the mess, thwarting the killers, and saving the DOD project--not to mention the entire country. Skip and James may not be the world's smartest detectives, but you'd be hard pressed to find any who are more fun.

Tainted
Verna Suit

One reckless moment when shy Holly Barrett was 17 resulted in her becoming a single mother, and now at 23, she and her daughter Katy live a quiet existence near a remote beach on Cape Cod next door to her protective grandfather Henry. When handsome Englishman Jack Dane unexpectedly enters her life, Holly feels like she's the luckiest girl in the world. But Katy's real father, Billy Madison, suddenly reappears, wanting to make amends and finally become part of his daughter's life.

Tainted starts out like a beach town romance but turns dark quickly. Alert readers will suspect something's fishy about the too-good-to-be-true Jack Dane right off, but Holly is blinded by love. Fortunately Billy's eyes are wide open and he is suspicious of this fast-moving, handsome stranger with a mysterious past.

The best kind of suspense develops as Billy tries to check into Jack's past, and Jack feels threatened and becomes more controlling and unpredictable. Chapters written from various points of view help in understanding characters' motives. Empathizing with Holly is easy, but seeing the action through 5-year-old Katy's eyes is an especially interesting perspective. Roughly halfway through, Holly's life is on the verge of turning into a nightmare and the book becomes impossible to put down.

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

One reckless moment when shy Holly Barrett was 17 resulted in her becoming a single mother, and now at 23, she and her daughter Katy live a quiet existence near a remote beach on Cape Cod next door to her protective grandfather Henry. When handsome Englishman Jack Dane unexpectedly enters her life, Holly feels like she's the luckiest girl in the world. But Katy's real father, Billy Madison, suddenly reappears, wanting to make amends and finally become part of his daughter's life.

Tainted starts out like a beach town romance but turns dark quickly. Alert readers will suspect something's fishy about the too-good-to-be-true Jack Dane right off, but Holly is blinded by love. Fortunately Billy's eyes are wide open and he is suspicious of this fast-moving, handsome stranger with a mysterious past.

The best kind of suspense develops as Billy tries to check into Jack's past, and Jack feels threatened and becomes more controlling and unpredictable. Chapters written from various points of view help in understanding characters' motives. Empathizing with Holly is easy, but seeing the action through 5-year-old Katy's eyes is an especially interesting perspective. Roughly halfway through, Holly's life is on the verge of turning into a nightmare and the book becomes impossible to put down.

The Big Wake-Up
Charles L. P. Silet

San Francisco PI August Riordan is minding his own business doing his laundry--okay, so he is also flirting with the attractive woman in the laundromat. Minutes later, outside on the sidewalk, she is shot to death by a heavily armed man who has hijacked the cable car she was waiting for. Riordan jumps into action and stops the killer by derailing the cable car with his 1968 Ford Galaxy 500.

His heroic actions draw praise from the local press, cause the near total destruction of his car, and attract the attention of people involved in Argentinean politics. The young woman who was murdered was the stepdaughter of a Peronist politician, and he tells Riordan a crazy story about his sister's death and burial and hires the PI to help locate her grave. But the search takes on a much wider scope when the lost corpse turns out to actually be Eva Peron's, and Riordan discovers that there are lots of people interested in finding her body--and most of them are very dangerous.

This is the fifth in the August Riordan series, and for those who are unfamiliar with it, Riordan is something of a retro-detective--a tough, wisecracking, chip off the old Philip Marlowe block. Mark Coggins writes a fast-paced, and at times very funny crime novel. The Big Wake-Up, a play on The Big Sleep, is an updated version of a traditional private-eye novel and a good one at that.

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

San Francisco PI August Riordan is minding his own business doing his laundry--okay, so he is also flirting with the attractive woman in the laundromat. Minutes later, outside on the sidewalk, she is shot to death by a heavily armed man who has hijacked the cable car she was waiting for. Riordan jumps into action and stops the killer by derailing the cable car with his 1968 Ford Galaxy 500.

His heroic actions draw praise from the local press, cause the near total destruction of his car, and attract the attention of people involved in Argentinean politics. The young woman who was murdered was the stepdaughter of a Peronist politician, and he tells Riordan a crazy story about his sister's death and burial and hires the PI to help locate her grave. But the search takes on a much wider scope when the lost corpse turns out to actually be Eva Peron's, and Riordan discovers that there are lots of people interested in finding her body--and most of them are very dangerous.

This is the fifth in the August Riordan series, and for those who are unfamiliar with it, Riordan is something of a retro-detective--a tough, wisecracking, chip off the old Philip Marlowe block. Mark Coggins writes a fast-paced, and at times very funny crime novel. The Big Wake-Up, a play on The Big Sleep, is an updated version of a traditional private-eye novel and a good one at that.

The Body in the Sleigh
Lynne Maxwell

Faith Fairchild, one of the mystery genre's most industrious accidental sleuths, encounters yet another body in Katherine Hall Page's timely holiday offering, The Body in the Sleigh. This 18th entry in the addictive series featuring Faith Fairchild, minister's wife and caterer extraordinaire, attests to Page's skill at creating absorbing cozies with likable, well-rounded characters who feel like old friends.

The setting for The Body in the Sleigh is an island on Penobscot Bay where the Fairchilds are spending the winter holidays, in part so that Reverend Tom Fairchild, Faith's husband and the family patriarch, can rest and recover from heart surgery. The family isn't on the island long before Faith discovers a body in a sleigh that is part of the town's Christmas display. Her discovery sets into play a cascade of events as her investigation reveals that the seemingly innocuous island is far from idyllic. Indiscriminate sex and drug use have invaded the island, bringing with them concomitant violence and death.

Amidst this vision of a fallen world, Page juxtaposes a promise of hope in a subplot involving Mary, a kindly, charitable, albeit eccentric, goat keeper on the island. Mary (get it?) discovers a newborn infant in her barn, with an accompanying note entrusting Christopher to her. In keeping with the holiday season, love prevails. Faith, hope and charity--now there's a holiday message for all.

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

Faith Fairchild, one of the mystery genre's most industrious accidental sleuths, encounters yet another body in Katherine Hall Page's timely holiday offering, The Body in the Sleigh. This 18th entry in the addictive series featuring Faith Fairchild, minister's wife and caterer extraordinaire, attests to Page's skill at creating absorbing cozies with likable, well-rounded characters who feel like old friends.

The setting for The Body in the Sleigh is an island on Penobscot Bay where the Fairchilds are spending the winter holidays, in part so that Reverend Tom Fairchild, Faith's husband and the family patriarch, can rest and recover from heart surgery. The family isn't on the island long before Faith discovers a body in a sleigh that is part of the town's Christmas display. Her discovery sets into play a cascade of events as her investigation reveals that the seemingly innocuous island is far from idyllic. Indiscriminate sex and drug use have invaded the island, bringing with them concomitant violence and death.

Amidst this vision of a fallen world, Page juxtaposes a promise of hope in a subplot involving Mary, a kindly, charitable, albeit eccentric, goat keeper on the island. Mary (get it?) discovers a newborn infant in her barn, with an accompanying note entrusting Christopher to her. In keeping with the holiday season, love prevails. Faith, hope and charity--now there's a holiday message for all.

The Bone Chamber
Beverly J. DeWeese

Vacationing FBI forensics artist Sydney Fitzpatrick reluctantly returns to D.C. to identify a faceless victim for two FBI agents. When the death of a close friend and colleague turns the case personal, she finds herself following the two agents to Rome hoping to find answers. Instead, Sydney finds herself dangerously enmeshed in the agents' assignment involving the murderers of these two women, and a powerful, secret cabal that may be connected to Freemasonry and global terrorism.

Burcell's highly-likeable Sydney is an ex-cop, intelligent, and resourceful, but in Rome she admits she has gotten herself into something very scary. Fortunately, Zach and Tex, the two agents, realize the three of them now have to work together.

The action-filled plot races from scary car chases, gruesome murders, and life threatening excursions to ancient, underground crypts, with chambers made from human bone. A secret underground lab and a centuries old Templar map with a coded legend prove equally dangerous. Author Burcell, a former FBI forensic artist, cop, and hostage negotiator, offers up a well-written thriller complete with interesting characters, a dose of romantic tension, and an intriguing premise: criminals and terrorists using secret societies to orchestrate massive anti-government conspiracies.

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

Vacationing FBI forensics artist Sydney Fitzpatrick reluctantly returns to D.C. to identify a faceless victim for two FBI agents. When the death of a close friend and colleague turns the case personal, she finds herself following the two agents to Rome hoping to find answers. Instead, Sydney finds herself dangerously enmeshed in the agents' assignment involving the murderers of these two women, and a powerful, secret cabal that may be connected to Freemasonry and global terrorism.

Burcell's highly-likeable Sydney is an ex-cop, intelligent, and resourceful, but in Rome she admits she has gotten herself into something very scary. Fortunately, Zach and Tex, the two agents, realize the three of them now have to work together.

The action-filled plot races from scary car chases, gruesome murders, and life threatening excursions to ancient, underground crypts, with chambers made from human bone. A secret underground lab and a centuries old Templar map with a coded legend prove equally dangerous. Author Burcell, a former FBI forensic artist, cop, and hostage negotiator, offers up a well-written thriller complete with interesting characters, a dose of romantic tension, and an intriguing premise: criminals and terrorists using secret societies to orchestrate massive anti-government conspiracies.

The Darkness
Hank Wagner

The fifth installment in Jason Pinter's series about newspaperman Henry Parker, The Darkness, is the direct sequel to The Fury, where Parker, through the appearance of long lost brother Stephen Gaines, became aware of a massive drug cartel operating in New York City. Here, Parker and his mentor, Jack O'Donnell, uncover more information about the cartel, and its plans to introduce a new designer drug, the highly addictive 'The Darkness,' to the market. The duo finds themselves risking life and limb after they cross paths with the bad guys, who will brook no interference with their elaborate plans.

Although you'll probably enjoy the book more if you've read the four novels that lead into The Darkness, Pinter's latest is satisfying on its own. It's a modern update on a familiar plot that reflects the current state of the economy and the newspaper business, while providing plenty of action and twists along the way. Pinter's cast is well-drawn, and their reactions to the events depicted in the novel are credible, whether they be dealing with a 'frenemy' from another paper, or with trying to stay alive during an action-packed firefight.

Pinter fans new and old should enjoy catching up with Henry Parker and friends in The Darkness--just in time for Pinter's sixth Parker novel, The Invited, due out in October 2010.

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

The fifth installment in Jason Pinter's series about newspaperman Henry Parker, The Darkness, is the direct sequel to The Fury, where Parker, through the appearance of long lost brother Stephen Gaines, became aware of a massive drug cartel operating in New York City. Here, Parker and his mentor, Jack O'Donnell, uncover more information about the cartel, and its plans to introduce a new designer drug, the highly addictive 'The Darkness,' to the market. The duo finds themselves risking life and limb after they cross paths with the bad guys, who will brook no interference with their elaborate plans.

Although you'll probably enjoy the book more if you've read the four novels that lead into The Darkness, Pinter's latest is satisfying on its own. It's a modern update on a familiar plot that reflects the current state of the economy and the newspaper business, while providing plenty of action and twists along the way. Pinter's cast is well-drawn, and their reactions to the events depicted in the novel are credible, whether they be dealing with a 'frenemy' from another paper, or with trying to stay alive during an action-packed firefight.

Pinter fans new and old should enjoy catching up with Henry Parker and friends in The Darkness--just in time for Pinter's sixth Parker novel, The Invited, due out in October 2010.

The End of the Road
Sue Emmons

Sue Henry, the author of 16 always-intriguing mysteries set in Alaska, does not disappoint in this latest outing for widowed Maxie McNabb and her miniature dachshund "Stretch." Once again, Henry captures the aura of her adopted state in all its rugged charm and beauty.

Make no mistake, Maxie is no syrupy Miss Marple. She's a tad younger and a lot tougher, living life on the outskirts of this vast wilderness. This time, mayhem is afoot in her hometown of Homer, Alaska where the US Highway System ends, hence the title. Although the plot gets off to a somewhat slow start, it evolves into a complicated case after Maxie meets a strange man as she and Stretch take a stroll on the Homer Spit. With a storm approaching, she offers him a ride back to town and, on a whim, invites him to a dinner party with friends.

A day later, the man who identified himself to her as John Walker is found dead, an apparent suicide, leaving no clues to his past. When a second body is found secreted in the sleuth's attic upon her return home from a Wasilla weekend, authorities begin to suspect Walker may not have killed himself, but was instead the target of a deranged killer with a mysterious link to 9/11. It is up to Maxie to prove them right. An edge-of-the-seat denouement wraps up this tidy mystery, leaving the reader hoping for more adventures of this gutsy senior detective and her sleuthing pooch.

Henry adeptly rises to the standards of her first acclaimed Alaskan mystery, Murder on the Iditarod Trail. The End of the Road is the fourth in the Maxie and Stretch series, but fans would also do well to check out the 12 acclaimed mysteries featuring Iditarod crimesolver Jessie Arnold.

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

Sue Henry, the author of 16 always-intriguing mysteries set in Alaska, does not disappoint in this latest outing for widowed Maxie McNabb and her miniature dachshund "Stretch." Once again, Henry captures the aura of her adopted state in all its rugged charm and beauty.

Make no mistake, Maxie is no syrupy Miss Marple. She's a tad younger and a lot tougher, living life on the outskirts of this vast wilderness. This time, mayhem is afoot in her hometown of Homer, Alaska where the US Highway System ends, hence the title. Although the plot gets off to a somewhat slow start, it evolves into a complicated case after Maxie meets a strange man as she and Stretch take a stroll on the Homer Spit. With a storm approaching, she offers him a ride back to town and, on a whim, invites him to a dinner party with friends.

A day later, the man who identified himself to her as John Walker is found dead, an apparent suicide, leaving no clues to his past. When a second body is found secreted in the sleuth's attic upon her return home from a Wasilla weekend, authorities begin to suspect Walker may not have killed himself, but was instead the target of a deranged killer with a mysterious link to 9/11. It is up to Maxie to prove them right. An edge-of-the-seat denouement wraps up this tidy mystery, leaving the reader hoping for more adventures of this gutsy senior detective and her sleuthing pooch.

Henry adeptly rises to the standards of her first acclaimed Alaskan mystery, Murder on the Iditarod Trail. The End of the Road is the fourth in the Maxie and Stretch series, but fans would also do well to check out the 12 acclaimed mysteries featuring Iditarod crimesolver Jessie Arnold.

The Fleet Street Murders
Joseph Scarpato Jr.

When the editors of two London newspapers are killed at just about the same time on Christmas night in 1866, Scotland Yard is initially baffled. The two editors had very little in common and the timing indicates two different murderers in two different places. It couldn't be mere coincidence, but what could the motive or motives have been?

Amateur detective Charles Lenox becomes involved when a friend of his assistant is arrested for one of the murders. Before he can fully investigate the case, however, he is required to leave London for several weeks to run for Parliament in a by-election in Stirrington, north of the city. Trying to balance the investigation and his campaign, along with a crisis in his relationship with his fiancee, Lady Jane, becomes nearly impossible. But with a friend in Scotland Yard keeping him abreast of the case and his assistant doing most of the legwork in London, he begins to get an inkling of a much larger and much more dangerous conspiracy.

There are really two stories here. One is the mystery of the two murders and the second is the race for a seat in Parliament. Oddly enough, until nearly the very end, I was more interested in the political end of things. Running for elective office is probably similar in any democracy, but it's more interesting when your number one supporter is the owner of the biggest pub in town and your opponent is the owner of a brewery.

The author's generous use of dialogue rather than long descriptive passages moves the story along effortlessly to a satisfying, although not completely surprising, conclusion.

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

When the editors of two London newspapers are killed at just about the same time on Christmas night in 1866, Scotland Yard is initially baffled. The two editors had very little in common and the timing indicates two different murderers in two different places. It couldn't be mere coincidence, but what could the motive or motives have been?

Amateur detective Charles Lenox becomes involved when a friend of his assistant is arrested for one of the murders. Before he can fully investigate the case, however, he is required to leave London for several weeks to run for Parliament in a by-election in Stirrington, north of the city. Trying to balance the investigation and his campaign, along with a crisis in his relationship with his fiancee, Lady Jane, becomes nearly impossible. But with a friend in Scotland Yard keeping him abreast of the case and his assistant doing most of the legwork in London, he begins to get an inkling of a much larger and much more dangerous conspiracy.

There are really two stories here. One is the mystery of the two murders and the second is the race for a seat in Parliament. Oddly enough, until nearly the very end, I was more interested in the political end of things. Running for elective office is probably similar in any democracy, but it's more interesting when your number one supporter is the owner of the biggest pub in town and your opponent is the owner of a brewery.

The author's generous use of dialogue rather than long descriptive passages moves the story along effortlessly to a satisfying, although not completely surprising, conclusion.