Walk Away
Oline H. Cogdill

Camaro Espinoza’s quiet, under-the-radar life running a little fishing boat charter in Miami is shattered when her sister, Annabel, sends her a coded message asking for help. Annabel, who has been living under an assumed name in Carmel, California, fears that her abusive boyfriend, Jacob Collier, will harm her or her five-year-old daughter Becca.

Jacob’s mistake is underestimating Camaro, a former Army medic with two tours in the Middle East under her accomplished martial arts belt. Jacob’s brother, Lukas, is even more violent, having recently jumped bail while under arrest for murder. While on the run, the psychopath ex-Marine kills bail bondsman Stanley Yates, and now Stanley’s father, Jeremy, is also on Lukas’ trail. Camaro and Jeremy eventually team up, and their growing respect for each other adds verve to the plot.

In this second novel featuring Camaro, Sam Hawken goes all out for action at the expense of character development. The characters come across as stock figures, but adrenaline seekers may still appreciate the ride.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-16 17:45:20
Paris Spring
Matt Fowler

In Paris Spring radio news anchor-turned-author James Naughtie delves into the world of espionage in the late 1960s during a time of anxiety and possible political upheaval. The novel follows Will Flemyng, a British spy, whose family and cover is threatened when he bumps into a stranger. As the story progresses, the reader meets a group of people in and around the intelligence community, including Flemyng’s mentor, Freddy Craven, and a famous journalist, Grace Quincy. When Grace Quincy is found dead, the obvious questions arise: Who did it? Why did they do it?

Paris Spring is a book that seems more interested in discussing mystery than unraveling it for the reader. Characters are constantly meeting up with one another to talk and reestablish what the audience already knows. Too often the reader feels as if the conversations being had are happening in lieu of plot developments and as a device to make sure that all the persons in the story are on the same page. It feels redundant and detaches the reader from a setting and time period that is blooming with intrigue. From word to word Naughtie’s sophistication and command of the language shows, but the actual story and plotting hinders what could be a satisfying read.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-16 17:48:22
The Dark Room
Hank Wagner

A funeral home director with a guilty conscience provides the impetus for the action in The Dark Room, when his deathbed confession about connections with certain denizens of the underworld prompts San Francisco Police Department Homicide Inspector Gavin Cain to obtain a court order to exhume the body of one Chris Hanley, buried in 1985. Based on the information provided in the confession, Cain has reason to believe that Hanley’s coffin may contain more than one corpse. And that’s only the beginning in Jonathan Moore’s latest, in which Cain becomes involved in the most bizarre and convoluted case of his career, one that places him and all those in his orbit in lethal danger.

The key word in the title of Moore’s follow-up to the highly praised The Poison Artist (2016) is “dark.” This book is grim and unrelenting; no character is safe from harm, and many of them conceal deep, sordid secrets. Moore writes with a sureness and immediacy rarely seen these days, pulling readers deeper into the intricate, compelling mystery he’s crafted with each subsequent twist and turn. His audience will be left craving more, so it is fortunate that a sequel (the book is the middle installment of a loosely knit triptych) of sorts is planned for 2018.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-16 17:51:48
The Nowhere Man
Oline H. Cogdill

Evan Smoak is The Nowhere Man, the alias this former assassin uses in his new life where he now chooses to do good every day as a form of redemption for his past. The backstory is that Evan was recruited when he was 12 years old to become a trained killer in the Orphan Program, a secret government agency. He has managed to leave the program, and now dedicates his life to righting wrongs. The only payment he asks is that the person he helps, refer him to the next person in dire straits.

Everything about Evan is covert—he avoids personal relationships, lives in a Los Angeles penthouse fortified with high-tech security, and tells people he imports industrial supplies because he knows it sounds so boring no one will ask him questions about his job.

Evan left the Orphans, but this is not a job from which one can just quit. Despite Evan’s careful planning, he is captured. But is it by the Orphans or by one of the enemies he made as an assassin?

The Nowhere Man melds nonstop action and Evan’s affinity for high-tech weapons with a thoughtful character study of a man trying to regain his humanity. Beginning with the series’ astonishing debut, Orphan X (2016), Hurwitz continues a superbly exciting new series with the gripping Nowhere Man.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-16 17:55:17
The Ripper’s Shadow
Hank Wagner

When Jack the Ripper begins his rampage through late-19th-century Whitechapel, London, commercial photographer Sarah Bain makes a horrifying connection: the madman seems to be targeting women who have posed for her as part of a collection of illicit boudoir photographs that she’s taken to supplement her meager income. Unable to reveal the Ripper’s apparent MO to the police for fear of implicating herself in a crime, she is compelled to investigate the killings. Assisted by an unlikely crew of cohorts, she strives mightily to uncover the identity of the madman before he can complete his task, an effort that reveals some truly surprising and horrifying results.

For readers not exhausted by the sheer amount of Ripper-related literature that exists, Laura Joh Rowland’s latest is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding literary canon relating to the nefarious activities of the violent killer. Her wildly diverse cast (which, besides Bain, a woman of independent means in a patriarchal society, includes a number of prostitutes, a street urchin, an actress, a closeted nobleman, and a Jewish butcher and his wife) brings a special focus on the forgotten and ignored of Victorian society, and provides a fresh, and refreshing, point of view to the otherwise morbid proceedings. She also brings the dank and dismal environs of Whitechapel to life, providing a vivid backdrop to the ghastly goings-on.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-16 17:58:45
Grace
Betty Webb

Howard Owen’s Grace proves that a protagonist doesn’t have to be young, hot, and wear a cape in order to be a hero. This fifth Willie Black mystery (coming after The Bottom) brings back the irascible, alcoholic 50-something reporter to once again wage war against murderers, crooked politicians, and overbearing newspaper editors. When the body of Artesian Cole, a nine-year-old African American boy, is found in a Richmond park, Black ignores his editor’s orders and begins investigating. Soon Black discovers that over the years, several other children—all African American males of around the same age as Artesian—also went missing. In each case, the authorities did nothing. Given his city’s harsh racial past, Black, who is multiracial himself, isn’t surprised by such laxness. He is surprised, though, by the quick arrest of a white man for the crime. Sam McNish, a minister who runs a church and youth-mentoring program named Grace of God, was allegedly the last person to see Artesian alive. After a jailhouse interview with the accused killer, Black comes away believing that McNish is either a skillful liar or a saint. Oddly enough, McNish has a champion in the unlikely persona of Big Boy Sunday, the terrifying leader of a vicious inner-city gang. Big Boy none too gently asks Black to continue looking into the case. Not being a fool, Black assents. Although Grace’s plot is deadly serious, encompassing race relations, political chicanery, and the dying newspaper industry, the Hammett Award-winning Willie Black series is well known for its protagonist’s wry, snarky humor. Before wrangling an interview with Artesian’s family, Black muses, “A good man would have left them to their grief, but I’m a reporter.” Anyone who has ever spent a day in a busy newsroom will howl with laughter at the shenanigans Black pulls in order to get the news out, even when ordered by his own editor to keep a story on the down low. Then there is Black’s personal life, a convoluted mess. As he explains, “I’m still renting from Kate, my third ex-wife. We get along fine, now that we don’t have to lie to each other about where we were last night.” Black is no saint and doesn’t pretend to be, especially when trying to talk his latest (but long-suffering) girlfriend into forgetting his most recent barroom bust-up. What Black does have (via superb author Owen) is a way with words, which on the surface appear humorous but carry sting. When describing the wildly meandering pathway of Grace Street, which gives the book its title, Black explains, “You go around the capitol, where the government of a rebel country resided for four years, a country in which my future mother’s people sought to keep my future father’s people enslaved. History cuts pretty deep here, so we try to skip over the uncomfortable parts.”

Teri Duerr
2017-02-22 17:16:56
South Village
Betty Webb

In Rob Hart’s South Village, Ash McKenna is attempting to drink away the memory that he once killed a man. While hiding out in a Georgia commune, a throwback to the ’60s and ’70s, Ash once again (after City of Rose and New Yorked) finds himself embroiled in a murder case. Victim Crusty Pete was a longtime member of the South Village commune, which was founded by wealthy “hippie” Tibo in order to create a home for alternate lifestyles. Supposedly all is peace and love in South Village, but as the book winds on, we are reminded that there is always a snake in every Eden. This particular snake takes the form of Marx, who is challenging Tibo for leadership, and whose political agenda may have more in common with eco-terrorism than it does peace and love. Marx is fond of saying, “It’s not terrorism if it’s done for the right reasons.” When another body is discovered in the forest surrounding South Village, Ash decides he has to stop drinking in order to separate the killer(s) from the hippies. Unfortunately, he has been drinking so long and so hard that he immediately suffers an attack of the DT’s, and his hallucinations (not to mention the shakes) threaten to short-circuit what had once been a fine brain. Although a man with many faults—fleeing prosecution for murder is just one of them—Ash remains a sympathetic protagonist. His fears about the direction society has taken sometimes mirror our own. Because of that, South Village will be a treat for any reader who was once involved in the hippie lifestyle. And for those who weren’t, South Village provides a fascinating look at a particular time in history when the “tune in, turn on, drop out” ethos appeared a viable alternative to uptight mainstream society. The book also informs us that, even today, some of these peaceful revolutionaries remain among us, quietly living their lives in small communes scattered throughout the United States. As another character in the book says, “Nothing ever has to be the way you think it should be.”

Teri Duerr
2017-02-22 17:37:46

hartsouthvillageA fascinating look at a particular time in history when the “tune in, turn on, drop out” ethos appeared a viable alternative to uptight mainstream society.

Forgotten City
Betty Webb

The nursing home is a setting all too frequently forgotten, a place where seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s or other similar diseases go to die. Carrie Smith’s Forgotten City is set in Park Manor, an upscale New York City nursing home catering to “senior one-percenters.” For all their wealth, these are people who can no longer remember who they are, let alone remember what they may have seen, thus making a murder investigation doubly difficult. When Lucy Merchant, a onetime Broadway star suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, is found dead in her room, Constance Hodges, executive director of the facility, is quick to declare it a natural death. But one of Hodges’ staff suspects murder. Transgender Brandon Johnson (formerly Beth Ann) had grown especially close to the stricken actress and suspects murder. Author Smith writes, “He and Lucy were two of a kind, both imprisoned in bodies that didn’t work as one with their minds.” Brandon knows that Lucy’s disease hadn’t progressed far enough to be fatal, so hoping for justice for his dead friend, he reaches out to NYPD detective Claire Codella (introduced in series debut Silent City). Because Det. Codella’s own background is troubled, she is sympathetic to Brandon’s tenuous position on the Park Manor staff. As a child, Codella saw her father commit a murder. She testified against him in court, for which her alcoholic, codependent mother never forgave her. And like Brandon, Det. Codella is having trouble with her own superior, a malicious and jealous man who orders her to drop the case. As with all high financial stakes murders, there are myriad suspects here, including the dead woman’s own family, as well as several Park Manor staffers. It is a pleasure watching both Brandon and Codella sift through clues, especially when gender politics rears its ugly head and threatens to derail the investigation. Forgotten City is beautifully written throughout, but the final chapters are particularly moving.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-22 18:30:38
Escape Velocity
Betty Webb

A conflicted and complicated protagonist appears in Susan Wolfe’s Escape Velocity, and the conflicts are laugh-out-loud funny. Legal aid Georgia Griffin has been a con-artist-in-training since early childhood, and now that her father has landed in prison for his shifty dealings, she is expected to take over the family business. Georgia hates to disappoint her beloved but crooked father, but she’s afraid of prison, and so she attempts to go straight. After finishing a mail-order paralegal course, she moves from Piney, Arkansas, to Silicon Valley, living in her bald-tired car until she scams her way into a job in the legal department of Lumina Software. Once ensconced, she uses her own shifty con skills, this time for the greater good. Or at least that’s how she interprets it. Following the scam-’em-all advice sent by her imprisoned father in his frequent letters, she quickly works her way up the corporate ladder until she is finally admitted into board meetings. Georgia’s own boss, Ken Madigan, is both kindly and honest—just the opposite of Lumina CEO Roy Zisko, whose nonsensical dictates seem poised to destroy his own company. Alarmed at the prospect of losing her job due to massive layoffs, Georgia reverts to type and again reaches into her duplicitous bag of tricks. But she does this so often that she eventually becomes dismayed by her own behavior. “Sounding like Ken and thinking like her father, what kind of hybrid did that produce? [A] cross between Mother Theresa and Bernie Madoff.” If there are any faults in this riotous caper of a novel, it’s that there are enough of Georgia’s boardroom scams to make up four books and still have some left over. But then Escape Velocity wouldn’t be as much fun without them. Or as educational. Escape Velocity offers a satirical take on not only high-corporate life, but the Securities and Exchange Commission itself. The insider information in this book is astounding, but no wonder. Edgar-winning author Wolfe has worked as an in-house attorney for a Silicon Valley company, and obviously knows where the bodies are buried—and who put them there.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-23 16:43:30
Seconds to Midnight
Betty Webb

Philip Donlay’s suspenseful Seconds to Midnight brings us another Donovan Nash adventure (after Deadly Echoes and Pegasus Down). This time around, a plane crash survivor in the Arctic holds the key to a terrorist plot designed to start World War Three. The pacing is fast in this one—sometimes too fast for adequate character development—but thrills abound when the Eco-Watch pilot and his team rush to stop an imminent nuclear exchange. Set in various countries—Canada, Austria, England, Poland, etc.—the reader is treated to a whirlwind of violent clashes and personal betrayals, while Nash attempts to make sense of the crash survivor’s scattered memories before the first bomb is detonated. All this is set against the backdrop of a solar storm, which hinders communications from not only one team to another, but from nation to nation. This is a book meant for hard-core adrenaline junkies, and as such, delivers high-octane action from the first page to the last. Don’t read Seconds to Midnight before tightening your seat belt.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-23 17:18:24
We Wish You a Murderous Christmas
Lynne F. Maxwell

Vicki Delany’s seasonal We Wish You a Murderous Christmas is the second entry in her Year Round Christmas Mystery series. Delany employs a winning formula as she chronicles the pre-Christmas frenzy unfolding in Rudolph, New York, a town renowned for its year-round devotion to Christmas. This delightful book features series heroine Merry Wilkinson, proud proprietress of Mrs. Claus’s Treasures, as she prepares for another hectic shopping season in “America’s Christmas Town.” This year, the season’s joys are mitigated when Jack Olsen, owner of popular upscale hotel and restaurant Yuletide Inn, suffers a severe heart attack, and his ne’er-do-well son, Gord, is summoned to oversee the business in Jack’s absence. Gord immediately attempts to cut operating costs at the expense of the quality that is the hallmark of the Inn. In the process, he incurs the wrath of many, including the restaurant’s new executive chef and Merry’s best friend, Vicki, baker par excellence, along with Grace, Jack’s second wife. When Merry discovers that Gord is conspiring with a hotel chain to sell the business and thereby subvert the very essence of the unique “Christmas Town,” she knows that trouble is afoot. True to form, Gord continues to make enemies, and no one seems to be saddened by his inevitable murder. More problematic, though, is the fact that Merry’s father, Noel, the town Santa Claus, becomes the primary person of interest. Fortunately, Merry is not about to allow this unjust accusation to go forward, and springs into action. Happily, like most Christmas tales, We Wish You a Murderous Christmas ends on a suitably positive note, and Merry’s Christmas—and Rudolph’s—is merry indeed.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-23 17:50:09
Deck the Hallways
Lynne F. Maxwell

Kate Carlisle craftily invokes the spirit of the holiday season in her new Fixer-Upper Mystery, Deck the Hallways. Aptly named master contractor Shannon Hammer faces challenges when a subcontractor backs out of an extremely time-sensitive project with a Christmas Eve deadline. This worthy project is a renovation of an old Victorian home in the form of cozy apartments allocated to deserving homeless families. Luckily, Shannon’s father, retired from the contracting business that Shannon took over, volunteers to assist and to enlist the aid of his retired associates. In addition, other volunteers from the town supplement the labor force. Concomitantly, though, Shannon must spend inordinate amounts of time mediating workplace disputes among the volunteers, a situation that is greatly exacerbated by the incessant interference of Peter Potter, an obnoxious, self-important and obstructionist local banker. Not only does Potter lack authority over the project, but he insists upon intruding at every turn, alienating everyone at the site. Of course, no one laments his loss when he is murdered, but Shannon, like Delany’s Merry Wilkinson, must defend her father when one of his tools is identified as the murder weapon. Deck the Hallways features other anomalies, chief among them the appearance of a newborn in the bed of Shannon’s truck. As the novel builds toward its suspenseful and satisfying conclusion, character and plot twists engage the reader to the very end. In the tradition of Christmas narratives, Carlisle provides a magical conclusion as, project completed in a timely fashion, the homeless families flock to their miraculous new living quarters. And, yes, the mystery and destiny of the infant, predictably named Angel, is resolved perfectly. Deck the Hallways is saccharine as only a Christmas story can be, but this is the precise source of its genius. Put this one on next year’s Christmas list if you don’t devour it immediately.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-23 17:59:51
Snowed In With Murder
Lynne F. Maxwell

Cold-weather cozy Snowed In With Murder is Auralee Wallace’s third Otter Lake Mystery. If you haven’t met Erica Bloom, series protagonist, and Rhonda, her sort-of sidekick, you are in for a real treat. Erica, a Chicago-based court reporter, is ever-ambivalent about returning to her island home in Otter Lake, New Hampshire. Indeed, this visit is especially fraught, as Erica attempts to resurrect her floundering relationship with Sheriff Grady Forrester, who has professed his love and desire to live with Erica, who is characteristically ambivalent. Planning a romantic getaway with Grady at her mother’s private camp, Erica is instead trapped on the island with a crazed reality show family, as she confronts a mammoth winter storm. Grady, of course, is a no-show because he must work overtime to cope with the storm. When murder strikes, Erica’s rescue comes from an unexpected quarter. I strongly recommend this comically captivating series to readers who enjoy clever, bordering on absurdly hilarious, dialogue. Rhonda rules!

Teri Duerr
2017-02-23 18:07:50
Deadly Fate
Hank Wagner

In Deadly Fate, the 22nd entry in New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series, ex-partners Jackson Crow and Thor Erikson reunite to pursue a serial killer who is operating in the great state of Alaska, on the set of a so-called “reality” television show. Although they have their suspicions that the murderer might be someone they’ve tangled with before, the pair can’t be sure, as he seems to have changed his MO in significant ways. In order to bring the ruthless predator to bay, they need to rely on all their skills, both normal (their police training) and paranormal (their ability to communicate with the dead).

A pioneer in the field of paranormal thrillers, Graham once again demonstrates a keen ability to blend genres, delivering a solid tale of suspense that should appeal to a wide audience, whether they be fans of romance, suspense, or action/adventure. Reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, it builds and reshapes the legendary author’s ideas and concepts, providing readers with a fresh, compelling take on an old premise.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-23 18:15:30
Just Try to Stop Me
Hank Wagner

Just Try to Stop Me, the fifth Waterman and Stark thriller from the very talented Gregg Olsen, features the devious Brenda Nevins, a serial killer with a knack for manipulating social media, having gained a large following by chronicling her side of things through a series of bizarre, but compelling vlogs. Using her ability to seduce almost anyone, the convicted killer escapes confinement in order to continue with her grandiose and murderous scheme to achieve worldwide notoriety. It’s up to sheriff’s detective Kendall Stark to divine the killer’s plans before she can wreak even more havoc.

Olsen has created a very compelling antagonist in Nevins, one who is able to seduce readers into turning pages as easily as she manipulates those around her. The “you never know what she’ll do next” aspect of her personality is quite intriguing, providing surprises in nearly every chapter. Olsen also does a terrific job in revealing Nevins’ gruesome backstory, doling it out in bits and pieces as Stark investigates Nevins’ past, hoping to glean information which might lead to her capture. Although it ends abruptly, and on a note of uncertainty (it’s hard to say if the heroes won this battle), it’s truly a great read.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-23 18:30:44
Bite
Hank Wagner

If you like your thrillers edgy, apocalyptic, and violent, look no further than K.S. Merbeth’s Bite, certainly one of the strangest bildungsromans you’ll ever read. Bite tells the action-packed, coming-of-age story of a young teenage girl who goes by the moniker of “Kid,” who becomes part of a pack of cannibalistic adventurers who are doing their level best to survive in a desolate futuristic dystopia. The pack, consisting of the hot-headed Wolf, the man mountain Tank, the scheming Pretty Boy, and the lethal Dolly, adopt the Kid as a mascot, but watch as she evolves into a vital member of their strange family.

Reminiscent of literary works such as Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz and Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and his Dog” or films like The Warriors and Mad Max, Bite starts fast and only accelerates as Merbeth moves deeper into her harrowing narrative. As adept at writing action as she is at creating colorful backdrops for her set pieces, Merbeth also proves to be quite skillful at handling her main and expansive supporting cast, in this dark, dangerous, and deadly tale of survival against overwhelming odds.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-23 18:37:30
The Trespasser
Dick Lochte

Tana French is a wonder, continuing to offer, book after book, master classes in the art of creating dimensional characters and totally satisfying complex plotting. Each novel of her series, of which this is number six, presents a detailed investigation by the elite Dublin Murder Squad, focusing on a different member of the team. It’s almost the same concept that Evan Hunter, as Ed McBain, popularized in his 87th Precinct series. The exception is that French has her featured detective narrate the novel, making it not only a procedural, but an in-depth self-profiling by the sleuth. In the author’s last novel, The Secret Place, the first-person narration is by team newcomer, easygoing but determined Stephen Moran, who, of necessity, is partners with the squad’s only female, an ostracized and, because of that, angry and defensive Antoinette Conway. Though the vaguely supernatural aspect of The Secret Place took some of the edge off of the book for me, the characters of Moran and Conway were intriguing enough that their return is a welcome one, especially with Conway narrating. Their investigation involves a recently self-improved young woman found bludgeoned to death in her apartment on a Saturday night with a table set for a cozy dinner for two. Almost immediately Conway’s emotional buttons are pushed by an obnoxious detective named Breslin who’s assigned to “assist” the team. He seems convinced that the victim’s boyfriend, a meek but definitely odd bookstore owner named Rory Fallon, committed the crime. Eventually the case prompts memories and disturbing self-revelations for Conway. Reader Hilda Fay, with a serious (yet always decipherable) Irish brogue, has an actor’s field day capturing the character’s volatile moods, including her purposeful shift in approaches when interrogating suspects. Moran’s dialogue, responses in the main, are usually attempts at calming his partner, but, after a barrage of Conway’s insults, his hurt comes through loud and clear. Fay’s voice for Breslin has a pushy arrogance. Fallon sounds properly nerdy and vague. But this is Conway’s show. French has created her in full and Fay brings her to audio life.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 16:21:12
Hold a Scorpion
Dick Lochte

Set in ever-sunny yet somehow ever-noirish Southern California, with a moderately famous, 40-something actress as its narrator/amateur sleuth, one can safely say Melodie Johnson Howe’s stories featuring Diana Poole are Hollywood mysteries. With a fair amount of sex, snark, and psychological nuance, not to mention intriguingly twisted plotlines, they exist comfortably somewhere between Ellery Queen’s whodunit approach to La La Land, The Four of Hearts, and Raymond Chandler’s character- and cynicism-rich The Little Sister. Unlike those authors, Howe is actually following the old advice of writing about what she knows. A former actress (The Moonshine War, Coogan’s Bluff), she fills her backgrounds with an insider’s knowledge of how things work in cinema city. Her fictional stand-in debuted in a series of short mysteries collected in Shooting Hollywood: The Diana Poole Stories (Crippen and Landru). In Diana’s first novel, City of Mirrors (Pegasus, 2013), having suffered the loss of husband and superstar mother, she was financially forced to rekindle her never quite above-the-title acting career. Feeling fortunate to be cast in a movie, she found the corpse of the film’s leading lady in a garbage bag, and, while solving the crime, discovered several truths about her own life that were even more devastating. The new sequel begins with Diana trying to forget a broken romance by watching herself on the big screen. The flick’s narcissistic benefit is quickly eliminated by the sight of an apparent suicide-by-speeding- traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway in front of her Malibu digs. The arachnid in the book’s title refers to a bejeweled McGuffin Diana picks up near the scene of the fatality. Everybody wants it, but why? And what has it to do with her deceased mother? Reader Marguerite Gavin’s apparently natural, clear, crisp enunciation is a fine match for our actress narrator. She puts an ounce of whine in it for Diana’s self-serving and self-deceiving screenwriter neighbor, Ryan, gruffs it up for PI Leo Heath, Diana’s ex, and further adapts it to fit a gallery of suspicious characters, from the smarmy head of a upscale rehab center to Ryan’s new playmate, a yoga-enthusiast named Tanya. In all, an entertaining audio package that isn’t as cozy as it first seems.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 16:27:45
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
Dick Lochte

Presumably the last book to come from the late author, barring the discovery of any dust-covered manuscripts in some antique mahogany chiffonier, this set of four previously uncollected short stories should provide some solace for P.D. James’ fans. Each is finely wrought, with a resolution that manages to be both satisfying and vaguely disturbing. The title story is narrated by an acclaimed elderly crime novelist painfully remembering a Christmas of her youth when, recently widowed by the Second World War, she accepted an unexpected invitation to a weekend at her grandmother’s estate. But instead of enjoying the comfort of family, she’s ensnared in the unpleasant circumstances surrounding an obnoxious guest’s brutal murder. Actress Jenny Agutter (Equus, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) uses a sort of downbeat wistfulness in narrating the story, then does a 180 for “A Very Commonplace Murder,” going full-out disdainful in describing a slimy, porno-loving clerk who can save an innocent man on trial for murder but, for whim or reason, decides not to. The remaining two tales feature the author’s famous series sleuth Adam Dalgliesh. “The Twelve Clues of Christmas” is set in the distant past, with a youthful, newly appointed Sergeant Dalgliesh, hurrying to attend Christmas Eve dinner at his aunt’s. He’s halted by a distraught fellow who’s just found the body of his beloved uncle. The death appears to be a suicide, but to Dalgliesh there are, as the title implies, a dozen clues indicating murder. In “The Boxdale Inheritance,” the then-Chief Superintendent Dalgliesh learns that no good deed goes unpunished when, at his godfather’s request, he pries off the lid of a 67-year-old murder case that had some vague ties to his family. Though reader Daniel Weyman makes subtle adjustments to mark the two different stages of the detective’s career and life, he applies the same proper British mixture of droll objectivity and bemusement he’s used in several audio editions of the series novels. Adding to the amusement-level of the fictions are meta references to the author’s continuing use of Agatha Christie-like situations. There’s also an intriguing essay on the short story by James that, for some reason, Agutter reads quickly and without much feeling, as if it were an afterthought.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 16:37:23
Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being
Jon L. Breen

Early January 2014, Henning Mankell was diagnosed with the incurable cancer that would claim him in October 2015. These 67 short essays, averaging about four pages each, are the memories and reflections of a dying man. The reader will find little if anything about mystery writing or the origins of his series cop Kurt Wallander. For that, see the essay following his last published novel, An Event in Autumn (Vintage Crime, 2013). As the subtitle suggests, he has more profound matters in mind. Areas touched on include philosophy, science, politics, religion, and history, natural and human. Some of the most interesting observations have to do with visual art. A recurring concern throughout is the danger of nuclear waste to inhabitants of Earth thousands of years in the future. I admit, having gone on record more than once, that I am no fan of the Wallander novels. But this collection of vignettes, stimulating and thought-provoking, decidedly not depressing, is surely one of the best books I’ll read this year.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 16:41:07

mankellquicksandA collection stimulating and thought-provoking vignettes from a master of crime fiction

Where Memory Hides: A Writer’s Life
Jon L. Breen

Richard A. Lupoff is widely known and admired as a science-fiction and fantasy author, anthologist, Edgar Rice Burroughs biographer, San Francisco Bay Area radio broadcaster, book reviewer (at one time for Mystery Scene), popular culture historian (the comic-book history All in Color for a Dime), and detective novelist with the series about insurance investigator Hobart Lindsey and Berkeley cop Marvia Plum. He is also a book editor, with his own Ramble House imprint, Surinam Turtle Press. His autobiography wanders around in time and subject matter, and the reader will be happy to wander with him, for this is as entertaining an account of the writing life, personal and professional, as you’re likely to read. Topics are as varied as jury duty, teaching in a prison, and an IRS audit.

The book was compiled by editor Audrey Parente from previously published sources (book introductions, essay collections, book reviews, interviews, and volumes in the author’s Writer at Large series). Lupoff (born 1935) also provides additions and up-to-the-minute updates, noting for example Senator Ted Cruz’s facial resemblance to Senator Joseph McCarthy). Several mystery writers receive extended discussion, including S.S. Van Dine, Dashiell Hammett, Fredric Brown, Erle Stanley Gardner, and (most valuable because least famous) Avram Davidson. The 39-page bibliography is alphabetical by title.

A few errors were noted. The line “Philo Vance needs a kick in the pance” is usually attributed to Ogden Nash, not Bennett Cerf, and there are some amusing cases of autocorrecting run amuck: Lenore Glen “Oxford” (should be Offord) and “Erie” Stanley Gardner.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 16:45:29
Once a Pulp Man: The Secret Life of Judson P. Philips as Hugh Pentecost
Jon L. Breen

Judson Philips, the prolific pulp writer, later known as Hugh Pentecost, a name adopted for the big-money slick magazines and hardcover book market, is one of several Mystery Writers of America Grand Masters (others include George Harmon Coxe, Baynard Kendrick, and Aaron Marc Stein) who, though very popular in their own time, have fallen into relative obscurity. The journalist author of this welcome biography is determined to get the facts right, and the subject’s life is so varied and interesting that the reader who overlooks the messy organization, awkward repetition, and sometimes tortured prose will be delighted with the informational content, including irrelevant but fascinating tangents (such as an anecdote about Edwin Balmer and Sinclair Lewis that has nothing to do with Philips/Pentecost). In addition to pulp stories in various genres, many American Magazine mystery novellas with unusual backgrounds, scripts for radio and early TV, and books about series sleuths like hotelier Pierre Chambrun and artist-crusader John Jericho, the five-times-married Philips had rewarding but less lucrative careers as the founder and guiding force of Connecticut’s Sharon Playhouse, owner of a weekly newspaper, and volunteer long-term columnist for another. Frequent quotes from his letters and other writings are an added benefit.

The 51-page bibliography is divided into four sections, each of them arranged alphabetically by title: pulp magazines; anthologies and other periodicals; novels; and radio scripts and plays. Items found in agent files but otherwise unconfirmed are noted.

(Personal note: I was pleasantly surprised to find quoted a letter I had forgotten receiving from former American Magazine editor William Hart regarding the 1986 anthology American Murders, which I edited with my wife Rita A. Breen, followed by a reply I didn’t remember writing. The bibliography notes that Pentecost’s “Death in Studio 2” had been included in the anthology. Actually he was represented twice, the other title being “The Corpse was Beautiful.”)

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 16:51:40
The Big Book of Jack the Ripper
Jon L. Breen

Primarily an anthology of fiction inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders, this also provides a handy one-stop reference to the facts and theories of the case. The first section of 136 double-column pages begins with a summary by psychoanalyst David Abrahamsen from his 1992 book Murder and Madness: The Secret Life of Jack the Ripper, followed by a selection of primary sources (contemporary newspaper accounts from the The Times of London, witness statements, autopsy reports, and the alleged Ripper letters) and various speculations on the killer’s identity, motives, and characteristics. In a new piece, Stephen Hunter debunks the major theories (including Patricia Cornwell’s as “disappear[ing] into nothingness under the gentlest of scrutiny”) before settling on the same familiar suspect convincingly accused by J.J. Hainsworth in Jack the Ripper—Case Solved 1891, though for a different reason.

The fiction entries include Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Lodger in both short story and novel versions; Ellery Queen’s 1966 novelization of the Sherlock Holmes film A Study in Terror in which detective Queen considers a recently discovered Watson manuscript; classic Ripper-related stories by Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Thomas Burke, and many others plus new fiction by Jeffery Deaver, Lindsay Faye, Anne Perry, and Loren D. Estleman. All of the entries have substantial introductions by editor Otto Penzler.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 16:57:46
Crimson Snow
Ben Boulden

Crimson Snow is a Christmas-themed anthology of mostly forgotten reprints of very traditional British detective stories. It features 11 well-selected stories that are as puzzling, in that wonderful locked-room way, as they are entertaining. The most well-known story is Margery Allingham’s “The Man With the Sack,” which finds Albert Campion at an annual Christmas Eve party. The guest list is a casting call of old money, new money, and the horror of no money. When a valuable diamond necklace goes missing, the obvious suspect is the young man playing Santa Claus, but Campion, with a forgivable coincidence to work with and a few nice deductions, uncovers the true thief.

Victor Gunn’s “Death in December” is the longest and most rewarding of the stories. A ghost story set in the Derbyshire hills, it features everything a traditional mystery should: mysterious setting, myriad suspects, a finely plotted puzzle with clues enough for the reader to be able to solve the crime without actually solving it. There is also the bonus of a disappearing corpse, a ghostly apparition that walks without leaving prints in freshly fallen snow, and a protagonist—Bill Cromwell—who is as curmudgeonly and ill-tempered as any I have encountered.

Included also are stories by Ianthe Jerrold, Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert, and the clever murder mystery “The Carol Singers” by Josephine Bell. Each is accompanied by an illuminating introductory note, written by editor Martin Edwards, giving context to both story and author.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 17:01:52
The Whole Art of Detection
Ben Boulden

The Whole Art of Detection is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories written by noted Sherlockian author Lyndsay Faye. It includes 15 tales, many originally printed in the Strand Magazine, and all have the distinctive style and creativity of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. It is a book Sherlock Holmes devotees will want to savor with small samplings, rather than binge read in only a few sittings.

“The Adventure of the Beggar’s Feast” begins with an unidentified man found in an alleyway, beaten and comatose, with little hope of ever awakening. Holmes is intrigued by the incongruity of the man’s fine clothing and his battered hands—marked by the remnants of repeated frostbite—and utterly satisfied when he uncovers the problem’s solution with its touch of charitable holiday cheer. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” features a mysterious death, illicit and hidden loot, revenge, and a conclusion that surprises even Sherlock Holmes. “The Adventure of the Mad Baritone” masterfully develops a kidnapping plot where a trained opera singer, now living on the streets, is repeatedly kidnapped and then released for no obvious reason. And, to round things out nicely, two of the stories are written by Mr. Holmes himself as journal entries, “Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma” and “Notes Upon the Diadem Club Affair.”

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 17:05:28