Jean Gazis

In this satisfying psychological thriller inspired by the terrifying, never-solved, real-life “Zodiac” killings, the brisk pace never lets up and the twists keep coming till the very last line.

Twenty years ago, a diabolical serial killer, dubbed the “Prophet” for the poetic language in his cryptic messages, terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area. Lead detective Mack Hendrix was driven to a nervous breakdown over his obsession with the case, his failure to apprehend the killer, and the loss of his partner—the Prophet’s last victim. Now, the “UNSUB” (law enforcement shorthand for “unknown subject”) strikes again, apparently at random, leaving the Prophet’s signature Mercury symbols at the murder scene. Mack’s daughter, rookie narcotics officer Caitlin Hendrix, is immediately assigned to the homicide squad because of her connection with the case.

Caitlin is soon caught up in a race against time, determined to stop the Prophet—or his copycat—before he can kill again. At 29, Caitlin is tough, stubborn, yet empathetic, both confident and highly conscious of her junior status on the homicide team. As the body count rises, she struggles desperately not to fall prey to the killer’s intricate mind games or her own resurfacing personal demons. Aided by Deralynn Hobbs, a bubbly “casting-call PTA mom” who runs an online forum dedicated to the Prophet, and dogged by burnt-out local crime reporter Bart Fletcher (who may know more than he lets on), Caitlin pursues every lead. The murderer’s escalating game gets more and more personal, drawing ever closer to her and to those she loves. The clues reveal that the Prophet plans to stage a macabre “grand finale” over Easter weekend. Where, when, and how will he strike—and can he be stopped in time? Edgar award-winner Meg Gardiner’s crisp prose and sharply drawn, believable characters maintain the reader’s interest from the first page to the last.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 18:02:46
Jay Roberts

Waking up disoriented in a London flat might not be much of a unique experience, but for the disgraced ex-war photographer John Wallace that confusion quickly gives way to terror when he realizes that he’s tied up and someone is trying kill him by hanging him in his own apartment.

In Adam Hamdy’s captivating thriller, Wallace gets a reprieve from this death when the beam he’s hung from collapses. But once making his escape from the flat and the killer, he ends up locked away in a mental hospital. A solitary figure, Wallace has no one to turn to when the doctors and Detective Sergeant Pat Bailey disbelieve his story, thinking instead that he was trying to commit suicide. Another attempt on his life allows Wallace to escape the hospital and he brings his photographer’s eye for detail to investigating why someone wants him dead, and soon turns up similar types of murders.

He follows the killer’s trail to New York and is eventually paired with FBI field agent Christine Ash. She initially doesn’t believe Wallace’s story either, until more bodies start turning up. Why someone wants him dead is just one of the many questions that Wallace and Ash need to answer in order to stop the killings and put a name to the murderer.

Hamdy has a deft touch with the characterization of John Wallace. He creates a believable person to square off with the murderous adversary, yet smartly gives him all-too-human flaws that are not overshadowed by his baseline abilities. Even more importantly, the story’s villain is not a cardboard cutout. When the method to the killer’s madness is revealed, it makes sense even though you don’t agree with the actions taken. The story’s action sequences show a keen attention to detail as well.

The first in a planned trilogy, Pendulum has a lot of material left to work with despite ending in a grimly satisfying manner.
 A strong cast of characters and the author’s ability to engage the reader with
 an engrossing and invigorating plot
 whet the reader’s appetite for more.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 18:11:59
The Trapped Girl
Dick Lochte

Dugoni’s chronicle of Seattle PD Homicide Detective Tracy Crosswhite’s most recent and arguably best investigation begins with the discovery of a woman’s body in an illegal “crab pot.” I imagine most of you know what a crab pot is, but I was perplexed. I supposed it was similar to what, down on the bayou, we used to call a crab net, but a net would be too small to snare a corpse. Google Images solved that mystery. A “pot” is a very large cagelike trap. The mystery of how the corpse wound up in the crab pot is a bit more difficult and much more interesting to uncover. Detective Tracy’s first big problem: the corpse, identified as Andrea Strickland, had been declared dead a while back, after she went missing while on a perilous mountain hike. Not only has her husband, Graham, been living lavishly thanks to her impressive life insurance policy, he’s an arrogant, annoying chap, and Tracy and her colorful Violent Crime teammates really want him to be the murderer. But as the case progresses, facts are uncovered that constantly surprise them, and us. When Dugoni slows down the story just enough to round out his characters, Emily Sutton-Smith shifts her cool, precise procedural narration to fit the mood of the speaker or the observer. Most often it’s Tracy, whose memories of her sister’s death (see 2014’s My Sister’s Grave) are stirred by Andrea Strickland’s unhappy history. For Tracy’s loyal partner, Kins Rowe, Sutton-Smith uses a generally downbeat and cynical approach, while longtime teammates Del Castigliano and Fazz Fazzio sound as if they’d just skipped over from a Scorsese soundtrack. The team’s progress is interrupted by sections of Strickland’s diary that not only fill in important backstory gaps, they help explain her mental state as she stumbles through a generally passive life until winding up trapped in an unfortunate marriage. Sutton-Smith could have gloomed it up, but instead gives the woman more than a hint of a can-do spirit.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 18:19:02
Murder in Mayfair
Joe Scarpato, Jr.

On a return trip from Bath to London in 1814, aristocratic adventurer Atlas Catesby witnesses a man auctioning off his wife to the highest bidder in a small village. To save the attractive young woman from a leering older man, Atlas buys her, then brings her to London to stay with his sister. Not long afterwards, her husband threatens to spread false rumors about the relationship between Atlas and his wife if she is not returned to him.

Before Atlas can determine the best course of action to protect the wife’s reputation and future, her husband is found murdered in the cellar of the London haberdashery where he works, and both become suspects.

Because the man assigned to solve the case, a Mr. Endicott, appears to be less than adequate for the job, Atlas decides to undertake his own investigation, depending on his mastery of puzzle-solving to help him discover the real murderer. In the process, he learns not only about the people who may have had a motive for the killing, some of whom were being blackmailed by the deceased, but also more about the background of Lilliana, the haughty woman he saved and for whom he is beginning to have strong feelings.

The author not only brings to life the look and feel of Regency England, including the antiquated British legal system at the time that relegated women to little more than chattel in the eyes of the government. As a result, the reader is treated to an intriguing historical novel with a dollop of romance, but also to a well-conceived murder mystery with a surprise ending.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 19:54:03

An intriguing historical novel with a dollop of romance, and a well-conceived murder mystery

Every Day Above Ground
Craig Sisterson

Seattle native Glen Erik Hamilton burst onto the crime writing scene two years ago with Past Crimes, a superb debut that introduced childhood thief turned Army Ranger Van Shaw, and went on to win the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Awards for Best First Novel, and an Edgar nomination.

In this third installment in what’s a really top shelf series, Shaw is rebuilding his late grandfather’s destroyed home when a terminally ill ex-con who did a past job with his grandfather comes calling. The score on offer: a forgotten fortune in gold bars, abandoned in the floor safe of a destitute building. Having left the Army, a large part of Shaw wants to stay straight, but he’s also drawn to the opportunity to utilize his hard-earned safe-cracking skills, for a number of reasons. Only he and the ex-con aren’t the only ones with a plan, and they fall into a trap. Scrambling to survive, and with the life of an innocent young girl on the line, Shaw must enter an ultra-violent corner of the criminal underworld.

Hamilton writes really well-balanced thrillers, which blend page-turning plotlines with fascinating, memorable characters, good action, and a great sense of place. He sprinkles the narrative with fresh description, has a great turn of phrase, and overall just keeps the reader engaged on multiple levels. This is a very good tale in what is becoming a must-read series. I look forward to more from Hamilton.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 20:16:16

The third Van Shaw novel is a very good tale in what is becoming a must-read series.

Crimes of Winter
Betty Webb

Philippe Georget’s Crimes of Winter is a reminder that the French are different than us. They have better taste in wine (there’s a lot of wine-drinking in this enjoyable novel), and they tend to be more accommodating about adultery. Thus, when a series of murders and suicides connected to “outed” adulterers take place in the picturesque town of Perpignan, the police are slow to see a pattern. The one detective who takes the connection seriously is Gilles Sebag, who has just discovered that his own wife, Claire, has been carrying on an affair behind his back. Acutely aware of his own pain, he connects the dots to Perpignan’s upsurge in violent crime. At one point he shares his own Gallic view of extramarital activities with a man who has just killed his unfaithful wife by pointing out, “If everybody acted as you did, adultery would become a plague worse than cancer, car accidents, and cardiovascular disease combined.” The wife-killer disagrees. He defends his actions by saying that once he received a text message calling his wife an adulteress, killing her was the only honorable reaction. Sebag suspects that someone in the otherwise peaceful town of Perpignan has set himself up as an avenger, never caring that he is leaving a trail of murdered women and suicided husbands. Reading Crimes of Winter is particularly enjoyable because of its entertaining cast of oddball characters, but at the same time the author schools the reader in the differences between French and American policing. In some ways, the French cops appear more compassionate, yet in others, more judgmental. There is wry humor here, too, and the Gallic tendency towards witty cynicism frequently makes itself known. At 433 pages, Crimes of Winter is a bit long for what is essentially a whodunit, but at the end the patient reader is rewarded with a finely written scene of makeup sex that stops just short of being graphic. Ooh la la!

Teri Duerr
2017-06-29 21:18:04
Water Signs
Betty Webb

Not every mystery is a tricky whodunit. The villain in Janet Dawson’s Water Signs isn’t hard to detect, but following a PI Jeri Howard investigation is so enjoyable that the reader won’t care. The mystery begins with the discovery of a security guard’s
 body near the construction site where
 he was working. Informed by his boss 
that Cal Brady had a
 drinking problem, the 
cops put it down to a 
workplace accident.
 Jeri isn’t so certain.
 An old co-worker of
 Brady’s, she had
 heard he no longer drank. So when the autopsy reveals he was stone-cold sober at the time of his death, Jeri rightly suspects he was murdered, and sets off to prove it. One of the major delights of Water Signs—and there are many—is found in its portrayal of an unusual set of homeless people. Technically, this group isn’t really homeless; they’re squatting on several of the many abandoned boats floating around the Oakland, California’s Bay Area estuary. Author Dawson treats us to descriptions of the many ways these folks survive, right down to the bathroom details (more interesting and complicated than landlubbers might think). Dawson also educates us about a massive real-life project called the San Francisco Bay Trail, which is putting together 500 miles of hiking trails to connect various California cities. Given the legal difficulties of such a grand plan, figuring out the fictional villain in Water Signs is easy. No matter. The beautiful descriptions of the Oakland-area estuary and the visits with the irascible floating homeless make this mystery smart and highly enjoyable.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-29 21:27:47
Prussian Blue
Dick Lochte

When a new addition to Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther noir crime series arrives, fans know precisely what to expect—another circa-WWII adventure featuring its flawed protagonist, a former Berlin homicide detective living with the guilt of years served at the whims of the sadistic and/or insane Nazi high command. His first-person narrations employ sardonic wit, biting humor, and deep-dish cynicism, all attitudes that, while designed by the character to keep his guilt under wraps, provide the novels with a high level of entertainment quite beyond the ordinary thriller, contemporary or not. Bernie’s experiences are usually presented straight or in retrospect, depending on each novel’s not-necessarily-chronological spot on his timeline. Prussian Blue (the name of a painful deadly poison, by the way), set in 1956, covers both categories. At its start, Bernie is a concierge at the Grand Hotel on the French Riviera (just after the events of last year’s The Other Side of Silence) when his unfortunate past again catches up with him, this time in the unreasonable form of General Erich Mielke. The deputy head of the East German Stasi orders Bernie to assassinate a female agent. Instead, our hero goes on the run, dogged by a Stasi henchman named Frederich Korsch, who is as shrewd as he is relentless. As he desperately avoids Korsch’s homicidal clutches, Bernie recalls that, back in 1939 just before the war, he and his pursuer had been summoned by Hitler’s deputy Martin Bormann to a vacation paradise in Bavaria to clean up a murder before the leader arrived to celebrate his 50th birthday. The novel hops from Bernie’s breathless 1956 race from Korsch to his and Korsch’s pre-war attempt to solve a whodunit, complete with an assortment of suspects, while both hindered and helped by heavy amphetamine use. Reader John Lee, no stranger to Guntherworld, is excellent at capturing Bernie’s air of insouciance as well as his frequent expressions of insolence. And, in my opinion, no reader bests him at creating voices dripping in sarcasm, usually accompanied by proper Germanic accents ripe with decadent flutiness. Dealing with two almost separate stories, at nearly 18 hours, this is an unusually long series entry, but who’s complaining? More chapters, more Bernie, more to enjoy.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-29 21:51:05
Child of My Winter
jean Gazis

Rick Van Lam, born to a Vietnamese mother and American GI father, orphaned and brought to the US, grew up in an adoptive family and became a New York City police officer. Now retired, he is living in Connecticut, working as an insurance investigator and teaching criminology at local Farmington College. When he spots the lonely and eccentric, but brilliant, Vietnamese computer science student Dustin Trang, he is intrigued and tries to befriend the young man, but is repeatedly rebuffed. Dustin, who grew up in the projects and is at the college on full scholarship, also rejects the gregarious Hank, a young Vietnamese officer on the Connecticut State Police force and Rick’s closest friend. Then the most popular professor on campus—also a friend of Rick’s—is suddenly murdered, soon after being seen in a heated argument with Dustin, and Dustin becomes a prime “person of interest.”

Rick and Hank are convinced that the usually meek Dustin could not be a killer, despite his occasional flashes of temper. They launch a private investigation into the circumstances, but are baffled and frustrated by Dustin’s refusal to cooperate or confide in them. Slowly, aided by a colorful cohort of friends that includes Rick’s landlady, business partner, and ex-wife, Rick and Hank piece together the sad circumstances of Dustin’s dismal home life. But as they get closer to finding out the truth of what Dustin might fear more than a murder conviction, they realize they may be putting and themselves, and others, in danger.

This intriguing whodunit is the fourth installment in the Rick Van Lam series that explores the Vietnamese community of Hartford, Connecticut. Richly character-driven, Child of My Winter explores the ways the past can poison the present and how individuals can adapt—or fail to adapt—to difficult circumstances.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:04:54

lanh childofmywinterThe richly character-driven Child of My Winter is a solid whodunit set in the Vietnamese community of Hartford, Connecticut.

The Painted Queen
Sharon Magee

As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Sadly, this is the 20th and last in the delightful Amelia Peabody series. Elizabeth Petersreal name Barbara Mertz who also wrote as Barbara Michaelsdied in 2013, leaving the manuscript of The Painted Queen unfinished. Her good friend, mystery writer Joan Hess, has completed it with great aplomb.

The cheeky Amelia and her outrageously handsome and acerbic husband Radcliffe Emerson (a world renowned Egyptologist better known to the Egyptians as The Father of Curses) are on their way to the Egyptian archeological site Amarna to finish a job. While stopped over in Cairo, Peabody luxuriates in a bubble bath where she is interrupted by a man wearing a gold-rimmed monocle intent on doing her harm. The would-be assassin is thwarted by a knife protruding from his back (But by who?). When the Amelia and Radcliffe's son Ramses admits that he, too, was the victim of a murder attempt by a man wearing a gold-rimmed monocle, they realize their lives are in danger.

It is 1912 and the Emersons travel by boat down the Nile to Amarna, where they learn that a magnificent bust of Queen Nefertiti has just been discoveredand just as quickly, disappeared, along with the boss of the site who has an addiction to peppermint schnapps. As Peabody and Emerson chase shady characters down the back alleys and narrow streets of Cairo, and across the sands of Egypt’s deserts, they run into many strange individuals, including a hairy missionary, a naked man, and more men with gold-rimmed monocles with murder on their mind.

Many favorite characters of this series make appearances, including David, Ramses best friend; Selim and Daoud, the Emerson’s faithful retainers; their lovable but grouchy cook, Fatima; and, of course, the master criminal, Sethos, who has a crush on Peabody.

God speed Amelia. You’ll be missed.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:28:50

peters paintedqueenBarbara Mertz left the manuscript of The Painted Queen unfinished, but writer Joan Hess has completed Amelia Peabody's final adventure with great aplomb.

Mystery Classics on Film: The Adaptation of 65 Novels and Stories
Jon L. Breen

Mystery movie buffs will have a great time with this book. The subject films are well-selected, and Ron Miller does an excellent job of summarizing the original print source for each, how the screen version follows it and how it diverges. Included are good books made into better films (e.g., In the Heat of the Night, The 39 Steps, The Thin Man), good books made into lesser films (The Lady in the Lake, The Case of the Velvet Claws, Black Widow), and occasionally films that equal their source material in artistic impact, sometimes while remaining faithful to the original and others while changing them in substantive ways (Laura, The Big Sleep, Rebecca, The Maltese Falcon, Strangers on a Train, In a Lonely Place).

Miller’s views and choices are generally sound, but often leave room for disagreement, which is half the fun of a book like this. Obviously he couldn’t cover every possible film, but the omissions of Green for Danger and Psycho are especially surprising.

The massive plot hole in the solution of The Kennel Murder Case, rightly regarded as one of the very best screen examples of the pure whodunit, goes unnoted here. It could have been done without revealing too much by simply pointing out the murderer had no reason to be where required by Philo Vance’s final summation.

In discussing The Black Camel, it’s a mistake to call Charlie Chan’s Japanese assistant Kashimo “dull-witted”—while it is true that he is annoying, is used as comic relief, and has a limited command of English, he ultimately does some effective police work. (Chan’s anti-Japanese prejudice in the Earl Derr Biggers novel is one of the few unattractive features of the Honolulu sleuth’s personality.) Miller correctly notes that Chan, though viewed by some as an example of “defamatory racist stereotyping,” was never intended that way by Biggers. And while I agree Warner Oland made the better Chan and appeared in more good Chan films, I fail to see what makes Sidney Toler’s depiction more racially offensive.

The discussion of Gypsy Rose Lee’s The G-String Murders, adapted for film as Lady of Burlesque, assumes what has long been believed, that Craig Rice ghosted the original novel. But both Rice biographer Jeffrey Marks and Lee biographer Noralee Frankel dispute this attribution.

Only his stage name made Ricardo Cortez (born Jacob Krantz) a Latin lover type, and there is no suggestion of that when he is playing Sam Spade or Perry Mason.

Apart from matters of opinion and interpretation, there are a few outright factual errors. Ross Macdonald’s birth name was Kenneth (not Ross) Millar. The underrated version of Farewell, My Lovely with Robert Mitchum as Marlowe is not set in England, though its follow-up, The Big Sleep remake, is. In Haunted Honeymoon, the film version of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, not only is Lord Peter Wimsey played by an American (Robert Montgomery), but so is Harriet Vane (Constance Cummings, here identified as British).

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:29:37
Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations
Jon L. Breen

The proprietor of the website Quote Investigator presents some fascinating literary detective work, exploring and often exploding the common attributions of familiar quotations through the use of Google Books and other online tools, along with the standard quotation references. The introduction describes both the process of his research and the common pitfalls: everything must be double-checked, often in hard copy. He also identifies several “mechanisms of error,” the ways in which mistaken attributions happen. One example of the latter is similarity of name. The only references to Edgar Allan Poe in this book concern a line frequently attributed to him but actually from the contemporary songwriter Poe (“Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart, of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants”).

Another quotation with a crime-fiction connection exemplifies the scope of the author’s research. The epigraph of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is credited to Honoré de Balzac: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” O’Toole quotes the original French of the source passage in Balzac’s Le Père Goriot (1834), followed by English-language translations from 1896 and 1900 editions of the novel. A half-dozen English variations of the saying, from a 1915 business periodical to a 1976 financial columnist, show the development of the version cited by Puzo. The conclusion: that Balzac’s original nuanced observation “has been dramatically simplified, and no single person can be credited with the construction of the modern concise and forceful version.”

Other interesting discussions include whether Ernest Hemingway actually wrote that six-word short story (“For Sale, baby shoes, never worn”), how a statement by Anne Rice about Kafka came to be attributed to Kafka, and how a statement by a member of the Doors (Ray Manzarek, not Jim Morrison) somehow got credited to William Blake or Aldous Huxley. But did anybody ever really think Napoleon said, “Able was I ere I saw Elba”?

There’s not much here directly concerned with crime fiction, though the index includes Raymond Chandler (“I think my favorite weapon is a twenty-dollar bill”). On the website, however, pickings are better, discussing quotes attributed to Agatha Christie (“An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have./The older she gets the more interested he is in her”), Arthur Conan Doyle (“Elementary, my dear Watson”), Alfred Hitchcock (“All actors are cattle”), Margaret Millar (“Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses”), and James M. Cain (“They haven’t done anything to my books./They’re still right there on the shelf./They’re fine”), among many others.

(An irony worth noting: this excellent scholarly work, published by an Amazon imprint, along with the appropriate praise gets a startling volume of negative reviews on Amazon’s website. It was offered free to Prime members as a Kindle First item, and some of the takers, who obviously didn’t know what sort of book they were getting, and perhaps expecting a traditional quotation reference, weren’t interested in the research processes and pronounced the whole enterprise boring.)

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:36:53
Nearly Nero
Ben Boulden

Nearly Nero collects 10 appealing Claudius Lyon stories by the always reliable Loren D. Estleman. Claudius Lyon, who changed his name from something or other to that of a Roman emperor, is a wealthy, town-house-inhabiting amateur detective, with a jones for Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. His admiration for the “world’s greatest detective” has encouraged him to mimic, in an off-kilter bizarro fashion, everything about the great orchid growing homebody. He raises tomatoes in a rooftop greenhouse because orchids are beyond his horticultural talents. An ex-con named Arnie Woodbine is his assistant for no other reason than his name is similar to Wolfe’s investigator Archie Goodwin, which is where the resemblance ends, since Woodbine spends much of his time embezzling money from the boss. A Yiddish-speaking kosher chef named Gus prepares all his meals. Lyon is alcohol intolerant, and, unlike Wolfe, drinks cream soda, but he tosses his pop-tops in a desk drawer, as Wolfe does his bottle caps. His townhouse is located in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, and his relationship with the local police is worse than Wolfe’s for the simple reason that he is unlicensed and Captain Stoddard of the local Bunco Squad spends a surprising amount of time trying to catch Lyon taking payment for his services.

Murder is nowhere to be found in the stories, and the solutions—solved in good fashion, Claudius Lyon’s finger always digging in his ear to stimulate the cortex—often involve wordplay that is clever and groan-inducing at once. The stories are all well-written, entertaining, humorous, and will appeal to both knowledgeable and novice readers of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:41:39
The Smack
Vanessa Orr

I’m a big fan of stories with flawed characters, and The Smack serves them up in droves.

Rowan Petty is a con man down on his luck. His love interest, Tinafey, is a hooker looking for a way out of the life. His estranged daughter, Sam, refuses his help even though she desperately needs it. His ex-wife, Carrie, is a grifter still looking for the big score. A large part of the charm of this book lies in the relationship between Rowan and Tinafey; both too scared of being hurt to admit that they want to be together, they refuse to commit, yet keep finding ways to stay by each other’s side. Rowan’s need for his daughter’s approval also drives the story.

When given the chance to steal $2 million in Army money that was illegally smuggled out of Afghanistan, you want Rowan to succeed so that he can support the women who mean everything to him, even if it means that he’s putting his life, and the lives of others, on the line. It is a testament to the talent of the author that despite all evidence to the contrary, this story leaves you hoping for a happily-ever-after ending.

As you would expect in a story about the underbelly of society, there is violence, graft, and murder. What elevates the book is its many surprising moments of humor and tenderness. Even as all of the characters are racing to what you know can’t be a good end, you’re still rooting for things to work out for Rowan and the people he loves. While the odds aren’t in his favor, even gamblers deserve to win some times, right?

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:42:45

lange smackLoveable underdogs, violence, graft, and murder, and many surprising moments of humor and tenderness.

Ben Boulden

MatchUp, edited by Lee Child, is aptly titled since it pairs two thriller writers, along with their most popular series characters, for each story. The anthology is a who’s who of bestselling writers in the genre. A few of the “matchups” are C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett and Sandra Brown’s Lee Coburn, Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, and Lisa Scottoline’s Bennie Rosato and Nelson DeMille’s John Corey. The quality of the stories, as is often the case in this type of anthology, varies, but most are very good and a few are exceptional.

“Past Prologue,” by Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry, is a nicely devised story marrying the present and the past. Cotton Malone is attending an antiquarian book sale in Scotland when, during his morning constitutional, a wrong turn finds him lost in the confusing geography of the moors. Even more confusing to Cotton, he is seemingly in the distant past when the castle where he is lodging was a prison and bandits, rogues, and convicts roam the moors to everyone’s peril.

The best story in the anthology is Gayle Lynds’ and David Morrell’s “Rambo on Their Minds” featuring Liz Sansborough and, as the title suggests, Rambo. Liz is the victim of a Russian mafia kidnapping plot designed for a human ransom: Liz’s life for that of a recently arrested and seemingly low-level criminal. The kidnappers assigned to watch Liz are fascinated by, and spend a great deal of time talking about, the Rambo films based on David Morrell’s classic novel First Blood. Rambo never makes an appearance in the story, but his influence is in the form of What Would Rambo Do? And as it turns out, Rambo is more helpful to Liz than her kidnappers.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:45:30
Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense
Ben Boulden

Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense is a marvelous collection of seven darkly paranoid gothic tales of madness, murder, and tormented adolescence by Joyce Carol Oates. The title story is a revelation of depravity narrated by a preteen Midwestern girl named Jilly. She is thrilled when an older cousin, his relationship to the family dubious, takes a secretive interest in her during a long and lonely summer. When he shows her something terrible, exhibiting a lusty and gleeful excitement in the sharing, she is more afraid of losing his companionship than the danger he represents to her.

“Great Blue Heron” is a sympathetic tale of madness featuring a woman dealing with the untimely death of her husband. The widow’s narration is unreliable and the story’s conclusion is both mysterious and haunting. “The Crawl Space” is the story of a very different widow grieving both her husband and the home they shared. But the secrets of her dead husband, and her suspicion he was involved with other women, pulls her into a darkness where she will likely never emerge.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:48:48
Kong: Skull Island
Hank Wagner

Penned by Tim Lebbon, Kong: Skull Island is essentially a reboot of the King Kong franchise, establishing the great ape as an adolescent circa 1975. It’s essentially a “first contact” novel, as a diverse team of scientists and soldiers descends upon an uncharted island, discovering that it contains a portal to another world, one that is zealously guarded by Kong. Much to their dismay, the explorers soon learn that Kong’s mission is not so much to keep intruders from invading Skull Island, but to keep the island’s more dangerous denizens from escaping.

No stranger to novelizations (his adaptations of 30 Days of Night and The Cabin in the Woods are highly recommended), Lebbon does an especially good job on this one, delivering welcome character detail, highly readable prose, and an abundance of ferocious action scenes, guaranteed to whet your appetite for the film. Here’s hoping he will also be chosen to work on the many intriguing sequels hinted at in the conclusion of this work.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:52:35
Jean Gazis

A generation after the Fallcatastrophic worldwide economic and environmental collapsea new society has grown up along the Coast Road. Carefully managed resources are shared in communal households, which must prove their worthiness in order to be awarded a “banner” that permits them to have a child. Only the very oldest of the old remember life before the Fall. Technology has mostly reverted to farming, fishing, and handcrafting; small communities of households trade with each other for goods they can’t produce themselves, and are governed by town committees. Infractionsthe worst is a bannerless pregnancyare handled by investigators, who work in pairs for the regional committee. Enid, a young woman who grew up in Haven, the leading community, has been an investigator for just three years and has never handled a murder case. Then she and her older partner Tomas are summoned to investigate a suspicious death in the town of Pasadan, two days’ journey away.

Almost immediately on Enid and Tomas’s arrival, it is clear that something in Pasadan is not as it should be. There is obvious discord among the committee members, and the dead man, Sero, was an outcast who belonged to no householdalthough he was a skilled craftsman who owned a precious tool from before the Fall. And, to Enid’s shock, her former lover Dak, an itinerant musician when she traveled the Coast Road with him years before, has settled down in a Pasadan household. Everyone, including Dak, seems to know more than they will admit, and no one welcomes an investigation.

Bannerless shifts back and forth between Enid’s youth and travels with Dak and the present investigation in Pasadan. The story’s alternating structure paints a fascinating picture of how a new society has grown up, whose paramount rule is never to waste resources, while showing how Enid came to be the person that she isbrave, persistent, with little tolerance for secrets and lies, but kind, empathetic, and wise beyond her years. Bannerless is first-rate speculative fiction, peopled with vivid, relatable characters.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:55:07

vaughn bannerlessScience fiction and murder mystery make for a fascinating introduction to Enid, a winning, young investigator from our dystopian future.

Expecting to Die
Hank Wagner

Expecting to Die, the seventh Alvarez and Pescoli novel from Lisa Jackson, finds the duo investigating the death of a young girl named Destiny Montclaire, whose body was found in the woods on the outskirts of Grizzly Falls, Montana. The case is of special interest to the very pregnant Regan Pescoli, as her daughter, Bianca, was the one who discovered the body. Complicating matters for the police is the fact that Bianca claims she stumbled upon the body while fleeing a hulking, odorous beast that she thinks might have been Bigfoot. The news of her discovery sets the local gossip network, national media, and even the internet on fire, making an already difficult situation more complex.

Longtime fans of the series should find this installment satisfying, as Jackson continues to develop plot points and themes established in previous tomes, detailing how her two heroines navigate the often treacherous waters of their jobs and personal lives. Newcomers should also enjoy it, as it presents a satisfying, well-written, well-executed standalone mystery, which displays a general good humor even as it ratchets up the tension with each successive chapter.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 15:56:43
Every Dark Corner
Hank Wagner

Human trafficking is the subject of Karen Rose’s third Cincinnati novel, Every Dark Corner. After an initial focus on the travails of a victim of that heinous activity (18-year-old Mallory Martin, held against her will due to threats made against her little sister, Macy), Rose shifts her attentions to a budding relationship between FBI Special Agent Kate Coppola, and severely injured fellow agent Griffin Davenport, whom she obsessively hovers over while he is in a medically induced coma. Davenport struggles for consciousness, desperate to convey information gained while operating undercover as an associate to the man who has enslaved young Mallory. Little does Davenport know that his former associate has made arrangements to have him eliminated before he can tell his sordid story.

At more than 600 pages, this is a veritable brick of a book, packed with incident and secondary characters; early on, you might feel the urge to start writing the names of various cast members down, if only to keep track. But, once you get into the rhythm of the story, the book becomes increasingly difficult to set down, as Rose skillfully interweaves suspense, clever characterization, and a well-crafted, twisty plot.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 16:05:43
Stillhouse Lake
Sarah Prindle

Gina Royal’s life was normal. Or so she thought. Married to Melvin and the proud mother of two children, Gina is content to live a peaceful life in the suburbs of Wichita, Kansas—until the day it is revealed her husband is a serial killer, responsible for torturing and murdering more than a dozen people in his garage. Her world being ripped apart is bad enough, but Gina is also wrongly suspected of being an accomplice to her husband’s crimes and put on trial.

Four years after being acquitted, Gina has changed her name to Gwen Proctor and moved her kids to a house by a lake in rural Tennessee. She is now an accomplished marksman, has taught her kids every safety plan conceivable, and set up home security systemsall to protect her family from those who don’t believe Gwen's innocence, some of whom have posted threats to murder her kids. Despite the threat of danger and the constant fear of someone finding out who they are, the Proctors have begun to settle down by Stillhouse Lake and create a normal life. Gwen even develops feelings for a man, though she suspects he too, is trying to forget something in his past.

Then a body is found floating in the lake, killed in an identical manner to how her ex-husband murdered his victims. Gwen begins to suspect Melvin knows where they are, and that someone’s spying on them. Gwen doesn’t know if the killer is an internet troll trying to frame her, a friend of Melvin’s come to scare her, or something else altogether. But one thing is clear: a killer is nearby. And Gwen Proctor will use all her wits, training, and instincts to keep her children safe.

Stillhouse Lake is author Rachel Caine’s latest mystery, an intense, emotionally charged novel that will hook readers, who will empathize with Gwen’s desire to protect her kids, as well as the guilt she still feels because she truly didn’t know what her husband had been up to. The plot moves swiftly from one intense scene to another, giving readers a taste of the upheaval and sense of danger that the characters live through, and ends on a note that will leave readers anticipating a sequel.

Besides having relatable characters and an engaging mystery, Stillhouse Lake explores topics such as the harassment from online abusers, and the horror that children of killers experience as they slowly learn about the crimes committed by a parent they trusted. A thought-provoking mystery that explores guilt and innocence, suspicion and trust, Stillhouse Lake is highly recommended.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 16:16:32

caine stillhouselakeA thought-provoking suspense thriller with a mother's determination at its core, Stillhouse Lake explores themes of guilt and innocence, suspicion and trust.

The Lies We Tell
Vanessa Orr

I have to admit that at first I was startled—and later dismayed—by the concept of a police officer with multiple sclerosis working in the field instead of behind a desk. It turns out that Chicago Detective Gina Simonetti’s boss would feel the same, which is why she’s hiding her medical condition from others on the force.

The sole support of her brother’s child, Isabel, she can’t afford to lose her job. Yet her symptoms, which include sometimes not being able to feel her feet or her hands, are putting her life and the lives of others in danger.

While I liked the toughness of Simonetti, I found it hard to empathize 
with her. After losing a fight with a suspect because of her condition and, in the process, losing her gun, she has to lie to protect her secret, making her no more moral than the suspects she chases. The author does succeed in humanizing the hard-driving cop, however, by including passages that show her warm interactions with Isabel, in scenes that add a little lightness to a rather dark story.

In her search for the escapee, Simonetti comes into contact with his mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, a meeting that leads her to crimes even larger than those she is originally pursuing. Unfortunately, the detective’s relentless need to find answers puts Isabel in danger.

What I found intriguing, and also depressing, was how everyone crosses the line in this story, from the police officers who are supposed to be upholding the law to the families that are supposed to be caring for each other, to the health-care workers who should be protecting their patients. Almost everyone in this story is living a lie, and that’s an ugly truth.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 16:20:41
The Silent Corner
Benjamin Boulden

The Silent Corner is a throwback to Dean Koontz’s fine suspense novels of the 1990s—Dark Rivers of the Heart (1994) springs to mind—and it is a welcome addition to his contemporary work. Jane Hawk is a young mother, a rising star in the FBI, and a recent widow. Her husband, the youngest full colonel in the Marine Corps, unexpectedly kills himself after writing an oddly uncharacteristic suicide note. The handwriting is his, but the thoughts expressed, the words written are nothing like Jane would expect.

After her husband’s death, Jane’s research reveals a rising, largely unnoticed, and unexplained suicide rate across the United States. It includes a significant number of people much like her husband, who were far from the standard suicide profile: successful, seemingly happy people, without any prior warning signs. Even more disturbing are the notes, which are all written in the person’s own hand, but using language that seem to indicate the act was involuntary. Jane’s research ruffles the wrong feathers, and when a man threatens her son, she goes underground.

The Silent Corner is vintage Dean Koontz: paranoia-fueled suspense with an understated and believable science-fiction core, sleek and highly realized action, developed characters, and more twists and turns than any two ordinary novels combined. Jane is a likable and competent protagonist with enough self-doubt and worry to make her sympathetic. Her adversaries are despicable and villainous with an evil intent that is as relevant to current events as it is audacious. Among Dean Koontz’s finest contemporary work, The Silent Corner, the first in a new series, promises late-night reading, an increased heart rate, and paper cuts from turning its pages too quickly.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 16:29:16
Murder at the Male Revue
Sharon Magee

In Murder at the Male Revue, the third Bucket List Mystery by Elizabeth Perona, the 70-something bridge playing women (Francine, Charlotte, Joy, and Mary Ruth) are up to their usual antics while trying to mark off items from their bucket lists. One such item, going to a male strip club, is about to get checked.

The Royal Buckingham Male Dance Revue just happens to be scheduled for a fundraising event in their small Indiana town. Mary Ruth’s catering company, with Francine assisting, has been hired for the event; the other two women will be in the audience. But the whistling and cheering has barely begun for the gyrating, clothes-stripping hunks, when chaos erupts. The electricity goes off, Mary Ruth spills cherry cobbler, Francine is left clutching a roast beef to her chest, and the dancers are slipping and sliding in the goo. And then a scream erupts from backstage. Camille Ledfelter, the fundraiser sponsor, is found on the floor with a knife protruding from her side. When she dies, the women are sad, but also see a great opportunity to do what they love best—investigate.

As they frolic through the town, as much as their arthritic joints allow, they run into all kinds of strange characters (Tripper the Stripper, an Iraq War vet with PTSD, who dogs Charlotte and insists on stripping for her), and situations (a fiasco at the American Legion bingo night, and an odd connection to John F. and Jaqueline Kennedy).

Elizabeth Perona is actually the father-daughter writing team of Tony Perona and Liz Dombrosky. One can only imagine how much fun they have coming up with their wacky scenarios. Readers who want their cozy mixed with a lot of slapstick humor shouldn’t miss this one.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 16:39:25
Persons Unknown
Eileen Brady

Five-months-pregnant Detective Manon Bradshaw is chronically tired with a huge belly and swollen ankles. She’s just transferred back to Cambridgeshire from London for the sake of her adopted son, Fly. In the city she felt his skin color made him a target for discrimination. But when her sister’s ex, Dunlop & Finch Wealth Management Vice President Jon-Oliver Ross, is stabbed to death, her 12-year-old son is arrested for the murder. Like a mother lion, Manon does everything she can to help her son, including trying to illegally insinuate herself into the investigation. If necessary, she will sacrifice colleagues and friends to prove his innocence. The description of the supposedly safe juvenile facility Fly is sent to will tear your heart out.

London-based author Susie Steiner delivers a vividly written, complex story, populated with realistic human characters in her latest mystery, Persons Unknown. The different levels of British society are clearly drawn, with the very rich, such as the victim’s coworker Giles Carruthers, enjoying life without accountability for their actions. Far removed from high society and in a separate story line, Good Samaritan “Birdie” Fielding, the owner of Payless Food & Wine (and a delicious character) has rescued a young goth girl injured by a car. Slowly and skillfully all these lives and tales intersect. This is the second mystery featuring Detective Manon Bradshaw, the follow-up to Missing Presumed (2016), and I have to say, I’m hooked.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 16:44:18