The Last Girl
Betty Webb

Danny Lopez’s The Last Girl is a stellar example of the enjoyably bleak subgenre of mysteries featuring former journalists, written by former journalists. Out-of-work Sarasota journalist Dexter Vega is hired by scuzzy porn millionaire Nick Zavala to find Maya, his disappeared, twentysomething daughter. Ordinarily, Vega wouldn’t touch such a shifty sounding case—the porn business setup alone makes him queasy—but since he is flat broke, he agrees. Complications arise. Soon after Vega begins looking for Maya, porn king Zavala is found bludgeoned to death by a three-foot-tall bronze penis. (Remember my mention of dark humor?) The Sarasota Police Department doesn’t buy Vega’s tale of trying to find a runaway daughter, because, as it turns out, Zavala never had a daughter. The porn king did, however, have a girlfriend named Maya whom he’d been helping through college. The scenery then shifts from Sarasota to Mexico City, where Maya, a biologist, is rumored to be searching for a rare salamander thought to be extinct in the wild. The last wild axolotl was found in the Xochimilco section of the city, famed for its floating gardens. Vega, who has flown to Mexico City, meets up with a team of other biologists who are also searching for the salamander, but they all claim never to have heard of Maya. Their story eventually changes, but saying more would spoil the bleak fun. The Last Girl is a fascinating tale, mixing murder and beatdowns with a dose of environmental science. Author Lopez assuredly knows how to write, meticulously describing each scene, from sticky-floored barrooms to beautiful-but-threatening Xochimilco. Lopez also displays a deft hand at characterization, right down to the hungry children Vega meets near one of the Xochimilco canals. Travelers will enjoy The Last Girl for its near-travelogue scenery, but mystery lovers will love the way Vega slowly comes to realize that nothing his client told him is true. When the truth comes out, which it always does, Vega is forced to make another decision: leave Maya alone, or just write up the case as a magazine article. Never has a protagonist’s ambivalence proved more bleakly intriguing.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 16:50:19
The Devil’s Triangle
Betty Webb

Be sure and catch Howard Owen’s terrific The Devil’s Triangle, which brings back irascible reporter Willie Black for a sixth outing (after Oregon Hill, Grace, etc.). This time out, the murderous stakes are raised when a small plane purposely crashes into the Richmond, Virginia, watering hole where attorneys have gone to celebrate the close of a successful case. As the death toll climbs past two dozen, Willie must fight his wackadoodle publisher for permission to probe more deeply into the pilot’s past. Grim though the subject matter may be, there is—again—a plethora of dark humor to be found here. Newspaperman Willie, himself multiracial, is a sly historian, especially when confronting Richmond’s racist past. When the mayor makes a speech about the tragedy, Willie snarks, “He said a few words about our city’s darkest day, maybe forgetting the time the Confederate troops accidentally burned the place to the ground in their haste to flee the approaching Union army.” The plot—why did pilot David Biggio wipe out a bar filled with attorneys?—is intriguing, but Willie is so entertaining that he could headline a much duller plot and his many loyal readers would still follow him. No one and no thing is safe from Willie’s rapier wit, not even himself. While waiting to see if he is among those destined to lose his job as his newspaper straggles into oblivion, he considers his prospects. “I’m pretty much the whole package: 56 years old, good salary, a well-earned reputation for antagonizing the powers that be, maybe a wee bit of a drinking problem. I’m a human resources ax-wielder’s dream.” Yet Willie isn’t the only colorful character in this comedy/drama of a book. Along for the ride are renegades like Pistol Pete, Peachy Love, Bootie Carmichael, Goat Johnson, and Awesome Dude (Willie’s mom’s pot-smoking boyfriend). Ironically, with all his faults, Willie’s is the strongest voice for decency and honor, which is one of the reasons his three ex-wives and numerous ex-girlfriends still like him. Author Owen, who besides writing superb mysteries also writes superb literary novels (Littlejohn, Rock of Ages, etc.) is to be lauded for creating a character as flawed yet lovable as Willie Black. Yes, the man is a rascal, and yes, he drinks too much, but Willie is truly a man for all seasons.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 16:56:39

The irascible reporter Willie Black returns for a sixth outing in which a small plane purposely crashes into the Richmond, Virginia, in a terrorist attack.

The Force
Dick Lochte

Don Winslow’s new novel involves the activities of the NYPD’s ultra-elite Manhattan North Special Task Force, whose leader, decorated detective sergeant Denny Malone, and his quick-thinking, brave, brutal, hard-charging, and hard-playing crew have been given unrestrained authority to “hold the line” against the city’s gangs and their guns and drugs. This, and the book’s title, may suggest that it is a police procedural. It is not. It is, instead, an open- and stink-eyed study of Malone, who, like his close-knit squad, is as corrupt and nearly as vicious as the gangsters he’s been assigned to combat. No spoiler here; the novel begins with Malone facing jail time and feeling remorse for ratting out his closest bros-in-blue, detectives Russo and Big Monty. Using prose powerful and persuasive, Winslow charts the downfall of these “kings of the city” who are smart and cynical enough to realize they are not just beyond the law but beyond salvation. As Winslow sees it, they’re not alone in their corruption. Their city is roiling with other crooked cops, crooked lawyers on both sides of the court, crooked judges, and of course crooked politicians. Finding a character to like is harder than winning the New York Lottery. But likability is not always a required ingredient for literary success. (Hi, there, Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth!). And this is, make no mistake, a significant work. Winslow knows how to string words and, along with many action sequences that should not be pacemaker-approved, there are several rants and raves about Manhattan that are pure hardboiled poetry. Especially as delivered with heart-pounding and, at times, heartbreaking intensity by reader Dion Graham (The Wire). The actor is particularly good at creating distinctive voices, primarily Malone’s growl, which is relentlessly tough-as-nails even when altered by physical pain or self-disgust or genuine regret. Russo sounds brash, emotional and very Italian-American, while Monty speaks with a deep African-American mix of strength and self-confidence. Past the main characters, Graham gives their police chief a harsh, demanding attitude, and the gang leaders a cheerily sneering, faux-friendly but cutthroat approach. Malone’s wife is, for her few scenes, justifiably in-your-face angry, while his drug-addicted nurse girlfriend sounds as if she’s falling asleep mid-sentence. The feds are overly aggressive, ruthlessly ambitious, heartless, and as annoyed as if they, too, are off-put at having found no one in the novel likable, least of all Malone.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:12:18
Ten Dead Comedians
Dick Lochte

Fred Van Lente (coauthor of Cowboys & Aliens, Deadpool) goes from graphic to words-only novel with this parody of Agatha Christie’s famous standalone finally labeled And Then There Were None after its original Ten Little... titles failed to find an ethnic category that wasn’t offensive to modern readers. Van Lente’s whodunit has legendary comic Dustin Walker inviting nine less-than-legendary funny folk to his compound on a secluded island in the West Indies to work with him on an exciting new project. Needless to say, the invitation is a ruse. His purpose is to make them pay with their lives for their “crimes against comedy.” Adding to the amusement are characters who are composites of real comedians living and dead, samples of their stand-up routines, snarky showbiz references, and a plot stocked with as many red herrings as Dame Christie’s, with an ending even she might have had trouble guessing. Like any project this comedy obsessed, it faces a “could be funnier” critique, but there are laughs enough to merit a listen. J.D. Jackson does an admirable job of juggling all the aggressively extroverted voices, male and female—not to mention performing their routines in character using a reasonably effective, well-paced stand-up delivery. Still, if ever a book deserved a full-cast reading, this is it. (That goes for the Christie novel, too, now that I think of it.)

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:17:26
Leo Margulies Giant of the Pulps: His Thrilling, Exciting, and Popular Journey
Jon L. Breen

Leo Margulies (1900-1975) was one of the most successful and long-serving pulp magazine editors and publishers. Most familiar of his titles to today’s readers is Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, in format a digest but in spirit a pulp, which began in 1956 and outlived him by a decade. Along with titles from the science fiction, sports, Western, romance, and aviation genres, he oversaw such crime pulps as G-Men, Mystery Book Magazine, Popular Detective, Phantom Detective, and Thrilling Detective. He was the original publisher of The Saint Detective Magazine, and later launched shorter-lived digests fronted by Charlie Chan, Shell Scott, The Man from UNCLE, and The Girl from UNCLE.

The author is a relative and provides personal and family insights along with the account of his uncle’s professional life. While he could be prickly and difficult, Margulies was clearly a fair and decent man, as well as a good writer and editor. Over a hundred pages of appendices include listings of his magazines arranged by publishing imprint, anthologies, novels published by his Gateway Books imprint, comic books, his own published writings, (a short story and anthology introduction serve as examples), and posthumous tributes by Forest J. Ackerman and Will Murray. Statistical buffs will be interested in the approximate numbers of contributions bought from his most prolific writers. Topping the list is Norman Daniels (270). Some others include Johnston McCulley (170), Louis L’Amour (140), Dennis Lynds (110), Michael Avallone (70), and Henry Kuttner (40).

Sherman is an experienced researcher and careful scholar, whose rare errors may be owing to a limited knowledge of popular fiction genres and their authors. A series of short story collections by Leslie Charteris from the 1950s and 1960s, including The Saint in Europe and The Saint on the Spanish Main among others, are described as anthologies rather than single-author works. And Sherman seems surprised that Leo Margulies was not credited as their editor, stating that Leslie Charteris was. The implication is that the stories were not actually written by Charteris. While this is possible, it seems more likely that Sherman is confusing these collections with a series of paperback anthologies from the ’40s with the title The Saint’s Choice and edited by Charteris.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:23:00
It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives
Jon L. Breen

In 1976 rock critic Paul Nelson taped 40 or more hours of interviews with Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar) with a Rolling Stone article and eventual book in mind. When Nelson died in 2006 neither had been written, but the interviews now have been topically and thematically organized by Nelson biographer Kevin Avery. They are accompanied in this handsome coffee-table book by copious photographs, manuscripts, typescripts, letters, and color reproductions of book and magazine covers, most from the collection of graphic designer and Macdonald enthusiast Jeff Wong.

Nelson, a brilliant journalist and interviewer, was well prepared with specific questions for a subject not interested in small talk. Macdonald, who thought before he spoke and replied in complete sentences, is consistently insightful, serious, challenging, and articulate in his responses. The conversations, augmented by Avery’s footnotes, cover nearly all aspects of Millar/Macdonald’s life and work, including his opinions of other writers, environmental concerns, and attitude toward religion. (“I think that religion is like a forest fire, which just simply has to be not put out but kept under control.”) Closest to a taboo topic is the life and death of his daughter Linda, who is mostly referenced in captions and photographs. At one point, when her name comes up, Macdonald asks the interviewer to shut off the recorder; when the recording resumes, no more is said about her.

The 30 chapters extend from Beginnings and First Works to California and Beyond Archer. Among the topics in between: jazz, detective fiction, romanticism, critics and criticism, Hollywood, painters and other artists. Some chapters focus on groups of works, a few on individual book titles (The Instant Enemy, The Doomsters, The Blue Hammer). Though a number of other writers are discussed at length (including Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, and Marshall McLuhan), only three have a chapter to themselves (seven pages on Hammett, two on Chandler, three on Fitzgerald). Macdonald’s constant reference to the centrality of structure in his writing methods shows his respect for classical detective fiction plotting and may explain why Anthony Boucher believed him a greater novelist than Hammett or Chandler. While Macdonald revered Hammett, he believed Chandler neglected structure and “didn’t take the form as seriously as he should have.”

The interviews were made after the publication of The Blue Hammer, Macdonald’s last novel, in which uncharacteristic errors (some of them corrected for later editions) suggested he was already in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. At one point, struggling to recall a detail from his favorite book, The Great Gatsby, Macdonald says, “Excuse me, sometimes I have a hard time remembering my name,” but indications of his failing powers are rare.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:28:52

Forty-plus hours of interviews with Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar) edited into a beautiful coffee-table book with copious photographs, color reproductions of book and magazine covers, and 30 chapters from Beginnings and First Works to California and Beyond Archer.

Bibliomysteries
Ben Boulden

Bibliomysteries, edited by Otto Penzler, is a welcome anthology for bibliophiles. It features 15 tales with an impressive range—international thriller, whodunit, hardboiled, and contemporary Western—with a single unifying theme: books and the people who love them. The quality of the tales is unusually high and it is, at least as of this writing, the best anthology I’ve read all year.

“The Book of Ghosts,” by Reed Farrel Coleman, is a new twist on an old story. Jacob Weisen, a survivor of Birkenau, gained fame for his retelling of a fellow prisoner’s lost novel The Book of Ghosts, a book Weisen is certain was destroyed during the war. But when it reappears decades later, it brings with it a grim dilemma.

Laura Lippmann’s “The Book Thing” is a sentimental tale with an uncommon bibliophile. Tess Monaghan is a private detective with an admiration for one of Baltimore’s final surviving children’s bookstores. When Tess learns books are disappearing from the store, she decides to find the thief. The answer and the perpetrator are surprising, and if you own more books than you can read (like I do), it’s also thought provoking.

My favorite story in the anthology is David Bell’s poignant “Rides a Stranger.” It weaves a collectable pulp Western paperback, a murder, and a son’s journey to understand his deceased father into a thought-provoking and relevant tale.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:32:39
New Haven Noir
Ben Boulden

New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, is the most recent anthology in Akashic’s popular Noir Series. Included are 15 stories with one common thread: New Haven, Connecticut. The forgotten Elm City, midway between New York City and Boston, is rife with potential for the dark trappings of noir with its working-class identity overshadowed by the ubiquity of Yale. But only a few stories included are noir, at least in the traditional sense, because many are steeped with hope and redemption; qualities as far from noir as Little House on the Prairie, the television series, is from a traditional Western.

This eclectic anthology, noir or not, is brimming with an abundance of good storytelling, entertaining tales, and meaningful narrative. Stephen L. Carter’s “Evening Prayer,” with its evocative setting and rich characters, is a powerful story about race in mid-20th-century America as viewed by a young African-American boy. “I’ve Never Been to Paris,” by Amy Bloom, the book’s editor, is a nicely rendered traditional mystery with a very scholarly murder. Chris Knopf’s “Crossing Harry,” with its unreliable narration and nicely executed climactic twist, is as much a horror story as anything, but very good nonetheless.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:35:45
The Forever Spy
Hank Wagner

The gripping sequel to Jeffrey Layton’s first Yuri Kirov thriller, 2016’s The Good Spy, The Forever Spy finds the former Russian operative trying to adapt to his new situation (cohabiting with his paramour, entrepreneur Laura Newman, and her infant daughter, Maddy), along with his new identity. He has made great progress disappearing into his new life, but his past still exerts a terrific pull on him, as when a former colleague, the opportunistic Elena Krestyanova, recognizes him from a piece of news footage. Seeing a chance to manipulate him, Elena collaborates with Chinese operatives to implicate Yuri in a sinister plan to foster a military conflict between the United States and Russia. Yuri finds all he holds dear threatened.

From its opening chapter, set in Alaska’s Icy Cape, to its exciting finale in the Pacific waters off the coast of Washington State, The Forever Spy delivers plentiful, high-octane action, coupled with copious amounts of personal drama, as Yuri and Laura struggle against outside forces that threaten the life they are struggling to build together. Layton clearly understands that good thriller fiction is about how your protagonists deal with reversals, creating scenarios so daunting that it will take all their inventiveness and ingenuity to survive. Readers will enjoy the arresting experience of watching the couple do just that.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:42:01
Every Deadly Kiss
Hank Wagner

Steven James’ Every Deadly Kiss is the second book in the author’s Patrick Bowers: The New York Years series, itself a prequel to the eight book Bowers Chess series. Here, Bowers is called in to consult on a string of killings in the city of Detroit; slowly, it becomes apparent to him that the odd case has connections to others, one which he is pursuing currently, and one with a foot in the past of a former colleague. As in previous novels, the fictional stakes are high, and the heinous goings-on intense. As always, James’ writing is top drawer, suspenseful, and unnerving.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:44:39
Urban Allies
Hank Wagner

If you prefer your action in smaller doses, please allow me to enthusiastically recommend two anthologies, 2016’s Urban Allies, and its companion volume, Urban Enemies.

Allies features ten collaborations featuring a pairing of characters from two different urban fantasy series. Here, you can find a team-up between Christopher Golden’s Peter Octavian and Charlaine Harris’ Dahlia Lynley-Chivers (of The Southern Vampires Mysteries fame), or an adventure featuring Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger and Larry Correia’s Agent Franks (Monster Hunter), depicting their pitched battle against demonic forces in Iraq.

Enemies flips its predecessor’s premise on its head, presenting the adventures of the villains at the center of the ubiquitous urban fantasy series mentioned above. Amongst the 17 tales featured, readers can thrill to the sordid exploits of John Marcone (Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files), the Huntsman (Kelly Armstrong’s Cainsville), and Seth Lockwood (Steven Savile’s Glass Town).

Edited by Joseph Nassise (a past Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Award nominee for his 2003 novel Riverwatch), both anthologies are great fun, featuring a plethora of “name” authors, and a cadre of talented authors you might not know as well, but will no doubt enjoy sampling. Fans of the various series involved will enjoy the brief visits to their favorite worlds, while newcomers will find plenty of fresh realities to explore.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 17:54:07
Urban Enemies
Hank Wagner

If you prefer your action in smaller doses, please allow me to enthusiastically recommend two anthologies, 2016’s Urban Allies and its companion volume, Urban Enemies.

Allies features ten collaborations featuring a pairing of characters from two different urban fantasy series. Here, you can find a team-up between Christopher Golden’s Peter Octavian and Charlaine Harris’ Dahlia Lynley-Chivers (of The Southern Vampires Mysteries fame), or an adventure featuring Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger and Larry Correia’s Agent Franks (Monster Hunter), depicting their pitched battle against demonic forces in Iraq.

Enemies flips its predecessor’s premise on its head, presenting the adventures of the villains at the center of the ubiquitous urban fantasy series mentioned above. Amongst the 17 tales featured, readers can thrill to the sordid exploits of John Marcone (Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files), the Huntsman (Kelly Armstrong’s Cainsville), and Seth Lockwood (Steven Savile’s Glass Town).

Edited by Joseph Nassise (a past Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Award nominee for his 2003 novel Riverwatch), both anthologies are great fun, featuring a plethora of “name” authors, and a cadre of talented authors you might not know as well, but will no doubt enjoy sampling. Fans of the various series involved will enjoy the brief visits to their favorite worlds, while newcomers will find plenty of fresh realities to explore.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 18:00:52
The Scarred Woman
Vanessa Orr

While The Scarred Woman, the seventh book in the Department Q series, is able to stand alone, I have a feeling that it would most be enjoyed by those who have read Jussi Adler-Olsen’s previous works and have more familiarity with Detective Carl Mørck and the investigators who take on cases that the rest of the Copenhagen’s police force haven’t been able to solve. This time, Department Q is trying to solve two seemingly unrelated murders—the first, the death of an elderly woman that might be connected to a decades-old cold case, and second, the deaths of young women who seem to have been targeted by a spree killer.

Adler-Olsen is adept at creating believable characters, from the overworked and underappreciated policemen in Department Q to the self-absorbed, entitled young women manipulating the country’s social security system and the burned-out clerks who deal with them. Underneath the pleasant facade of this Danish country, you get the idea that there are more than a few ticking time bombs, so it’s not a surprise that murder is the result.

A feeling of tension permeates the book, even affecting Department Q, where one of the detective’s colleagues, Rose Knudsen, is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. It seems that her past is connected to another unsolved case, creating a third mystery for the detectives to tackle. Their complicated relationship with Rose, and with each other, adds depth to what might otherwise be a simple police procedural.

I can see how readers can get attached to these hardworking detectives, and why they wait anxiously for another entry in the Department Q series.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 18:14:29
Dead Man’s Bridge
Betty Webb

Ex-Army Major Jake Cantrell makes an unlikely hero in this mystery about deaths near an upstate New York college campus. Working as a campus security officer after being court-martialed, Cantrell gets drunk when he shouldn’t, and isn’t very nice to the only woman who cares for him. When he finds his cancer-stricken German shepherd beaten to the brink of death, he doesn’t even call a vet, just leaves the poor animal on the ground to live or die. Nope, Cantrell isn’t a sympathetic man. Fortunately, the plot of Dead Man’s Bridge is intriguing enough that some readers will manage to overlook its compassion-bereft protagonist.

In the past, St. Andrews college students have died by hanging (or jumping) from Fall Creek Gorge Bridge, but when wealthy alumni are added to the toll, Cantrell sees it as his duty to investigate. But Dickey, the town’s buffoonish sheriff, isn’t having it. Neither is Mongo, the head of campus security. Other than Cantrell’s sometimes-girlfriend Kelly, no one values the opinion of the former Army Ranger enough to carry out even the most lightweight investigation, yet Cantrell perseveres.

The spate of suicides-turned-murder cases shines the media spotlight on the town and the college’s president, Jordan Langford, who, as it turns out, is hiding a bizarre extra-marital sex life that has led to a series of blackmail demands. At the end of his financial resources, Langford begs Cantrell to find the blackmailer and cover up the mess. Despite the weirdness of Langford’s off-campus antics, he still manages to emerge as the most likable person in a book overpopulated by unlikable people.

And this is the book’s major problem. Most of its characters are overwhelmingly unsympathetic. Dead Man’s Bridge is ripped-from-the-headlines timely, and will make astute readers remember how rashly they behaved when they were young. We all make mistakes, author Robert Mrazek reminds us, and those mistakes can’t always be corrected—just avenged. But the irony here is that the killer winds up being more sympathetic than the book’s supposed hero.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 18:18:00
Among the Dead
Sharon Magee

In this well-written debut novel in a new series, J. R. Backlund gives readers a female protagonist worth cheering for. Rachel Carter has quit the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation after a devastating incident in which she was responsible for the death of an innocent woman. So with time on her hands, she reluctantly agrees to help Danny Braddock, her former partner from the Raleigh Police Department, who’s now the chief sheriff’s deputy in a small mountain town, when he asks her to consult on a murder.

With her ever-present Monster Energy drink in hand, Rachel arrives to find a town in fear. The sheriff’s department, unschooled in murder investigations, is uncertain of how to handle the stabbing of Dean McGrath, a bartender at the local watering hole. Since solving difficult cases is her forte, Rachel steps in, but before she has time to put her boots up on her desk, another death occurs with the same MO. While town politicos say the murders are related to drugs and local motorcycle gangs, Rachel has a different take, and begins to unearth secrets someone is clearly willing to kill to hide.

Rachel and Braddock are well drawn, warts and all, as are Carly Brewer (a Cherokee CSI), Dylan Gifford (who readers discover on the first page is the killer), and baby-faced Shane Fisher (a rookie detective with tons of potential). One flaw? Similar character names, which causes some confusion. The first few pages finds characters named Braddock, Brewer, Breyer, and Butler, and two women both named Jen. Once the reader gets by this hiccup, Among the Dead is a fast-paced thriller. And even though the murderer is known, the motive remains enticingly elusive until the end. A new series well worth reading.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-11 18:37:20
Lie to Me
Sharon Magee

The domestic noir subgenre focuses on the truly horrible things people sometimes do to those they love, and J.T. Ellison’s latest, Lie to Me, is one of the best I’ve read. In it, she tells the story of Ethan and Sutton Montclair, two married authors who are successful, beautiful, and rich. To the people who know them, they seem to have the perfect life, but from there, Ellison plumbs the old adage “no one truly knows what goes on behind closed doors.” In the case of the Montclairs, this includes physical and emotional abuse, as well as fierce professional jealousy and competition. To add grief and guilt to the mix, their infant son dies, and each blames the other.

When Ethan wakes one morning to find Sutton gone, he’s frantic until he finds a note that ends, “Don’t look for me.” Relieved, he figures she’s angry with him—they’d had a huge fight—and that she’ll cool off and come home. But she doesn’t, and soon everyone’s whispering that he’s responsible for her disappearance; she took nothing with her, after all—no phone, no computer, no purse, nothing. As the police begin looking into Sutton’s disappearance and the couple’s carefully guarded secrets become fodder for gossip, Ethan figures it can’t get any worse. And then it does.

Author Ellison has done a masterful job of giving life to her well-drawn characters. Of particular note is her unnamed (until the very end) narrator, whose voice is heard in the book’s opening sentence declaring, “You aren’t going to like me very much.” And it’s true. We don’t. A page-turner, rife with twists, turns, and surprises, all of which fit the story perfectly, this is Ellison’s 18th book. Known primarily for her multiple series (A Brit in the FBI series with Catherine Coulter, Lieutenant Taylor Jackson series, and Dr. Samantha Owens series), this is her second standalone and an absolute must-read.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 15:59:04
Dead Woman Walking
Robin Agnew

I love a good chase novel—Michael Innes’ Death on a Quiet Day (1957), Thomas Perry’s Vanishing Act (1994), and William Kent Krueger’s Boundary Waters (1999). Now add to this list Sharon Bolton’s Dead Woman Walking, a take on the chase genre that is decidedly original.

At the opening of the novel, a dozen or so passengers are enjoying the beauty of a balloon ride in the morning quiet over Northumberland National Park along the border of Scotland and England. It is not long before the serene ride devolves into danger when they pass over an abandoned mansion where they witness a man on the ground attempting to kill a young girl. He sees them and they see him. When the hot-air balloon crashes, only one person survives. Scared for her life, concussed, and grieving (her sister dies in the crash), Jessica begins to walk—with a killer desperate to find the only remaining witness to his crime following close behind.

The book goes back and forth in time, filling in the stories of the main characters before the crash. The two sisters have chosen very different paths—one a nun, one a cop. It’s the cop who survives and it’s not clear until very late in the story why she doesn’t go straight to the authorities for protection.

The backstory of the man is chilling. He is a member of a Romany family involved in human trafficking. There’s more, but to tell too much more would be to give away Bolton’s clever, many-layered plot, which the author carefully reveals, affording the reader a clearer and clearer view of what’s happening.

The satisfactions of a Bolton novel are many. One of them is the puzzle aspect, as her plots fit together like a beautifully made jigsaw, and it is not until the very last moment that the last piece snicks into place. They almost always have a damaged, brave, intelligent woman at the center of things. Jessica certainly fits this pattern.

As readers follow the hunt, they get to know Jessica, and the end, a breathless finale to a well-laid narrative, could not be more satisfying. This is one of the more streamlined of Bolton’s novels, but it’s still bursting at the seams with narrative, setting, and complexity of character.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:03:20
Gangster Nation
Hank Wagner

Set two years after the harrowing events of Gangsterland (2015), Tod Goldberg’s impressive sequel finds ex-mob hit man Sal Cupertine exactly where the author left him, pursuing his duties as a mob operative in Las Vegas with a new, sadly malleable face, and a fresh identity and occupation, that of Rabbi David Cohen. The heat is not yet off, as Sal is still on the FBI’s Most Wanted list; in addition, he is being pursued by disgraced FBI agent Matthew Drew, who will stop at nothing to avenge the colleagues Sal murdered. In fact, when Drew attacks Sal’s cousin Robbie, who runs the Family business out of Chicago, it’s Sal who suffers, as the beatdown once again attracts unwelcome attention to the colorful tale of Sal’s disappearance. Sal is left to cope with the past and present as best he can, all the while ministering to his quirky and demanding congregation.

One can’t help but think of such greats as Mario Puzo, Jimmy Breslin, Elmore Leonard, and Donald E. Westlake while reading this witty, brutal, vital book. Goldberg is a master, expertly building upon the grim goings-on of Gangsterland, merrily pursuing plot points set up there to their logical, wicked ends. And, as if the impressive buildup of tension weren’t sufficient, he ends the current installment on a cliff hanger of truly epic proportions, setting up what appears to be the forthcoming and final installment of the Gangster trilogy. This reviewer is already getting itchy, waiting for that welcome denouement.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:07:02

goldberg gangsternationSet two years after the harrowing events of Gangsterland (2015), Goldberg’s impressive sequel finds ex-mob hit man Sal Cupertine back in trouble in this witty, brutal, and vital book.

The Address
Jean Gazis

The year is 1885 and brilliant architect Theodore Camden offers London hotel housekeeper Sara Smythe a once-in-a-lifetime chance to accompany Camden to New York to manage the Dakota, an apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which he helped to build. Sara is energetic and capable and believes in Camden’s vision of the city’s future. They soon become more than just colleagues as the unprecedented luxury building fills with New York City’s wealthiest families.

In 1985 New York, Bailey Camden almost had it all—partying at Palladium and Limelight, champagne and cocaine, a senior position at a top interior design firm. Now fresh out of rehab, out of work, homeless, and broke, she moves in with her rich cousin Melinda to supervise a tasteless redo of Melinda’s fabulous apartment in The Dakota while she tries to put her own life back together. Melinda is the great-granddaughter of Theodore Camden, while Bailey is the granddaughter of Christopher Camden, who was raised as Theodore Camden’s ward but left out of the family inheritance.

The Address weaves together the stories of Sara and Bailey with the mystery of Theodore Camden’s murder and Christopher Camden’s origins, shifting deftly back and forth between New York City in 1880s and 1980s. Both eras juxtapose glittering wealth and power with seedy poverty and striving. Sara must navigate the etiquette of interaction between The Dakota’s wealthy tenants and its staff, and her own complicated relationship with the architect and his family. Bailey struggles to come to terms with sobriety, build a new life, and discover the truth about her family background. Both women are engaging personalities whose lives take unexpected turns, with very different outcomes. The Address is a richly imagined and satisfying read.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:14:01
Hidden Scars
Jean Gazis

Set in Asheville, North Carolina, Hidden Scars, the sixth book in the Sam Blackman mystery series, juxtaposes a very cold case—dating back to the 1940s—with up-to-the-minute movie industry intrigue. Sam, an Army veteran with a prosthetic leg, and his detective agency partner and girlfriend, Nakayla Robertson, are an interracial couple in the modern South who share a no-nonsense attitude and a wry sense of humor. The pair are hired by an octogenarian to bring closure to the death of her brother, Paul Weaver, a wounded World War II veteran. Weaver was attending Black Mountain College, the renowned center for progressives (even communists, rumor had it), artists, and visionaries such as Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham. The official account is that he fell to his death while hiking at night, but his younger sister, who idolized him, insists he knew every inch of the mountains where they grew up.

The investigators locate Harlan Beale, an elderly handyman who worked at Black Mountain and who was acquainted with Weaver and his circle. Beale is historical advisor to the film adaptation of a romance novel set at the college. The filming schedule has been held up by the theft of building supplies needed for a crucial scene—and then Beale turns up dead, just after calling Sam Blackman to say he had something important to show him. Are the long-ago death of Weaver, the apparent sabotage, and the murder of Beale connected? And how?

Hidden Scars is packed with engaging and colorful characters, including mysterious “men in suits,” modern FBI agents and cops, a tweed-jacketed, elbow-patched hack author, and a shotgun-toting old recluse whose pet raccoon sports a rhinestone collar. The complicated plot twists from past to present and back again, keep the reader intrigued. Building slowly at first, the novel moves toward an action-packed conclusion that leaves no loose ends. Hidden Scars creates a satisfying and enjoyable counterpoint between the secrets of the past and the crimes of the present.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:18:17
Crossing the Lines
Katrina Niidas Holm

The protagonist of this ambitious, postmodern tale from Australian author Sulari Gentill (Murder Unmentioned, 2014) is Madeleine d’Leon, a part-time corporate attorney whose true passion is writing crime fiction. Maddie is under contract to produce another quirky cozy featuring housemaid Veronica Killwilly when she is struck with the idea for a mystery about a literary novelist named Edward McGinty. Edward is in love with his married best friend, Willow Meriwether, who stands accused of murdering odious art critic Geoffrey Vogel during the opening of her new gallery show. Edward is also a suspect, since Vogel used to be his editor. Maddie pitches the project to her agent, who reminds her that she’s on deadline and cautions her against diluting her brand. Maddie is loath to abandon Edward, though—particularly since he’s better company than her husband, supercilious doctor Hugh Lamond.

Maddie’s original intent was for Edward to solve the murder and exonerate both himself and Willow, but the fonder she grows of her protagonist, the more conflicted she becomes regarding the progression of her plot and the identity of Vogel’s killer. As her marriage deteriorates, Maddie starts spending more and more time with Edward—and he with her, since in addition to investigating Vogel’s murder, Edward is working on a novel about an unhappily married crime writer named Madeleine d’Leon. Maddie’s narration is interspersed with snippets from her manuscript, which are in turn interspersed with fragments from Edward’s manuscript, and it’s not long before the reader begins to question who created whom and which writer is real.

Near the opening of Crossing the Lines, Edward tells Willow that his latest project is “an exploration of an author’s relationship with her protagonist, an examination of the tenuous line between belief and reality, imagination and self, and what happens when the line is crossed.” She reacts with skepticism: “But how are you going to make that sustain an entire book? Opening a laptop and typing isn’t exactly an action scene.” “The story’s about what goes on in her head and how powerful that becomes,” Edward replies, encapsulating both the book that he’s writing and the one Gentill’s readers are holding.

Willow’s objections prove sound—Gentill’s plot is a tad slight and the pace occasionally drags—but on the whole, Crossing the Lines is a worthwhile read. Though far from fair play, Gentill’s mystery within a mystery intrigues, and she successfully captures what it’s like when characters seemingly develop minds of their own. Madeleine and Edward’s burgeoning romance not only embodies the passion that writers feel for their work, but also illustrates how the creation of fiction can serve the same function as a vacation, therapy, or even an extramarital affair.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:22:30
The Deep Dark Descending
Oline H. Cogdill

Vengeance, not justice, consumes Minneapolis police detective Max Rupert, who makes his fourth appearance in Allen Eskens’ The Deep Dark Descending.

Max’s grief over the death of his wife, Jenni, five years before, continues to gnaw at him, especially since the hit-and-run driver was never caught. Work is all Max has now, but excess drinking and his attitude may get him fired.

When a former friend gives Max a copy of a CD on which two men discuss planning Jenni’s death, Max sets about trying to find out why Jenni would be the target of a hit. The detective scours Jenni’s life, including her job as a social worker at the Hennepin County Medical Center. His search leads him to a sex trafficking ring, a local businessman, and corrupt cops.

Edgar finalist Eskens (The Life We Bury, 2014) delves into the complicated Max, who despises how his grief has turned him into a bitter man. Yet, he feels powerless to stop the violence that has erupted in him since his wife’s death. It is easy to feel sympathy and empathy for Max while also being repulsed by his actions.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:25:49
Knit to Kill
Robin Agnew

Knit to Kill is the ninth book in Anne Canadeo’s series about a group of knitters—five, who all serve as central characters in the books. It was the first one I have read, so I had a bit of catching up to do.

Maggie, Lucy, Dana, Suzanne, and Phoebe are on their way out of town for Lucy’s pre-wedding blowout on Maine’s Osprey Island, where Amy, a friend of Maggie’s, has lent them a swanky cottage. But remember, these are knitters, so their idea of a bachelorette weekend involves things like hiking, knitting, photography, a spa day, yoga, and bike riding more than drinking and partying (though there is a bit of that, too).

Their first night out, the ladies overhear a dustup at a nearby poker game where one of the players storms out, calling the winner a cheater and refusing to pay up. When the “cheater” is found dead the next day at the bottom of one of Osprey Island’s cliffs and their friend Amy’s husband is taken for questioning as a person of interest by the police, the ladies become involved in the intrigue.

The dead man, Dr. Morton, appears to be heartily disliked by everyone in town, offering up plenty of suspects. The isolated nature of the tiny village makes the setting of the mystery a reminiscent of Golden Age scenarios.

My criticism of this novel is that the less central “main” characters do not feel well established to me, though perhaps they are more fleshed out in other books. I had a hard time telling them apart, and it made the book feel a bit flat. The crime was simple, but somewhat forgettable, and the women were true “nebby noses” (putting their noses in where they didn’t belong), sometimes to the point where I thought they should stay out of the way.

The knitting parts are pleasant and the setting is well done, and the author helpfully provides a knitting pattern, an Osprey Island recommendation, and a recipe at the end of the book.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:29:08
House. Tree. Person.
Eileen Brady

The art therapy technique of drawing a house, tree, and person is used by therapists to assess personality traits and disorders. When new psychiatric hospital employee Allison McGovern shows her personal sketch to fellow worker and mental health nurse Lars, his odd reaction worries her. She’s drawn her own happy family—son Angelo, a handsome, if moody, 15-year-old, and loving spouse, Marco. What does he see that she doesn’t?

Allison feels underqualified for the position at prestigious Howell Hall, but is determined to do her best. She desperately needs this job, thanks to the poor financial decisions of her husband, who has managed to bankrupt their two once-successful businesses.

Her official duties at the private hospital appear straightforward. She is expected to tailor individual health and social needs programs for the patients, who range from the psychotic to the anorexic.

She begins with Sylvie, a catatonic patient who has been confined for 15 years. When Sylvie starts to respond to Ali’s treatments, her physician, Dr. Ferris, curiously doesn’t seem to care. Things get stranger when sharp-eyed Lars confides to Ali that he believes one of the young residents, Julia, is faking her mental illness. Why would she lie in order to stay? The discovery of a body, buried on the nearby grounds of abandoned Dundrennan Abbey, serves to deepen the plot. Is something sinister happening under the deceptively smooth surface of the expensive clinic? Those questions are at the heart of the mystery in House. Tree. Person.

This is a complex story whose characters have layer upon layer of hidden motives, which award-winning writer Catriona McPherson deftly peels away. I found the smoky darkness of this slow-paced but relentless Scottish mystery very appealing.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:31:58
When It Grows Dark
Betty Webb

Set in December, the snow is waist-deep in the small town of Larvik, where Chief Inspector William Wisting lives and works. Jørn Lier Horst’s When It Grows Dark begins and ends in the present day, but the root of the action happens in the ’80s, when Wisting is a patrol officer. A car fancier, he was checking on an 1915 Belgian Minerva Saloon automobile parked in an old barn. The car ultimately sends the new policeman on an investigation which haunts him for decades. In 1925, Martinius Bergan, the car’s driver, had been delegated to pick up a shipment of cash and gold to be delivered to a distant bank. Shortly after the pickup, the driver, the car, and the money disappears until years later, when the Minerva is found rusting away by Wisting. The young officer initially turns the case over to his superiors, but they prove too wrapped up in another case so freshman cop Wisting checks around to see why the Minerva was abandoned. The answer isn’t discovered until decades later, when Wisting returns to the still-parked Minerva, and discovers it riddled by bullet holes. Fans of the Wisting series (Ordeal, The Caveman, The Hunting Dogs, etc.) will love this look into the chief inspector’s early years on the Larvik police force. They will also enjoy being introduced to his twins, Thomas and Line, when they were babies. Both of them, especially Line, have grown into important figures in Wisting’s contemporary investigations. The book’s greatest pleasure, though, comes from watching Wisting’s evolution from know-nothing patrol officer to full-fledged inspector. Thus author Horst gifts us with a book his fans have long been waiting for. One caveat: Horst is more interested in his characters’ psychology than in delivering bang-bang shoot-’em-ups, which is probably the only reason he isn’t more widely read here in the States. And that’s our loss.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:45:15