Lowcountry Bonfire
Betty Webb

Set on the South Carolina island of Stella Maris, Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Bonfire gets off to a hot start when Tammy Sue Lyerly sets fire to her husband’s classic 1959 Mustang convertible. Why? Because Tammy Sue discovered the wretch had been cheating on her, and Southern gals don’t put up with that. But Tammy Sue’s blazing moment of triumph is doused when the island’s volunteer firefighters discover a dead body in the trunk. Alas, the body is that of Zeke Lyerly, Tammy Sue’s cheating husband. Since the town is too small to have a full-fledged police force, the job of finding Zeke’s killer falls to husband-wife PIs Nate Andrews and Liz Talbot, the police chief’s sister. Author Boyer’s Liz Talbot mysteries (after Lowcountry Boil, Lowcountry Bordello, etc.) are a laugh riot, and at times even a little spooky, thanks to Colleen, Liz’s childhood friend. Since Colleen has been dead for 18 years, she is technically a ghost, but along the way she has learned how to “solidify” herself in order to mingle with the living, upon whom she loves to play tricks. Got a house that needs haunting? Colleen’s your gal. Got an ex-boyfriend you want to make miserable? Colleen will be happy to terrify him. One of the benefits of living in a small town is that everyone knows everyone; that’s also one of the drawbacks. When Liz begins to question suspects, she quickly realizes that Zeke’s killer might be one of her own friends, but she soldiers on. The list of suspects grows when a tall tale once told by the dead man of being a CIA spy turns out to be true. Zeke was a spy. As much fun as this ripsnorter of a mystery is—and there’s tons of fun in these giddy pages—the plot gets muddied every now and then by an overabundance of suspects. But anyone who is looking for a vacation from the grim and the grisly can’t do better than to cozy up with Liz Talbot and her ghostly sidekick Colleen.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 16:55:53
Death On West End Road
Betty Webb

Carrie Doyle’s witty Death On West End Road approaches murder with a light touch, but there are dark moments mixed in with the smiles. When unpleasant pharmaceutical heiress Pauline Framingham seeks out Antonia Bingham for help in clearing her name of murder, the Long Island innkeeper/sleuth discovers that Pauline is every bit as nasty as her reputation. She is cold, arrogant, and spoiled—but swears she’s not the murderess she’s reputed to be. More than two decades earlier, she was the chief suspect in the killing of Susie Whitaker, supposedly her best friend. Because of Pauline’s expensive attorneys, the authorities’ efforts to bring her to justice failed, and the obviously sociopathic heiress was allowed to continue on her coldhearted way. However, no amount of Framingham money stops gossip, which is why—according to Pauline, anyway—she offers Antonia scads of money to find the real killer. Innkeeper Antonia makes a marvelous protagonist, although she is admittedly more interested in keeping the Windmill Inn afloat than she is in solving Pauline Framingham’s image issues. But in order to keep her century-and-a-half-old inn in repair, she signs on for the hunt, interviewing people who might have had a reason for killing long-dead Susie. Cold case files are always interesting, yet the most pleasurable parts of this book come with author Doyle’s descriptions of the day-to-day challenges of running a historical inn. Persnickety guests, squabbling chefs, and torn-apart lovers—Doyle handles them all with her usual adroitness (after Death on Windmill Way, etc.). Not quite so adroit is the solution to Susie Whitaker’s murder. This is partially because of Pauline’s continuing bad behavior. As she is written, the heiress’ psychology is so questionable—sociopaths usually don’t care what people think about them—that readers might wonder why she bothered to hire Antonia in the first place.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:00:24
Spoonbenders
Dick Lochte

Genre catalogists will have their jobs cut out for them in listing Daryl Gregory’s study of the Amazing Telemachus Family. Taking it from the top, it’s a three-generational, dysfunctional family novel. Grandfather Teddy is a world-class con man. His long-deceased wife, Maureen, was a genuine psychic. Their eldest offspring, son Frankie, moves objects with his mind, middle child Irene is “the human lie detector,” while their youngest, Buddy, is, like his mom, a precog. Irene’s young son, Matty, is capable of astral projection. For various reasons, none of them is happy about being gifted. In one of the book’s frequent use of flashbacks, Teddy and Maureen meet cute while taking ESP tests for federal employment, he believing her to be a fake, she believing him to be a real seer. While this leads not only to a charming love story and marriage, it also adds a spy element to the plot, with a persistent CIA agent named Smalls who’s constantly seeking the use of their “talents.” And, not to ignore a serious crime component, there’s a hotheaded, sociopathic mob boss whose hatred of the family increases past the boiling point when Frankie steals his most valued possession, and the widowed Teddy romances his daughter-in-law. The mobster’s unleashed fury leads to a marvelous confrontation scene, with nearly all the characters present, that manages to be both violent and hilarious. Reader Ari Fliakos, a member of The Wooster Group, seems as fond as Gregory is of his unusual creations, clearly relishing their quirks, their roller-coaster moods and their irrepressible charm.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:04:13

Genre catalogists will have their jobs cut out for them in listing Daryl Gregory’s crime meets supernatural meets dysfunctional family novel.

At the Scene, Fall Issue #151

151FALL cover 465

Hi Everyone,

All of our thoughts have been focused on Texas and Louisiana in the last few weeks as those states slowly start to emerge from the disastrous floods of Hurricane Harvey. Our cover author, Attica Locke, was born and raised in Houston, with family strung along the small towns of Highway 59 in East Texas. Read her work to get a sense of the complexity, strength, and resilience of a singular part of our country.

You probably don’t think of Mark Twain as a mystery writer but the literary giant dabbled in the genre—in humorous parodies to be sure, but also in a serious novel. In fact, the first use of fingerprints as a crime-solving device in fiction came in Pudd’nhead Wilson in 1894. Michael Mallory takes a look at the criminal career of this American icon, in-cluding the raucous A Double-Barrelled Detective Story and Tom Sawyer, Detective.

Speaking of older mysteries, there’s been a striking renaissance of Golden Age crime classics over the past few years. Martin Edwards discusses some of the obscure treasures that have recently come back into the limelight in this issue.

Known for his “deliciously malevolent” tales, Paul Cleave blends magic realism and a macabre premise in his latest dark thriller. Craig Sisterson talks to the author in this issue.

It’s been 70 years since Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer burned up the silver screen in Out of the Past. Jake Hinkson takes a look at the legacy of what some consider the great-est noir film ever made.

James R. Benn’s canvas is a whole world at war in his Billy Boyle WWII novels. In his acclaimed 12 book series his goal is to create “characters who are true to their time and yet speak to us today.” John B. Valeri interviews Benn in this issue.

Kwei Quartey was born in Ghana, although he left there as a teenager for a life in the United States and a career as a doctor. Now he has returned to Ghana with a series of vividly written novels starring Inspector Darko Dawson. Oline Cogdill talks to Quartey about the two worlds he inhabits.

Separately and together, Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller are at the forefront of the mystery genre. We’re delighted to welcome them as our newest columnists in Double Takes, a column devoted to book collecting, overlooked movies, ephemera, and any other topic that strikes their fancy.

Enjoy!

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:21:40
Hardboiled, Noir and Gold Medals: Essays on Crime Fiction Writers from the ’50s through the ’90s
Jon L. Breen

Many of these informative and insightful essays originally introduced Stark House reprints of paperback fiction writers. Shorter connective pieces are original to this volume, including “Untold Stories,” which argues for more biographies of crime writers, focusing on the very prolific Harry Whittington. Ollerman does for hardboiled and noir writers of the late 20th century what Curtis Evans has done for rediscovered Golden Age classicists. Covered at greatest length are Peter Rabe (43 pages), Charles Williams (38), and Ed Gorman (28), thorough and excellent on the latter, whose work I know very well, and tantalizing on the other two whom I’ve read only a little (Rabe) or sad to admit not at all (Williams). Other subjects include Wade Miller (the collaborative pseudonym of Robert Wade and Bill Miller, who had contrasting methods to the Ellery Queen team of Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee and got along much better), James Hadley Chase, W.R. Burnett, Andrew Coburn, Malcolm Braly, and the less prolific and familiar John Trinian and Jada N. Davis.

Ollerman is clearly a gifted writer, with a lively and readable style, but the quality of the prose varies widely. A substantial piece on Lionel White is excellent for its critical and informational content, including a survey of White’s work as adapted to film and a discussion of his level of political correctness in the current cultural climate. But the writing is meandering, repetitious, and way undercopyedited.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:24:31
P. D. James: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction
Jon L. Breen

This distinguished series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, is now up to eight volumes, all deserving permanent status on the mystery reference shelf. Joining the ranks of John Buchan, E.X. Ferrars, Ed McBain, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Andrea Camilleri, James Ellroy, and Sara Paretsky is one of the most important practitioners of the 20th century’s second half. Included are entries on all James’ novels, short stories, and nonfiction pieces; characters in her books from Adam Dalgliesh and Cordelia Gray down to the most minor bit player, including characters borrowed from Jane Austen in her last novel, the Pride and Prejudice sequel Death Comes to Pemberley; allusions to places, institutions, and historical figures; and broad topical essays, e.g., feminism, religion. Customary features include works in alphabetical and chronological order, one-page biography and career chronology, annotated bibliography, and index.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:28:37
The Amber Shadows
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

If you are at all interested in World War II stories, you will probably have heard of Bletchley Park, the secret British camp where the German Enigma coding system was broken and where decoded messages helped turn the tide towards an Allied victory. The year is 1942 and Honey Deschamps is enlisted as a typist at the top-secret camp. One day, a mysterious package, postmarked from Russia, is hand-delivered to her by a man named Felix, another Bletchley Park resident.

In the package is a small piece of amber, but no note of any kind. When several other similar packages arrive, Honey is led to believe that they may be from her father who, according to her older brother, left for Russia before she was born and may now be in charge of Russias’s famed Amber Room. Honey comes to the conclusion that her father is sending her coded messages from Russia, which, at that time, was under siege by the Nazi army.

With the help of Moira, one of her best friends in the camp, and a young woman who has a knack for breaking difficult codes, Honey tries to translate the enigmatic messages she believes are contained within the amber. Thus begins a complex and harrowing tale of intrigue, conspiracy, and psychological warfare in which no one can be trusted, and danger lurks around every corner. Despite the imminent peril, her iron-willed resolve to make contact with her father forces Honey to grow from a meek innocent to a gallant and determined woman.

At nearly 450 pages, this book is densely written but filled with enough mystery and reversals to keep the reader turning pages. I also enjoyed the nostalgic look back at some of the movies and music of that bygone era, and was completely surprised by the ending.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:32:16
Fall Issue #151 Contents

151FALL cover 465

Features

Attica Locke

Locke developed her storytelling skills while visiting family in the small towns scattered along East Texas’s Highway 59. After a detour to Hollywood, she’s back telling tales of her home state.
by Tom Nolan

The Crimes of Mark Twain

The celebrated author did more than dabble in the mystery genre.
by Michael Mallory

A New Golden Age for Crime Classics

A treasure trove of long forgotten Golden Age novels from Britain, the US, and around the world are coming back into print.
by Martin Edwards

Paul Cleave

“Deliciously malevolent,” this author’s work is too little known in the UnitedStates. Here’s the lowdown.
by Craig Sisterson

Out of the Past: A Film Noir Classic at 70

Some call it the greatest noir film ever made. Seven decades on, there’s a strong case to be made.
by Jake Hinkson

James R. Benn: The World at War

The broad sweep of WWII is the background for Benn’s compelling Billy Boyle tales.
by John B. Valeri

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Kwei Quartey: Solving the Mysteries of Ghana

The author returns to his childhood home of Ghana for atmospheric mysteries set in a fascinating culture.
by Oline H. Cogdill

My Books

Burning Cold
by Lisa Lieberman

From Beyond the Grave
by Daniella Bernett

Double Takes

Ed Gorman
by Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini

“Beautiful Mysteries” Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2017 Thriller, Arthur Ellis, Lambda, Audie, and Harper Lee awards.

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Short and Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Ben Boulden

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Hank Wagner

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous

The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:33:34
Mining for Justice
Robin Agnew

Set in Wisconsin, the eighth novel in Kathleen Ernst’s series about historical site curator Chloe Ellefson finds her spending a week at the old mining town of Mineral Point for work at the historic Pendarvis house. Work gets off to a very rocky start when news breaks that Pendarvis is in danger of being closed by the state, and the blame seems to rest at the feet of the larger historical site where Chloe works, making her reception by the Pendarvis staff none too friendly. Chloe’s enthusiasm for the site and her friendship with the head curator, Claudia, help her get through the week as things go from bad to worse when a corpse turns up.

In addition to her work at Pendarvis, Chloe and her cop boyfriend, Roelke, take the visit as an opportunity to join his buddy Adam at the old stone mining cottage he’s rehabbing nearby. Unfortunately, a skeleton is uncovered in Adam’s basement and his grandmother Tamsin, to whom the house once belonged, asks Chloe to see if she can find out anything about it.

Ernst has two other story threads: one concerns Roelke’s struggle with his cousin’s ex, who is stalking her; and one goes back in time to follow a Cornish family making their way to Wisconsin to lay claim to their own mine. The family—a sister, Mary, and two brothers—live in a “badger hole,” a hole in the ground (hence Wisconsin’s moniker as the Badger State). Their story is so good and so interesting, full of historical detail and heartbreaking circumstances, I almost hated to be dragged back to the present-day story line.

As Chloe retraces Mary’s footsteps, slowly discovering things about her, readers can see how historical research is conducted and how small some of the things that spark a revelation are—a piece of china, say, or the signature on the bottom of a rocking chair. Chloe is interested in everyday lives and her love of the past illuminates them for the reader.

I was captivated by this novel. Ernst holds all the story threads in her hands very lightly, providing the right doses of suspense, danger, and mystery in the right amounts at the right times. She helpfully includes both references and photographs to help the reader visualize what she’s writing about. This was a lovely reading experience.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:35:39
A Dark and Broken Heart
Matthew Fowler

R.J. Ellory’s latest, A Dark and Broken Heart, follows Detective Vincent Madigan, a morally starved protagonist, whose journey throws readers into a world of dubious decision-making and ethical relativity. Are you as the reader willing to tolerate, care, or even show compassion for a venal character that remains in it for himself to just about the bitter end? Forget the twists and turns that Ellory habitually weaves in and out of chapters; acknowledgment of Madigan’s failings and lenience of said shortcomings is what A Dark and Broken Heart is truly about.

Madigan has brought the entirety of this conflict on himself. In debt to a drug lord, the substance-abusing detective hatches a plan to double-cross the men he is pulling a job with to steal from the drug lord and then pay him back with his own money. As one might imagine, not everything plays out the way Madigan intends. A child is shot during the altercation, and the officer assigned to the case is a by-the-book cop who doggedly pursues the corrupt detective. Madigan finds himself fighting for his freedom and ultimately his life.

Ellory has a strong control of the genre, and despite the callous nature of Madigan, halfway through the book readers will find themselves rooting for the unlikable protagonist. Madigan is not an innovative character for the genre, but Ellory knows how to keep a reader engaged. With A Dark and Broken Heart, he succeeds in instigating the all-powerful turn of the page.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 17:50:07
The Cuban Affair
Kevin Burton Smith

Tagging your antagonist as a vet is a time-honored shortcut in fiction, a quick way to paint your hero with manly, big idea attributes such as honor, loyalty, and courage without really having to do the literary heavy lifting. But does anyone ever come home undamaged?

Sure, Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, a decorated war hero, seems to be doing all right on the surface—he’s 35 and single, the skipper of a 42-foot fishing boat, and he’s living in Key West.

OK, the charter boat biz isn’t all he hoped it would be and the bank would like some payback on its loan, but is agreeing to make an illegal (and possibly homicidal) run to Cuba in order to smuggle back a small fortune—under the guise of competing in a fishing tournament—for a small group of anti-Castro zealots from Miami really his only choice?

The answer is no.

But, mind you, Sara Ortega is awfully easy on the eyes, and she’s offering Mac a life-changing amount of cash for his services. And maybe (wink, wink) a bit more.

And so, Mac being a brooding, morally adrift kind of red-blooded Hemingway hero stuck in a Nelson DeMille book that’s bound to sell zillions, says yes. And then the fun starts.

In a plot that borrows liberally from To Have or Have Not, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books, and a dozen other action-adventure yarns, DeMille serves up a tale of greed, sliding loyalties, modern-day piracy, and political shenanigans set against what for many will be an eye-opening view of modern-day Cuba amid the slowly changing tide of complicated Cuban-American diplomacy, circa 2015. The plot may not be breaking any new ground, but that backdrop goes a long way to putting this solid, well-crafted story over the line.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 18:10:27
The Blood Card
Ariell Cacciola

The third installment of Elly Griffiths’ delightful Magic Men Mysteries series is whiz-bang right from the get-go. It’s May 1953, and with Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation only a scant two weeks away, English DI Edgar Stephens and his friend and informal colleague Max Mephisto, a well-known magician, are contacted to solve the enigmatic murder of their former wartime commander. The two are on the case, while Stephens’ sergeant Emma Holmes investigates the baffling murder of a Brighton fortune teller. With cambering twists, the team eventually realizes how alike the seemingly disassociated crimes are. Add to all of this that the murdered commander was onto a possible bomb plot set in motion for coronation day.

The Blood Card’s charm lies with Griffiths’ ability to keep the investigation moving without sacrificing character and lively details. The reader is enchanted by Max Mephisto’s world of stage magicians and DI Stephens’ transatlantic adventure to New York to chase after a washed-up mesmerist. Readers will come for the plot, but stay for the variety show of characters, who range from impersonators to fortune tellers in training to Max’s own vivacious daughter Ruby (who is an up-and-coming magician herself).

The novel also tickles the senses with its mid-century setting. It is postwar Britain and television sets are overtaking the country. Max Mephisto is hesitant to embrace the new and soon-to-be ubiquitous technology, but everyone is glued to them for the promise of Elizabeth II’s televised coronation.

The believability of the reasons for the crimes and their denouements are a bit tenuous, but it really doesn’t matter. This aspect of The Blood Card takes a page from Agatha Christie novels, which are stacked together in much the same fashion. The characters are dynamic, and liven up not one, but two, murder investigations, and The Blood Card will leave readers eager for what Elly Griffiths has next up her sleeve.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 18:24:34
Path Into Darkness
Ben Boulden

Path Into Darkness is Lisa Alber’s third County Clare mystery set in Ireland and featuring Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern and “Californian-in-residence” Merrit Chase. Merrit discovers the eccentric Joseph Macy, known around the Irish village of Lisfenora as Elder Joe, stabbed to death in his home. Both protagonists on the case find themselves preoccupied with personal issues. DS Ahern, the lead investigator for Joe’s murder, is distracted by his wife, Ellen, who lies comatose in a hospital bed, and Merrit, an accomplished amateur sleuth and meddler, is dealing with her father’s lung cancer.

When another murder victim, Annie Belden, is found with a bouquet of dead flowers, the investigation turns to Nathan Tate, a potter with romantic inclinations toward Ms. Belden. Nathan, who is haunted by terrible dreams, begins to slowly unravel under the pressure of his nightmares and the investigation. His adult daughter, the beautiful Zoe, is home to help her father with his troubles, but as Ahern continues to dig, it becomes apparent that both Nathan and Zoe have secrets worth hiding.

Path Into Darkness is a complex and darkly atmospheric novel. Its rural Irish setting is nicely rendered and the dialogue has the ring of authenticity (though the author tends to over explain the Irish idiom, which dampens its effectiveness). The story develops at a crawl in the opening chapters as characters, and their personal demons, are introduced, but as the mystery deepens and the Tate family’s secrets unravel, so does the tension and pace. It should appeal to readers with an appreciation of well-developed characters, and a desire to read and experience a foreign place.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 18:43:52
A Christmas Peril
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

If you like a traditional murder mystery interspersed with the backstage drama of a troubled production of A Christmas Carol (with a little romance thrown in along the way), you’ll definitely enjoy this well-plotted novel.

The primary crime solver here is Edwina (call her Sully) Sullivan, who, thanks to office politics, recently quit her job as a police detective and is now the general manager of a local theater company. When the very wealthy father of one of her friends is murdered in his mansion and her friend becomes the prime suspect, Sully decides to do some investigating on her own. Complicating the situation, her ex-husband and prominent attorney Gus is hired by the family to oversee the final financial arrangements of the deceased.

When a second murder occurs, and the victim turns out to be Sully’s top suspect, she is forced to rethink her crime-solving prowess. Fortunately, between Gus and a former police colleague assigned to the case, Sully is able to stay abreast of the investigation, all while trying to help a highly strung and beleaguered director cope with a has-been star who can’t remember his lines, a cast member who has to drop out at the last minute, and other unsettling backstage problems.

Meanwhile, Sully is torn between her suddenly reenergized feelings for her ex and her mixed feelings about a new cast member with whom she had once had a romantic relationship.

With videotapes of all of the entrances into the mansion, and along the corridors leading to the two murder scenes providing little evidence to convict anyone, the case begins to look quite unsolvable. I must admit I was stumped and didn’t see the solution coming until it was finally revealed.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 18:48:43
Bosstown
Oline H. Cogdill

As a bike messenger, Zesty Meyers races through the Boston streets, dodging cars and pedestrians, and trying to navigate the chaos that the Big Dig (a massive reroute of Interstate 93 through the city) and urban renewal has wrought. After making a pickup off his normal route, Zesty is thrown off his bike by a hit-and-run driver. When he comes to, his bike is a mess and the package, which he quickly learns is stolen cash, is gone. Soon, Zesty is dodging the cops, FBI, and the gangsters who want the return of that package.

Zesty isn’t exactly unfamiliar with criminals. His father, Will, once ran backroom poker games where gangsters and politicians played. Will may have once known where the bodies are buried in Boston, but he now suffers from dementia. And Zesty’s mother, who disappeared decades ago, once pulled off a legendary Boston bank robbery.

Adam Abramowitz’s debut starts strong with Zesty’s lively voice elevating the story. Zesty cares deeply for his father and his brother, who often skirts the law. While he is not the best businessman, he tries to keep his bike messenger company afloat and help his friends. But the plot of Bosstown is overwhelmed by too many subplots. Still, Abramowitz’s view of Boston is spot-on and the dialogue sharp.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 18:58:48
A Knit Before Dying
Eileen Brady

A Knit Before Dying is the second book in the Tangled Web Mystery series and takes place in the fictional town of Dorset Falls, Connecticut. After a few bumpy opening pages, author Sadie Hartwell’s style hits a solid groove and she delivers an amusing cozy aimed at people who love to knit. However, you don’t have to know your garter stitch from your seed stitch to enjoy this yarn. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.) Josie Blair has inherited her great aunt’s shop, Miss Marple’s Knits, and is trying her best to make a go of it. She’s ditched her fashion career in New York City for a rural farmhouse and crotchety roommate, her great uncle Eb. Gone are the big-city power clothes, traded in for more casual duds and a pair of trusty mud boots. Attracting new clients to the store, though, is a struggle.

When the storefront next to hers is rented to antique dealer Lyndon Bailey, Josie hopes the foot traffic will spill over to the yarn store. Instead, the only spillover is the puddle of blood oozing from Lyndon’s body, murdered before Nutmeg Antiques and Curiosities can even open. Discovered standing near the corpse is his business partner, Harry Oglethorpe. Did Harry stumble onto the crime scene or did he make a calculated move to take over the entire business? Throw into the plot a downright mean restaurant owner, a decades-old mysterious disappearance, and some eccentric sewing ladies, and watch what happens. Knitters will be thrilled with the patterns and yarn suggestions on the last few pages provided by Jane Haertel, writing here under the pen name of Sadie Hartwell.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 19:01:27

The second book in the Tangled Web Mystery series set in the fictional Dorset Falls, Connecticut, hits a solid groove and delivers an amusing cozy aimed at people who love to knit. 

Idyll Fears
Jay Roberts

Set in 1997 in small-town Connecticut, the second book in the Thomas Lynch series finds the big-city cop turned small-town police chief beset by trouble on all sides when a six-year-old boy with a medical condition that makes him unable to feel any kind of pain goes missing. Complicating matters is the fact that it is two weeks before Christmas and a massive snowstorm has just begun. Aided, then hamstrung, by the parents of the boy and the town government he is beholden to, Lynch also finds himself at odds with some of his own subordinates over suspects behind the kidnapping. When the boy is mysteriously returned, everyone seems happy to forget about finding his kidnapper—that is until he is kidnapped a second time.

Meanwhile, Lynch is still dealing with the fallout of his coming out as a gay man in the previous book, Idyll Threats. Townspeople talk behind his back, his men are afraid to so much as shower at the same time as him, and his own station administrator, the formidable Mrs. Dunsmore, seems appalled by his very existence. There’s also the “small” matter of threatening phone calls and the antigay vandalism of his police vehicle.

The character development in Idyll Fears is outstanding. Chief Lynch is far from a put-upon saint, but a fully realized person for whom being gay is a part of who he is rather than the sum total of his existence. As a big fish in a small pond, he is a little sanctimonious and he makes assumptions about people that can be totally off base. Perhaps even more important is how Gayle’s supporting characters are woven into the story. While they start out standoffish, progress is made on both sides and relationships show signs of improving, yet nothing is magically solved all at once. One character in particular is revealed to be far more than what Lynch assumed, and could become one of his more staunch allies as the series continues.

The split between the main case and the exploration of Lynch’s life as a newly out gay man is evenly handled, but the investigation’s solution can be seen coming a mile away, as it is only thinly disguised and Lynch and his detectives put things together in a rather quick and linear way. This robs the criminal case aspect of the story of some of its effectiveness. Despite this, I found the story rather enjoyable and I am looking forward to where this series takes readers next.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-12 19:09:07
Lies She Told
Vanessa Orr

Liza and her husband, David, are having problems in their marriage. It doesn’t help that they’re unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, while David is preoccupied by the fact that his friend, Nick, is missing. An acclaimed author whose second book was not as successful as her first, Liza immerses herself in the writing of her third novel as a way to block out the difficulties in her life.

Liza’s character, Beth, is a new mother with a life that seems to parallel Liza’s, including the cracks in her marriage. Cate Holahan does a deft job of telling each woman’s story in alternating chapters, though it is often difficult to remember whose story you’re reading since their experiences are so similar. While Liza may not realize it, subconsciously she seems to be documenting her own life. As the search for Nick intensifies, the action heats up, both in Liza’s real life and in the story she’s writing. At times it seems like Beth is leading us all on a chase, with Liza powerless to stop her even as she’s the one writing the words. As the conclusion nears, Beth seems to be controlling Liza’s thoughts, even when she is not putting pen to paper. This story within a story is what makes this book so fascinating.

This was a different type of psychological thriller, and I found it riveting to watch Liza try to unravel her own history with each chapter she writes. The ending is particularly intriguing, leaving readers to wonder which woman gets what she really deserves.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-13 15:48:56
Exposed
Eileen Brady

Lisa Scottoline hits a home run with Exposed, her newest Rosato and DiNunzio legal mystery. She delivers a deliciously twisted plot and ratchets up readers’ emotional investment in her two main characters. Fans of this series know Bennie Rosato as a take-charge lawyer who doesn’t let her personal life get in the way of her career. Law firm partner Mary DiNunzio, by contrast, wears her South Philly Italian heart on her sleeve. When a friend from the old neighborhood, Simon Pensiera, decides to sue OpenSpace, the company that unjustly fired him, Mary offers her help. Unfortunately there’s a huge conflict of interest on the horizon. Their firm already represents OpenSpace’s parent company, Dumbarton. Not only is it a large and lucrative account, but it’s owned by Nate Lence, Bennie’s former law school classmate.

The two partners go head to head on whether this constitutes an ethics violation, with neither one wanting to back down. Mary is driven by loyalty to her family and friends and knowing that Simon really needs his job and the company health insurance. She’s prepared to quit if necessary. And why is a health insurance policy so important? Because a child’s life is at stake. Simon’s four-year-old daughter, Rachael, has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. A donor has finally been found and the tense medical countdown has begun.

Scottoline’s sensitive handling of this story line poignantly reveals what it might feel like to have a severely ill child. It also provides a fierce current that pulls at Bennie and Mary in profoundly different ways. One of the pleasures of reading this series has always been the outspoken DiNunzio family, and we have them in spades here. Who can resist lovable octogenarians Matty DiNunzio, and the three Tonys: Tony “From-Down-The-Block,” “Pigeon” Tony, and Tony “Two Feet” who runs on “caffeine and Coumadin.” You’ll laugh and cry as you read this warmhearted, can’t-put-down, enjoyable read.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-13 15:53:52
Weycombe
Robin Agnew

This standalone from the gifted G.M. Malliet is a gripping whodunit clothed in Miss Marple garb, but underneath the gentility is a sharp, satiric look at village life. The central character is laid-off BBC personality Jillian White, an American married to a titled Brit. She’s at loose ends at home, unused to being a housewife, and it seems she and her husband are drifting ever further apart.

One morning she stumbles over the body of her next-door neighbor, Anna, and in the village of Weycombe all hell breaks loose. Jillian makes her own investigative way through the village, and along the way Malliet deftly skewers each personality Jillian encounters: the granola-ish housewife next door, the shop owner selling (and wearing) floaty “menopausal” garb, Jillian’s mother-in-law, and her husband (who, it becomes clear, is a spoiled and entitled man). The only character spared is Jillian’s sweet neighbor Rashima, who is a spectacular baker, as well as being a kind and honest person.

Told in the first person, readers would be wise to take anything the narrator says or perceives with a grain of salt. Malliet’s clues are tip-offs to her characters’ psychologies, to which readers will want to pay very close attention. The twisted, tangled web of personalities and the description of village life with all tensions boiling away just below the charming surface, eventually provide an unexpected conclusion to the mystery.

Malliet is enough of a traditionalist to provide a Marple-style wrap-up and she makes use of many of Agatha Christie’s tropes in telling her story, but she’s truly interested in satire. When I relaxed into the idea that this novel was more of a satire than a murder mystery, I enjoyed it far more. I became immersed in the book club fracas over Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, the descriptions of Jillian’s horsey mother-in-law, and as the book deepened and darkened, an explication of Jillian’s own family history. I was absolutely compelled to keep reading. There is, after all, nothing better than a good story, well told.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-13 16:00:25
The Ways of Wolfe
Matthew Fowler

In The Ways of Wolfe, James Carlos Blake finds Axel Prince Wolfe, a college student with a bright future in law and a job already secured in the family practice, joining up with a criminal and his friend for a robbery. Why? Axel has the itch. It is the itch that one gets when it looks like the next 30 years of one’s life have already been chosen for you. The job doesn’t go as planned and Axel finds himself in jail, his partners skirting the law, leaving Axel to take the blame.

Twenty years later the Wolfe family has washed their hands of Axel. His daughter won’t see him, his wife has left him, and Axel has resigned himself to the life of a prisoner. He keeps to himself and doesn’t have any friends on the inside. That is, until a young inmate, Cacho, floats the idea of escaping. Axel, who still has around a decade to serve, does not harbor any ideas of retribution. All he cares about is seeing the daughter he left behind. Axel accepts, and together with Cacho and the help of his powerful friends on the outside, they move to escape.

The Ways of Wolfe bides it time with strong, readable prose about Axel and Cacho’s adventures in getting over the boarder, which includes a long and exciting sequence traveling down river, until it finally returns to the reasons why Axel was in jail in the first place. Blake does a good job tying up loose ends and expanding the world of the story with his usage of minor characters. The book, however, succeeds or fails on the reader’s willingness to accept Axel’s reasons for his decisions. Blake does his best to explain Axel’s initial choice of a life of crime, but it’s questionable whether or not the “itch” is fully convincing.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-13 16:07:01
The Last Day of Emily Lindsey
Sarah Prindle

Detective Steven Paul has had the same nightmare for years—being locked in a cell while the stench of a rotting corpse hovers around him, and he always sees an odd spiral symbol embedded on the cell door. He has woken up screaming about this nightmare since childhood, and goes out of his way to hide the resulting anxiety from his adoptive parents, his colleagues, and friends. But then his nightmares intersect with one of his cases.

A controversial tell-all blogger named Emily Lindsey is found sitting in her house, catatonic, and covered in someone else’s blood. She won’t tell anyone whose blood it is or what happened, but she does draw an odd spiral symbol—the same one in Steven’s nightmares. As Steven tries to figure out what happened and how Emily could be connected to him, his nightmares and anxiety issues get harder and harder to hide.

Suspense novelist Nic Joseph creates an intriguing mystery with realistic characters who will pull you in. Steven’s struggles with his nightmares and how it affects his relationships with loved ones make up a core part of the book, raising questions about trust and the need to protect others from uncomfortable truths. Steven’s ex-wife, his concerned partner Gayla, Emily Lindsey, and a group of five children (who narrate parts of the book, though their connection to the mystery isn’t revealed until later), have their own distinct personalities and roles to play in the plot. The mystery itself takes many twists and turns as the detective sifts through several suspects, false testimonies, and motives. Theories abound as to whether Emily is a victim or a suspect, whether one of the people she’d exposed in her blog could be behind her trauma, and just where the blood Emily was covered with came from. Readers will enjoy working out theories of their own as they read and finally discover the surprising truth behind The Last Day of Emily Lindsey.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-13 16:11:26
Fast Falls the Night
Ben Boulden

Fast Falls the Night, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller, is the sixth novel featuring rural West Virginia county prosecutor Bell Elkins. The fictional town of Ackers Gap, the county seat, has fallen on hard times and many of its residents have turned to drugs as a coping mechanism for rising unemployment and poverty.

These marginalized addicts are mostly ignored by the sheriff’s department and others in county government, but when Deputy Jake Oakes finds a heroin overdose victim—the daughter of a wealthy lawyer—in a gas station bathroom, it is the beginning of a long night. A night that will see dozens of overdoses and find Bell Elkins desperately searching for the culprits responsible for a tainted batch of heroin, and that will ultimately focus a harsh light on the city’s and county’s drug problem.

Fast Falls the Night, covering 24 hours, is a compassionate procedural—long on the impact of drugs on its users and their communities and short on investigative techniques—that feels as much like a true-crime magazine article as it does a novel. Its pace, despite the brief timeline, is unhurried and often interrupted with long passages of internal character dialogue.

Bell Elkins, likable and empathetic, is weary and jaded by her inability to help the struggling residents of her county and caught in a family dilemma. Her sister, Shirley, recently released from jail for killing their abusive father when Bell was a child, has a potentially catastrophic secret that may destroy Bell’s world. The tale ends much the same as it starts, with more questions than answers.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-13 16:18:27
Murder at Chateau sur Mer
Sharon Magee

The fifth in Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Newport Mysteries (circa late 1800s) finds newspaper society reporter Emma Cross, a poor cousin to the Vanderbilt clan, plying her trade at a polo match. Ever the snoop, she wanders about during an intermission between chukkers, trying to pick up bits of gossip. She hears three men make disparaging comments about George Wetmore, the esteemed US senator from Rhode Island, and she witnesses a prostitute named Lilah trying to speak with the senator’s wife. Lilah is promptly escorted from the arena and Emma thinks nothing more of it until the next morning when her friend, Jesse, a Newport detective, takes her to Chateau sur Mer, the Wetmore’s mansion. Lilah is lying at the bottom of the stairs, dead and pregnant. Mrs. Wetmore asks Emma to investigate Lilah’s death.

Digging into the case takes Emma to a seedy scene at Newport’s wharfs, where she meets many intriguing characters such as Madame Heidi who runs the Blue Moon brothel (Lilah’s place of employment), and a mystery man who rescues Emma each time she stumbles into danger, which is often. Emma begins collecting information on why someone wanted Lilah dead, and who would benefit by planting her death at Senator Wetmore’s door.

Emma is a gutsy, independent gal, and readers will find themselves rooting for her. If they can get through the first few pages with their deluge of characters (27 in the first 15 pages, many of whom play no further part in the story), they are in for a lively romp in true Maxwell fashion—a good mystery with just the right amount of historical detail thrown in.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-13 16:22:01
Old Scores
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

It is 1890 in London, and Cyrus Barker, a battle-tested private enquiry agent (don’t call him a detective!) invites popular Japanese ambassador Toda and his delegation to visit his oriental garden during their first diplomatic mission to England. That very night, the ambassador is shot and killed in his embassy, and Barker, who happens to be in the area at the time, is initially suspected as the murderer.

When a confession cannot be beaten out of him by longtime enemy Trelawney Campbell-Ffinch of the Foreign Office, Barker is released and soon hired by the new Japanese ambassador to find the real killer. Along with his young, feisty assistant Thomas Llewelyn, Barker uses his crafty detection techniques and his knowledge of the Far East where he lived for some time, to try to uncover the real assassin and the unusual motive behind the crime. This complex tale is told from the point of view of Llewelyn, who is quick with his fists, but not as quick with his wits as his boss.

While I enjoyed the mystery and the investigation, the real bonus for me was learning about the history and background of Japan of the period: how the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853, demanding a trade agreement, demoralized the country and soon led to an internal struggle between the samurai and the trade-based aristocracy, where samurai swords were no match for newly acquired firearms. Of nearly equal interest is the description of the Asian underworld in London of the period that increases the danger to the enquiry agents, but eventually helps solve the case.

This is the ninth mystery in the Barker and Llewelyn series, and it is well worth the read for historical mystery fans.

Teri Duerr
2017-09-13 16:26:11