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Above Ground by Don Easton

Publisher:  Dundurn Group  ISBN: 978-1-55002-681-8

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A man named Jack Taggart is murdered before his family's eyes and his baby son is badly injured also.  When the news reaches the Canadian intelligence unit in Vancouver, Corporal Jack Taggart and others consider the possibility that it was a case of mistaken identity and he was the real target. 

Somehow, Jack isn't convinced that the group known as Satan's Wrath was responsible or that he was the target.  But how to be sure?  It means a lot of man hours spent investigating the matter.

Satan's Wrath is also puzzling out what is going on.  Do they have rogues in their organization?  Was this a private hit?  Was Corporal Taggart the intended victim? They also launch a series of checks to see what is happening.

Because of the shooting, Jack becomes a target within the intelligence community also.  The many sides to this puzzle add complications to hinder his efforts.

Talented author Don Easton gives the reader a well told story with lots of excitement and intrigue.  Realistic characters will lead you up one trail and down another as you try to figure out who the killer is and the motive.

Recommended as a good read worth the time.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

 

Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon

Publisher:  HarperCollinsPublishers  ISBN:  0-06-114331-6

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Still haunted by the murder of her best friend thirty-one years earlier, Kate Cypher has limited her trips home to the rural Vermont town where she grew up, where legends of the “Potato Girl,” as the murdered girl was known, abound.  But with her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s, Kate is drawn back—on the very night that an eerily similar murder takes place.

Kate’s young friend, Opal, was good friends with the second murdered girl, and claims that she has seen the Potato Girl.  And those who knew the Potato Girl can’t help but notice a resemblance between her and Opal.  Kate thinks Opal’s visions result from her recent trauma, until she swears she begins to see and hear the Potato Girl as well. 

Drawn back into her old life, an old love, and the young girl she can’t forget, Kate is forced to deal with old memories and mysteries, as well as chilling new realities.  As she herself becomes a suspect, she also covers for her mother, who was out on the night of the more recent murder.

In this engrossing and distressing mystery/ghost story, author Jennifer McMahon skillfully alternates between her 1971 and 2002 settings.  She captures the social hierarchy of the playground—the cool kids v. the misfits—with heartbreaking accuracy.  The only flaw in this impossible-to-put-down book is Kate, who sometimes seems less complex than just inconsistent.

 

 

Short Straw by Stuart Woods

Publisher: Signet  ISBN 0-451220846

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Short Straw serves as evidence that Stuart Woods can, counter to recent evidence, function effectively outside of the Stone Barrington/Holly Barker world that has weighed down his recent output.

Featuring Ed Eagle, the hotshot New Mexican lawyer from 1992's Santa Fe Rules, Short Straw finds Woods laser-focused on accelerating plot and letting things like motivation and characterization take care of themselves.  And that's just fine, because the story here is a real corker.

Our hero, Ed Eagle, wakes up late on the morning of his fiftieth birthday, shocked by his hangover, considering how little he remembers drinking. As we soon learn, this is the least of of his worries: He discovers that his beloved wife has bailed, but not before drugging him and doing a pretty good job of cleaning out his not-inconsiderable fortune.

To complicate matters, by the time he gets to his brand-new office, he finds that he's assigned a triple-homicide defense of one Joe Big Bear.

Eagle hires a couple of PI's to help him track down his soon-to-be-ex, the apparent sociopath Barbara Eagle, who has fled south to Mexico. Woods does a good job here at making Barbara both terrifying and, well, kinda hot, as she assaults and seduces a swath of menace across the land. He also draws an interesting character in Vittorio, the Apache PI that, for a short time, falls into the web of this particular Black Widow. Vittorio is a cool character, don't be surprised to see him return.

As things progress in Mexico, Eagle spends some time focused on getting Joe Big Bear off, with some misgivings. Those misgivings are rewarded when, in a Woods-worthy coincidence, Big Bear catches wind of Barbara's attempts to kill Ed, and decides without a blink to take the contract himself. 

Woods does a nice job of tracking the cat-and-mouse game across the Mexico landscape between Barbara and the PI's, while blending in a new romance for Ed, in the person of the Julia Roberts-esque Susannah Wilde. We wouldn't want Ed lonely, after all.

Woods can, and probably should, be scolded for creating a few plot holes just to solve them in an action-packed manner, but he does it with a smoothness resulting in easy forgiveness.

Short Straw is a definite return-to-form for Woods: Let's hope he spends some more time in Ed Eagle's world, it's pretty darn fun.

 

 

Beach Road by James Patterson and Peter De Jonge

Publishers: Warner Books, ISBN: 0446619159

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

Just absolutely, magnificent, and engrossing suspense reading; that’s what James Patterson books are all about. 

Let me be clear about certain things, firstly- this is the most engrossing Patterson book I have ever read- the ending is one that blew my mind away…. And that while being a veteran Patterson reader- who has read all the author’s books.

Secondly, this is not a sequel to Beach House, the author’s 2002 legal thriller, wherein he had previously teamed up with Peter de Jonge.

Thirdly, Patterson has in mind a movie of this book and in this novel has in fact highlighted whom he wants in the lead- it should be either George Clooney or Matt Damon as the lawyer protagonist Tom Dunleavy and Julianne Moore or Ashley Judd should play Kate Costello, and the movie is to be directed by Steven Spielberg.

Ever since I read Along Came a Spider, five years back (ok.. I was a late bloomer to Patterson novels), I made it a point to buy and read each one of his thriller works, and today I am the proud owner of all 11 Alex Cross novels including Kiss the Girls and Mary, Mary, the 5 Women’s Murder Club series novels including 1st to Die and 5th Horseman, 19 other novels including Lifeguard and Honeymoon, 2 non-fiction works and even a rare manuscript of a novel Patterson has not yet published, titled Brick Layers Myths and Miscellanies- a fiction work which he had submitted as part of his thesis as a student of literature at Vanderbilt. And so you can take it from me- I know the difference between suspense, super-suspense and mega suspense so far as James Patterson standards are concerned.  And this one is the tops.

Tom Dunleavy had an average career as a student of law and is having an even more mediocre career as a lawyer. But when Dante Halleyville, a local star athlete is accused of murdering five persons and seeks the help of Dunleavy, Dunleavy’s joy, and tension, knows no bounds. Together with the help of his former girlfriend Kate Costello, Tom jumps into the defense of Halleyville. The Halleyville trial has caught the media attention and is soon dubbed as the next trial of the century. And star lawyers, including Gerry Spence and Alan Dershowitz, along with Hollywood bigwigs, such as Steven Spielberg and George Clooney, are closely following the trial. What follows is suspense at its ultra best, culminating in an exciting finish making for one read  that's absolutely magnificent and engrossing.

 

 

Sequence by Lori Andrews

Publisher: St. Martin’s ISBN: 0312942458

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Dr. Alexandra Blake joins the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in order to research the genetic sequence of the 1918 flu virus in an effort to produce a vaccine that will thwart its use as a potential bioweapon by terrorists.  Little did she know that she would be forced to put her research on hold in order to join a team hunting for a serial killer who is targeting military bases and is leaving his unique “signature” on each of the victims.  On a personal level Alexandra is struggling to get over the demise of her relationship with her musician boyfriend when she meets David Thorne, the very handsome congressman from Texas. He winds up the prime suspect in the murder of Ted Devon, the ex-husband of Thorne’s former lover, Gloria Devon and Alexandra gets tied up in this case as well.  Devon has just been appointed as the first female director of the FBI, the position that Colonial Jack Wiatt wanted but he got AFIP instead, which makes them hostile adversaries.  Alexandra believes that it is only a matter of time before the serial killer leaves some genetic trace at a scene of a crime which will provide the clue they need to crack the case. 

Sequence is Lori Andrews’ first genetics mystery thriller and she reaches into her wealth of professional knowledge in the field of biotechnology to create a realistic experience for the reader.  The author also weaves another murder case and romantic issues into the main plotline of the serial killing which keeps the novel from becoming overly technical and increases the tension.  Dr. Alexandra Blake is truly a reluctant amateur sleuth who is dragged into the serial killing investigation while attempting to keep her research ongoing but winds up getting emotionally involved in the case.  Sequence is an exciting thriller with a large dose of forensic excitement and a light sprinkling of romantic tension.  Fans that enjoy forensic mystery thrillers will want to add this author to their list. 

 

 

Consigned to Death by Jane K. Cleland

Publisher:  St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN:  0-312-949529

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

Antiques dealer Josie Prescott is disturbed when collector Nathaniel Grant doesn't show for their meeting; liquidating his impressive collection was going to be a real boon for her fledgling business.  But when Alverez, police chief of Rocky Point, shows up at her business later that afternoon, she learns that more than forgetfulness caused Grant to skip their meeting.  Not only has he been murdered, but Josie is the primary suspect.

Determined to prove her own innocence, Josie forms an unlikely alliance with a local reporter, who leaks information in exchange for an exclusive on the story…as soon as Josie figures out what the story is.  Between running her business and trying to ignore her attraction to Alverez, she battles the scheming of her local competitors and deals with Grant's drug-crazed granddaughter.

Loaded with insight on the antique business, Jane K. Cleland's first novel is a beguiling, entertaining story.  Josie seems a mite bit emotional, and her dependence on martinis for relaxation seems like it might become a problem, but it's only because the reader cares about her that these things are even an issue.  The beautiful New Hampshire setting is just an added bonus. 

 

 

 

Smoked by Patrick Quinlan

Publisher:  St. Martin's Griffin  ISBN:  0-312-349356

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Smoke Dugan was a professional criminal—a bombmaker who was careful that no one was ever hurt by his handiwork.  Until an unscrupulous client lied about the purpose of the explosives he commissioned.  When Smoke learned the truth, he exacted his revenge, then went into hiding in Maine, where he has carved out a new life as the maker of toys for special needs children.  His girlfriend, Lola Bell, a would-be model and martial arts expert, doesn't even know about his past.

Hit man Denny Cruz comes to Maine to eliminate Smoke, but he and his treacherous assistants underestimate Smoke's resourcefulness.  Cruz knows he can get at Smoke through Lola, but he doesn't count on Lola's lethal tools—her hands and feet.  Or her fetching, deceptively mild-mannered roommate.  Or the two local pothead would-be pornographers who stumble onto the scene.

The intersection of this motley crew of characters makes this zany novel unpredictable and difficult to put down.  As tempting as it is to disapprove of the gratuitous violence, the characters are just so engaging—even the supposedly ruthless hit man—it's impossible to hold a grudge for very long.

 

 

Bleeding Hearts by Susan Wittig Albert

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN:  0-425-214850

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Her thriving business, son, and husband are all keeping China Bayles busy, but when the principal of Pecan Springs High school asks her to look into allegations about popular football coach Tim Duffy.  China soon learns that there's even more to the story.  Did the young woman with whom he was involved kill herself, as the Pecan Springs police department claims?

China is also troubled by revelations regarding her own deceased father and her concerns about son Brian's girlfriend, Jake.  And she's also helping friend and business partner Ruby look into the theft of a quilt.  With McQuaid out of town on a case, China deals with a potentially explosive parenting problem.

Susan Wittig Albert's latest installment in the China Bayles series is as satisfying as the previous fourteen.  China continues to grow as a character, in this episode showing personal faults, as well as a willingness to put her friendships on the line when it comes time to defend her family.  The changes in her relationship with her mother are also a welcome change from the earlier books.

 

 

Shadow Man by Cody McFadyen   

Publisher: Bantam ISBN: 0553589938

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It was a mere 6 months ago that FBI agent Smokey Barrett lost her daughter and husband to a madman, left physically scarred and emotionally battered Smokey is more than a little hesitant in rejoining the fight.  But when another killer once again enters her life by brutally slaughtering her best friend, leaving behind the dead woman's daughter to be cared for by Smokey, she has no choice but to get herself together.  Another killer has made it personal yet again, and this madman who thinks he's a descendent of Jack the Ripper has also made it perfectly clear that he won't stop until he destroys her once and for all.  But what Smokey doesn't know, nor does her team of top notch hunters, is that this one is much closer than they think and he's one step ahead of them at every turn, using their secrets and fears against them in a battle that just might break them all.

McFadyen's debut suspense thriller shows remarkable promise.  Both fiercely brutal and emotionally powerful, he knows his characters and he knows evil, creating both with an adept and compelling force.  But it's because of his very excellence at plotting and characterization that I must decry his excessive use of viciousness and graphic displays of horror, it's not needed and, in fact, detracts from what would otherwise be a brilliant addition to the genre.  We can only hope that not only will there be another outing featuring this fine cast, but also that McFadyen will realize his genius lies in his ability to connect through his remarkable detailing of raw emotion and his perceptive grasp of good vs. evil, which is sometimes better imparted with a whisper than a scream.  

 

 

Tomb Of The Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters

Publisher: Harper  ISBN 10 0 06 0591811

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It's the umpteenth season that the archaeologist family of Radcliffe Emerson has come to Egypt, and they haven't been in the country long when Emerson and his son Rameses find themselves in a life-and-death situation.  So what else is new, I hear you ask, isn't that what these men do when they aren't translating ancient texts or uncovering nefarious plots?

For once the redoubtable Amelia Peabody Emerson isn't with them when they are locked inside a shabby shop which the attackers set on fire before barring the door.  Things can only get better from here, and after stopping the fire with a handy bag of salt, the men set off for the family's seasonal home in Luxor.

While they've been gone, Emerson's brother has been hiding out in the servants' quarters, being nursed through malaria by the faithful Fatima.   As we've come to expect, Sethos is not entirely truthful about what brings him to Egypt this time--his job for the British Government often requires him to indulge in fact finagling.   He's on the run from a lot of dangerous people--including his wife Margaret, the die-hard journalist who would stop of nothing short of torture to find out what he's hiding.

The bigger story underlying this latest in the Emerson family chronicles is the
opening of King Tut's tomb.  Howard Carter has at last achieved his dream of
finding an untouched, treasure-packed king's burial chamber.  ( It would be
churlish to spoil his pleasure by letting him know the Emersons knew about it
before he did.)

Where there's gold, there's greed, and between the gathering cloud of tourists
and the would-be tomb robbers, Carter has his hands full--so much so that the
Emersons can't resist taking a hand to foil one of the plots, with the aid of
their friend Inspector Aziz.

Somewhere in the midst of the various kidnappings, sneak-thievery, family
conferences and train rides, Amelia stumbles across the key to the secret code that has made such trouble for the family since Sethos stole it.  She also
finds time to bring three romances to a happy ending, and patch things up with Emerson, who's being a bit cranky about her solving mysteries without
consulting him.

All our favorite characters appear in this story, including the butler, Gargery,
who is about as old as Moses now; the Great Cat of Re; David; the twins; and the ghost of Abdullah, who turns up in Amelia's dreams and helps her get to the bottom of things.

 

 

Second Sight by Amanda Quick

Publisher: Jove  ISBN: 0515142808

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Photographer Venetia Milton is hired to photograph the historic artifacts housed at Arcane House.  Past the prime age for marriage in Victorian times, Venetia figures she is doomed to spinsterhood.  Venetia decides that she is going to select the man who will help her lose her virginity and that guy is Gabriel Jones, member of the Arcane Society.  The last thing she expects is to experience love at first sight in the arms of Gabriel, but that is what happens.  During her time at Arcane House Venetia also learns about her “second sight” which is her ability to see people’s auras, when she “sees” some thugs hiding in the woods.  Gabriel whisks Venetia to safety via a secret passageway but she learns of his death that same night from a newspaper article.  Using the funds she earned from the Arcane House photo shoot, Venetia opens her own photo gallery posing as a respectable widow and taking the surname of her lover.  Imagine her surprise when her deceased “husband” shows up at her door.  Gabriel fakes his death in order to have the freedom to hunt for the person who has stolen the alchemist’s notebook but now he has to protect his “wife” and her family.  Gabriel has his own secrets and paranormal abilities that prove to be helpful as the dangers mount during the search.

Second Sight is written by Amanda Quick which is a pseudonym for Jayne Ann Krentz.  Krentz is the Queen of the romantic thriller and Second Sight is a passionate historical romance intertwined with an intriguing paranormal suspense plotline.  Venetia Milton is a woman ahead of her times due to the untimely death of her parents; she has to make a living despite the social moirés of the Victorian era polite society.  Second Sight is outstanding romantic suspense that is hard to put down.

 

 

Night of the Jaguar by Michael Gruber

Publisher: Harper  ISBN: 006057769X

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Michael Gruber’s Night of the Jaguar is a supernatural thriller with a difference. Gruber matter-of-fact treatment of his supernatural aspects makes them easy—well, easier—to swallow, allowing the mere mortals a chance if they play their cards right. The end result is a readable, entertaining story that provides everything promised and ends just when it should.

Consuela Holdings is a business you love to hate. Destroying the Columbian rain forest, mining mahogany logs like coal, protected by a badass narcotraficante, Yoiyo Calderon and his partners are winning a criminal trifecta: raping the land and cheating the people while remaining insulated enough to enjoy the spoils.

Enter Moie, a diminutive Indian with skills the X-Men only dream of. How Moie makes Consuela’s crew the underdogs in their battle of wills is the story of Night of the Jaguar, which never goes quite where expected, yet never veers so far away you cease your suspension of disbelief.

Gruber is an expert storyteller with empathy for both his characters and his audience. The book is an easy read, even when Gruber’s Ph. D. peeks through, using a $3.00 Nieman-Marcus word when the 89-cent Target version would have sufficed. He at least has the courtesy to work it into the speech of well-educated, semi-snobby characters. Makes it kind of fun.

The characters are well-drawn and believable, even Moie, with his unique, uh, gifts. Jimmy Paz isn’t your ordinary former cop-turned-restaurateur itching deep down for a chance to be a cop again; he’s happy in the kitchen until events leave him no choice. Jenny Simpson is, like, way more than she seems in her early scenes, you know? Her epilepsy is a gift in Moie’s world; Gruber lets us eavesdrop on her delayed coming of age by hanging key parts of the story from it.

The story is told through multiple points of view, each expressed in the vernacular of the character whose eyes we’re using at the time, allowing Gruber to differentiate and develop his characters with their own observation, described in their own voices. It’s a common device rarely used as well as it is here.

Gruber’s greatest gift might be his ability to know how much to describe. He knows to depict just enough to provoke the reader’s imagination, trusting it to come up with something more suspenseful than he could write, if only because no one knows what scares you like you do. The violence isn’t shied away from, but it sometimes happens at the periphery of the scene, described by a character not directly involved in it, allowing you to draw your own pictures. A lot of thriller writers could learn from this technique.

The pacing could be better, as some philosophical discussion go on longer than necessary. It’s all good information to have, and the conversations are entertaining, but the plot’s momentum flags after too much of it. Jimmy Paz’s just in time indoctrination into his mother’s religion is disturbing on two levels: the plot stops just when you’re geared up for the finale; and the forces for which he prepared are considerate enough to wait for him before making their move.

Those are legitimate concerns, but not deal breakers. Night of the Jaguar is a spirited, entertaining read, with plenty of well-done surprises and characters you’ll care about. Too many modern thrillers lack characters you can care about, creating cut-outs to wander around in harm’s way while you decide if you care if live or die. You’ll care about Jenny, Paz and his family, and Dr. Cooksey, who isn’t quite as dotty as he seems. Gruber tells you just enough about them, and of his story, to satisfy without overstaying his welcome, leaving you wondering what happens after the book ends. Night of the Jaguar would be worth reading if that was all there was; be grateful there’s plenty more.

 

 

A Necessary Evil by Alex Kava

Publisher: Mira ISBN: 0778324346

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

When FBI agent Maggie O'Dell is called in to help investigate the recent rash of decapitations of young women, she has no idea how idea how dangerous a road it will all eventually place her on.  And when Catholic Priests start being murdered, she's called off the first case to work on these brutal slayings, having no idea that both cases might just be connected.   

Meanwhile, her best friend, Dr. Gwen Patterson, is connected to the case in ways that Maggie doesn't realize, as the killer has been in contact with her and is much closer than either woman could ever imagine.  And as Dr. Patterson comes ever closer to the killer in Washington DC, Maggie will begin to connect the murders of the priests in Omaha to a list on the Internet, a list of priests who have committed degrading acts and who are set to die.  But all too soon Maggie will have to face her nemesis from a case long ago, a priest who she knows is evil to the core, but who may just hold the key to all of these killings. And as the two cases begin to converge, the two women come that much closer to danger and to a master plot of revenge that will only end in more death. 

Kava, a brilliant creator of suspense, has consistently given her readers tale after tale of electrifying thrills, with this latest perhaps being one of her best.  She attacks this timely subject with all the grit and heart pounding detail that she's known for, and while some may find it a bit too gruesome, it's worth overlooking for the pure exhilarating rush provided.  Maggie, as always, is a compelling character full of determination and courage, one that reader's will surely welcome back with open arms, and also with the hope that maybe this time around Maggie will be able to put some of her own demons to rest.  Read it to find out, but prepare yourself for a long night of chills and thrills, because putting this one down is just about impossible.    

 

 

Diary of a Serial Killer by Ed Gaffney

Publisher: Dell  ISBN-10: 0440243734

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It was years ago that Massachusetts had thought they'd seen the end to a serial killer's reign of madness, with the killer having been tried and convicted based upon the preponderance of overwhelming evidence.  But when similar homicides begin to appear the doubts begin to settle in, especially for Vera Demopolous, the detective trying to solve the new homicides, and the woman who the killer has decided to share his intimate thoughts with. And when attorneys Wilson and Tallach are hired to appeal the original suspect's verdict, they too find that the deeper they dig, the more questions they have, questions that will eventually lead them, and Vera, on a race to save the next victim's life.

This latest from Gaffney starts out with a bang of heart pounding tension and, fortunately for the reader, it's a tension that he manages to sustain just about through the entire read.  And not only does he supply a well-developed plot filled with an engaging team of good guys and gals, but he also manages to toss in some father and son heart-tugging moments that are refreshingly sincere and unexpectedly poignant (moments we'd love to see more of).  Definitely recommended, this is one that'll catch you by surprise and keep you guessing all the way through. 

 

 

The King of Lies by John Hart

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312363753

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

North Carolina lawyer Work Pickens has lived most of his life in his father's shadow, his own life nothing much more than going through the motions in his empty marriage and even emptier career, but it's all about to come to a head in ways that will shake him to the very core.  It was 18 months ago that his father Erza Pickens went missing, the same night Work's mother died in a tragic fall down the stairs, leaving Work and his sister Jean behind to pick up the pieces of this already shattered family. 

But now his father's body has been discovered, murdered and abandoned, and all eyes turn to Work and Jean as the primary suspects, with a bucketful of money being the motive for this murder.  Work too has his own suspicions, with his biggest fear being that his sister, always belittled and denigrated by their father, being in fact the one to finally end his hateful life, especially when taking into account that tragic night of their mother's death and the secrets surrounding what really happened. 

So while Work attempts to discover the truth, he himself becomes the number one suspect, with his supposed friends scattering with the wind, his loveless marriage further cracking under the strain.  But within this wreckage that leaves Work fighting to save what's left of his broken family, while at the same time attempting to re-discover a love he always thought lost, he begins an epic struggle for a truth that may well redefine his life and allow him to reclaim a future he always thought impossible. 

John Hart's debut, one of great emotional impact, is one that readers will not want to miss.  The heartbreak that is family, the long lasting echoes of the past that affect one's present and future, and the hope that comes with putting it all behind are what most define this poignant and intelligent book.  Hart nails the steamy South and its ideals of family, loyalty, and misbegotten legacies with his fluent prose that meanders with grace to the shocking and just about perfect denouncement.  This is one new author that we expect a whole lot from in the future and look forward to his next with great anticipation.   

 

 

Pretty Girl Gone by David Housewright

Publisher: Leisure  ISBN: 0843958472

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Wealthy Rushmore "Mac" McKenzie does favors for friends, the type of favors that usually involve guns and the uncovering of nefarious secrets, so when the Governor's wife, an ex-lover of Mac's, asks for his help, Mac quickly agrees.  Someone has sent her an anonymous email implicating the Governor in a young woman's death 30 years before, the murder occurring back in the Governor's high school glory days, the victim being the Governor's girlfriend at the time.  So Mac heads for the small town of Victoria, Minnesota in the dead of winter to not only discover who wants to end the Governor's burgeoning political career, but to also hopefully once and for all discover who ended the life of a beautiful young girl decades before.

Not usually a fan of the smooth speaking PI, fast cars, occasional loose women, guns and quick fists type of read, I was once again pleasantly surprised to find myself truly enjoying this latest from Housewright.  Mostly it's Mac himself who adds the charm to these tales of secrets and murder, being cleverly fashioned by Housewright's easy going style that infuses enough originality to mostly avoid the annoying parts of the stereotypical fedora wearing detectives of yore, while still retaining a hint of what made them cool.  Now and again Mac falls into the trap of macho guy with gun who can't control his impulses around a pretty lady, wish he didn't, and hope he pays for that.  Either way, fun and fast-paced, this is a series that will easily appeal to readers who like this kind of thing but, even more surprising, one that will also appeal to those who normally don't.       

 

 

The Lost van Gough by A. J. Zerries

Publisher: Tor Books  ISBN: 0765351080

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Nazi war criminals hiding in South America is a premise that has just about run its course. However, like writing music in the key of C Major, The Lost van Gogh shows that any premise makes a good story when handled creatively.

A series of delivery truck robberies. A painting lost for so long its very existence is barely a rumor. An SS officer so sadistic his atrocities still terrorize observers fifty-five years later. A sinister plot that spans four continents and thirty years. The husband and wife team of A.J. Zerries weave facts and possibilities into a good, old-fashioned police story that will hold the interest of even the most attention-deficient modern reader.

That’s all the plot description you’ll get here; any more would ruin the fun. Like William Goldman’s classic Marathon Man, the events of the first hundred pages of The Lost van Gogh seem to have a tenuous relationship, if any. Not a problem. The Zerries keep each thread interesting enough to be a story of its own. Borrowing a page from The Sopranos, plot points are introduced, ignored, then brought back when maximum impact can be achieved.

The Zerries’ also show a welcome knack for increasing suspense by allowing key bits of action to take place offstage; they understand that a climax is the release of tension, and have the confidence and discipline to hold off. Gunshots and crashes in the darkness, out of sight of the protagonist (and reader) only accentuate the lack of control he has over his situation. Hitchcock would be proud.

The characters are well-drawn, if two-and-a-half dimensional. Asking for Elmore Leonard-class characters from such plot-oriented writers is hardly fair. Motivations may not be immediately obvious, but seeming inconsistencies and stretches are satisfactorily explained in time. The dialog has its moments, but The Lost van Gogh is of the “plot first, everything else tied for second” school of writing. The plot and characters carry this off better than most, even if the ending does get a bit Hollywood.

There are a few failings, none glaring. Unfortunately, too many of them are wrapped up in protagonist Clay Ryder. The death of Ed McBain may have signaled the end of the fictional cop who is an ordinary a guy who happens to be a cop; Ryder earned an art degree and became a Navy SEAL before joining NYPD. Good thing, too; that’s exactly the skill set he needs to solve the crime and live to tell about it.

Ryder is also the ever-popular Damaged Man. His wife died a year before the book begins, killed in an accident while driving away from an embarrassing fight picked by Clay. He still blames himself, and becomes uncomfortably attracted to a principal of the case—you know where this goes. That’s not a spoiler. A third of the way into the book, you’ll stop wondering if they’re going to get together and start thinking about how.

Things could be worse. The characters are, by and large, likable, and the plot, while complicated, is never so convoluted as to seem artificial. The Lost van Gogh is escapism at a high level, well done and easily read.