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The Thieves of Heaven by Richard Doetsch

Publisher: Dell ISBN: 0440242886

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

The Vatican holds many secrets.  German industrialist August Finster hires second story man Michael St. Pierre who is out on parole to steal one of these secrets.  In exchange, his wife's cancer treatments will be paid for.  When Michael learns what he has stolen and who he has given it to, he fears for his wife's soul and must get it back.

Doetsch has written a novel that will make you sit up and pay attention.  With all the murder and manipulation you begin to believe in all the good and evil forces throughout the world.  Michael, who is not a religious man, recaptures his faith when he is the recipient of a miracle.

THE THIEVES is one of the best first novels I have read and look forward to more books by Doetsch.  You can't put this one down for very long because it keeps calling you back.

 

 

The Innocent by Harlan Coben

Publisher: Signet ISBN: 045121577X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Nine years ago Matt Hunter walked away from prison a free man after serving a few years for accidentally killing a young man during a fight at a college party.  Prison has toughened him up a bit, hardened him a little, but with the love of his life, Olivia, next to him, the future looks brighter than he could have ever imagined, especially with the news that Olivia is at last pregnant.  Having saved for a house in the suburbs of New Jersey, the two look forward to building a happy home for their new family.  But all is about to change when secrets from Olivia's deadly past come back to haunt them in the form of an odd photo of Olivia in a hotel room with a stranger.  Disturbed, Matt discovers that there may be more to his beautiful wife than he ever knew.  With their future at stake, and their past dogging their every step, the two must find a way out of this nightmare when everyone, the good guys and the bad guys, seem out to get them. 

Unbridled suspense, of course there's that, non-stop action, that too, but at the very heart of this brilliant suspense novel is a sweet and lasting love story.  Coben knows just how to mix sentiment and thrills to create the perfectly balanced story of love, redemption, hope, and of course, heart stopping adventure.  Don't miss this latest, but make sure you set aside some uninterrupted time because putting it down isn't really an option once you get started.    

 

EIGHT OF SWORDS by David Skibbins

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN 0312352255

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

What does it take to make an aging ex-Weatherman on the run stop and face the music? (If  that sentence made you think of  Al Roker, then you're way too young to be reading this book. )

David Skibbins deserves a hearty pat on the back for winning the St Martin's 2004 Malice Domestic best first traditional mystery contest with this first in what I hope will be many adventures for "Warren Ritter".  That name is in quotes because he stole it from a dead man.   Warren is really Richard, who's been on the run for 30 years, trying to escape a past  which suddenly does a U-turn and bites him in the backside.

Warren makes a living on the streets of Berkeley, reading tarot cards for gullible strangers. He also has a few not-so-gullible regulars, including Sally, a paraplegic computer hacker who has honed her skill into a razor-sharp tool for obtaining information from almost any computer anywhere.   Sally personifies the saying; "Don't get mad--get even".  It's to Sally that Warren turns for help when he gives in to a quixotic urge to participate in the society from which he has become an outcast.

A sudden flash of genuine prescience drags Warren into the lives of a casual client.  Before you can say "Four of Cups",  Louise is dead and her daughter Heather is kidnapped and Warren himself is being looked at sideways by a scary FBI agent as well as the local arm of the law.

In any other jam of this sort, Warren would pack his 7 books and leave town, but this time he decides to stay and help.  The reason may be that his chance-met sister has told him he is not only a father but an imminent grandfather.  Or perhaps Warren/Richard is at last learning how to re-engage with a world he stopped and got off of decades ago.  Shocked to the roots of his greying ponytail, Warren ponders what to do and how to do it as regards his daughter and sister; meanwhile he invests a sizeable chunk of his hidden savings to find the missing girl, Heather.

What happens next and how Warren faces the decisions that are forced upon him makes for an engaging read on several levels.  You don't need to have lived through the 60's and 70's to appreciate this book, but if you did, you'll gain an extra layer of enjoyment.

Apropos of predictions and fortune telling, note this: David Skibbins won't be having to do his day job much longer.

 

Charmed to Death by Shirley Damsgaard

Publisher:  Avon Books ISBN:  13 9780060793531

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you like a little magic mixed with your mystery, this is a book you will really enjoy.  Talented author Shirley Damsgaard has created a world where it all seems so plausible and right. 

Reluctant witch Ophelia Jensen is warned by her grandmother Abby who is also a witch, that bad trouble is coming, and it does. Trouble out of the past.  It started five years ago when a friend was murdered and Ophelia saw it in a vision and couldn't save him.

Finally, after building a new life in the confines of a small town where she is a librarian, Ophelia finds herself threatened by the unknown once more and must try to identify a killer.  To understand, she must figure out what drives him to kill. 

To complicate matters even further, a policeman from her former life inserts himself into the case and she is threatened with arrest as a murder suspect when she discovers another body. What would he think if he knew the truth?

Highly recommended as a fun read, a step through a door into another realm where motives for murder are different.  You'll be looking for other books by this talented author after reading Charmed to Death.  Enjoy.  I certainly did.

 

Digging Up Trouble by Heather Webber

Publisher:  Avon Books ISBN:  13 9780060723491

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A chance to see how not to run a landscaping business, a chance to meet some fun and very strange characters while following Nina Quinn into a possible lawsuit.  If you like plants, you'll really enjoy this tale by talented author Heather Webber.

Nina Quinn owns Gardens by Design and is hired to do a makeover of a property she believes is owned by an acquaintance of long standing.  But when she learns the acquaintance doesn't own the property and the real owner drops dead in front of her, Nina begins to worry if the owner's widow might carry out her threat to sue.

Why would anyone pay to have someone else's property landscaped? It's an expensive gesture to make for someone who isn't considered a friend. As Nina tries to figure a way out of the mess, things seem to get worse when one of her employees becomes unreliable and she has to get him back on track or he'll go back to jail. Then she finds herself involved in more than one death. 

Mystery, suspense, blackmail and strange goings-on will keep you reading to find out what happens next.  A delightful tale set in a small town to please any reader.  You'll be looking for other books by this talented author.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

The Goodbye Body by Joan Hess

Publisher:  St. Martin's Paperbacks ISBN:  0312989067

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

It started with a rat and became murder. Claire and her daughter, Caron, take up house-sitting for a rich friend who is off to Dallas to visit her sister. All seems well until a man's body shows up and vanishes the first time.

Calls to the police only convince the law that Caron and her friend Inez are playing games with them.  That is, until Claire finds the body a third time in the freezer. Then the matter is taken seriously by the police who are further embarrassed when the body disappears from the morgue.

Add to the wandering body, two strange girls showing up on their doorstep, a variety of other men and women coming to call, all very interested to learn where the absent householder has gone. Then Claire learns her friend is who she is supposed to be and hasn't gone to Dallas.

Mobsters, FBI, missing persons, people who aren't who they claim to be, all add to a fun story of almost farcical proportions.  Claire doesn't know who to trust after being attacked in her bookstore and is worried that she may have inadvertently placed her daughter and Inez in danger. 

Who is the killer? Who is the body? Where is Dolly, the vanished friend? Who are the two girls and why has one of them gone missing? Who are all these pushy, curious types that keep ringing the doorbell? 

Great fun in finding out and a very satisfying read.  Talented Joan Huss will keep you reading with a cleverly done, original plot, peopled with characters you will find intriguing.

Recommended for any mystery fan as well worth the time to read.  Enjoy.

 

The Death of Achilles by Boris Akunin

Publisher: Random House ISBN  0 8129 6880 8

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

The only things not to like about Boris Akunun’s The Death of Achilles are those damn Russian names. Everyone has to be called by first and middle names, so as not to slight their fathers. (“Hello, Erast Petrovich.” “My pleasure, Mikhail Dmitrievich.” “Allow me, Ekaterina Alexandrovna.” “I see, Prokhor Akhramevich.”) I had to read a Robert B. Parker book right away, just to let my eyes rest on a simple “Spenser” or “Hawk.”

Petty, isn’t it? Picking on a book for something so obscure. That’s about all Akunin left to criticize. The Death of Achilles is about as close to a perfect novel as you’ll see for months at a time.

Erast Petrovich Fandorin is a Collegiate Assessor (whatever that is) who has just returned to Moscow with his Japanese manservant, Masa, after six years in Japan. Fandorin has acquired a reputation as a sleuth in his relatively brief career as a czarist functionary. Good thing. National hero General Mikhail Dmitrievich Sobolev has died of a heart attack in the prime of his life, struck down in a moment of passion with a well-known courtesan. It will not do for a hero of the Motherland to succumb under such ignoble circumstances; Sobolev’s corpse is surreptitiously returned to his hotel so it can appear he died while working into the night to increase the security and prestige of Mother Russia.

That’s as much plot as you can have without running the risk of spoiling it. Fandorin solves this case more times than Elizabeth Taylor’s been married, only to discover one more seemingly insignificant piece of evidence that sets him off in a completely new direction. Any of these intermediate solutions would be satisfactory, but Akunin uses them to build the tension of the story, so that even when he gives you the final, final resolution, you can’t help but wonder if this is really it. Then…

Just as Fandorin has his hand on the doorknob to enter the room for his climactic meeting with the villain, we leave him for a hundred pages to see how the villain, Achimas, came to be there, going back to his childhood, providing even more of an insight into him than into Fandorin. The initial shock of realizing dessert has been postponed becomes engrossment in a new story, allowing the reader to see events already viewed through a different set of eyes.

The hero, Fandorin, is part Sherlock Holmes, part James Bond (without the libido), and part Spiderman. This combination almost seems to be a weakness early on, as no villain can be a match for such an invincible foe. We soon see that not only is Achimes up to the task, but that Fandorin is not infallible. His seemingly superhuman traits take on an “Our Man Flint” color as things go along, lending fun to the proceedings. Masa serves his master well in this regard; his struggles to assimilate into Russian culture without being able to speak the language are genuinely funny.

Alfred Hitchcock once said the difference between surprise and suspense is simple. Surprise is seeing a bomb go off in a crowded restaurant while two characters are having dinner. Suspense is watching someone set the bomb and waiting for it to go off. Akunin uses both expertly; the case is never solved, until it is. Then he has the confidence not to milk the ending, which neatly wraps up its business and moves on. The denouement might require a bit of a suspension of disbelief after all the Alistair Mclean-esque twists and double-crosses, but Akunin has earned this minor indulgence.

The voice of the book is that of a late 19th-Century narrator, artfully maintained by translator Andrew Bromfield, right down to identifying a mysterious visitor as Baron de ------. It would have been nice to know how long a verst is, as that unit of measure is used several times in describing people, but no harm is done.

Akunin (real name Grigory Chkhartishvili; thank God I’m typing this review and not reading it aloud) has been a success in Russia and Europe for some time, and is beginning to make his mark in this country. Good for us. Ruth Rendell has described him as “the Russian Ian Fleming.’ High praise, indeed. For Fleming.


And as Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you like your mysteries complex, dark and intricate, look no further: Boris Akunin's newest book will take you into a labyrinth of political intrigue, murder and treachery, with a generous dollop of treason thrown in for good measure.

Cleverly weaving real Russians and genuine historical events into the story, Akunin uses the sudden death of General Mikhail Sobolev as his starting point for a deadly chess game between the protagonist Erast Fandorin and the professional assassin  Achimas Welde.

Sobolev is one letter removed from the real-life "White General " Mikhail Skobolev, a popular hero of the day, who supposedly died of heart failure in July 1882.  Akunin posits the death was murder, and uses the first half of the book to follow Fantorin, the government agent, in his painstaking unraveling of the plot.

Part two takes the reader inside the head of the assassin Achimas, showing how he became the man he is.    If genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains, Achimas is an evil genius.  Totally amoral, he loves nothing and nobody.

His planning is perfect, and his ability to take advantage quickly of unexpected events gives him the edge on the plodding police agents .   Starting as a brigand and smuggler, Achimas has polished and honed his talents until he is able to pick and choose his jobs: only the most challenging and highest paid now attract his interest.

Fandorin is also highly skilled: years of living in Japan and mastering ninja skills have made him a formidable opponent.  Unfortunately these skills aren't much use against treachery from his own side, especially when it comes in layers, like a Matushka doll.

This is a hard book to categorize: think Frederick Forsyth meets Nikolai Gogol and you'll have a rough idea.  Highly recommended.