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Icarus by Russell Andrews 

Publisher: Pocket Books; ISBN: 0743451562 

People begin to die on Jack Keller as a young boy, beginning with his beloved Mother who is murdered in front of him when he is 8 years old.  After moving on and becoming a very successful restaurant owner 30 years later, his wife is the next to die in a brutal murder that also leaves Jack fighting for his life.  To the rescue comes “Kid” Demeter, a man Jack once considered a son, and who now trains with Jack to bring him back.  But when Kid is the next to go, Jack becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding Kid’s life, involving several dangerous and beautiful women who may be responsible for Kid’s death.   

This is an exciting thriller that ponders the questions of love, fidelity, and loyalty, as well as the question of how well one can really know their loved ones.  Moving from one breathless scene to the next, the reader is taken on a ride of great magnitude, rushing towards the exciting climax that brings it all together.  And although it’s hard to believe that one man can have such horrendously bad luck, this concern is easily forgotten when reading the tightly woven narrative. A great read, we look forward to Andrew’s next thriller.           

Point Deception by Marcia Muller

Publisher: Warner Books; ISBN: 0446611360

Muller takes a break from her Sharon McCone series in this wonderful stand-alone mystery.  Rhoda Smith, a detective in Northern California, still has self doubts stemming back from a case when she was a rookie involving the slaying of members of a commune.  When a string of new killings hits her town, she sees her chance at redemption, along with romance when Guy Newberry, a true-crime writer, joins her to untangle these seemingly related crimes.  This atmospheric novel hits all the right notes with strong characterization and a page-turning plot.  We would love to see this as the beginning of a new series for Muller, but unfortunately, this is probably unlikely.

4 1/2 bolts     

You Only Die Twice by Edna Buchanan

Publisher: Avon; ISBN: 0380798425

Suspense:  Investigative Reporter Britt Montero returns to solve yet another mystery set in beautiful Miami, Florida.  When she discovers the fresh corpse of a woman who was thought to be murdered by her husband ten years prior, she joins the race to find the real killer.  Amongst the suspense, the reader will be delighted by Buchanan's obvious love of her home town written in beautiful detail.  Britt herself is a feisty and lovable character, whose strength and independent nature only enhance this well-written suspense novel. 

 

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Publisher: Harper Perennial (August 1999) ISBN: 006099486X

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

The Professor and the Madman isn’t a mystery; it’s not really a crime story. The events described probably would not have happened were it not for a terrible crime, yet the crime itself is secondary to those events. Author Simon Winchester’s tale of two men brought together by a great undertaking is uplifting, melancholy, and compelling..

William Chester Minor was the son of well-to-do missionaries. Much of his early upbringing took place in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where his regular exposure to nubile, naked, native girls was judged not to be in the young man’s best interest, and he was sent home to Connecticut.

Minor became an Army surgeon just in time to witness some of the Civil War’s worst horrors during the Battle of the Wilderness. Deeply scarred by what he saw, and by a punitive action he was forced to perform, Minor was treated for psychiatric disturbance and retired on full pension from the Army.

He thought an extended to England would relax his troubled mind, but his mind was past relaxing. His paranoid delusions led him to kill an innocent passer-by Minor believed was about to harm him and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, destined to spend most of his remaining life at Broadmoor Asylum.

At Broadmoor Minor becomes aware of the nascent efforts to compile the first full dictionary of the English language, what we know today as the Oxford English Dictionary. How Minor becomes the dictionary’s primary contributor, and his interaction with the first editor, James Murray, is Winchester’s story.

And what a story it is, including a fascinating history of English dictionaries, as well as the techniques of their creation. The relationship between Minor and Murray is never far away, and the friendship that evolves is both charming and melancholy, as much because of the Victorian context as the knowledge that medical science offered nothing substantial to aid Dr. Minor other than to keep him from harm’s way.

Winchester tells a compelling tale of Minor’s tireless efforts to find words and citations for the dictionary, and of Murray’s growing dependence on his efforts. As time goes on, we realize Minor’s work for the dictionary may be all that slows the relentless progress of his illness, which today would be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia.

The story is told in plain, well-crafted, language. Winchester is a writer well aware of the emotional impact of understatement in the right circumstances. His prose makes Minor’s plight all too real, bringing home to the reader the unbearable sadness of someone forced to live with constant delusions of persecution. The author’s sympathy for Minor’s victim – as well as the widow and fatherless children – is set beside Minor’s grief over his action, and his efforts to make amends.

The book’s most chilling aspect is the knowledge that W.C. Minor is a man of many talents and formidable intellect, who is fully aware of his condition. The thoughts of such a man, knowing he is essentially powerless to control the errant wanderings of the same mind that provides his gifts, must be dark indeed. That Minor is able to throw himself so wholeheartedly into his work on the dictionary, and provide such value to a timeless document, is the triumph of a good man, betrayed by what should have been his most trusted property.

The Professor and the Madman doesn’t take long to read, so don’t hurry through it. Try to keep your feelings in the foreign context of Victorian reserve and enlightenment, and take advantage of Winchester’s talents to place yourself, for a thankfully brief time, in the mind of Dr. Minor, after which you’ll be grateful not only for Winchester’s work, but because you can step away from what haunted Minor.

 

Duck Blood Soup by Joseph Molea, MD

Publisher: iUniverse, 2002 ISBN: 0595218431

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. This uncensored cut and dry story of a psycho physician is not for everyone’s taste. And I for one would be very, very careful while going to a doctor.

Medical thrillers have been popular ever since Robin Cook popularized the genre, and Michael Palmer took it to greater heights. But this first book, Duck Blood Soup from Joseph Molea, a doctor who holds high qualifications in the field of drug abuse treatment was a real treat for my mystery loving mind- but sometimes too much for my stomach- the gore is a wee bit high.

Rocky VanSlyke is a doctor on the rise. But heavy work, odd hours, etc.- are slowly taking a toll on him. First it is a gentle stimulant, then the doctor falls prey to more vicious drugs. And slowly the doctor becomes a raving drug addict. The adverse effects of drug abuse, the lows and highs of an addict are portrayed in gory detail by the author.

I was disturbed by the book, yet happy that I read it. It was a warning that I needed, no.. no… a warning all should pay heed to. Highly recommended.

 

The Hunting Wind by Steve Hamilton

Publisher: St Martins Mass Market Paper; ISBN: 0312980264

Alex McKnight, the reluctant P.I. of Hamilton's series set in Paradise, Michigan, is back and as likable as ever.  When an old friend from his minor league baseball days comes to visit seeking Alex's help in finding an old love, Alex is slowly drawn in against his better judgment.  This story offers many twists and turns, some that confuse, most that delight, that will engage the reader and make them glad they came along for the read.  Alex is a likable guy that we definitely want to see more of, and maybe even with a little romance thrown in.  Maybe his new one coming out in May will give us this.

Rating 4 bolts

In The Blink Of An Eye by Wendy Corsi Staub

Publisher: Pinnacle Books; ISBN: 0786014237

Horror Suspense:  A mystery wrapped up with a ghost story makes for an exciting and page-turning read in Staub's new paperback.  When Julia, a resident of a community for spiritualists, finds herself confronted with murderous forces, she must find the culprit before others are targeted.  With the help of her dead best friend's lover, and a myriad of other interesting characters, Julia explores mysterious past events in order to possibly save the life of her best friend's blind daughter who also appears to have the magical gift of communicating with those who have passed.  This book comes highly recommended!

5 bolts

Every Move You Make  by Jill Jones 

Publisher: St Martins Mass Market Paper; ISBN: 0312980973

Romantic Suspense:  When Regan McKinney moves to San Francisco to begin a new life after a failed marriage, she finds more than she ever bargained for.  A serial killer is targeting red heads, like her sister and herself, and she soon finds herself in more danger than she could have ever imagined.  Her new lover, and her new job, are both unable to keep her feeling safe, as she spins head-on into a course wrought with peril.  This is a fun and easy read with plenty of suspense and enough romance to keep the reader satisfied.  Although the savvy reader may guess the culprit before the finish, there are enough curves to keep one guessing nevertheless.  This is an entertaining and satisfying read for suspense lovers. 

 

Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter

Publisher: Regan Books; ISBN: 006103200X

Suspense:  Let me start by saying that if I could, I would give this first fictional effort of Walter's 6 bolts.    Not only is the suspense riveting, but the characters are so finely developed that you will feel you know them intimately by the end of the book.  An intellectual novel that goes above and beyond the usual requirements of this genre, it is surprisingly emotionally haunting and thrilling at the same time.  Serial killer novels seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but this one truly transcends most others with it's touching and sometimes humorous portrait of its characters.  Revolving around an older detective, Alan Dupree, and his younger co-worker, Caroline Mabry, as they struggle to come to terms with an unknown evil, it fairly reads itself.  There are many surprises along the way, with the final one making the reader question where the line should be drawn to separate criminal from hero.  This is a must read for anyone who appreciates superb story telling along with their mystery.

 

Kiss of Evil by Richard Monatanari

Publisher: Harper Mass Market Paperbacks; ISBN: 0380795345

Suspense:  Detective John Paris, a middle-aged Cleveland  cop, is facing the battles that so many detectives seem to face; a broken marriage and no personal life.  When a string of seemingly related murders attack his city, he is one of the first to realize they all have ties to a fallen officer, Michael Ryan.  As the narrative switches points of view amongst the myriad of characters, the reader is taken on an exciting and thrilling ride that builds to a feverish pitch.  This is a well written novel, like the others from this author, and is a must-read for those who like well-defined characters and exciting plot lines.

 

Tracking Time  by Leslie Glass

Publisher: Signet; ISBN: 0451202287 (Paperback)

Suspense:  April Woo is back in her role as an NYPD detective.  When an old acquaintance of hers, psychiatrist Jason Frank, asks her to find a missing man, she and Jason become embroiled in a case that ends up bigger than either one would have ever suspected.  Everyone from disturbed mental clients to embittered teenagers are on the list of suspects.  And the tension mounts even further when her long time boyfriend tries to take over the case.  This is one of Glass's best novels featuring April Woo.  Jason Frank is a welcomed addition, with his finely developed character showing emotion and depth all too often missing in such novels.    

 

 

The Debt Collector  by Lynn Hightower

Publisher: Dell Pub Co; ISBN: 0440225329

Female Detective Series:  Sonora Blair is back in her role as a Cincinnati detective.  In this outing she faces not only a gruesome crime in the form of a home invasion that left 4 people dead, but also faces her own personal loss of faith and confidence.  Blair is the only one  who believes a dying woman's last words that there was a third man involved, and it's up to her to solve this last riddle long after the case has been closed.   Not only is this a suspenseful read, but the characters are finely drawn with real human failings and attributes all to often missing in this genre.  Blair, a working single mother, faces the daily battle between career and children which often conflicts with her battle on the streets between good and evil.  She is real woman, and the reader will easily empathize with the difficult choices she faces.

Staff rating:  5 bolts 

 

 

Some Survive by James Preston Girard

Publisher: Onyx Books; ISBN: 0451410211

Suspense: When a high-class call girl flees to Wichita after stealing some very expensive items from her wealthy and elderly clients, the lives of some from her past and present are severely impacted.   One is her estranged twin sister, Jess, now living 25 miles away in Sand Castle, and Lassiter, the lonely and possibly dying detective who has many secrets of his own.  Although a slightly uneven thriller, there is much more positive to be said about this book.  The characters are worth getting to know, and one will find themselves feeling great empathy for most of them.  And although there are some complaints about the loose threads left with one particular character, this is still a worthwhile read that should provoke at least a small modicum of emotion in the reader.

Staff rating:  4 bolts

 

Mapping the Edge by Sarah Dunant

Publisher: Random House (Paper); ISBN: 0375758615 (Paperback)

Suspense: Anna, a single mother, leaves her 6 year old child with friends and heads for a last minute trip to Italy.  When she fails to return, different scenarios are offered in separate story lines explaining her disappearance.   This is a nifty trick that leaves the reader constantly guessing which one is real.   This approach to the mystery of Anna's disappearance adds much to this novel that works on all levels.  Themes such as relationships, loyalty, and betrayal are poignantly written about, adding wonderful depth to this enthralling mystery.  

 

Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Publisher: Dell Pub Co; ISBN: 0440236703 (Paperback) Feb. 2002

Suspense:  David Beck, a pediatrician, lost his wife 8 years ago, and in many ways has never gotten over it.  When mysterious emails begin to arrive indicating the possibility that she may still be alive, Beck is sent into a complete emotional tailspin.  This book comes highly recommended for many reasons, Beck is truly likable, and his unrequited love for his wife is beautifully written.  The mystery itself will keep the reader guessing, while tugging at the heartstrings.

 

Quiet Time by Stephanie Kane

Publishers:   Bantam Books, 2002 ISBN: 0553581740 (Oct. 2001)

For those of you who read the author’s fantastic debut work Blind Spot- is Quiet Time as good the earlier. The answer is no- Quiet Time is much much better. It is a superb legal and psychological thriller that left me glued to the pages. Kane is fabulous storyteller and she really knows how to keep our attention riveted to the work.

            The Scott Family seems to be the classic American middle class. Warren Scott is the total family man and the master of the Scott House. His wife Peggy and Tim and Laura epitomizes the symbol of an All American family. Sari Siegel is the classmate and fiancée of Tim Scott. One fine day Peggy is found brutally murdered and Warren stands accused of the crime. However charges against Warren are dropped for lack of evidence. But Sari’s dream of a perfect married life with Tim Scott is soon shattered and she soon leaves town. Ten years later as a hotshot lawyer she returns to spot of the crime and together with Ray Burt the detective in charge of the initial investigation launches an intense look into the hidden facts behind the murder. What follows is an intense mystery where the untruths, the half-truths and the truths are revealed.

            Taut but simple, intense but engaging narration makes Quiet Time an engrossing read. Ever since James Patterson popularized the psychological thriller genre and John Grisham reinvented the legal thriller, I was on the lookout for books that successfully combines both these mystery sub genres. And the author has successfully mixed in the right proportion the elements of both sub-genres to give us a topnotch page-turner.

            A worthy read and an even more worthy buy, a book to be savored. Curl up with this book in the evening. Guaranteed, the suspense will keep you warm in those cold chilly nights.

 

                                                                            -Narayan Radhakrishnan

 

     

Stay tuned.....much more to come!  Do you have a new mystery review you would like to share with our readers?  If so, please email us at editor@newmysteryreader.com.  We'd love to hear from you!

 

 

Change of Heart  Jack Allen

Publisher: Burping Frog Press; ISBN: 0970305303

  
     
 One would think the Cold War era novel, with its threats of Reds-under- the- bed and nuclear missles pointing at us, is now passe in our post-Glasnost era.  But with Russian nuclear silos unguarded and one in six Russian voters pining for the days of Stalin, the threat is still fictionally useful.
      Jack Allen is able to hark back to the days of Ian Fleming while still honoring contemporary themes.  His novel is a combination of Le Carre and Clancy, without the latter's "boys' magazine" appreciation of gadgetry.  Allen also manages to honor the espionage genre's conflict between morality and patriotism.  In this case, Joshua McGowan, a Navy Intelligence operative, must decide whether to kill a female KGB pawn or return her to the man she loves.  
      McGowan is an appealing protagonist who recalls Phillip Marlowe.  He is an honorable man in a dishonorable world.  His code remains intact in spite of his surroundings.  
      This is an impressive debut novel.  Allen keeps a brisk, suspenseful pace without sacrificing character.  An impressive page-turner.
                                                                                -Ron Capshaw

 

Honeymoons Can Be Murder by Connie Shelton

Publisher: Worldwide Mystery; ISBN: 0373264275 

While their house is being rebuilt in Albuquerque, NM, recently married couple Charlie and Drake accept an offer to spend the winter in beautiful Taos, NM.  While Drake offers helicopter rides to rich tourists, Charlie, of course, finds herself embroiled in a couple of mysteries involving murder and religious art.  This is a fun and cozy mystery, and its light-hearted and breezy tone will certainly delight most readers.  The finest aspect can be found in its setting of beautiful Northern New Mexico in a mostly stormy winter.  If you’ve never been there, this is a wonderful way to visit this beautiful part of the country.        

 

 

Click on links for purchasing info with Amazon

The Detective and the Investor  by Robert G. Hagstrom

Better categorized as a financial advice book, The Detective and the Investor has some redeeming qualities for the mystery enthusiast.  The author uses the deductive methods of three prominent fictional detectives (Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, and Auguste Dupin) to illustrate how a prospective investor should approach differing opportunities.  I found this book interesting, if a little dry.  The major failing is a tendency to “ooh and ahh” at the great detectives’ conclusions.  This may be an advantage for a fictional work, but does not necessarily apply to real life investing.  However, the main points stressed, that one cannot be diligent enough in collecting information, keeping an open and dispassionate mind, and not discounting one’s intuition and knowledge of human nature, are all good ones.  The last chapter consists of a very enjoyable scene in which the author and the three great detectives convene to discuss investment strategies.  There is also a valuable appendix containing informational resources.  Not a story-oriented work by any means, but a good exploration and exposition, both for fans of classical detective fiction and those apprehensive of investing.

                                                                                     -Marcus Brandt

 

Flesh and Blood  By Jonathan Kellerman

Publisher: Random House; ISBN: 0679459626

Alex Delaware scores again in Kellerman’s latest novel involving the psychologist who finds himself more often playing detective than therapist. In this latest outing, Delaware is caught up in a case involving a teen-age patient he consulted with ten years prior. Although he only saw the patient twice initially, and then once six years later, Alex is drawn into trying to solve the mystery surrounding her disappearance, and later, her death. A chance encounter at a bachelor party with the now adult Lauren Teague leaves Alex feeling unsettled and slightly guilty for missing out on his chance to make a difference with this misguided young lady, and when her mother calls soon after, Alex uses this guilt to motivate him to investigate her life, disappearance, and murder. False starts and unconnected clues hinder Alex’s chances at success., but he soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery larger than life. Involving psychological experimentation, big money, and nefarious relatives, Alex, along with his detective friend Milo Sturgis, race against time to catch the elusive killer.

As with many previous Delaware novels, Kellerman throws around theories regarding the murder at a furious pace. And once the reader gets past the unlikely scenario that Alex would become so obsessed with a patient he only saw three times, the ride becomes much more enjoyable. There’s plenty of false herrings in this outing, and the reader will have a hard time guessing the end, which leads to an even greater enjoyment. The only complaints that may be lodged are _why_ Alex becomes so involved in this case, along with the author’s much-too-brief descriptions of Alex’s personal life and personal reflections. I would like to see Kellerman develop Alex a little more in future novels, perhaps further explaining his seemingly inexplicable need to become so involved with these cases. Also it would be interesting to read more about his relationship with his girlfriend, and living partner, Robin.  But for now, this novel comes recommended as a fun and thrilling read.

Rating 4 bolts

Crimson Rain by Meg O'Brien

Sixteen years ago, Paul and Gina Bradley were obligated to give up one of their twin adopted children because of severe behavioral problems.  Now faced with a crumbling marriage, and sudden bizarre events that point to their past, this couple must come together again to stop a campaign of terror before their whole family faces new tragedy. 

This is one of the most under appreciated writers I have ever had the pleasure to read.  Extremely taut plot lines, characters that matter, and unbridled suspense mark all of her books.  This one is no exception.  And although most readers will glean what is truly going on long before the characters themselves do, this in no way affects the wonderful creepiness of a dream turned into a nightmare.  Another marvelous success at the hands of a truly gifted writer, read it and you won’t be disappointed.

 

Deadlock by James Scott Bell

Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 0310243882

James Scott Bell's Deadlock is more than a fast-paced legal drama.  It probes at more than legal, moral and ethical issues.  It does more than tell a story.  Deadlock is a powerful, emotional and thoughtful novel.  The characters are well crafted, the scenes well plotted, and the over all effect—overwhelming.

Millicent Hollander is a tough judge.  Her consistent rulings and written decisions are strong and persuasive.  When a case stands before her on issues like abortion, most can foretell how the verdict will be rendered.  She is almost a cold, godless woman.

Charlene Moore is an African American attorney, trying to right a wrong.  Her teenage client has undergone an abortion that has inflicted mental pain and suffering in her client.  The complaint states that the clinic that performed the surgery failed to inform the young lady of all the side effects an abortion might create.  Though Moore is confident she will prevail, getting the courts to see things her way is all together another story.

When Hollander is offered a historical position as the first female Chief Justice on the Supreme Court, things could not be any better.  That is until she is almost raped by a person she trusted.  As she makes her escape through the city park, a homeless man confronts her.  She stumbles into the street and is struck by a car.  She flatlines.

Returning to her hometown to recover, Hollander gets closer with her mother.  Her mother is a very religious woman who spends a lot of time praying for her daughter.  The local pastor dedicates his time to make Hollander feel more at home.  His timing is perfect, since the near death experience has Hollander trying to figure out the meaning of life, forcing her to evaluate her own beliefs and morals as they were before the accident occurred.

Those in power, corrupt and reasonably heartless, who manipulated Hollander to the Chief Justice position learn of Hollander's newfound religion and fear her stable and sound judicial rulings will become unpredictable and dangerous to the Constitution and the American people, plot to get her removed from her position.  As Hollander realizes truths about her life that frighten her more she ever thought could be possible.  What faces her now is a choice.

Deadlock is enlightening and amazing.  James Scott Bell is a powerful storyteller.  This book, like many of his others, is wholesome and magical.  Deadlock is a religious book that forces Hollander, as well as the reader, to take notice and into account the only possible truth.  In a word, Powerful.

© 2003 Phillip Tomasso III  (Tomasso is also an author of young adult mysteries..for more info   http://grantrphilips.tripod.com/

JOHNNY BLADE BY PHILLIP TOMASSO III

Publisher: Barclay Books, LLC /  ISBN: 1931402299
 

      Phillip Tomasso’s thriller, Johnny Blade, is actually two stories.  One is Martin Wringer, a psychotic man who kills prostitutes, and Michael Buzzelli, a reporter who is determined to write the expose on the man that is killing them. 

      The story opens with Wringer luring a prostitute into his van and then killing her, gaining the nickname, Johnny Blade, because he uses a large knife to kill them.  From there, we learn that he has lost everything – his job, his wife, and his kids – because of his violent temper.  Wringer would lose his job first because of an argument with his boss that ended with Wringer breaking his boss’s nose in a fistfight.   

      The next scene opens with Michael Buzelli taking a job as a diner that is known as a hangout for prostitutes.  Buzzelli thinks that he should be able to catch the killer and write the big expose that will win a Pulitzer Prize. 

       Phillip Tomasso’s technique of switching points of view in this story only adds to the suspense and develops two conflicts.  One where Wringer kills prostitutes and eventually blames his wife for all his problems.  Tomasso will build an important scene where Wringer will visit his ex-wife and beat her in front of her children.  As a result, Tomasso raises a very important question about domestic violence – Is it okay for the wife to attempt to poison the husband because she feels that he is about to kill her? 

       Buzzelli’s conflict is more complex.  He falls in love with a prostitute named Felicia  and wants to go out of his way to changer her by encouraging her to go back to stop being a prostitute , go back to school, and to see her parents again.   Felicia is resistant at every turn and the reader is left wondering if this relationship will last. 

       Tomasso’s attempt at making Wringer a psychotic character works well - especially in the scene where Wringer demands a hearing against his company so he can collect his unemployment benefits.  Wringer’s manager argues that Wringer gave up his unemployment benefits when Wringer broke his nose.  Wringer – knowing that he would lose the case – responds by shouting “How did it feel when I slammed my fist into your face.” 

        In many cases, stories about serial killers are focused on whether the serial killer will get caught in the end in many books such as Donald Westlake’s book, The Ax, a great story about a man who kills people that could compete with him for a job.    Tomasso takes a different angle, developing two stories and a cast of powerful characters that do more than tell a story about a serial killer.   It’s an intriguing story that will entertain anyone who reads it.                

                                                Reviewer---Leon Altman

 

A Town Where Lights Are Blue by  William Saffell
Publisher: Quiet Storm Publishing  ISBN  0-97142-968-5


Though William Saffell's novel, A Town Where Lights Are Blue, is rather sad and depressing, it is also intriguing and full of heartfelt emotions.  Set in the 1970's, in the small town of Yokohama in Asia, a Viet Nam Vet lives his life like a twelve step program, one day at a time.  Only the main character is anything but an A.A. member.

John Sky is a Viet Nam Vet, who fell in love with Yokohama, and has committed his life to playing piano in a bar band.  After an evening of performing, he and friends, like Ota—a womanizer—go from bar to bar, drinking in excess.  Ota generally goes home with a new woman each night, and Sky heads home alone.  Sky spends his life in a blur, a constant buzz, living for the moment, but not looking to do anything in particular with the moment of time he's in, until he meets two women and his life changes.  

Sky finds himself intrigued by Sayoko, a prostitute.  Night after night, she shows up at the different bars with different men.  Regardless, she and Sky bond as life long friends.  But there friendship was not strong enough for Sayoko to share with Sky a secret that she has kept hidden for the last few years.

Then there is Miyako.  She is what they call a "bargirl" in her country.  In our country, she is a barmaid.  She thinks she is old in her mid-thirties and harbors a restless prejudice against Americans, until she finds herself attracted to Sky.  Her own depression might be caused by the mixed marriage of her parents.  Or, it might stem from her own dissatisfaction with the career she's chosen for her life.

Saffell tells his story with taut scenes descriptive narrative, and crisp dialogue.  It's like reading Steinbeck, had Steinbeck of written books based in Hong Kong.  The tale explores culture and racial issues.  A Town Where Lights Are Blue is a character driven story that will leave the reader thinking long after they've finished reading the book.

© 2003 Phillip Tomasso III

_____

Shirker  by
Chad Taylor
Publisher:  Walker & Co.  ISBN 0802733506
Reviewed by Phillip Tomasso III
4 lightening Bolts

Chad Taylor's novel is brisk, enveloping and erotic. His imaginative world is eerily revealed in a vision of slate-gray darkness, drab and dreary.

On a seemingly ordinary morning, Ellerslie Penrose sees a crowd gathered by a street alley. Noting the police tape, and since the event occurred in his neighborhood, he takes a closer look and finds a wallet on the street just outside the crowd, planning to turn it in to the police. The officers on the scene mistake his identity. For reasons unknown to Penrose, he does not correct the investigator, and instead allows himself to be included in the initial homicide investigation.

Though he quickly attracts unwanted attention from Tangiers, the lead detective on the case, Penrose decides to keep the wallet he has kept concealed. Once at his home office, he begins to dig into the personal life of the murdered man. Penrose believes that he himself is somehow connected to the killing. After all, the man found dead in the bin had left a bloody letter "P" scrawled on the bin's lid.

This personal investigation leads Penrose through a city of obscure people, all with odd stories to tell and with confessions to share. Shirker reads like a movie length episode of The Twilight Zone - highly original and compelling, with a Rod Serling-style twist at the end to make it complete.

_____

A Great Day for Dying by
Jonathan Harrington
Write Way Publishing 256 pages - February 2001 ISBN 1885173938
Reviewed by Phillip Tomasso III
3 1/2 lightening Bolts

A Great Day for Dying is the third book in the Danny O'Flaherty mystery series. For the purpose of this review, attempt to imagine the most obnoxious and outspoken person you have ever known. Now picture that person as the spokesperson for any public relations or public speaking event. Doesn't sit well, does it?

Harrington brings to light such a person in the opening chapter of his thrilling novel. Fintan Conway has been chosen as the Grand Marshall for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City. During his speech, he ruthlessly alienates nearly every one present with hard and cold words. While riding on one of the floats, Fintan reaches out to shakes hands with people in the streets. Without anyone knowing for sure what happened, Fintan is shot and rushed to a hospital where he battles for his life.

Danny O'Flaherty may have been the only witness to the crime. What's more disturbing is the fact that O'Flaherty's old friend is the person arrested for the crime. In a race against time, O'Flaherty tries to clear his friend of murder, while the latter is unwilling to cooperate. The police believe O'Flaherty is chasing shadows, but someone is taking his investigation seriously enough to try and stop him from digging any further.

Full of gritty action and suspense, Harrington delivers a tale of clever intrigue. A Great Day for Dying is a political thriller for today's readers. Compelling and enjoyable.

___

Stream of Death by
Bill Stackhouse
Poisoned Pen Press 188 pages, Feb 2001 ISBN 1890208566
Reviewed by Phillip Tomasso III
4 lightening Bolts

Stackhouse produces an exciting first novel in Stream of Death. The mob-mystery takes place in a small county in the Catskills. As a long time fan of Mafia-fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed Stackhouse's tale.

The story revolves around the Il Ciondolo Isabela Pendant. Back in Italy, the Mafia planned to steal the stunning, rose colored piece of jewelry. But someone else knew of the plan, and the attempt failed. Losing family to this archaic blunder, the Don swore a personal vendetta.

Years later, the pendant is found on Harvey's property in Green County, in the Catskills. Because of the jewelry's famed origin and history, the media exploit the find. When the property owner is murdered while fishing, it doesn't take long for the chief of police, Ed McAvoy, to see a possible mob connection. Harvey's wife and good friends are willing to do everything they can to help the chief catch the killer. McAvoy will need all the help he can get as the mob investigates the same crime with a far different motive: Revenge.

Stackhouse can solidly build his main and secondary characters and shows his skill for portraying stereotypical mob-dialect. I enjoyed the fresh and clean dialogue. The author is adept at casting out a line and hooking the reader. I could not turn the pages of Stream of Death fast enough. A fully engrossing read.
_____

Tip A Canoe by
Peter Abresch
Write Way Publishing 272 pages, January 2001 ISBN 188517392
Reviewed by Phillip Tomasso III
5 lightening Bolts

Tip A Canoe is the third book in the James P. Dandy Elderhostel Mystery series, and what a series Abresch has created. Elderhostel is an organization that coordinates events for senior citizens and the Jim Dandy mysteries revolve around these outings.

In Tip A Canoe, Jim Dandy and his girlfriend Dodee are headed down to the Carolinas for a week long Canoeing Elderhostel trip. The plan is to enjoy the peaceful and inspiration surroundings while hiking and canoeing. However, Dodee has a history of leading Jim by the hand into obscure and dangerous mysteries. Jim and Dodee meet and join together with a wide array of Elderhostel vacationers. It seems like all fun and games until the police begin investigating a suspicious drowning and the appearance of a dynamite box. Sure that the two events are unrelated, Jim attempts to dissuade Dodee from sleuthing. However, her interests are met as she and a retired FBI agent share conspiracy theories.

Fun, witty and most of the time downright humorous, Abresch spins off well thought out scenes laced with strings of laugh-out-loud lines. Compelling and clever, right down to the way Abresch introduces and forces his readers to remember all the secondary characters. Tip A Canoe will hold your interest from the opening page to the last line.



Two Bits by Clint Gaige
Publisher: Quiet Storm Publishing ISBN: 0972881905
Website:                www.quietstormpublishing.com
Release Date:                April 2003        
5 lightening Bolts

Clint Gaige, author of A Kerouac Christ, has written an unforgettable crime story in Two Bits.  The tightly plotted con-artist novel is complete with taut chapters, crisp dialogue and page turning, roller coaster action packed into every scene.  In Two Bits, Gaige left out all the fluff and filler, clearly concentrating on putting together a no-nonsense thriller.

Archie Greene, is like a young Paul Newman.  Caught after pulling off a petty scam, Greene might have walked away from the deal with a slap on the wrist.  His temper lands him behind bars after taking a swing at the arresting officer.  Two Bits starts with Greene's parole.  He has a telemarketing job lined up and an apartment ready and waiting.

Greene can't handle the day to day, hum-drum life that ordinary people lead. He itches to get back into the game.  A con artist is a con artist.  Conning is in his blood, literally.  Greene learned the tricks of the trade from the best, his grandfather.    

Greene's grandfather shows up on his doorstep a broken man.  Pat Shannon, a hot-shot Mafia man inadvertently killed Greene's grandmother.  And the grandfather wants to bleed the man dry of his wealth to teach him a lesson.

The easiest way to a self-absorbed person is to make the con all about that person.  Greene poses as a film producer interested in shooting a movie about Shannon's life. Teaming up with a host of odd friends and dangerous new acquaintances, the plan to scam millions unfolds.  Sounds easy, right?  Wrong.  Murphy's law comes into play.  Anything that can get screwed up, does.  People you thought could be trusted are first in line to twist the knife in your back.  Greene finds himself isolated and trapped in a quick-failing con, with nothing to do but keep up the con…The show must go on.

In the vein of Leonard's Get Shorty, and Tevis' The Hustler, Two Bits is a fine work of cleverly crafted fiction.  Clint Gaige invokes anticipation in the reader with fingernail biting vigor.  He knows how to move the story at breakneck speed utilizing his host of unusual and savory characters.  Tension, it's in there.  Action, it's in there.  Satisfaction, it's in there.

 

A Darker Justice by Sallie Bissell

Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub (Trd); ISBN: 0553801317

Mary Crow returns in her second outing as a bright, strong and independent woman who knows how to get the job done.  This time around, Mary is called upon by the FBI to protect a judge with whom she has close ties.  Judges are being killed in a conspiracy that reaches far and wide and comes with strong political implications.  Although we know from the start who the bad guys are, this in no way stops the reader from feeling they can't turn the pages fast enough.  Along the way, Mary also once again faces the mystery of who raped and killed her mother when she was 18.  These two story-lines create a fascinating and thrilling ride that is almost impossible to put down.  Mary's character once again rises above complications to save the day.  She's a woman we can all root for and feel good about.  The secondary characters, especially one certain teenager are also potrayed beautifully.  Another winner!

Rating:  5 bolts 

 

Angel Fire by Lisa Miscione 

Publisher: Minotaur Books; ISBN: 0312283040

Lydia Strong, a writer of true-crime, is taking a break in her vacation home outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico when she first realizes that a string of cases involving missing persons may be related.  Already in an emotional tailspin stemming from the approaching anniversary of her mother’s death 15 years prior, Lydia must fight her own inner demons as well as those outside of her if she is to survive.  She summons the ex-FBI agent who solved her mother’s death, and with whom she finds herself growing increasingly attached to, to help solve the mystery, and together they battle the forces of evil that are invading the small town of Angel Fire.  This is a remarkable and emotional debut novel, with Lydia evoking a strong sense of empathy from the reader.  While a strong and independent woman on the outside, inside she is still a child missing her mother and afraid of love.  The touching love story that plays out in the background is refreshing in its sincerity and emotional depth, and adds a great deal to this wonderful first novel from Miscione.  The beautiful background of New Mexico is also to be appreciated, as anyone who has ever visited the area can attest to.  Miscione is a confident and able writer, and we look forward to her next Lydia Strong novel due out next year.

 

Walking the Perfect Square by Reed Farrel Coleman

 Publisher:  Plume (February) ISBN 0452283892

Twenty years ago, retired NY City Policeman Moe Prager, was drawn into the case of missing college student Patrick Maloney, an enigmatic young man whose characterization eluded all who knew him.  His search led him to corrupt politicians, a father whose desire to find his son was suspicious at best, and the love of his life.  Along the way, his realization that he might be just a pawn in a game way over his head made him all the more determined.  Never quite solving the case, it’s haunted Prager for years, and now 20 years later a new clue surfaces that may lead to the answers that eluded him, but may also unveil the lies he told.    

Moe Prager is one of the most likable ex-cops to come along in quite awhile.  Genuine, hard-headed, but with a heart of gold, his ingrained integrity and conscience still somehow seem to lead him consistently down troubled paths. This riveting story also has emotional depth, believable dialogue, and an authentic view of life in the late 70’s.  The reader can’t help but get caught up in the lives of the interesting characters that pepper the pages with realism and substance.  And Mo Prager, especially, is one guy that we would welcome back with open arms.

 

 

Coincidence  By David Ambrose

Publisher: Warner Books; ISBN: 0446527971 (February)

When scientific writer George Daly sets out to write his new book based on the theories surrounding coincidences, he unwittingly opens the door to some strange and frightening occurrences.  Suddenly he finds himself experiencing the most oddest coincidences himself, the most of which is running into his twin brother that he never knew existed.  Meanwhile, his marriage to his rich and beautiful wife seems to be nearing the end. 

Written alternately from the point of view of George, his twin Larry, and his wife Sara, this is a very hard book to describe.  There are certainly some interesting theories set forth about coincidences, along with neat little anecdotes from history.  There are also some other theories proposed along these lines that will give the thoughtful reader cause for pause.  This is an intelligent thriller, unlike any I've ever read before, which left me thinking of the many possibilities that might exist regarding our assumptions of reality and logic.

4 Bolts

Kiss it Goodbye by John Wessel

Publisher: Gardners Books ISBN 0743415736

This is Wessel's third novel featuring unlicensed PI Harding and his younger girlfriend Alison.  When Alison's friend Beth gets stranded at the alter by her groom-to-be Charles, and one of Harding's fake business cards is found on the body of a low level drug dealer, these two seemingly unrelated events turn into a mystery involving Alison's past.  The two catch up to Charles, drunk and nearly incoherent in a neighboring town, eventually leading him back to Beth, who struggles to come to terms with his alcoholism and tendency to run when the going gets tough.  Meanwhile, the body count rises as women from Alison's past are murdered and attacked, leading the couple on a wild search for the assailant. 

While this is a good mystery all in all, one must pay careful attention at all times.  The myriad of characters are introduced with lightening speed, and it is often times difficult to keep up with all of them, as well as their connections to the seemingly unrelated events.  A little more detail in the beginning of the novel would have been welcomed, but near the middle of the book, the reader will finally feel comfortable in recognizing the player's and their impact on the surrounding events.  The shocking ending will come as a great surprise, but understanding the motive will be a bit more difficult.

 

A Winter Haunting By Dan Simmons 

Publisher: William Morrow & Co; ISBN: 0380978865

Driven back home to the small town of Elm Haven after a love affair gone bad, a family in ruins, and a career on the breaking point, Dale Stewart hopes to write the serious novel of a summer gone past from his childhood.  During that summer, the mysterious and genius 11-year-old Duane had been killed in a freak accident, tainting the usually slow and lazy days of summers before.  Still haunted by this event, as well as the young lover who dumped him, Dale finds himself suddenly caught up in events out of his control.  There are the ghosts who seem to haunt Duane’s old house where Dale is holed up for the winter, as well as the menacing skinheads who also threaten and taunt Dale.  Mysterious messages also begin to show up on his computer, all leaving him to question his sanity.     

Not much of a horror fan, I was surprised to find this novel to be both touching and intelligent.  It easily transcends this particular genre with frequent references to the literary world, and its revelations on the subjects of memories, sanity, and the hope for redemption. Instead of detracting from the story, the supernatural aspects added great depth and meaning to Dale’s constant struggle to rise above his mistakes and sense of defeat.  This book will both surprise and delight. 

4 1/2 Bolts

Raymond Chandler: The Complete Works in Three Volumes

(Purchasing info to come!)

Everyman’s Library, (Borzoi Book), 2002

For the ardent fan of the noir mystery genre, and the hardboiled crime fiction the first two names to cross the mind would be Dashiell Hammett, creator of the Sam Spade Detective series and Raymond Chandler, the creator of Detective Phillip Marlowe.

I need’nt bother to say and detail about the works of these two grand master. The works speaks for themselves. Dozens of books have been published about the authors and the works. In one single phrase lets put it- HAMMETT AND CHANDLER WERE THE MASTERS.

However, the books under review are unique. I believe it  is for the first time all the works have been collected as a book-set, in 3 volumes, immaculate and pristine.  Kudos to Everyman’s Library (Borzoi books) for taking up such a wonderful, wonderful task. Mystery loving readers will always be thankful to the publishers for bringing out such a volume.

Volume One with an Introduction by Diane Johnson consists of the Phillip Marlowe Classics The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely and The High Window. Volume 2 consists of The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye and Playback with an Introduction by Tom Hiney. The third volume is the complete short fiction of Chandler, all 25 novelettes with an Introduction by John Bayley.

These three volumes are a MUST, MUST, MUST possession for the ardent devotee of the mystery genre, and the same are sure going to be the pride of my mystery collection. Before I leave two thoughts- who was better as Phillip Marlowe- Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum; and secondly, was Bogart better as Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Think it over, meanwhile I am going to book my copy of THE COMPLETE DASHIELL HAMMETT

                                                              -  Narayan Radhakrishnan