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BEVERLY HILLS VOODOO by L. F. Crawford

Publisher:  Hard Shell Word Factory ISBN 0 7599 39956

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Detective Art Murry has been wallowing in a slough of resentment.  This understandable: he is just back on the street after spending six months on desk duty for the sin of punching out his former partner, who's been having a fling with Murry's wife, the aptly-named Scarlet.

What Murry needs is a case he can get his teeth into, something high-profile that will put him back on track for promotion.  What he gets is all that and more when the beautiful young wife of a well-known judge is found murdered and mutilated in various locations around Los Angeles.  Yes, that was plural: locations.

Aided by his irritating but smart young partner, Billy "The Kid" Kidman, Murry soon finds out a whole lot more about the voodoo sub-culture of LA than he really wanted to know.  Murry has a frightening brush with the power of voodoo himself at the hands of a bokor, a black magic practitioner.  The unfortunate Billy has more than a brush, and lies between life and death until his partner does something beyond the bounds of reason to restore him to health.

Trying to help his brother, but more often hampering the case, is Murry's opera star twin, Lance.  Further complicating the picture is Murry's suddenly blossoming relationship with the medical examiner, the yummy Mary Éclair.

Running through the book parallel to the voodoo theme is a sense of urgency, occasioned by Captain Baker putting the spurs into Murry for purposes of his own, not all of them motivated by a desire for justice.  He wants a quick solution, and holds over Art's head the threat of being removed from the case and replaced by his deceitful and treacherous ex-partner, the grandstanding Steve Tack.

This is an involving book with some excellent characterizations.  The reader may find it's a bit heavy on the voodoo information and wonder if it might have been more enjoyable if some of the detail had been left aside in favor of more attention to the interplay among the characters themselves.   However,  if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a voodoo spell, you'll have a pretty good idea of what steps to take..   This book is worth the time spent with it, and it will be interesting to see how Book Two of the series "Fortune Cookie Karma", develops.

Available as a trade paperback or in various e-book formats; for details go to www.hardshell.com

 

Died in the Wool by Mary Kruger

Publisher: Simon &Schuster Adult Publishing Group  ISBN: 0743484738

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Ariadne Evans, owner of Ariadne’s Web yarn shop, winds up in a “stitch” of trouble when she finds Edith Perry garroted with homespun purple yarn in her store.  There is a long list of people who might have wanted to harm Edith because of her unpopular stance on local politics; the list includes:  Ariadne because Edith is planning to raise the rent for her shop and Diane, the spinner of the purple yarn and farm owner who would be impacted by the expanded land development.  Since she is high on the list of suspects, Ariadne has no choice but to turn amateur sleuth in order to clear her name and Diane’s as well.  The investigation expands beyond the boundaries of the town via the Internet as Ariadne searches for clues. 

Mary Kruger uses Freeport, Massachusetts as the quaint, close-knit community setting for this novel.  Ariadne finds herself in need of a lawyer (her ex-husband, the tax attorney) and surprisingly attracted to the lead detective (Josh Pierce) in the case.  The author leave the relationship between Josh and Ariadne unresolved in this novel, hopefully so that it can be expanded upon in subsequent installments of this series.  The whodunit is predictable but does not detract from the enjoyable nature of the novel.  Ariadne Evans is an entertaining amateur sleuth and Died in the Wool is a cozy mystery that I enjoyed from beginning to end.

 

COLD TRUTH by Mariah Stewart

Publisher: Ballantine Books ISBN: 0345476654 

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

A serial killer is on the loose, and after a lifetime of not being apprehended, he has returned to the small New Jersey town where it all started.

Cassie Burke, a police detective in Bower's Inlet, N. J. has the bodies of young dark haired women who have been raped and strangled piling up when her partner decides to leave the force.  FBI agent Rick Cisco is sent in to give her a hand.  Together they must solve the crimes and uncover the link to the crimes committed aver 25 years ago.  What neither Cassie nor Rick realizes is that Cassie is the link between the two sets of murders.

Stewart has written a book filled with action, excitement and small town cover ups that impede police investigation.  The main characters are warm, caring, dedicated people who will not give up until the case is solved.  All in all a worthy mystery that provides great entertainment.

 

Witch Way to Murder by  Shirley Damsgaard

Publisher:  Avon Mystery ISBN:  10:  0060793481

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Do you believe in witches?  If you do, this is a tale you will enjoy.

Prickly Ophelia Jensen doesn't want people in her small town to know she's a witch.  Or that her grandmother Abby is.  She doesn't trust people's reaction and uses this to keep them from getting close. Another problem is, she doesn't trust magic either.

Losses of two people she loved and couldn't help have kept her emotionally isolated and reluctant to let anyone breach the wall she erected around her heart.  Even her grandmother can't convince her it's time to tear it down.

Abby warns Ophelia of growing danger and the involvement of a stranger in town. The stranger is a handsome character who won't let her ignore him.  He is with her the day she finds a body she saw in a dream.

Red herrings are drawn across the path by talented Shirley Damsgaard to keep the reader guessing about the murderer's identity.  Who was the victim?  Why was he killed? Why is Ophelia getting warnings to mind her own business? 

These and lots of other questions will keep you turning pages.  You'll enjoy meeting Ophelia and Abby and the well-drawn cast of characters.  A fun read, beginning to end.  Enjoy.

 

The Lonely Girls Club by Suzanne Forster

Publisher: Mira Books  ISBN: 0778322017

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

What horrible secrets are shared by the First Lady of the United States, a federal judge, and the owner of a “spa” with exclusive clientele? 

Each was a member of the “Lonely Girls Club” when they were children and scholarship students at the Rowe Academy for Girls.  Headmistress Millicent Rowe provides the scholarship students to wealthy men who pay handsomely to exploit them sexually.  The exploitation of the “Lonely Girls Club” ends with the murder of Millicent Rowe but along the way they lose one of their members to suicide.  William ‘Billy’ Broud is found guilty of the murder; but 20 years later he is exonerated and freed from prison when DNA evidence proves him innocent.  To make matters worse, Jameson Cross, a true crime writer, wants to reopen the case in order to find out who really killed the headmistress and he wants to find the remaining members of the “Lonely Girls Club.”  As a result “The Lonely Girls Club” is forced to reunite in order to devise a plan for keeping their secrets hidden despite Cross’ tenacious efforts.

The Lonely Girls Club is a gripping novel that builds tension around the hunt for the real murderer of the headmistress.  Each of the remaining members of the club reacts differently to the possibility that Jameson Cross may unearth the truth and that adds to the suspense in the novel. The novel moves back in forth in time, but the author includes dates at the beginning of the sections to help the reader to follow.  In The Lonely Girls Club, Suzanne Forster creates a suspenseful novel depicting the darker side of the rich and powerful that includes intrigue, sex, lies and possibly murder.  The reader will not want to put the book down until they know who really killed the headmistress.

 

Twisted Perception by Bob Avey

Publisher:  Bedside Books ISBN:  1589822714

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Something from the past is connected to a crime in the present for Detective Kenny Elliot of the Tulsa Police. That something is from his past and he must confront it to solve the crime and be free of an old trouble.

Kenny's world seems to be falling apart for him. His boss and fellow detectives act suspicious of him, spy on him and ask questions about his activities. Could it be they suspect him of being the criminal? Or is it just his imagination, something left over from a very troubled youth when two of his classmates were found murdered with a message written in blood nearby.

To resolve the problem Elliot returns to the hometown he left under a cloud. His old mentor, Chief of police Charles Johnson tells him to leave and an old friend greets him like a long lost brother.  The past blurs into the present as Elliot researches the old crime to see just what its relationship is to the present crime in Tulsa.  Are the two related?

Talented Bob Avey lets the reader see life through the eyes of a murderer who is trying to understand the strange influences in his world. You'll keep reading just to find out who "she" is the killer refers to. An enjoyable read with a cast of characters who keep the story moving.

Enjoy.

 

THE PROFILER by Lori A. May

Publisher: Silhouette ISBN: 0373513704

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

FBI special agent Angie Davis has returned to New York to begin training as a profiler.  But when the madness begins to hit the fan with a string of look-alike killings, she begins working with Cain, the FBI's number one profiler, and Detective Carson Sereno of the NYPD.  A murder a day keeps them hopping.  Each of the victims has the first name of an apostle and dies in the same the apostle did.  Angie learns that the murderer has been following her every move when she winds up in a situation that almost costs her her life. 

The plot of this novel moves swiftly and is filled with action and suspense.  Angie's relationship with her family is heartwarming, but her dedication to the job is her number one priority.  Severo protects Angie in every way he can and Cain proves to be something she never expected.  And when combined, all these ingredients make for a spell-binding tale that fans of suspenseful fiction will thoroughly enjoy.

 

Blood on the Leaves by Jeff Stetson

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN: 0446615927

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Blood on the Leaves is Jeff Stetson’s first novel; don’t infer that he’s a new writer. Stetsons play, The Meeting, has won eight NAACP Theater Image Awards. He’s written poetry, songs, theater, screenplays, academic essays, and scripts for television, including drama and situation comedy. He knows his way around a keyboard.

That’s not always enough when writing a mystery. Many talented authors have tried their hand at mysteries only to find their voice inappropriate or style lacking. An imagination that turns out gripping and realistic stories of human drama may lack the instinct to know what to hold back and for how long, or whether it’s best to resolve a plot point through fifty pages of internal monolog or have two guys with guns kick in the door and start shooting. Stetson knows.

The writing in Blood on the Leaves leans more in the direction of James Lee Burke than John Sandford, though Stetson is somewhat less concerned with beauty in his language than Burke, letting the situations and actions of his characters elicit the reader’s responses. He also has a gift for creating moments for the reader to wonder, “Now what?” Never “Where did that come from?” Stetson’s plot twists are unexpected, not unprepared. Every new direction makes perfect sense once it’s settled into the story. And what a story it is.

The book focuses on three characters: James Reynolds, a black prosecutor; Todd Miller, a white veteran of the struggle for civil rights, now cast aside by the movement; and Martin Matheson, a college professor teaching a class on the history of racism through the study of lynchings.

Matheson has raised the idea of “outing” people to a new level. He’s researched the backgrounds of known lynching participants who escaped conviction, and is publicizing their personal information to his students. Nature takes its course after the names, addresses, home phone numbers, license plates, and jobs of these aging racists are public knowledge. Matheson is finally arrested for one of the murders and chooses Miller to defend him. Reynolds is assigned to prosecute.

The story becomes a courtroom thriller from that point on. Matheson is a cipher; whether he’s guilty or not, his motives are his own. The argument exists in the gray area, whether his methods promote justice or vengeance. Reynolds and Miller struggle with their own demons, coming to appreciate as much about each other’s positions as they do about their own. Each finds himself in a situation neither wanted, and both may be in over their heads, constantly manipulated by Matheson.

Stetson has too polished a hand to let any of this sink into melodrama, which it easily could. The scenes with Reynolds and his family are touching and funny, evoking rather than wringing emotion from the reader. Miller’s struggle to regain his sense of idealism and provide value to a cause he values more purely than many of its alleged leaders takes unexpected turns, making him wonder about his motivations.

Stetson makes no apologies for the political motives in his writing; Blood on the Leaves is an examination of American race relations in the early Twenty-First Century. It takes a little while to set this up, and the characters have a tendency to make speeches instead of talking to each other early in the book. Hang in there. Stetson’s not about writing diatribes, his plan is much more insidious and entertaining. He trusts his readers’ intelligence of his reader enough to examine several angles of his topic, inviting individual discovery through many smaller points raised in support of the bigger question.

Lest anyone think this is a lot of heavy lifting, be not alarmed. The story sails once it gets its ducks in a row over the first fifty pages or so. A superficial reading, just following the mystery and ignoring the more serious content between the lines, will be an enjoyable experience. Stetson is a good enough writer to hold the attention without resorting to parlor tricks of double- or triple- digit body counts, gratuitous sex, or a voice that goes beyond style and into affectation.

If you settle for the superficial reading, it’s your own fault. No matter how you feel about the points raised, Blood on the Leaves will make you think without forcing a “correct” answer down your throat. Lots of writers have tried to write something “more” than a mystery; few have succeeded so well.

 

 

Paradise City by Lorenzo Carcaterra 

Publisher: Fawcett ISBN: 0345411005

Reviewed by Marcus Brandt, New Mystery Reader

Paradise City is the story of a homicide detective, born and raised in New York City, who as a youth had to flee from the Mob and settle in Naples, Italy, and has since dedicated his life to fighting the most powerful crime family in Italy (and New York).  The mob bosses kidnap his niece in order to draw him into a trap, and so, he returns to New York City for the final showdown.

As a fan of Mafioso type books, for the most part I enjoyed this. The main character is a very well drawn one, and his intelligence, wit, and sleuthing abilities continue to fascinate throughout.  He definitely gives you something to cheer about all through the book. The minor characters, too, are very well rounded, and the author’s portraits really bring them to life, and the picture of New York City underground life feels very alive and accurate. I am disappointed, however, when there ends up being no overriding greater theme, i.e. honor, doing the right thing, family etc.  This book unfortunately ultimately falls victim to that trap, and the ending was (for me) really “obvious” and hokey. I did like this book, though, and would call it above average, even much better than average until near the end – it passed the “made me stay up too late reading” test – just don’t expect to be inspired to go out and start your own mob family when you’re done.

 

A Cold Treachery by Charles Todd

Publisher:  Bantam Books  ISBN:  0553586610

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

The shocking murder of the Elcott family brings Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge to the Lake District village of Urskdale in December 1919.  A blizzard slows his investigation, as it does the search for the one surviving family member, ten year old Josh.  Rutledge battles not only the elements but the townspeople’s tendency to protect their own, particularly primary suspect Paul Elcott, whose brother’s death makes him heir to the family farm. 

As Rutledge uncovers the secrets of other suspects, he hides a few of his own.  Shell-shocked during the war, he is haunted by the voice of Hamish MacLeod, a Scottish soldier.  Author Charles Todd brilliantly shows the lingering effects of war on both civilians and those who served.

Increasingly attracted to Elizabeth Fraser, resident of the hotel where his investigation is headquartered, Rutledge relies on her quiet strength and counsel.  Hampered more than he is helped by the local Inspector Greeley, Rutledge also deals with his adversarial relationship with his own chief superintendent.  Despite all these obstacles, Rutledge ultimately discovers the killer.

Despite Todd’s portrait of the Lake District in winter as a forbidding place, it never loses its appeal; a snowy afternoon in a warm Urskdale kitchen, without a murderer on the loose, would be a pleasure.  Hamish’s contributions, though often wise, are a bit disconcerting, coming as they do from a dead man.  Todd manages to combine a compelling story with fine characterization and excellent description. 

 

 

Falling Off Air by Catherine Sampson

Publisher: Mysterious Press ISBN: 0446695238

Falling Off Air by Catherine Sampson: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Life has been hectic for London journalist Robin Ballantyne, a single mother of twins who has been on maternity leave for close to a year.  And it goes from hectic to pure chaotic when she witnesses a woman plunging to her death outside her window.  It turns out the woman was a very popular activist whose commitment to the downtrodden had brought about great changes, so her apparent suicide seems inexplicable to those who knew her.  And when the father of Robin's children is the next to die, things only get even more complicated, especially as Robin is the main suspect in his death.  So in between juggling the twins and trying to resuscitate her career, she must also uncover the truth behind these incomprehensible crimes, all the while keeping herself from becoming the next victim.

This first outing from Sampson will definitely appeal to those who enjoy "domestic" suspense novels, delighting as Sampson flawlessly jumps from scenes of frazzled motherhood to the energetic unraveling of clues taken on by the engaging character of Robin.  Her subtle commentary on journalistic integrity, or lack there of, also adds an intelligent depth to this winning tale.  Definitely an author to watch, and hoping she's back soon with more, this comes highly recommended.