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A Stolen Season by Steve Hamilton

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN: 0312355017

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

It's an especially cold and bitter summer in Paradise, a little town located on Michigan's upper peninsula, as is the tragedy that is about to befall reluctant PI Alex McKnight.  Having removed himself from the dangerous cases that always seem to bring him trouble, McKnight is spending his days rebuilding the cabin that burned down in another tragedy a few years back, and spending his evenings at the local pub, missing his girlfriend who has taken a policing position in Toronto. 

But McKnight's uneasy peace treaty with danger is about to come screeching to a halt when an expensive boat runs headlong into a group of pilings on the lake one dark and foggy 4th of July evening, forcing Alex and his friends to rescue the three men aboard.  But instead of gratitude, the rescue leads to a series of catastrophic events that will forever change McKnight's life, and lead him to a darkness he'd hoped to never encounter again.

One can't help but feel a great deal of empathy and fondness for Hamilton's reluctant PI Alex McKnight.  Seemingly always at the wrong place at the wrong time, this compassionate and unwilling hero seems to attract trouble more often than not. And while Hamilton has a certain predilection for almost unbelievable coincidences, these are gladly swallowed for the sake of the amazing tale they are sure to give birth to.  Fans will definitely be shocked at some of the life changing events in this latest, and Hamilton shows no mercy in his rendering of the heartbreak that results.  Another great outing from Hamilton, this one shouldn't be missed.

 

 

Love, Lies, and Liquor by M. C. Beaton

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN:  0312368771

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Hey, cozy mystery fans!  Talented author M. C. Beaton does it again with Love, Lies, and Liquor, starring the lovelorn Agatha Raisin.

Agatha's ex-husband has taken the house next door and turned his attentions once more to Agatha, raising her hopes that he will return to her side.  He proposes a trip to a resort hotel he knew as a boy.  Unfortunately, neither the hotel nor the town were as he remembered.

With the ocean threatening the town and the murder of an obnoxious woman with Agatha's missing scarf at their hotel, things at the resort look bleak. To make things worse, Agatha comes under suspicion of murdering the woman. 

Agatha learns to her sorrow that in spite of her hopes, the men in her life aren't to be counted on. They enter and depart her life without notice. 

Who killed the woman?  Why?  Agatha sets about investigating and finds her questions bring her to the attention of men who do not appreciate her meddling. 

A complicated plot that offers plenty of trouble for Agatha and you'll keep reading to find out what happens next. Will she survive to investigate again?

A fun tale and you'll have to read the book to learn if Agatha gets her dearest wish. Recommended as a pleasant read to satisfy any cozy fan.  Enjoy. I did.

 

 

Saks & Violins by Mary Daheim

Publisher:  Avon  ISBN:  0060566523

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Have you ever stayed at a bed and breakfast?  The one run by Judith Flynn and her husband, Joe, offers more than the usual quaint and quiet atmosphere.

The usual restfulness of Judith's B&B is shattered almost constantly by the strange new man in the cul de sac who happens to play the violin loudly and often or tapes of the same music.  He is affiliated with the local symphony orchestra and ignores their requests that he keep more regular hours in his playing.

On top of this problem, acquaintances of his take rooms at the B&B and plan a party for him there, using the excuse his house is to small.  One of the guests goes for a walk and never returns.  He is found on the sidewalk not far from the B&B. 

Neither the involvement of Judith in a mysterious death nor the appearance of the local police at the B&B is unusual as there have been other such cases. To clear the name of her business establishment, Judith takes an active interest in solving the murder.

With twists in the plot, the appearance of other characters whose strange behavior will have you wondering if they could be a killer, talented author Mary Daheim has crafted a clever tale that will have you matching wits with Judith to solve the case.

How do the theft of her cousin's credit cards and a forced window in the basement fit into the story?  Lots of strange goings on by even stranger characters will keep you reading. 

Recommended as a fun read that will have you looking for other books by this author.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

 

The Hard Way by Carol Lea Benjamin

Publisher: Avon

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When NY City PI Rachel Alexander is hired by a woman to find the homeless man who allegedly pushed her father onto the tracks of an oncoming subway car, she has no idea just how heartbreaking her latest investigation will turn out to be.  Going undercover as a homeless woman she soon becomes friends with an Iraq war veteran, Eddie Perkins, whose amnesia has kept him on the streets since his arrival back to the States.  Eddie is quick to aid those in need, and he soon finds the man that Rachel is in search of.  But after interviewing the man, Rachel soon doubts his culpability in the crime and decides to investigate further, with her search leading to the most unexpected of places, and with the killer's identity being an even further surprise. 

One of the most well written series out there, Benjamin again provides the reader with a title worth holding onto featuring Rachel and her loyal dog Dashiell, two of the most appealing and likable investigators around.  In this latest, she also provides the reader with some gentle and heart-rending reminders of worlds often overlooked, the heartbreak of the homeless and the all too high number of war veterans found in this population. 

She poses questions worth answering, and her contrasting comparisons of the rich and wealthy denizens of NY with those who have been pushed passed their limit, or those who are just a step away from living on the streets, are compelling and thought provoking.  And as always, her great characterizations and fine plotting are more than adeptly wrapped inside a mystery that easily enthralls the reader all the way to the final poignant denouement.  With each title seeming to be even better than the last, this one leaves us highly anticipating her next.        

 

 

Taken by Chris Jordan

Publisher: Mira 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Since her husband's death, Connecticut widow Kate Bickford and her 11 year old son have been making the best of it.  Kate has made a successful go at catering and her son Tomas seems well adjusted, but their tentative contentment is about to be shattered when during a ball game, Tomas disappears.  Desperately searching for her son Kate arrives home only to discover a masked man who demands the entirety of her savings in exchange for the safe return of her son. But satisfying the masked man's first demand is only the beginning of the nightmare, Kate must also deal with the dead body of the town's sheriff in her basement freezer and the accusations of murder that follow.  But even these events pale in comparison to Kate's eventual discovery of why her son has been kidnapped; it's not about the money, but something much more essential and altogether more frightening.

Jordan's tale of suspense is more than adeptly handled, successfully combining both the poignancy of a mother's love and the thrill of the chase.  The good guys are easily identified, especially the PI she hires to help, while the bad guys, especially the kidnapper, are provided with motives that are unique and add depth to an already invigorating story.  This is one that shouldn't be missed; with its plethora of thrills, engaging characters, and fast plotting, it has all that's needed for a heady dose of entertainment that's sure to make for a late night.     

 

 

The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

There's Crime Fiction, and then there's Crime Literature. What distinguishes them?

It is, of course, an organic process. A writer cannot "intend" for this to happen, it must come of the work's own transcendence. It must be a combination of gift and inspiration.

In its purist form, perhaps, fiction becomes literature when the boundaries of genre are shattered in such a way that theme trumps content without conscious attempt to do so.

It's been done in the crime field consistently for years. Connelly achieved it with The Poet, Lehane with Mystic River, Crais with The Forgotten Man, Vachss with Two Trains Running. There are many more. You've read them, and you know the difference.

George Pelecanos has done so with The Night Gardener. It is a book full of character, nuance and power.

But before we get too serious here, it is also a gut-wrenching thriller that rewards the reader thoroughly on that level.

Pelecanos has set The Night Gardener squarely in his fictional universe, of course being the parts of Washington, DC that you will not hear about on the news. It's the part where people live, work, and die. People not involved in the workings of our government. Those people, of course, rarely live in DC, they live in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland, where they are safe from the district their condescension has, in large part, created.

If you don't know that now, you certainly will feel it when you spend any time in Pelecanos' DC It's one of the overarching principles that governs the stories he writes.

The Night Gardener begins in 1985, at a crime scene. A serial killer has struck again, committing what some in DCPD refer to as The Palindrome Murders, as all the victims' first names are exactly that. The killer has been dubbed The Night Gardener:  All the victims are found in community gardens, dumped there under the cover of darkness.

It is here we are introduced to the three major players in Pelecanos' tale: T. C. Cook, a methodical homicide detective, and two partnered beat cops, Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday. In just a few paragraphs, Pelecanos' sets up character traits in each of these three men that become through-lines to his entire plot.

We then flash forward to 2005. Gus Ramone is now a detective on a major case squad, the Violent Crime Bureau. We enter his world right in the middle of things, as his squad is mid-interrogation, breaking down a perp's bravado methodically into confession.

Then we meet Dan Holiday. Pelecanos lets us know clearly that his life in the last 20 years has been anything but rewarding. He was bounced off the force, with assistance from his old partner, Gus Ramone, and is now free-floating as the owner of a small chauffeur service, compensating for the obvious loss with heavy drink and random sex.

It's during a brief sleep-it-off nap that Holiday witnesses something that he later realizes could very well fit in with the still-unsolved Night Gardener murders. And it doesn't take long to see that Holiday views this as a path to his redemption. To himself, and to his old partner. Pelecanos handles the tricky relational ground between these two with a realism that will strike a chord with anyone that has tried to mend a broken relationship, and that realism is one of the book's strongest underpinnings.

If redemption is the soul of The Night Gardener, its beating heart is family. Specifically, the father-son bond between Gus Ramone, a white cop in a mixed-race marriage, and his son Diego. The Ramone Family has taken extraordinary steps to provide Diego with the best education possible, and it's rapidly becoming clear to Gus the education he paid for is not worth its price, and might in fact be counterproductive to the ideals he wants his son to grow up with. The book really finds its emotional stride as we become more intimate in Gus' hopes and dreams as a father and a man. It's striking how, when Gus is home, there is NOTHING more important than the health of his family. We are so bored of seeing the obsessed cop forsake all that should matter at the alter of the Big Case, and it's one of the joys of The Night Gardener that Ramone rejects that path.

Blend into this situation the fact that a recent murder, witnessed in some part by Holiday, took a friend of Diego's as its victim, and the strands of theme and plot start to weave themselves together.

Down the road a ways, we are reintroduced to T. C. Cook. Now a retired widower, dealing with the aftereffects of a stroke, we learn he never really let go of the Palindrome Murder case, and when Holiday calls on him to bring him back in to what appears to be a new case, it sets another car on the rails of this story that seamlessly opens our hearts and minds to Pelecanos' intentions.

There are other story threads here that lead to a heart-stopping finale that explodes with high consequence in fine fashion. Pelecanos plants seeds throughout the book that blossom with drama and action. Heroes emerge, tragedy results, answers gleaned. Many are not what we expect to find.

Pelecanos narrates the proceedings with an unobtrusive style that pretty much gets out of the way and lets the reader decide the substance of things.

As longtime readers of Pelecanos' DC, we may yearn for more of Derek Strange. We may even wish to see self-destruction's poster boy, Nick Stefanos, show up. But wistfulness gets washed away by the pure power of Pelecanos' narrative in The Night Gardener. And that power is fueled by the things that, really, fuel us all:  The desire to do for our family, and to live a life of consequence.

It's what makes The Night Gardener such a powerful piece of, yes, literature.

 

Terror Town by Stuart M. Kaminsky

Publisher: Forge Books 0765350211

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Chicago detectives Abe Lieberman and Bill Hanrahan return in one more captivating outing involving Chicago's criminals and crime fighters.  This time out three cases are headed in their direction; one is the murder of a young black woman holding her baby after just leaving the bank, the other is the brutal attack on an ex Cub's ballplayer, and the last involves the stalking of Bill and his pregnant wife.  These three cases may or may not be connected but, one thing's for sure, between the two detectives and a third, Little Duke from terror town, they will be solved.

As is usual in Kaminsky's highly regarded series, it's not so much the mystery that is the focus here, but rather the detectives, their families, the criminals, and Chicago itself, that are of distinction.  It's like Kaminsky puts you in Lieberman's pocket and let's you hang out and watch for a couple of days as Lieberman and his pals roam the culturally diverse streets of Chicago in pursuit of criminals and good food.  Altogether charming, and with such a natural and spirited dialogue, you'll feel at home with these folks.  So if you're looking for a typical mystery, you may want to pass, but if it's some pleasant time you'd like to spend with some interesting individuals, pick this one up, it doesn't disappoint.      

 

 

Stripped by Brian Freeman

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN: 0312340451

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Freeman follows up last year's Immortal with another gutsy, gritty, and raw tale featuring detectives Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial.  Picking up where Immortal left off, we now learn that once Stride made the big move from his small town Minnesota digs to the glitter and gold of Vegas to be with Serena, he was quick to catch a job with the Vegas force. 

His first case is the murder of a young man whose father is a rich and powerful shaker in the movie business, but clues are scarce as to why the partying youngster was shot down so brutally.  Meanwhile, Serena is working on a hit and run of a young boy, miles and riches apart from Stride's case.  But while at first these cases seem unrelated, it's soon realized that not only are they connected, but they're both also connected to the murder of a fiery showgirl decades before. 

The deeper they dig, the further in the past they will have to go to reveal the deadly secrets that have caused this maelstrom of violence that is threatening the city.  But the revealing of these secrets is a deadly game, and one that may put their relationship, and their very lives, in jeopardy from the men who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets forever buried in the past.

Once again, Freeman holds no punches in presenting his tale of betrayal, greed, and madness.  The language is at times brutally raw, the emotions dark and disturbing, and the answers not always tied up in a pretty red bow, but this, after all, is what gives this story its fire and thrust.  Freeman also does a masterful job of taking the reader on a ride through Vegas as seen from the top, the bottom, and all places in between, sparing no detail, and making the city come gloriously alive from its glamorous past to it's sinful Disneyland present.        

A highly recommended read that provides powerful characterizations, nonstop suspense, and some great ending twists; this is one author who proves with his second- he's no one hit wonder.