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Outrageous October by Barbara Levenson

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Mary Magruder Katz, the lawyer I’d most like to have on my side if I were charged with anything, doesn’t always let her legally-trained brain run the show.  Spotting her lover Carlos having a tête-a- tête- with his spitfire ex-wife, Katz doesn’t wait for a statutory declaration, she packs her socks and her German Shepherd Sam and hightails it for a friend’s  Vermont holiday home.

Staying in the house, she has an uneasy feeling she’s not alone.  Is there an unseen caretaker who washes up her breakfast dishes, or is it someone more sinister?  Part of the problem is solved when Mary discovers she’s staying in the wrong house, she should have gone up the next side road.  Getting sorted out by the helpful local Lawyer Dash Mellman, Mary begins to enjoy her holiday.  There’s great local food and even nicer local people—but before she knows it she is working informally for Dash, helping him with a neighbourhood—but not neighbourly—dispute.

On one side of the argument is Ken, a retired cop, and on the other, a local cudmudgeon who claims to be an environmentalist but seems to be something altogether darker and meaner.  Then he’s found dead, and suspicion initially falls on Ken.  Add to this an unsolved murder from the previous year, a mysterious black SUV that comes and goes, and the persistent, insistent pressure from Catharine back in Mary’s Miami office and you have an entertaining and fast-moving story.

Life becomes more complicated when the only other person Mary knows in Vermont, her client Lillian’s daughter Sherry, goes missing from college.  Lillian is nearly hysterical and won’t let Mary bring in the police or FBI—so she does the next best thing and puts together a posse comprising Dash Mellman, Sherry’s brother Brett and Ken, the retired policeman.  Thanks to the wonders of modern telephones, Sherry’s location is eventually pinpointed, but how will the amateur rescue team get her safely away from the desperate people who have her?

As if that weren’t enough, an aged Holocaust survivor is suspected of murder once Ken is cleared of his neighbour’s death.  Half Jewish herself, Mary is easily drawn into this tragedy.

This is a fast-moving story with many short, sharp  chapters that should make it easy to put it down and pick it up—if you didn’t get so enthralled that you can’t put it down, that is.  The mix of mystery, scenery and cookery as well as romance and danger makes for a very entertaining read.




Knock Down by Sarah Graves

Publisher: Bantam

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Once upon a time, Jacoba Tipster was what could be euphemistically called a "money manager" for the mob.  In less than nice terms, she laundered money in NYC for some of the biggest and baddest criminals around.  But it's been years since her crimes by association have affected her life after her move to Eastport, Maine where she spends her time with the endless renovations on her Victorian home and taking care of her unique and wonderful family members.   But now some of her not so proudest moments are about to come back to haunt her in the form of a vengeful presence who was hit by the fallout of her many previous bad decisions on the 4th of July., and surviving this new attack will mean facing the past that she thought was long behind her.

Graves has provided many mysteries set in the idyllic island of Eastport, Maine, and they've been interesting and consistently engaging.  But this latest should please fans even more with its insights into Jacobia's past.  Finally having to face the decisions she made long ago and the person she once was should bring fans running, as it brings in how she came to be where and who she is now.

However, while, yes, there are many recriminations from the past running through Jake's head, it seems that the reconditioning of her porch is more important at times.  Her regrets are many, but not as deeply immediate as one might hope, at least until the final fallout strikes her heavy and hard.  And when combined with the odd, and not quite realistic, scenes in the book where she is left alone to deal with this fall-out, with her friends and family members running off to apparently more serious matters, readers might have difficulty believing some of the events that ensue. 

Regardless, all in all, most readers will find this an interesting and suspenseful read that provides a great deal of background in Jake's past and her regrets that drive her towards constant renewal, be it a house or better relations with her friends and family.      



Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Everyone feels pulled back their true home—and that may not be the place they spent the longest time, but it will surely be the place where they had the deepest experiences.  Rebekkah Barrow lived in Claysville for only four years, but it’s had a long-lasting effect on her.  She comes back to the town, after nearly 10 years away, for her adopted grandmother’s funeral.  Even before the bad news arrived, she was feeling itchy-footed and eager to be gone from San Diego.  She packs up her cat and catches the red-eye for the little southern town, never suspecting what awaits her.

Grandma Maylene didn’t just die, she was killed.  The town chooses to believe that it was a wild animal attack, but as more of the same sort of deaths occur, it becomes clear to Rebekkah that something evil is afoot.  Byron Montgomery, the man who loves her but whom she can’t love back due to the guilt she feels about her dead sister, takes Rebekkah down into his cellar and through a door into another world.

In that strange, frightening but curiously attractive Other Place, Rebekkah learns why she felt the tug back to Claysville, and what she’ll have to do now she’s here, and why there’s something stronger than love or death between Byron and herself.  Byron is the Undertaker, the one who gives safe passage between the world of the living and the world of the dead—and she herself is the Graveminder, the one who carries out the rituals to keep the dead in their graves and prevent  lost and murderous spirits from harming the living. 

Claysville is the very embodiment of the line, “I have a covenant with Death.” You enter here at your peril.

This is a scary, almost believable story that should keep the reader awake well into the small hours.




Gone With a Handsomer Man by Michael Lee West

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Teeny Templeton catches her fiancé playing naked badminton with two gorgeous women and Teeny can’t even take custody of her poor bulldog after showing her own athleticism by accurately lobbing unripened peaches at the unrepentant trio.  Suddenly homeless and unemployed, Teeny relies on her ex-fiancé Bing’s step-mother, Miss Dora, to help her out.

Tiny and blond and with a penchant for finding trouble, Teeny’s luck seems to change when she runs into her first love, Cooper O’Malley, in a chance meeting.  Cooper has changed quite a bit from the teenaged boy who broke Teeny’s heart and is now a prominent Charleston, South Carolina, attorney.  The professional coincidence turns into a really good thing for Teeny because she’s suspect number one after someone murders hapless Bing.

While Teeny has recently lived the high life as a near-member of one of Charleston’s oldest families, her childhood with an unreliable mother and a temporary home in her car means that the prospect of jail unsettles her but doesn’t break her.  One way that she deals with her troubles is a family tradition of creating very unusual recipes when upset.  Cooper O’Malley may have been Teeny’s first love but cooking is one that stays consistent and a few of the recipes are included in the back of the book.

Through it all, Teen’s messy personal life becomes more so as she’s cosseted by Miss Dora, accompanied by women with more than a passing interest in Cooper and lives in Bing’s pink historic family mansion.  There’s plenty of gossip, family ties, and home cooking in Gone With a Handsomer Man, all served with just the right amount of Teeny’s cheeky wit and unrepentant stubborn streak.



Anthem for Doomed Youth by Carola Dunn

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Scotland Yard Detective Constable Inspector Alec Fletcher has just landed a multiple homicide case that promises to tax his men and resources as they try to stop the murderer from striking again, especially since there seems to be a connection to the Great War, which ended only a few years before.  Fletcher receives more flak from his superiors since one of his best investigators happens to be his wife, Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher.  In this case, however, Daisy has her own plans and those take her far away from Fletcher’s murder cases.

Daisy and her friends Sakari and Melanie are spending the weekend at their daughters’ boarding school for a special sports day.  Sakari, an insightful high caste Indian confused by the English propensity for walking, alternates between visiting with her daughter, Deva, and pumping Daisy for information on the latest details on Fletcher’s cases.  Melanie, English-born and squeamish, wishes everyone could just ignore the topic but finds out that her daughter Lizzie discovered a corpse in the local high-maintenance maze. 

Due to their geographical separation, Daisy and Fletcher pursue their separate investigations with able sidekicks and keen observations.   The long-running series featuring Daisy Dalrymple continues to offer a lighter look at the upper class of the period while touching on topics of PTSD, family trauma, and other themes found in the more brooding post-World War I series by Charles Todd (Bess Crawford series) and Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs mysteries.) 



Heart Of Ice by Lis Wiehl and April Henry

Publisher: Thomas Nelson         

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is a gal pal story with a twist: all three of the female protagonists are successful career women in positions of some power.  Despite this, each of them becomes a victim in her own way while they try to solve what at first seem to be separate puzzles.  Nicole is an FBI agent, Allison is a Federal prosecutor and Cassidy is a TV crime reporter, but before they were successful in their fields, they were classmates.  Meeting again at a school reunion leads to their discovering a common bond of crime: Nic investigates, Allison prosecutes the criminals, and Cassidy reports the cases.  They jokingly call themselves “The Triple Threat Club”, after a lethal dessert they shared.

Now, years later, the three are meeting for lunch, and talk turns to the Want Ad Killer.  Nic is pretty sure it’s a handsome, slick medical student, but Allison knows she’ll need hard evidence to make the case, and Cassidy is mainly interested in the case because she may get a great story out of it.

Under their successful exteriors, each woman has human problems: happily married Allison has just miscarried a much-wanted baby; Nic is an almost obsessive single mother who’s found a lump in her breast, and Cassidy fears the perky blonde intern at her TV station is going to edge her out of her crime beat, which took her such hard work to achieve. 

Cassidy’s concern about looking young and fit leads her to a health club and Elizabeth Avery, a fitness trainer who makes Parris Island look like a holiday camp.  Soon Cassidy and Elizabeth are friends, and Cassidy convinces Nic and Allison to try a session at the workout class.  Elizabeth impresses Nic, who signs her daughter up for private swimming classes to help overcome her fear of water.

Elizabeth has led a fascinating and exciting life, but is it all just a bit too good to be true?  Perhaps if Nic and Allison weren’t so busy with the serial killer, an arsonist on the loose, an attempted murder, a suicide and a few other crimes, they’d have wondered a bit about Elizabeth’s stories.  It isn’t until a young woman goes missing that the links between what had seemed to be unrelated events begin to become apparent—but by that time it may be too late to save the latest victim.

Authors Wiehl and Henry have constructed a fast-moving story which shares the action among the three protagonists more or less equally.  If the reader can’t identify with at least one of the women, she’s just not trying.  The married, Christian, childless Allison; the Black, driven, single mother Nic and the lonely, insecure, outwardly perfect Cassidy almost cover the range of possibilities.  I found the final confrontation a bit hard to accept, given how successfully the villain had manipulated events up until that point, but every story has to end eventually.

This is a fast-moving story with a scary premise. One suspects former prosecutor Wiehl may have drawn on some memories from her previous career in creating the villains.




Now You See Her by Joy Fielding

Publisher: Pocket Star

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Is there life after 50, especially for a woman who has lost her daughter to suicide just two years before and her husband to a younger woman even more recently?  That's a question that will be answered for Marcy Taggart in ways that she never expected when she impulsively embarks on a solo trip to Ireland.

When Marcy decides to take the trip to Ireland alone that was supposed to be a 25 year anniversary present for her and her husband, the last thing she expects is to be drawn back into life kicking and screaming.  But that's exactly what happens when while sitting at a pub she thinks she sees her daughter who’s thought to be dead, but whose body was never recovered in Georgian Bay, walk by.  This casual sighting leads Marcy on a chase across the charming streets of Cork, Ireland in search for the daughter she's never believed to be really dead, and one that goes against the increasingly vocal advice of her ex and her sister who believe she’s finally crossed the last line into madness.

But her search might lead to more than just answers to her daughter’s fate when she gets unexpected help from not only a charming male tourist from Chicago, but from a local male bartender whose young age, stunning beauty, and flattering attentions do their fair share in keeping her pulse pounding.  But there is a lot more going on than meets the eye, and those that she's growing to trust may just have something different in mind than helping her find answers to her quest -  some things that may prove deadly.

Some readers might find themselves initially wondering "where's the mystery?"  A large portion of this novel being more devoted to why Marcy is on this quest than anything involving a traditional mystery.  But with that being said, Fielding is quick to draw the reader in regardless of what they're looking for and so before they know it, and long before the “real” action sets in, most will find themselves already invested into what happens to these very interesting characters and caring little about the lack of death and mayhem. 

And, hopefully, most readers will also find themselves giving kudos to Fielding for her lively treatment of her intricately drawn character of the 50 year old Marcy; one that’s filled with vivaciousness, beauty, and the thought that things can still be learned, that letting go is possible, and that hope is just a step away no matter how old you are.  If anything, read this for the latter, keeping in mind that Fielding eventually does provide the heart pounding suspense and drama she's deservedly known for.       




Cold Vengeance by Preston & Child

Publisher: Grand Central

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

At the end of their previous novel featuring Special Agent Pendergast, FEVER DREAM, Preston & Child introduced readers to the back-story of his life that involved the horrible death of his wife, Helen, at the hands of a hungry lion during an African safari.  To make matters worse, Pendergast found himself targeted by none other than Helen’s brother, Judson Esterhazy, for reasons he is not able to figure out.

Now, with the release of COLD VENGEANCE, we are treated to some more pieces of this puzzle as Pendergast and Esterhazy open the book with a life or death struggle amongst the muddy bogs of Scotland where it appears Pendergast has met his doom.  Long-time readers of this series will not be surprised when Pendergast continues to remain terribly hard to kill (let alone outmaneuver) and he takes the time to go ‘underground’ in his pursuit of the truth surrounding his wife’s death.  Before Esterhazy left Pendergast sinking into the bog he confessed that Helen was still alive.

To further complicate matters, many more characters and plot-lines are introduced --- all of which tie into the dark secrets Pendergast is pursuing.  First off is the brutal murder of a couple --- June and Carlton Brodie --- who had been hiding out for many years after having faked their own deaths.  Once they re-emerged into the realm of the ‘living’, they were targeted by the same evil people who were behind the projects taking place at the Brodie’s now defunct employer --- Longitude located in the southern marshes of Spanish Island.  The projects of Longitude and its former CEO, Charles Slade, were all revealed in FEVER DREAM and it made logical sense that this would reappear in this novel.

Also appearing in COLD VENGEANCE are Pendergast’s long-time partner, NYC Detective D’Agosta, who is recovering from a brutal shooting; Corrie Swanson, a colleague of Pendergast’s who assisted him in the case covered in their novel STILL LIFE WITH CROWS; and Ned Betterton, a reporter from the local Malfourche paper located just outside of Spanish Island, who is starting to get dangerously close to the hidden secrets behind the Brodie’s as well as Helen Esterhazy’s deaths.

The locations jump around each chapter like a whirl-wind and eventually all paths lead to NYC.  It is here where Judson Esterhazy, disguised as a Doctor of Psychiatry, has kidnapped Pederast’s mysterious ward --- Constance Greene.  This, of course, sets up the inevitable showdown between Pendergast and Esterhazy where there can only be one victor.  Simultaneously, Corrie Swanson and Ned Betterton have uncovered, separately, a dark conspiracy involving the Esterhazy family that may go back to the Nazi war camps of World War II and the dark experiments that were done there to millions of innocent victims.

Pendergast learns some of the dark secrets of the Esterhazy’s and never gives up hope that his wife, Helen, is still alive.  He also is consumed by a quotation of Judson Esterhazy where he claimed: “Vengeance is where it will end.”  Could the vengeance in this statement signify a place rather than an act?  This is just one of the many riddles left hanging for the next novel in this intriguing series.  Preston & Child indicate in novels Foreword (as they so often do) that their novels need not be read in sequence to be enjoyed.  As an avid reader of all of their work, I respectfully must disagree.  COLD VENGEANCE is a solid novel in and of itself --- but readers who have eagerly plowed through their prior Pendergast novels will receive a far greater reward and sense of satisfaction when reading this novel that is unlike anything the duo have written to date.  Looking forward to the next adventure!



Bless the Bride by Rhys Bowen

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Within two years of emigrating from Ireland, Molly Murphy has established herself as a competent private investigator that thrives in her quirky neighborhood filled with characters as unconventional as she.  Although it’s 1903 New York, her choice of occupation vexes her fiancé, NYPD captain Daniel Sullivan, who constantly frets that her cases will undermine his authority at work while placing her life in danger.  As a result, he’s forced her to agree to give up investigating while conceding to live in her small house in spite of its placement in an area inappropriate for career advancement.

Daniel packs Molly off to spend weeks with her future mother-in-law while he remains in the city.  Surrounded by critiques of her sewing skills and lowly birth, Molly grabs at the chance to solve one last case, bringing her to a section of New York that proves foreign to her at every turn.

Hired by an elderly Chinese man to find a stolen piece of jade, Molly encounters an entirely new aura of oppression created by both society’s anti-Chinese prejudices and the strict hierarchies of power within Chinatown.  As a result, Molly’s case proves unlike any of her previous work while still offering plenty of surprises from the reality of her missing jade to her understanding of the world.

Author Rhys Bowen pays close attention to the harsh realities of New York’s Chinatown, emphasizing the lack of Chinese women permitted into the United States.  While many were smuggled into the country to serve as prostitutes on the frontier at this time, New York’s Chinese workers were often unable to marry Chinese women, adding to the stresses of their lives as American immigrants. 

Fortunately, Molly’s neighbors Gus and Syd offer plenty of levity and support for Molly, standing in for the family she left behind in Ireland.  The two independently wealthy women may shock many but their costume parties with the local wits provide Molly with plenty of inspiration for both her case and her impending marriage to strait-laced Daniel.

As in previous Molly Murphy mysteries, Bowen relies on Molly’s wits rather than filling her stories with gore.  She also allows Molly to reflect on the era’s progressive movement and the issue of women’s suffrage, adding additional depth to her relationship with Daniel as he also tries to understand the changes occurring at the turn of the nineteenth century.




Live Wire by Harlen Coben

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Coben’s latest novels have been unique stand-alones; and, I’ll be the first to say, I enjoyed each and every one of them.  But for fans that have been waiting for Myron Bolitar to come back, here’s your chance to read the latest featuring this entertainment agent/PI who finds himself once again involved in a scandal that leads to tragedy and death.

This time out it begins when one of Myron’s clients, once a teenage tennis phenom, now the pregnant wife of a guitarist from an infamous rock band, asks for his help in finding her missing husband.  His disappearance no doubt voluntary and a direct result from an anonymous Facebook posting that claimed her unborn child wasn’t his.  But what looks like a simple enough case soon grows increasingly complicated, emotionally fraught with remembered past regrets, and simply dangerous when the journey to one truth collides with another surrounding his estranged brother’s family breakdown.  And untangling this web of deception will lead to the most unexpected answers that will surprise everyone involved.

While Myron’s remembrances of a perfect childhood are filled with wonderful nostalgia and might seem a bit too good to be true, Coben slowly and seamlessly segues into the difficulty of the letting go of that perfection for the reality of troubled adult sibling relationships and aging parents that proves heartbreaking.  With a large focus on Myron’s task of seeing his heroes as human and taking his share of the blame for his failed relationship with his brother, Coben still manages to infuse this emotional tale with an electrically charged mystery that is just as fascinating.  Human and heartfelt, this one has it all with familiar and beloved characters that we hope will survive to see another round.




The Impaler by Gregory Funaro

Publisher: Kensington

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader 

Gregory Funaro follows up his terrific debut, THE SCULPTOR, with another intense serial-killer thriller entitled THE IMPALER.  Taking the nickname for the killer from the infamous Vlad Tepes --- also the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” --- the reader knows before he cracks the spine of this book that there is going to be some gruesome crimes committed by a highly deranged individual.

Returning to battle and outwit this culprit is the star of Funaro’s last novel, FBI Agent Sam Markham.  Sam is not your typical, one-dimensional Fed.  He has his own dark past and is haunted throughout this novel by the murder of his wife at the hands of a serial killer years earlier in Mystic, CT.  While Markham is pursuing The Impaler, he is also preparing to attend the execution of his wife’s killer, Elmer Stokes.

As with any good crime/mystery novel, the killer is identified early on in the story and reader turns the pages breathlessly watching the parallel narratives of antagonist and protagonist right up to the point when the two opponents converge on each other.  In this novel, “the Impaler” is Edmund Lambert, a seemingly harmless and somewhat quirky individual who works crew for the Harriot University Department of Theatre and Dance in North Carolina.  The Theatre Department is putting on a production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Edmund has his eyes set on lead actress, Cindy Smith.

THE IMPALER opens with a tense prologue whereby a Criminal defense attorney named Randall Donovan is being held captive in the basement of Edmund Lambert’s lair.  We read with horror as Donovan is prepared for the next brutal display of “the Impaler”.  In addition to physically impaling his victims, Lambert also leaves cryptic messages on their torsos to be found by the police/FBI when they discover the bodies.  Impaling, as Sam Markham is well aware, was the torture of choice used by Vlad Tepes where his victims were physically impaled on a stake that is inserted through their bodies and made for a slow and agonizing death.

What is the significance of the messages carved into the victim’s bodies?  Why does Edmund Lambert frequently refer to The General and The Prince when he is alone in his home and plotting his next move?  It takes Markham and his FBI counterparts a while to figure it out, but they soon recognize that some of the symbols left on the victims bodies refer to the constellation of Leo.  Markham goes even further with this symbolism and ties the Leo figure to the ancient mythological tale of the god Nergal and his obsession with the mark of the lion. What bothers the FBI most is that “the Impaler” has drawn upon a stolen Babylonian seal for his inspiration.  This clue is significant as it will help the team narrow down those suspects who may have been involved in either a smuggling ring of ancient artifacts or someone who had physically been in Iraq where they could have witnessed these objects first-hand.

Like his first novel, what continues to set Gregory Funaro’s work a part from other writers of the serial killer genre is the research behind his villains as well as the in-depth back-story that he provides for his antagonists.  In THE IMPALER, there is an entire section of the novel that covers the detailed and horrific upbringing of Edmund Lambert.  As with most serial killers, they are made and not born into evil.  Edmund Lambert is abused and mistreated by his own family, allowing for his psyche to shift into the obsessive and sociopathic behavior he now exhibits as an adult.  Funaro does a fine job of outlining Edmund Lambert’s back-story without making you feel overly sympathetic for him.  As with all criminals, there is always a conscious choice involved with their actions.

The inevitable showdown between Sam Markham and Edmund Lambert is worth the wait.  The climax of the novel is very satisfying and not all of the characters involved will survive.  The revelation behind the identity of Lambert’s ‘General’ and ‘Prince’ are truly horrifying and ‘the doorway’ he is seeking to create between this world and the nether-world is the stuff of your darkest nightmares.  The most significant phrase in the novel is a French one that is repeatedly said by Lambert/the Impaler --- “c’est mieux d’oublier”.  This literally translates to --- “it’s better to forget”.  Quite symbolic as both Sam Markham and Edmund Lambert are both products of their own pasts --- neither of whom can forget their pasts.  Gregory Funaro has written another winner with THE IMPALER that rises above the crowded serial killer genre and proves he deserves a much larger readership!




Fadeaway Girl by Martha Grimes

Publisher: NAL

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

At the simultaneously knowing and naive age of 12, Emma Graham becomes the center of this post-World War II small town known more for its tragedies than for more positive or common attributes.  Emma helps her mother take care of guests and residents in the partially family-owned Paradise Hotel.  Although she dutifully—if reluctantly—serves meals and runs errands, Emma’s true interest remains true crime, a passion aided by the local newspaper’s request that she serialize the account of her own near murder months before. 

Quickwitted, Emma begins investigating the disappearance of a wealthy young infant two decades before.  During her research, Emma coaxes details from the local residents, a process which proves as interesting as the mystery itself.  Fadeaway Girl offers characters such as the patient man who diligently tries to teach enunciation to a pair of unintelligible brothers and the lonely older man on a rarely traveled lane whose observations and good manners result in spilled secrets and snacks.  Emma’s Aunt Aurora Paradise becomes her confidante as Emma concocts alcoholic beverages for the recluse and Aurora provides decades-old gossip which may aid in the investigation or add red herrings.  The case becomes murkier after Emma glimpses a mysterious young girl whose appearance presages another surprise visitor to the town.

Emma’s gumption and considerable freedom recall the era’s leeway for rural children and she and her imaginative playmaking brother make the most of it.  Far from perfect, Emma also shows her own flaws as she spikes the food of one disliked resident with “enhancements” such as garlic for strawberries and other mismatched flavors, proving that solving mysteries is the best use of her time and creativity.  Fadeaway Girl is a delightful, layered diversion filled with interesting characters and a spunky heroine with a strong narrative voice.




A Perilous Conception by Larry Karp

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press   

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Why would the new father of a much-desired baby suddenly kill the one of the doctors who enabled the birth and then himself?  The police detective who’s called to the scene senses there’s a lot more to this case than a simple psycho-with-a-gun scenario, but when Bernie Baumgartner starts digging into the background of the various people involved he finds himself in a maze of truth, half-truths and downright lies—the only trouble is it’s hard to sort one from the other.

Bernie learns that baby in question was supposedly born by the first-ever successful in vitro pregnancy in the United States.  Everybody should have been thrilled, so why all the secrecy?  Bernie interviews the dead doctor’s colleague Colin Sanford, one of the most engaging liars you will ever meet in fact or fiction.  Colin’s story has more twists than a snake with food poisoning, and Bernie begins to suspect him of something a lot more serious than prevaricating.  What does he know about the missing lab supervisor, for instance? 

Partway through Bernie’s investigation he runs afoul of political correctness and is instructed by his boss to stop poking around and upsetting all these important people.  He pays no attention to this order, and shortly afterwards ends up with a bullet in his backside.  It would be embarrassing to go to a hospital with this complaint, so he has his friend the locksmith excavate the bullet.   This leads to a life-and-death race with septicemia.  Will Bernie get to the bottom of the mystery before the wound in his bottom gets to him?

This is the sort of book that could only be written by an insider like Larry Karp, who delivered one of the first real in vitro babies and who has spent his career in reproductive medicine.  The intricate medical details are fitted into the equally intricate plot smoothly, and you don’t have to be a science major to follow the story—but you can’t take your eye off the test tube for a minute, or Dr Sanford will fool you again and again.

Highly recommended.



Wild Bill by Dana King

Kindle E-book

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

One of the best things I can say about this book, other than it’s a helluva good read, is that it was so involving that it overcame my fear of my new Kindle e-reader.  I am a bit of a technophobe, but after managing to download Wild Bill and figuring out how to turn the pages, I was totally caught up in the story and barely noticed that I was holding a device, not a book.  With first-run big-name novels now going at $45 a pop, e-books are a good alternative for people on budgets or with limited shelf space. 

Wild Bill is the story of an FBI agent, Will Hickox, a man who has the patience of Job and the determination of a rat terrier.  After once letting his formidable temper off the leash, Will was relegated to areas of work less likely to lead to lawsuits.  Alone since the death of his wife and daughter, Will has been having an intense but secret affair with Madeline Shea Klimak, wife of a Chicago police officer.  He lives for the day when he can drop the job and ride off into the sunset with Madeline. 

The sunset ride scenario is interrupted by a cataclysm in the Chicago mob scene.  Gianni Bevilaqua’s love of high-cholesterol food kills him suddenly, leaving a power vacuum.  Gianni’s son, Junior, figures it’s his right to step into the old man’s shoes, no matter how inadequate his foot size.  Others think differently, mainly Frank Ferraro, a canny old crim who can see that Junior isn’t half the man his father was, except perhaps in waist measurement.

The FBI has been quietly knitting together a RICO case which is now under threat from the instability of the mob scene, and the demands by the higher-ups that the case be brought to trial soon.  Will Hickox and his immediate boss know that an ill-prepared RICO case will be tossed out by the judge; so Will proposes a plan to get more evidence and get it fast.  His reputation and his life will be on the line if the scheme fails, but he’s willing to take the chance.

There are four major characters in this story: Will, Madeline, Frank Ferraro and Junior, but there is a large supporting cast on both sides of the law, comprising other FBI agents, the Chicago police, and an assortment of low-lifes and thugs in the Ferraro and Bevilaqua camps.  There are echoes of Frank Zafiro’s River City crew, and Joseph Wambaugh’s Hollywood CROWs here, and a touch of The Godfather—but without the warm and fuzzy bits. 

The writing is spare, almost shorthand in some instances, but you’re never confused about what’s going on and who’s doing what.  (If author King isn’t an undercover agent himself, he must have a best buddy who is; this book has the smell of real life to it.)  The story line proceeds in a series of hard, sharp shocks, the last one the most brutal, but somehow it rounds out the book in a way that makes you realise you were subconsciously expecting it.  If there’s a criticism, it would be that some characters and situations veer a bit too close to stereotypes—but as someone once observed, stereotypes are stereotypes because they’re based on truth.

For Karen's interview with Dana King



The Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt     

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Cassandra Brooks bears an ill-starred name, and like the original bearer, is rarely believed when she foretells something people don’t want to believe.  Starting with the certain knowledge at age seven that her brother would die that night, Cass has been cursed with some sort of extra sense.  She quickly learns to keep her mouth shut: nobody wants to think you know something they don’t, or that you can sense doom around the corner.

Cass puts her unwanted gift to work by following her father into the business of being a water diviner—a dowser, in plain speech.  However, harnessing the strange skill does not prevent occasional flashes of knowledge, and at the opening of the story, Cass experiences one of these.  She’s walking in a valley, and finds the dead body of a girl, hanging from a tree.  The experience is so real that she calls the police—but when they go back to the spot she saw the body, it’s not there.  Later, Laura Bryant is found hiding in the forest, having escaped a kidnapper.  Cass knows that however unreal her vision of the body was, sooner or later the real Laura will really be dead.  This knowledge leads her into the dark ways of a serial killer, and makes her dig around in her own past, often painfully.

Complicating Cass’s life is her relationship with her parents and her twin sons.  Her mother is a practical, down-to-earth perfectionist doing her best to handle her husband’s increasingly fragile mental state.  Cass is devastated by the thought that her father Nep, the one person who understands what it is to have the diviner’s gift, will drift away from her and then die, leaving her with no-one with whom she can truly communicate.  This is somewhat balanced by the awareness that one of her sons seems to be developing the gift as he begins to grow into manhood.  This will bring more responsibility before it brings any comfort to Cass; how can she help guide this young soul?

Cass packs up her divining gear, puts it in the attic and determines to remake her life.  She gets a job teaching, updates her wardrobe and even attends church occasionally.  She meets an old friend, but things from the past, like shadows over the sun, prevent the relationship’s thriving as well as it should.  Then the girl Laura turns up again, and Cass knows somehow she must save this girl and to do so she must confront a killer.

While this book has some characteristics of a murder mystery, it is far more than a simple crime novel.  The writing is often lyrical, and the understanding of the characters goes deep.  It’s a testimony to the skill of the award-winning author that if you didn’t see the name on the cover, you’d assume this book had been written by one of the leading women writers of the last century.   (Please, no letters from militant anti-sexism groups!)




Gideon’s Sword by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Publisher: Vision

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

At the conclusion of Preston & Child’s last best-seller, another brilliant Special Agent Pendergast novel entitled FEVER DREAM, fans of this terrific series were left hanging in two different ways.  First and foremost, FEVER DREAM did not have a definitive ending and left a heck of a cliff-hanger out there to be completed in the next book in the series.  Then came the larger issue --- a one-page addendum following the author’s note that announced the exciting new series of thrillers featuring an ‘uncommon’ investigator named Gideon Crew.

This announcement was received with mixed feelings by myself (and I’m sure countless others) who are so enthralled by the Pendergast series.  Fear not faithful readers --- Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child were shrewd enough to indicate that they will continue to write novels in the Pendergast series and thanked the readers of these books for their devotion.

The big question as I cracked open the spine of the first Gideon Crew novel entitled GIDEON’S SWORD was whether or not this new series would provide the expected thrills, chills and well-researched plots and characters as all of their prior novels.  It didn’t take long for me to settle in comfortably with Gideon Crew and strapped myself in for another wild ride.

The novel opens with a Prologue set in 1988 that was entitled Melvin Crew (Gideon’s father).  Melvin Crew was a world-class mathematician who, for some inexplicable reason, is labeled a traitor by the U.S. Government and gunned down during a stand-off with military sharp-shooters right in front of 12-year-old, Gideon Crew.

The story then jumps forward eight years to 1996 and Gideon Crew is at the hospital death-bed of his mother.  She literally uses her last breath to impel Gideon to seek justice and revenge for his father who was a scapegoat for INSCOM --- the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command.  She urges Gideon to finish graduate school, get his degree and establish himself while constantly plotting to avenge Melvin Crew’s wrongful death by bringing down the person responsible --- Chamblee Tucker!

Jumping now to present day, Gideon Crew is finally in possession of the information he needs to clear his father’s name and bring down the now-retired military leader, Chamblee Tucker.  Over the course of a few fast-paced chapters, Crew does just that.  He is a master of deception, disguise as well as being a technically gifted individual (as represented by his position at Los Alamos, NM).  He is able to turn a hired gun of Tucker’s to his own advantage and the two of them combine forces to take him down.

The only problem now is that I’m only sixty or so pages into the novel and the entire plot-line detailed on the inner jacket of GIDEON’S WAR has been wrapped up neatly.  Where are things going now?  I only needed to remind myself that I was in the hands of Preston & Child and breathed a sigh of relief as the second --- and far more beguiling --- plot-line surfaced.  While trying to take some R&R and do some fishing at a secluded location, Gideon is approached by a strange man named Garza who offers him 100K to come to NYC and meet with his boss about a business proposition.  The boss is Eli Glinn who owns an organization called Effective Engineering Solutions, Incorporated.  They are a company that investigates failure analysis as well as other matters of national security.  The job Glinn has for Gideon is to meet Chinese national named Mark Wu who is traveling to the U.S. with plans for a destructive new weapon that would threaten the entire nation.  Sounds simple enough --- Gideon uses his guile to meet Wu at the airport and get the deadly plans before anyone is the wiser.

Alas, things are never as simple as they appear for Gideon Crew and Mark Wu is chased from the airport into NYC where his taxicab is attacked.  Crew, who was in hot pursuit of Wu’s taxi, pulls Wu from the wreckage --- but the damage is done.  The last thing Wu states before passing out is to run off a string of random numbers and calls Gideon by the name ‘Roger’.  Gideon must now find out what these numbers mean, who Roger is and hope that Wu can stay alive long enough to help him with these answers. 

With each passing chapter, the plot thickens and at times takes unexpected turns.  The ‘weapon’ that Wu was purported to have had on him may not actually be a traditional weapon of mass destruction but something even more powerful --- a formula that will change the world’s energy crisis and cause a major shift in the balance of global power.  As Gideon finds out, Wu was not seeking to bring this gift to any terrorist but supposedly to the persecuted Chinese followers of Falun Dafa who have re-established themselves in the United States.  Crew does not know who to believe or trust --- and the people he comes in contact with to aid him in his quest are instantly put in harm’s way as the deadly assassin who attacked Mark Wu is coming for Gideon and the secret he is chasing.

GIDEON’S SWORD reads like a runaway train and ends with an incredible confrontation at a mysterious burial ground on Hart Island in the Long Island Sound.  As fast as the novel moves, one drawback is the reader never really gets to know Gideon Crew that much --- but this is not a bad thing.  Throughout the Pendergast novels, there are still aspects of the man that remain a mystery --- and good writers like Preston & Child understand the need to keep a little mystery behind the curtain so you never get too comfortable with their protagonists. 

Gideon Crew is no Pendergast.  He is reckless and at times foolhardy, but he is an engaging character and a lot of fun. GIDEON’S SWORD is one heck of a ride for the reader and the closing pages set the stage for his next adventure.  The novel is somewhat a departure for Preston & Child.  The Pendergast novels are steeped more in historical mysteries and even the supernatural along with criminal procedural aspects, whereby the first Gideon Crew novel addresses national security and falls more into the genre of authors like David Baldacci and Brad Thor.  Not bad company to be in and there is just enough detail and science to keep their technical fans happy as well.

Welcome, Gideon Crew --- hope to see you again real soon!





Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

Publisher: Mariner Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In her second novel in what is shaping up to be an excellent series, Griffiths brings back the marvelously drawn character of Ruth Galloway, a Norfolk forensic archaeologist who can't seem to avoid finding dead bodies, those from the very distant past as well as those laid to rest quite a bit more recently.

This time out Ruth is asked to check out the skeleton of a young child that was uncovered during a remodel of an old mansion that just so happens to be the site of a once upon time Roman village.  But it doesn't take long to determine that the bones are not that old, and may in fact be those of a child that went missing when the home was once an orphanage just a few decades earlier.  Drawn into the investigation is also the married detective Harry Nelson, a man that Ruth became intimately acquainted with in her previous case involving murder, and one who had left her with an unexpected gift after their one night of passion.  And so it's not only the ground that is being torn up beneath the old mansion with its malevolent secrets that someone is willing to keep buried at all costs, but the relationships that Ruth's pregnancy can end once the truth is revealed for all to see.

Griffiths manages to combine her love of archaeology and mystery in the most satisfying of ways.  Never getting bogged down in too much detail of artifacts from the past, she keeps her story alive with just the right infusion of historical finds, into what proves to be a most satisfying modern mystery of crime and passion.  Readers will also find themselves pleasantly surprised by the sly wit woven throughout the story, with its ability to cause bursts of laughter just when most unexpected.  Irreverent and surprisingly charming, this one has it all; wonderfully humanly drawn characters, murder and mayhem, and moments that touch the heart - this is a series to watch.



The Sentry: A Joe Pike Novel by Robert Crais

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

If you're interested in tracking the evolution of an author, try reading an early Elvis Cole novel, (Lullaby Town is amazing) and then move directly to The Sentry.  It's pretty staggering.

The confidence, complexity and power of Crais' narrative has increased by leaps and bounds over the years. If this seems obvious, try doing the same for, say, James Patterson or Stuart Woods. You'll need to check the publication dates to to determine chronology.

The literary heft Crais and his peers (Connelly, Lehane, Pelecanos, Vachss, etc.) have brought to the Crime Thriller Genre is powerful.

Specifically to our purposes here, Crais has moved from jokey, Chandleresque, L.A.valentines to searing tales of honor and betrayal, with rich characters and genuine consequences. Both formats are highly entertaining, and while we may miss the former (and even hope, one day, for a return visit) we must appreciate the power of the latter.

The Sentry once again explores the psyche of Crais' "other" genius creation, Joe Pike. We find Pike in the midst of a mundane task—auto maintenence.  Events before his eyes force his action, because Pike is above all other things, a man of honor, and can't let such things as the threat of crime pass.  He inserts himself into the situation (the honor thing again), pulling himself into a years-old trail of crime and violence.

But let's move back a bit.

Crais immediately builds a sense of dread, via a flashback to New Orleans, and a nightmare from Elvis. As longtime readers are well aware, Elvis has become something of a tortured soul lately, with some very dark events in his recent times. So the stage is well-set for what's about to happen to Joe, as he enters the world of Wilson Fisk and Dru Rayne, proprieters of a take-out deli and apparent victims of a street-gang shakedown.

Elvis is recruited, police are confronted, FBI agents are suspected.

And then, things get hairy. Crais brings Daniel  into the mix, a hit man who is, quite simply, the creepiest dude he's yet created, and that's saying something. Daniel provides the random menace ratcheting things up to yet another level. Characters.

Very few authors are as skilled at setting the scene and then letting loose with action as Crais. He's still not afraid, to use his own vernacular, to "stack bodies like cordwood", and does so with a seamlessness never gratuitous. Largely because we know his characters so well, and the world they inhabit. Consequences.

As Pike gets sucked into the swirl of Wilson and Dru's troubles, he of course becomes emotionally and romantically vested. Dru Rayne is a damsel in distress, and Joe is nothing if not a knight.  And, as you can imagine, little is what it seems on the surface.

Crais keeps the cast of characters limited, but it's really nice to see Lucy Chenier play a significant part of the doings, because we love how she and Elvis relate. They are Crais' Big Romance, and we know he's not done with them.

His followers need no influence from here to know this is a must-read. Those new to Crais' world, take comfort—in The Sentry, he has created a great jumping-on point to begin your addiction. By the time he puts out his next, you'll be caught up!

Just know this....The Sentry is intense, and emotional. Events here will have lasting impact, we're certain, throughout future books. And the end? Well, bring a hankie, that's all we're saying.



Damage by John Lescroart

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Many of the characters in Lescroart's latest will be familiar to fans of his previous novels.  In one way or another, he brings the familiar faces back in this tale involving a case where a convicted killer gets released years later on appeal and has vengeance on his mind. 

One by one, those that were involved in the case involving the deaths of young women being raped and killed start suffering tragedies, and while just about everyone involved knows that the released killer is most likely responsible, proving it is a whole different matter; especially, as the suspect's parents own one of San Francisco's most infamous and popular newspapers and are able to spread their own opinion of whose to blame for the crimes.  But as the danger and threats grow with each day, coming closer to the characters we've grown to care for, they will find themselves willing to do just about anything to catch the perpetrator.   

Lescroarts's latest, while being suspenseful and fast-paced, does have its flaws.  One has to wonder just how believable it is that San Francisco citizens would not only fall for all that is written in the suspect's father's newspaper, but would actually support the suspect as a result.  And when the truth is finally revealed about who is behind it all, it too comes with its own strain for plausibility.  But this is fiction after all, so if you can get past that pesky idea of plausibility, you will no doubt enjoy this thrilling story filled with plenty of villains and heroes to keep things rolling.