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Firetrap:  A Novel of Suspense by Earl Emerson

Publisher:  Ballantine Books  ISBN:  0-345-46292-0

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

A deadly fire at an African-American social club raises allegations that the primarily white Seattle Fire Department didn't try hard enough to rescue trapped victims.  The release of a 911 tape of a caller begging for help as firemen repeatedly pass him by precipitates rioting throughout the city.

Firefighter Trey Brown, injured in the fire, is desperately trying to maintain a low profile when he is recruited to assist beautiful Jamie Estevez in an independent investigation of the fire.  Although Trey balks, he has little choice.  His assignment brings him into contact with the family who disowned him twenty years earlier.

While revealing the corruption and underhanded dealings that culminated in the tragic fire, Trey also learns the truth about what really happened to him two decades earlier.  As he finally lets go of his first love, he also finds his true love.

Author Earl Emerson skillfully integrates some Gothic-reminiscent elements into a contemporary suspense novel, with good results.  Trey's complexity and loyalty make him a memorable hero.



One Last Scream by Kevin O'Brien

Publisher: Pinnacle  ISBN-10: 0786017767

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Having had no life of her own after repeatedly failed relationships and her father being put in an assisted living home, lonely Seattle therapist Karen Carlisle has always found herself a bit too involved with her clients' problems.  And so when the family of one of her favorite clients, Amelia, a young and beautiful woman, is found brutally murdered, she's quick to jump in head first to help.  But when Amelia begins to seemingly recall the most frightening details of the murders, Karen finds herself questioning her client's innocence; thinking either she's the victim of multiple-personality, a victim of a vengeful monster from her past or, worst of all, she is in fact guilty of the brutal crimes against her family.  But unable to convince herself of Amelia's guilt, even as more people close to Amelia begin to die, Karen will come closer and closer to her own death in her search for truth behind Amelia's past.

After several suspenseful novels, one would think this guy would have run out of steam by now.  Instead, he continues to deliver yet another forceful and breathtaking read that sustains a steady pace of thrills throughout - not to mention a challenging tale of who really done it.  To say much more might give this one away but, suffice it to say, this is another winner from an author who knows how to keep you reading long after you should, and one who should add some convincing methods of calling in sick at the end for those who can't.



The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman

Publisher: Harper  ISBN: 0060563478

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

New Mexican Joe Leaphorn, now retired from the Navajo Tribal Police force, is feeling bored and restless since the ending of his career, the simple life of retiree far from gratifying.  So when he gets a call from an old friend whose curiosity has been piqued by a recent photograph of a legendary woven rug thought to have burned up years before in a fire, he too is immediately intrigued by the mystery.  And when he discovers that one of the FBI's most wanted also perished in the fire, the mystery only beckons him closer.  Setting out on a trail that goes decades into the past, and one that will take him beyond his hometown borders, Leaphorn will finally find himself solving not only this mystery, but other unsolved puzzles that have long haunted him.

Hillerman easily scores with this latest Leaphorn outing, bringing back this wonderfully stoic and intelligent detective that uses his wit and knowledge to solve the most perplexing of crimes.  Hillerman's natural and down-home tone also help to bring the story, the setting, and the mystery to life with vivacity and grace, that when combined with the wonderful Indian lore detailed, provides a tale that is appealing from beginning to end.  It's been awhile since I've enjoyed a novel from Hillerman this much, and it's great to see him back at his best, telling a story with the verve and style that has served him so well in the past.    



Night Vision by Ellen Hart

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin ISBN: 0312374437

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Life, lately, has been relatively uneventful for Minneapolis restaurateur and amateur sleuth Jane Lawless; or at least it was until mega movie star Joanne Kasimir arrived in town.  Joanne, an old friend Jane's brazen theatre friend Cordelia, is in town to do a play, and her arrival seems to have brought her many obsessive fans out of the woodwork.  But when one fan in particular, a man who spent time in prison for stalking her, seems to be back with vengeance in mind, Jane and her detective buddy are soon on the case to track him down and put a stop to the threatening events plaguing the star.  But Jane and her many friends will soon find out that nothing is ever as it seems, and the threats that surround them all are much more deadlier and numerous than they had imagined.

In this latest outing featuring Jane Lawless, Hart once again proves her adeptness at creating a story filled with gripping suspense and finely tuned characters.  And while she seems to have backed away a bit from the more intimate aspects of her characters that added depth and intensity to some of her earlier books, she still provides the reader with a fast paced and challenging read.  With plenty of twists and turns, this multi-layered tale of obsession and fame is a great addition to a well-written series that continues to satisfy.



The Hunt by Jennifer Sturman

Publisher: Red Dress Ink  ISBN-10: 0373895704

Reviewed by Harvey Lau and Geraldine Young, New Mystery Reader

Set in San Francisco, the fourth Rachel Benjamin mystery novel involves a series of puzzles that Rachel and her friends must race against time to decipher if they are to find their missing journalist pal, Hilary. Hilary had been last seen with The Igster, nickname for a former classmate who has made it big in Silicon Valley and who is on his way to becoming a billionaire with a new software.
Hilary may have found a flaw in this software, however, and is planning a major story to reveal this fatal flaw. Motive for murder? Rachel and her pals think so after Hilary disappears and sends them an SOS text message suggesting she is in danger. 

A very enjoyable book with an interesting, witty, and somewhat unconventional main character, Rachel would rather follow puzzles and clues to find her friend than pick out crystal and plate settings with her future mother-in-law, or play tennis with her fiancÚ's friends.

The Hunt  could be considered Chick Lit Mystery, a new and burgeoning genre in the mystery field, except for Rachel's unconventional tastes. Though she carries a Blackberry and mixes with people in high finance and in the computer and public relations business, she considers herself odd in a world full of "normal" people. There are no bodies in this mystery, but lots of clues and of course, affairs of the heart, to add romance to the mystery mix. 



The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN-10: 0312371047

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Danny Carter has made a good life for himself with long-time girlfriend Karen and a solid career in the construction business, his blue-collar past as a petty criminal in the South Side of Chicago nothing more than the occasional guilty memory.  That is, at least, until his old childhood friend and partner in crime is released from prison, having served some hard time for the violent acts he committed during the pair's last criminal act years before.  And now he wants Danny to return to the life of crime, feeling Danny owes him one more big score for not having served anytime himself, leaving Danny with some very ugly choices to make, decisions that could destroy the new life Danny has worked so hard to build. 

With the vivid backdrop of Chicago playing second fiddle to the authentically portrayed characters, Sakey spins a tale filled with so much ambience and gritty realism, readers might be stunned to look out the window and discover they are not anywhere near the vibrant city.  Additionally, he does an intelligent and provocative job of illuminating the boundaries between the criminal and the ''civilian" and the wealthy and the struggling, particularly in his questions surrounding how much the former is a result of the latter.  Offering up sound reasoning for both sides of the equation, his final denouement, while providing understanding and empathy, invokes a powerful determination on the side of individual choice.  Highly recommended, this is one new author we'll be watching.



Trap Door by Sarah Graves

Publisher: Bantam ISBN-10: 0553588028

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It's spring time in Eastport, Maine, and for home renovator Jacoba Triptree that means even more opportunity to tear out the old and put in the new.  But when a young man is found dead in a hit man's barn just around the same time an old friend comes to town, a friend with a past as shady as Jake's and with ties to the hit man, Jake will find herself once again not only building and repairing, but solving a murder as well. 

This was my second read of the series, and having recently read the last outing from Graves and not being overly impassioned, I approached it with little enthusiasm.  Thankfully, this one presented itself a bit more logically, its plot more plausible than that of the last.  And while Graves does have a tendency towards suddenly interjecting descriptive detail to the point of distraction in the middle of conversations or scenes of action, she still keeps up a steady pace of intrigue and hot home repair tips with this latest.  So, while I'm still not a number one fan, I nonetheless found myself enjoying this one, wondering throughout when the DIY channel is going to catch on and make this their first murder/home repair series.         



Murder 101 by Maggie Barbieri

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312947623

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Alison Bergeron, an English Literature Professor in the Bronx, doesn't think her week can become much worse after her divorce becomes final.  But when her car is stolen, only later to be found with the dead body of one of her student's in the trunk and she becomes a suspect, along with the girl's boyfriend and other assorted nefarious types, her week turns into murder.  Thankfully, she still has her best friend Max, the fashionable, man- hungry adventuress, along with the sexy detective on the case, Bobby Crawford, to help her out of the mess her life has become, that is if she can stop throwing up on the handsome detective's shoes.

This humorous debut outing has just about everything fans of amateur sleuth mysteries will love; a couple of feisty heroines, a charming and lovable detective, plenty of nasty villains, and page after page of laughs.  Barbieri also does a great job of keeping the truth hidden until the very end, providing a challenging and engaging puzzle for the reader from beginning to end.  A great new addition to the genre, we look forward to Barbieri's next outing featuring this appealing and amusing cast.  


Demon's Kiss by Maggie Shayne

Publisher: Mira ISBN-10: 0778324974

Reviewed by Glen Clooney, New Mystery Reader 

Reaper is an assassin, a vampire, and something of a berserker.  Seth Connor is one of the Chosen - a human with the Belladonna antigen, which renders him a 'bleeder' and, fortunately for him, under the protection of the vampire community.  When he's attacked and beaten nearly to death in the street, Reaper rescues him and turns him into a vampire to save his life.  All his life Seth has known he was meant for something big, but becoming a vampire wasn't something he ever imagined.  His life-mission leads him on the same path as Reaper, who has been hired to track down and eliminate Gregor, the leader of a group of rogue vampires who are killing humans recklessly, thus endangering the entire vampire race.

As a mixture of romance and dime store horror, this novel struck me as being nothing more than prom-queen literature.  Not remotely frightening, the story drips more cliche than suspense.  Technically it is not especially well-written, and with the exception of the Belladonna antigen it is unoriginal, relying on the same old tired, flogged-to-death vampire themes and mythos.  The character of Reaper holds some appeal for his mysterious dark side, but the rest of the cast is typical, melodramatic and unconvincing - especially Seth, who had no qualms whatsoever about being turned into a vampire.  With a shallow, predictable plot and weak, unimpressive characters, this book may appeal to teens who enjoy fast thrills without true depth.


The River Killings by Merry Jones

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312998635

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

The second in Jones's new series featuring Philly art therapist Zoe Hayes is just as tantalizing, if not more so, than her first.  This time out, Zoe and her friend Susan, who have taken up river rowing along the Schuylkill River, stumble upon the bodies of 19 Asian women during a moonlight practice run.  Thankfully, Zoe's lover Nick, a Philly detective, is soon on the scene, but his conclusion that these women were part of the burgeoning slave trade that seems to be flourishing throughout the country only causes further dismay with the two women. 

Besieged by the media, and a few suspicious strangers, Susan and Zoe make every attempt to leave this case to Nick and the authorities, but when it begins to appear that a danger is closing in on them, and people around them begin to die, they have no choice but to get further involved.  But are these threatening events really related to the human smuggling cartel, or could it all be coming from an entirely different source, one much closer to home, and one directly connected to Nick's secretive past?

In Jones's latest mystery, it's her delightfully drawn characters of Zoe, Nick, Susan, and especially Zoe's adopted precocious daughter Molly, that really stand out and make this a noteworthy read.  She also manages to effectively blend two disparate mysteries into one cohesive tale, although at times it does seem as each could easily stand and its own and maybe even be better for it.  So while her compelling and empathetic look at the growing concern of human smuggling is to be complimented, one might also wish she would have delved a bit deeper into this particular story line that needs all the attention it can get. 

But, ultimately, this complaint is minor and does little to detract from a memorable and well written read.  So if you have yet to read this series, you're missing out on a great addition to the genre; its charming characters combined with a gently humorous and natural approach to story telling make this series one to watch.