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The Last Juror by John Grisham

Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition ISBN: 0385510438

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan

John Grisham, the Master Legal Thriller Author Superstar is back with a top-notch thriller that reaffirms his position as the doyen of the legal thriller genre. Ever since I read THE FIRM, more than a decade back, I had made it a point to buy and read each and every Grisham work. Today I am the proud owner in possession of all Grisham novels, a rare script of a hitherto unpublished screenplay MICKEY and his one and only short story THE BIRTHDAY.

THE LAST JUROR is a legal thriller, but its one that stands apart from the author's other legal novels. For one thing- there is no lawyer- hero, the protagonist this time round is a newspaper owner and secondly all lawyers featured are, well, 'negatively portrayed.' Young Willie Traynor has come into possession of a local (and bankrupt) newspaper, The Ford County Times.
Business is dull- and Traynor slowly realizes that he has made a big mistake. But all this change when a young mother of two is fund raped and brutally knifed to death. Before her death, she had uttered just one word- "Danny Padgit"- the local Mafia don and the numero- uno bad guy of Ford County. Traynor uses his paper to cover the huge trial in royal tabloid style. Padgit and his lawyer both warn Traynor of dire consequences if he proceeds with the tabloid trial, but all goes in vain. Padgit is found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Before he goes to the gallows, Padgit vows revenge on each of the jurors who have convicted him.

Ten years later Padgit is free, and the killings begin. What follows is traditional Grisham suspense, of the bad guys facing the badder guys, culminating in an exciting, but expected finish.
So how do I rate this book- no way it is as great as A TIME TO KILL or THE FIRM. But it is far, far better to THE SUMMONS and THE TESTAMENT; and stands in the same footing as THE CHAMBER, THE PARTNER and THE RUNAWAY JURY.
Enjoyed the book, a perfect read for the summer holidays.
 

 

Juno McKay owns a business that restores stained glass windows and she has been commissioned to restore the window that depicts the image of Eugenia Penrose, wife of the founder of Penrose College.  Christine Webb, Juno's best friend during their years as Penrose students has been researching the window and has been asked to give a lecture.  Responses to the window are mixed because Christine has intimated that the Penrose family has a few skeletons in the closet.  The next day Juno finds Christine dead at the abandoned Penrose estate.  Although it is widely believed that the death is a suicide, Detective Daniel Falco believes it is murder.  Now all he has to do is come up with a motive.
 
This is an extraordinary novel with a plot that is immersed in mythology and art history.  The suspects include members of the Penrose family and patients at nearby Briarwood Mental Institution ( one of which is Juno's ex husband).  The subplot involves verifying Christine's allegations and understanding the meaning behind Augustus Penrose's painting entitled The Drowning Tree.  Readers who like mythology and art history mixed into their novels will not want to pass this one up.

 

Lie Still by David Farris

Publisher: William Morrow ISBN: 0060505540 

Lie Still by David Farris: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Medical resident Malcolm Ishmail is stunned and bewildered when his latest case turns from a simple procedure to one of life and death.  Working the E.R. in a small town in Arizona, a young boy is brought in with symptoms of an asthma attack, but what should’ve been simple, now has turned ugly when the boy slips into a coma after being treated by Ishmail.  Things go from bad to worse when the attending nurse begins to accuse Ismail of negligence in his treatment.   But soon, after even more unsettling events, Ishamil begins to suspect that the whole incident may have ties to events months previous when he was involved in a torrid affair with his professor in Phoenix, a woman whose brutal intelligence could not hide her deadly faults as a physician, a woman  who Ishamil could not allow to continue practicing once he knew the truth.  Fearing he is the victim of a vicious plot of revenge, and facing the ending of a career he has put his whole life into, Ishmail must find the answers before it’s too late. 

This intelligent and thrilling debut from Ferris shows much promise.  Written with compassion and insight into the field of medicine, Ferris has put out a tale that is both suspenseful and dynamic.  And although some elements may seem a bit far-fetched, the events depicted still paint a frightening and realistic picture of the medical world gone mad.  In a world where survival depends upon politics and bureaucracy, and tenure and reputation, and where the patient’s care too often is obscured behind these meaningless attributes, this discerning look at life as a doctor caught in the middle comes highly recommended.         

 

Harvard Yard by William Martin

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN: 0446614505

Harvard Yard by William Martin: Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

This is the first work by William Martin I have read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Harvard Yard shines both as a literary as well as a historical mystery.

The blurb informs us that this is a sequel to the author’s previous bestseller Black Bay. Though I have not read Black Bay- I found Harvard Yard a self-contained mystery.

Peter Fallon, antiquarian and Harvard Historian returns in fine form investigating a supposedly lost Shakespeare drama manuscript, titled “Love’s Labors Won”. Shakespeare it seems was a buddy of Robert Harvard, father of John Harvard, the founder of the Harvard University. It seems that Shakespeare had gifted the original manuscript of “Loves Labor Won” to Robert congratulating him for the birth of a son (John). The script was presented to the University by John Harvard. Though it was stolen from Harvard, it was later retrieved by one Isaac Wedge.  Since then no one knows what happened to it. Fallon investigates into the mystery- opens a lot of closed doors, and what follows is a mesmerizing read that takes us through the annals of one of the World’s most premier schools of learning.

The mystery is rooted in reality- a fine blend of fact and fiction, that it is difficult to separate where truth ends and fiction begins- a true exemplary example of a ‘faction’ novel.

Enjoyed it, immensely enjoyed it. Worth a good read and an even worthier buy.
                                         

 

Absolute Friends by John Le Carre

Publisher: Back Bay Books ISBN: 0316159395

Absolute Friends by John Le Carre: Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

The Master has done it again.

With the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union- I thought that the era of the spy thriller had come to an end. To add more credence to my thoughts, a couple of years back, best selling author Frederick Forsyth also proclaimed that the spy thriller era was over.

True, the last 3- 4 years have seen a complete dearth of good spy thrillers. It is at this juncture, John Le Carre’s Absolute Friends gain prominence. It is the best smashing and contemporary spy thriller I have read in a long, long time.

Le Carre, the author of the wonderful The Honorable Schoolboy, the perfect A Perfect Spy and the more recent The Constant Gardner, is an author who needs no introduction- a best-selling author on both sides of the Atlantic and one of the few handful of British authors to make it big also in my country India, (the other three being Ken Follett, Jeffrey Archer and Frederick Forsyth).

In Absolute Friends, Le Carre focuses on contemporary world politics and a spy, Ted Mundy who has called it a day and now works as a tour guide in Bavaria- with his family, a Muslim wife and a child. He finds it hard to make ends meet with a Muslim wife and a child.  Life is just ordinary for the retired spy; and then on one fine day he hears a voice from the past, an old friend, a fellow (former) spy from Germany- Sasha.  Sasha has a plan, a plan that would make them millionaires, and more than that, bring back some zing back to their lives. A Billionaire philanthropist by the name Dimitri, wants to engage their services as a translator to propagate a message- a message for and on behalf of Iraq against the ongoing war. What follows is traditional Le Carre’ action and plot setting, in the style seen in The Perfect Spy and A Murder of Quality that would keep the author’s teeming millions of fans reaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllll happpppppy…….

A great spy thriller- don’t just read it, buy it and read it.

 

The Fugitive Queen by Fiona Buckley 

 Publisher: Scribner  ISBN: 074345748X

The Fugitive Queen by Fiona Buckley: Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

One of the benefits of being a reviewer is that one sees books before most other people do, and this is very useful just before Christmas.  One book that will be on many reviewers' gift lists is Fiona Buckley's latest Elizabethan adventure. 

Mistress Ursula Blanchard, now Mistress Hugh Stannard, is happily settled with her third husband, and devoting herself to the education of her daughter Meg.  The Queen and Lord Cecil have all but promised that Ursula, the Queen's illegitimate half-sister, would be allowed to rusticate peacefully after undertaking her last dangerous commission for Her Majesty.  However, Elizabeth is not one for taking another's comfort into consideration when she wants something done.  Like it or not, Ursula must travel North once again, to the castle where the captive Mary, Queen of Scots, paces out her days like a caged leopard, under the eye of a warden who may or may not be loyal to the English queen. 

Realising that retirement is not an option when you have once worked as a secret agent for Queen Elizabeth, Ursula packs up her daughter, her temporary ward Penelope, and her trusty domestics Dale and Brockley.  How difficult could the commission be?  All Ursula has to do is contrive to have a few private words with Mary and convey Elizabeth's opinion (read: orders) that Mary must keep her mouth shut if asked to testify about how Lord Darnley died.  It's in Mary's own best interest not to give away much about her late husband's demise, but she's a notoriously flighty creature and may not be able to see the big picture, or so Elizabeth and Cecil believe.  One queen, forced to testify in court, sets a dangerous precedent for all queens.  Mary must be convinced to keep silence: but discreetly. 

Readers familiar with Ursula Blanchard's previous adventures will expect the unexpected from the moment Ursula's foot hits the stirrup, and they won't be disappointed..  First Meg is kidnapped and a young man is murdered; then a possible nest of traitors is uncovered, then an unworthy steward is exposed, and finally a plot to free the Queen of Scots is discovered.  Somehow, whilst sorting through all of that, Ursula must also find an acceptable husband for the wayward Penelope. 

As usual, Buckley handles her characters deftly, interweaving enough Elizabethan background to establish the reader firmly in the period, but without letting that overtake the plot and characters.  Ursula Blanchard Stannard is an appealing heroine: one sympathises with her uncomfortable position as the unacknowledged half-sister of the queen and all that that implies.  "Uneasy lies the head that is related to the head that wears the crown."  There is much potential drama here for Buckley to develop in future books. 

 

Liar’s Market by Taylor Smith

Publisher: Mira Books ISBN: 0778321053

Liar's Market by Taylor Smith: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Shortly after moving back to D.C. from abroad, Carrie MacNeil’s marriage to a high level CIA operative begins its final descent into total failure.  And when her husband disappears and it's made known to Carrie that he’s being hunted for acts of treason, Carrie finally must admit that she never really knew the man she married.  Knowing that he will never let their young son Jonah go, Carrie lives in constant fear waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Meanwhile, her own life is now under scrutiny as the CIA investigates her for any connections to her husband’s acts.  But among those she is growing to trust lies another traitor, one who also wants to see her dead. 

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this latest from Smith.  Not one for spy thrillers, I was prepared for boredom and dissatisfaction.  Boy was I ever unprepared for what I actually got-enjoyment, excitement, and a very deep fascination with the whole shebang!  Smith’s novel managed to stray enough from the typical formula of spy-thrillers, and included many of my favorite ingredients:  characters with heart, suspense, fast-paced plotting, and just plain good story-telling.  Definitely recommended, even for those who wouldn’t normally read this kind of book.  Try it, you might just like it.           

 

The Ripple Effect by Paul Garrison

Publisher: HarperTorch; 1st edition ISBN: 0060081708 

The Ripple Effect by Paul Garrison: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Aiden Page, along with his brother Charlie, had been working for a private bank in the World Trade Center on the day the airplane struck.  And although the brothers had seen years of successes, by the time this tragedy struck, debt was knocking on their door, along with the U.S. attorney who was looking into irregularities at the bank.  Aiden, with no awareness of what is really going on, but knowing he somehow is in the middle of it, sees this catastrophe as his chance to play dead and disappear.  And so he flees to an island in the Pacific, leaving behind his 15-year-old daughter Morgan, and the life he only thought he knew. 

Making his living sailing boats, Aiden one night gets drunk and calls Morgan, and though he only mutters one word, it’s enough to set her on his trail.  Having spent the past seven months believing he was dead, and slowly falling apart herself, Morgan is quickly spurred to action by the need to find him.  Setting sail by herself across the Pacific to an island she believes he’s headed for, she’s unaware that she’s also being hunted, along with her father, with way too many people on to the fact that he’s not dead.  And as the two sail across the oceans on separate boats, headed for the same place, danger is following their every move.       

Warning!  If you’re going to get on this ride, be prepared to hold on for dear life.  Because while the why behind the story is bit confusing, and sometimes downright intrusive, the how, who, and where more than make up for this in breathtakingly intense ways, especially when the ride focuses on the engagingly written characters of Morgan and Aiden. And even though it sometimes feels like there’s enough sailing tech jargon to fill a small manual, it too quietly fades into the background, so that the pure adventure of this rollicking wild story can burn unimpeded.  Definitely recommended for those who like a wild tale to get their hearts pumping. 

 

 

Obsessed by G.H. Ephron

Publisher: St. Martin's  Paperbacks  ISBN: 0312994702

Obsessed by G. H. Ephron: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Dr. Peter Zak, a forensic psychologist, returns with another mystery to solve.  This time a coworker, Dr. Emily Ryan, is being stalked.  Dr. Ryan, who also works at a private neuropsychiatric facility that offers patients the latest research and MRI brain scanning for afflictions such as Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer’s, seems to attract her fair share of admirers.  But the further Dr. Zak investigates, the more he learns that what looks like a stalking may in fact be a much more dangerous conspiracy involving her work at the facility.  To make matters worse, Dr. Zak’s girlfriend Annie seems to be acting distant, causing Peter even further anxiety.  And when a murder occurs at the facility, it appears that Peter might just be on the right track, especially when it becomes apparent that his life, and the lives of loved ones, is in danger. 

Reading more like a Robin Cook novel than Ephron’s usual dose of psychological suspense, some fans may be a bit disappointed.  Although the insights into the insidouus nature of dementia and Althiemers are interesting and noteworthy, sometimes it seems a bit too technical, bogging down the suspense and causing a bit too much distraction.  But the characters who shine in previous novels are back, and that alone is enough to make it worth the read.   

 

Desert Places by Blake Crouch

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312934785

Desert Places by Blake Crouch: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Andrew Thomas, a successful suspense author, has no idea that his life is about to explode into a real-life nightmare.  He receives a letter telling him that a body is buried on his property with evidence pointing to him, and that if he doesn’t follow the instructions included he will be reported to the police.  He decides to go along with what is detailed, and soon finds himself in the middle of a plot so terrifying and mind-boggling, that he can only wish for his own death to relieve him of the hell someone has devised especially for him.     

I very nearly gave up on this book after the first few chapters.  Extremely disturbing, graphic, and violent, it takes a bit of daring to hang in there.  But upon finally making it past part 1of the book, I was glad I did.  White-knuckle suspense, first-rate characterization, and taut writing filled the rest of the pages.  This book is definitely not for everyone, and be warned that it may leave you with unpleasantly vivid nightmares.  We only hope that with writing this good, Crouch will keep in mind with his next outing that sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to graphic detail.  

 

 

After watching her best friend being murdered on the floor of the stock exchange, Madeline Carter quits her job, sells almost everything she owns, and heads for the West coast.  There she runs into ex-boyfriend Ernest Billings who gives her a hot tip.  He has been written up in several financial magazines for taking over failing companies and turning them around.  The fact that he has been named the CEO of a company and that it has not been announced yet, sends Madeline to her computer to sink almost all her ready cash into the company. But Ernest is reported kidnapped and the stock starts falling.  Madeline, not wanting to lose her savings, sets out to find him.

This novel is filled with enough corruption to keep the reader turning pages.  Anyone who dabbles in the stock market will be enthralled with the development of this plot, as well as frightened.  Interesting and smart, and easily worth the price of admission, this is recommended read.