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The Dead Yard by Adrian McKinty

Publisher: Pocket  ISBN: 0743499484

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Winston Churchill once joked that the United States and the United Kingdom were two great nations separated by a common language. Adrian McKinty is Irish, so I hope he’s not offended by the comparison, but wading through some of the trans-Atlantic terminology is all that keeps his new book, The Dead Yard, from reading as effortlessly as watching a movie.

Be grateful that The Dead Yard isn’t a movie, at least not yet. It has all the makings of a good one, but would still be best enjoyed as a novel. McKinty’s seemingly effortless prose moves your eye through the story with the ease and fluidity of a Rolls. Protagonist Michael Forsythe takes a hellacious beating through much of this book, and can’t catch a break, yet manages to observe most of what goes on with enough detachment to keep things from being ponderous without going for the big laugh.

Forsythe has a tough life. Taking out an entire Irish mob got him a seat in the federal Witness Protection Program. He’s still concerned enough about the open contract on his head to choose to vacation in the Canary Islands, where he’s minding his own business when he gets caught up in a soccer riot and arrested by Spanish police. British MI6 can spring him, but they have a small favor to ask: infiltrate a splinter cell of the IRA in the States before it can ruin the truce arranged by Tony Blair’s new government in the late Nineties.

Forsythe is a likeable antihero, in his own repulsive way, always looking for an angle, even if he will eventually do the right thing. The characters around him are a well-rounded and absorbing lot, even the psychos. Gerry McCaghan came to America and re-invented himself as a renaissance man who now owns a construction company and spouts Latin at every opportunity (appropriateness is optional) to impress his new, much younger wife. He doesn’t need to; she loves him to death, ignoring his tolerance for violence with her own Twenty-First Century version of radical chic. Touched McGuigan is so crazy people can call him “Touched” to his face and he doesn’t mind. Gerry’s daughter Kit wants to follow in the old man’s footsteps but sometimes lacks the fortitude. Then again, sometimes she doesn’t. She’s only nineteen, and McKinty keeps her as confusing and confounding to Forsythe and the reader as her circumstances must seem to herself.

McKinty dresses his tale in enough historical perspective to keep things grounded. His MI6 and FBI agents are twisted enough to be believable without becoming caricatures, dedicated without being corny. He knows his players’ strengths and uses them in proper proportions to balance the story, keeping the reader in the air as much as Forsythe is about how straight his handlers are being with him and how dangerous Gerry’s crew might be until the story starts hurtling downward into its violent ending.

The ending is, in its way, the weakest part of The Dead Yard. It’s well written and exciting, but asks a bit much of Forsythe. His suffering reaches Gibsonian Passion of the Christ levels, yet he still has enough in the tank to just about saw off a baddies’ head with a piece of broken Coke bottle. A hard man who is no stranger to violence through most of the book, by the end he is the Terminator with a prosthetic foot, hopping around to wreak his vengeance on those who deserve it, which by that time is pretty much everyone in the area.

Be not deterred; by then McKinty has earned his indulgence. The Dead Yard is a ripping good yarn, told with an aplomb that often disguises the quality of the writing. McKinty is a talent, and savvy enough to plant the seeds of at least one more sequel between the lines of the current installment. (The Dead Yard is the second Michael Forsythe book, McKinty’s third.) McKinty makes three kick-ass Irish mystery writers I’ve discovered for myself in less than a year. (John Connolly and Declan Hughes are the others.) Me auld grand da Dougherty would be proud.




Mad River Road by Joy Fielding

Publisher: Pocket Star ISBN: 0743488032

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

This is basically the story of three young women and a dangerous psychopath whose deviant deeds and plans for revenge will place them all in the midst of a terrible danger.  First there's Emma, a young single mother who has found herself on Mad River Road, a road in Dayton, Ohio that seems to be filled with misfits and those on the run.  Then there's Lily, also a young single mother, who appears to be trying to piece her life back together after the death of her husband.   Next there's Jamie, another young woman and one who has spent her life being denigrated by others and who thinks she has found her salvation in the handsome and mysterious man she meets in a bar.  And when Jamie succumbs to the temptation that this man offers, a road trip away from her life of being scorned, she jumps at the chance.  But this road she's taking will soon lead her to the others in a deadly showdown that will finally reveal the secrets these women all carry, secrets that just might get them killed.     

Starting off at a slow boil after the initial murderous prologue, Fielding then turns up the heat page by page until the final confrontation that boils over into madness and murder.  We meet these women, all of who have something to hide, thinking we know what's going on, but by the time you figure out it's not what you initially thought, Fielding has thrown in another shock or two, making the suspense nearly unbearable.  Disquieting and electrifying, start this one early because, even as I write this, I'm suffering from a reading hangover after staying up all night finishing it, there was simply no other option.              




One Last Look by Linda Lael Miller

Publisher: Pocket ISBN: 0743470516

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Miller completes her trilogy featuring pregnant lawyer Clair Westbrook and her fiancé, lawman Ton Sonterra, with the couple moving to Dry Creek, Arizona, a little border town that is in need of some cleaning up.  With Sonterra acting as police chief looking into the illegal immigrant smuggling trade, and Clair as special investigator with the D.A.'s office, this little town with its bevy of dirty secrets may just have a chance at redemption.  The two will also have to deal with having their lives threatened, a murdered woman and her missing child, their upcoming wedding, Clair's best friend's marriage woes and, of course, Clair's unending penchant for trouble. 

Not having read the first two in trilogy, I was wary of reading the third and being caught unawares regarding the previous story lines; no fear, this one reads as well as a stand-alone, providing a damn good story that only motivates one to read them all.  With a touch of gentle humor, highly appealing characters, and just the right amount of suspense, this compassionate and heartfelt read should delight readers from all corners.   Now my only question is how quickly I can get my hands on the first two of this wonderfully written trilogy, and why oh why can't there be a fourth.     



Grievous Angel by Jane Hill

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks  ISBN: 0060745290

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Justine Fraser hasn't seen Nicky Bennet, her first and only love, for nearly twenty years.  But that doesn't mean she has ever stopped thinking of him.  Still single, childless, and working at the same bookstore as years before, show that not much has changed in Justine's life since she last saw Nicky, that sad and fateful day he left her for good all alone in England.  But now Nicky is a famous Hollywood movie star and Justine, who has always followed his career, is quick to read and dismay over the rumors of his disappearance.  Leaving behind a note that sounds remarkably like the suicide note left behind by Justine's sister Marie convinces her that Nicky is calling out to her and desperately needs her help.  And so Nicky flies out to the States in a desperate search for the man she's never been able to let go of, along the way having to face her memories that bear little resemblance to what really happened during their brief love affair.    

This imaginative and luminous novel is both sorrowfully tragic and darkly humorous.   Justine, a wonderful portrayal of a woman living with only dreams of a fairytale romance, is endearingly and heartbreakingly real as she tries to piece together that part of her life that remains her only identity.  And as the reader learns the truth, bit by disconcerting bit, with the revelations becoming increasingly disturbing, it gets more and more difficult to put the read aside.  This is an amazing book, with an even more amazing ending, don't miss this highly original work, it's one of the best of its kind.          


Blindfold Game by Dana Stabenow

Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks   ISBN: 0312937555

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

In Blindfold Game, Hugh Rincon, CIA agent, is on his own because he is unable to convince anyone at Langley that a small band of terrorists are heading towards the Pacific Northwest in a cargo ship with a dirty bomb.  So he decides to go after the terrorists with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Sojourner Truth who is on patrol of the Maritime Boundary Line in the northern Pacific Ocean and whose Executive Officer who is Sara Lange is also Hugh’s wife.  Hugh and Sara are in a race against time to find the cargo ship containing the terrorists and the dirty bomb.

Dana Stabenow is known for her two successful Alaskan mystery series, but she displays her breadth of talent in this incredibly realistic thriller.  The story races across the globe; from Thailand, to Korea, to Russia and accelerates to a hair-raising climax off the coast of Alaska.  Stabenow mentions in the acknowledgements, that she spent some time underway with the Coast Guard in order to realistically depict life at sea in her novel.  As in her other novels, Stabenow’s descriptions of the Alaskan frontier are so vivid that a reader gets a true sense of the climate and the geography of this region.  Blindfold Game is an exhilarating thriller and will expand Stabenow’s already broad mystery fan base to include readers that enjoy this genre.



Train From Marietta by Dorothy Gairlock

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN 446 6616044

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you are tired of slick, modern, technologically sophisticated villains and plot lines, hop on board the "Train from Marietta".   Dorothy Gairlock has set her romantic adventure in the 1930's , when villains were easy to spot because they were beady-eyed, foul-mouthed and had nicknames like "Squirrelly".  He's one of the three members of the gang that has kidnapped Katherine Tyler off the train from Marietta

Heroines were easy to spot, too: they were blonde, feminine, and sometimes discovered an inner core of steel when they were pushed to the limit.  Kate finds her core when she's about to suffer the carnal attentions of Squirrelly and by the greatest good luck is rescued by Our Hero, a square-jawed, clean-living widower and part-time law-man, Tate Castle.  For a while Tate does all the hard work, but when the second villain comes after the escaping couple and beats the you-know-what out of Tate, Kate finds the guts to pick up a gun and use it.

This story's got everything from the golden age of romantic adventure stories: a wicked uncle, a trusting father, a duplicitous stepmother, a disabled kid, a trio of faithful family retainers whose hearts are gold but whose English is uncertain, the Big Sky Country of the American West, and a few heaving bosoms thrown in for good measure.

There's a dramatic denouement in Tate's ranch-house kitchen, when the third villain proves he's not entirely bad, and then a final chapter to satisfy those who always want to know what happens after the final scene.  

Buy the book, find a comfy chair, put on a Big Band radio station, and "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear"…….anybody remember where that line is from?


Ash & Bone by John Harvey

Publisher: Harcourt ISBN: 0156032848

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

The second in Harvey's new series featuring Cornwall police consultant Frank Elder is providentially every good as his first.   This time out we catch up with Elder over a year past his last case in which his teenage daughter was almost killed, still licking his wounds, and reveling in his solitary existence.  But hearing both that his daughter has taken up with some bad types, and that a woman who once tugged at his heart has been killed, he heads for London to once again help sort things out.

The woman, a London Inspector named Maddy Birch, had been found brutally beaten, stabbed, and possibly raped.  Discovering that in the weeks before her death she had played a part in a bust gone fatal for the criminal, and had also complained of being watched and followed by a mysterious stalker, give Elder and the lead investigator, Karen Shields, a good place to start in unraveling the mystery behind her death.  But the danger is coming in from all sides as it appeared that Maddy had more than one enemy, enemies she wasn't even aware of, and figuring which of these is responsible will place these two in danger themselves the closer they come to the truth.

Elder and Shields are what sets this thrilling novel apart from the pack.  Elder, in particular, with his remorse for his past mistakes, his strong sense of ethics, and his self-deprecating ways, make him that kind of flawed hero we all love to cheer on.  And Shields, as his independent and courageous partner, makes for the perfect self-confident opposite, with the two together being the pair to beat.  Throw in some great suspense, heart-rending family woes, some touching personal drama, and you have one excellent read.  Highly recommended.   



Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

Publisher: Three Rivers Press  ISBN: 0307336824

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Thirty- something freelance writer Ridley Jones couldn't be much happier, with close family ties, a hip career, and a funky apartment in New York's East Village, her life is filled with contentment and peace.  Until the fateful day she saves a child from a speeding truck, and the media splashes her face throughout the city.  Being contacted by a stranger who claims she's his daughter is only the beginning in a series of events that will challenge every truth she's ever known, destroy her trust and faith in everyone she's ever loved, and threaten her very existence.  Joining with a man she has just met but with whom she's already falling in love, the two will attempt to uncover the secrets and lies that have made up her life.  But he has some secrets of his own, and as events grow increasingly dangerous, Ridley will have to decide just who to trust, because someone wants her dead, and it's someone closer than she thinks.    

If you only read one book this year, make it this one.  As one who reads perhaps hundreds of titles a year, it's not easy to be utterly blown away by an author's work, no matter how good….but this one has managed that and more.  It's not only the suspense that's first rate, but also Unger's total ability to connect with the reader emotionally and intellectually with an extraordinary immediacy that feels heartbreakingly real.  You'll find yourself reading certain passages again and again, just to savor the poignant insight and emotional truth of what is shared through the eyes of this most wonderful of characters.  One of the most captivating and thrilling novels that I've ever had the joy to read, this magical book is truly a gift coming from an amazing new author whose entry into our world we loudly applaud.