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All In One Piece by Cecilia Tishy

Publisher: Warner Books   ISBN 0446613568

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

Ex-corporate wife and sometime psychic Reggie Cutter is back, and this time the murder mystery is closer to home: in her upstairs apartment, in fact.

When blood drips through her ceiling, Reggie goes upstairs to find Steve Damelin, her tenant, nailed to the floor--literally.  The police seem fixated on Steve's missing ex-boyfriend, but Reggie isn't so sure.  There are plenty of other suspects, including Luis, whom Steve has been mentoring through the Big Buddy program; Steve's own father; and a host of little old ladies who have solid reasons to hate Steve.

As Reggie tries to find out who killed Steve, she's haunted by psychic flashes from an old glass bottle that belonged to his family.  She traces a connection back to the Bread and Roses riots of the early 1900s, but how does this tie in with the present day murder?  Does the apparently well-to-do North Shore family which claims Steve was like a second son to them have something to hide?  The more answers she finds, the more questions Reggie has.  For instance, who is the naked man in the platter of lobsters?

As usual, Reggie is helped by her faithful beagle Biscuit, and Biscuit's co-owner, the biker Stark, neither of whom are with her when she inadvertently agrees to meet the murderer in a deserted boat shed.    (You'd think she'd be more careful, since there's already been one attempt on her life).  I have to say the identity of the murderer took me totally by surprise; see if you can guess it before the last chapter.

This is a real treat, particularly for fans of the Boston Malice Domestic genre.  

 

 

The Interview Room by Roderick Anscombe

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN-10: 0312994931

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Dr. Paul Lucas is more than accustomed to dealing with the worst kinds of criminals working as a forensic psychologist in a Boston hospital for the criminally insane, but not even years of experience could have prepared him for his most recent case involving Craig Cavanaugh. 

When Cavanaugh, a rich and privileged young man, is first sent to Dr. Lucas for evaluation after being charged with stalking a young professor, it seems that while Cavanaugh is obsessive and manipulative, he is far from criminally insane.  But the further Dr. Lucas interviews the young man, the more alarmed he becomes as he begins to realize that Cavanaugh is not simply obsessive, but is instead a very dangerous sociopath.  And when the young man is released and begins to target Lucas and his wife, setting events into motion meant to destroy them, Dr. Lucas will find himself on the other side of the law with only one way out.

As written by a forensic psychologist who knows whereof he speaks, this deeply nuanced psychological thriller has everything needed to keep the reader turning the pages far into the night.  Not only is the challenging duel of good versus evil between doctor and sociopath brilliantly executed, with the doctor's own frailties and his wife's deepest secrets used against the couple as masterfully deployed weapons aimed to destroy,  but also its final denouement in which that very line between good and evil becomes all but indistinguishable.  Psychological suspense as it was meant to be, the first in this stunning new series shows great promise, and we eagerly await what's coming next.          

 

Hardscrabble Road by Jane Haddam

Publisher:  St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN:  0312989121

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A keeper! If you like surprises and plots with twists, you will really enjoy talented author Jan Haddam's tale, Hardscrabble Road.  This author writes with sleight-of-hand up her sleeve.

There are complications for everyone involved the moment celebrity radio shock jock Drew Harrigan is arrested for possession.  Fear ripples through the city of Philadelphia as the major, his opponent in the upcoming election, a group of Carmelite sisters, Gregor Demarkian, college professors and a homeless man become entangled in the aftermath of the arrest. Politics mix with religion to the detriment of the case.

Another problem is that nobody can question Harrigan when he is sent immediately into rehab while homeless man Sherman Markey takes the blame for supplying the drugs to Harrigan.  Problem is, the lawyers and the DA know Markey is not mentally stable enough to have done this.  Then he too disappears.  Suspicion is that he has either frozen to death or been murdered. 

The battle between lawyers, Harrigan's wife, homeless advocates, the law, and politicians are only a few of the complications that you will find skillfully woven into this story. The characters step off the page to give you their version of the facts and you'll find yourself siding with one or the other of them. 

Gregor Demarkian is drawn into the case when someone asks him to visit the chief of police for help in finding Sherman Markey and what seemed a simple task quickly becomes a tangled mess. Will he ever understand what's happened? 

I'm happy to highly recommend this book to any mystery fan.  You'll be looking or other books by this imaginative and talented author.  I know I will.  You'll want to read this more than once.  Enjoy! 

 

High Priestess by David Skibbins

Publisher: St Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN 0 312 352344

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Ever wonder what happened to the hippies when the "Greed is Good" ethos overrode the folk-songs and tree hugging?

One of them, Warren Ritter, had the good fortune to buy into Microsoft when it
was just a twinkle in Bill Gates' eye.   You'd think that would make a man
happy.  Maybe it would have, if Warren weren't a manic-depressive on the run
from a possible murder charge going back to his student days as a radical left
winger.  He spends his days reading Tarot  cards for the  gullible, and keeping
an airline bag packed and ready by his front door.  Occasionally he looks into a mystery if the reason is sufficiently compelling.

At the end of the previous book, "Eight of Swords", Warren learned that not only did he father a child back in the flower power days, but she's just made him a grandfather.  He's trying to decide if he should make contact, when an old flame turns up in connection with an investigation he's working on.   Warren starts a downward spiral into depression again.  It's not helpful that his
paraplegic lover Sally has turfed him out for lying by omission, and the the
police have decided he's the most likely person to have killed his own client.

When Warren gets a grip on himself and starts looking at the clues and thinking through all that's happened,  he comes to the conclusion that only one person could be responsible for all the deaths, and for one of the oldest of motives.  Unfortunately, a higher power than Tarot cards catches up with the killer first, leaving Warren to think up a fiendish way to get the information that will clear him with the police.

The book has one of those rare denouements that leaves you thinking that justice has been done, albeit in a convoluted way.  In fact, you might almost feel sorry for the villain--just for a moment.

Skibbins fans will be awaiting with great anticipation the promised third book
in the series.  Bets are being placed already as to which tarot card will title
the next book.  I'm thinking maybe "The Hanged Man".

 

 

 

A Garden of Vipers by Jack Kerley

Publisher: Onyx  ISBN: 0451412338

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Mobile, Alabama detectives Harry Nautilus and Carson Ryder are used to going their own way in the most interesting of cases, but this latest will leave them bewildered like never before when they grab the case of a murdered reporter.  Following what seems to be a nonsensical trail, they connect her death to a mysterious man who seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once.  But there are more killings on the way, each more brutal than the last, and they all seem to have one very wealthy and prominent family in common, a family whose dysfunction knows no bounds.  And with each new surprising turn, the danger comes even closer to Carson and those he loves, especially his girlfriend whose ties to the family go deeper than Carson could possibly dream.   

Filled with plenty of great shocks and surprises, Kerley once again puts out an electrifying tale that consistently stuns and amazes throughout.  His sense of timing and of knowing just when to change track alone is worth the price, but when you throw in the main character of Carson, one of those charming and likable guys who still just can't seem to get it all right, you have a well rounded and very engaging read.  Highly entertaining, this is one series you shouldn't be missing.    

 

 

 

 

End of Story by Peter Abrahams

Publisher: Harper  ISBN: 0061130346

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Abrahams does it yet again, provides the reader with an intelligent and poignant story like none that's come before.  We meet Ivy Seidel, a Manhattan bartender who wants nothing more than to be a writer, spending all her spare time and thoughts on honing her skill.  But her life is about to take a drastic change when she agrees to teach creative writing at a local prison and she meets Vance Harrow, a haunted and beautiful man who has talent far beyond her own.  But just reading his writing is soon not enough for Ivy, and she takes it upon herself to learn his whole story, including what led to his imprisonment.  And as she investigates she soon begins to believe that this viral and intelligent man may just be innocent, soon finding herself going down a road that will forever change her life, if not end it, all for a man whose innocence is questionable at best.

In this highly inventive and heartrending tale, Abrahams has created such a unique and vital character in Ivy that it's effortless to become instantly enmeshed in her tale of innocence lost.  And it's Ivy's very innocence, an innocence that is both touching and often tragic, that leads to her misplaced bravado and optimistic courage, making it easy to forgive the inexplicable and perilous road she travels.  Full of brooding suspense and stirring perceptions, this is not a story you'll soon forget, nor a character you won't think of again and again, both of which will linger in your mind long after the reading is over.                

 

 

Midas by Russell Andrews

Publisher: Warner Books;  ISBN: 0446617326

When Justin Westwood, the newly-appointed Chief of Police for East End Harbor, sets out to investigate a plane crash and a suicide bombing in which his former boss was killed, he finds his pathway obstructed on both fronts; and he begins to suspect that there may be a connection between the two events.  This suspicion is increased when some of those interviewed as part of his investigation are later murdered.  Finally, Westwood winds up in Guantanamo Bay, being interviewed as a suspect himself for these crimes, and placed under conditions of severe duress.

Midas delivers all that you might ask from a thriller: thrills (of course), compelling action, recondite research (regarding forensic clues and company finance: bomb signatures and Special Purpose Entities, no less), and surprising twists all the way to the end of the line.  Justin Westwood is a pretty strong character too, as he needs to be, for over the course of the novel he is bruised, battered and betrayed.  Still, he survives with his soul intact, which only goes to show that you just can’t keep an abrasive, hard-headed, WYSIWYG, hardass kind of a guy down.  Could you ever?

But what is most impressive about Russell Andrews’s novel and most sets it apart is the way in which he is able to articulate (within the context of a damn fine story) our current uncertainties regarding the War on Terror.  “May you live in interesting times,” goes the old Chinese curse quoted by Robert F. Kennedy in 1966; and America has certainly once more, since the atrocity of the events of September 11 2001, entered a perilous period of her history.  In Midas Andrews has his hero, Justin Westwood, reflect:

And this was a brand new world.  A brand new world where threats had to be taken as seriously as deeds.  Preemptive action.  That’s what the new world was about.  (p.158)

Andrews presents us too with a world where the appeal to national security, like the suicide bombings themselves, is used to obscure a darker heinous intent.

And for the skill with which Russell Andrews taps into the prevailing Zeitgeist, it has to be said that Midas sets the gold standard for the contemporary thriller.

 

 

Slipping Into Darkness by Peter Blauner

Publisher: Warner Books; ISBN: 0446617474

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Twenty years ago 17 year old Julian Vega was sent to prison for the murder of a young and beautiful doctor who lived in his building.  Now out on a technicality and ill-equipped to deal the greatly changed city of New York, he's fumbling his way through life, waiting for the second trial to begin.  And when a second young and beautiful doctor is murdered, all eyes turn once again to him as the culprit.  But when DNA is found under her finger nails matching that found under the first victim's finger nails, confusion sets in for all involved, especially the lead detective on the case, Francis Loughlin.  And so Loughlin, a man now going blind, must put the pieces together from the past and present, looking deeply into the facts of both cases and into his own soul to discover the truth.

This affecting and bleak novel, full of suspense and ambiguity, definitely ranks up there as one of Blauner's best, which is saying a lot, as this author knows how to tell a tale.  Not one to spare his readers from the uncomfortable world such events might bring about; this compelling and provocative story effortlessly invokes disquiet and uncertainty.  Unsure until the very end just who truly is at fault, the cop or the criminal, leaves one never quite knowing within which character to place their sympathies, and therein lays its brilliance.  Both characters, flawed, courageous, and altogether human, distinguish this tale of morality and justice, with an ending so shocking it's sure to leave you reeling.  Don't miss this one; it's of the type that will leave thinking long after it's over.          

 

 

Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog by Boris Akunin

Publisher:  Random House ;  ISBN ISBN 978 0 8129 7513 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If Sister Carol O'Marie and Leo Tolstoy ever got together, they might produce something like this.  The writing is as deep and thick as Victorian plush.  Things are described in great detail, and the reader is immersed in 19th century provincial Russia.

Zavolzhsk, in the Nizni Novgorod region of the old empire, is ruled nominally by a governor; but the real power is the bishop, the Rev. Mitrofanii.  The bishop has a noble, aged, and somewhat eccentric aunt, Marya Afanasievna.  Her life's work has been the breeding of white bulldogs, and when they are poisoned, she insists the bishop investigate.

The bishop has a reputation as something of a detective; but the reputation isn't entirely deserved.  The real detective is Sister Pelagia, a nun at the nearby convent.  She has a past that's hinted of but never explained, and has been used by the bishop on previous occasions to discover criminals and sinners. 

Mitrofanii sends Pelagia off to his aunt's house to investigate the poisonings.  Along the way--on foot, as the Bishop hasn't thought to provide any transport--the bespectacled, freckled nun observes two headless bodies being pulled from the river. 

Pelagia reaches the palatial estate of the bishop's aunt and is immediately plunged into a truly Byzantine web of intrigue and murder.  Several attempts are made on her own life by a ruthless killer, who is disposing of anyone who might reveal the real reason behind the initial murders.

Everything culminates in a lengthy trial scene that appears to be going in one direction when it takes a U-turn thanks to Pelagia's intervention.   As usual, Pelagia has done most of the work and the bishop gets most of the credit, but Pelagia doesn’t mind, as she's already on the trail of another mystery.  I look forward to receiving that one as soon as it's in proofs.

Be advised that this isn't a quick read, and that the long Russian patronymics might be a stumbling block for some.  Persevere, gentle reader, persevere: this is a rich and complicated tale that gives you a look into a past time and place that should enthrall you for several days of bedtime reading.