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Effigies by Mary Anna Evans

Publisher:  Poisoned Pen Press  ISBN:  1-59058-342-6

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Archaeology student Faye Longchamp, accompanied by her friend Joe Wolf Mantooth, is spending the summer in Neshoba County, Mississippi, excavating a site near sacred Choctaw Indian ground.  The archaeologists are intrigued by a nearby Native American mound, but it is on private property and the owner, Carroll Calhoun, refuses to allow a dig on his land.  Worse yet, shortly after their arrival, he tries to bulldoze the mound.

Faye and her colleagues are appalled, as are community Choctaws, and they try to stop Calhoun’s destructive actions.  Soon after, Calhoun is found, in the middle of his marijuana crop, with his throat cut.  Was someone so determined to preserve history that they murdered the stubborn farmer?

At the same time, former Congressman and Neshoba County native Lawrence Judd reveals that he was the victim of a hate crime more than forty years ago.  While working on the dig, investigating Calhoun’s murder, and dating a handsome lobbyist, Faye helps Judd find the site of his attack so many years ago.

Effigies is slowly absorbing.  Author Mary Anna Evans makes the mistake of introducing too many characters early on, with insufficient development for the reader to keep them straight.  The characters seem overly self-conscious, as does the writing at times.  However, once the action centers on just a few people, the story improves considerably.  Her attempt to introduce supernatural elements is less than successful, but Effigies overall manages to be a surprising and suspenseful mystery.

 

 

Head Games by Thomas Cavanagh

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312361327

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Mysteries are excellent vehicles for sending messages. Many talented contemporary writers, led by James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane, and George Pelecanos, insert social comment into their mysteries to enrich the story while subtly promoting their agenda. Danger lurks when the message is no more than a decal that could be lost without detracting from the plot. That’s the ultimate problem with Thomas Cavanagh’s Head Games.

Mike Garrity has named his brain tumor Bob. Mike and Bob have resigned from the Orlando Police Department so Mike can feel sorry for himself before Bob pulls the big sheet over their face. Garrity goes through the motions, avoiding treatment, preparing for a month-long visit from his teenaged daughter that was thought up as a farewell bonding experience by the girl’s mother.

Garrity is roused from his lethargy by a call from a former associate on the OPD. T.J. Sommerset, an integral piece of the hot boy band Boyz Klub, has gone missing on the eve of a multi-million dollar tour. Boyz Klub’s management company promises Garrity a quarter of a million dollars if he can return T.J. to the fold and keep it out of the papers.

Matters are complicated when Garrity learns T.J. ne’er-do-well cousin is in debt up to his eyeballs to the new king of Orlando’s gambling rackets, whose father Garrity put away and is dying in prison. Cuz’s debt, T.J.’s money, and old scores combine to create a story with plenty of complications and trials for Garrity.

It’s an interesting premise, executed formulaically. Cavanagh moves the plot along well, inserting surprises at just about the point where Writing the Breakout Novel would recommend raising the stakes. Close to what might be an easy lead? Garrity has a tumor-induced seizure. Making progress with his daughter? She catches him going though her purse. Reconciliation in progress after grand gesture? Kidnap time.

Bob is never more than a page or so away, as though you’d be likely to forget a tumor named Bob. He has lots of company. T.J.’s father died of cancer. The old gambling don is dying of cancer. The problem is that Garrity’s disease never becomes an integral part of the story. He could just as easily have AIDS or hepatitis or athlete’s foot. The constant references to Garrity’s condition beat you over the head about what you should be feeling, without letting you actually feel it. There’s no argument here: being a 42-year-old man dying of cancer sucks. We got that on our own.

Head Games has a good premise and the groundwork is laid for some interesting interplay between Garrity, his two ex-wives, and T.J.’s mother. (Not all at once. Behave.) Cavanagh settles for writing a by-the-numbers mystery that hold the attention without really demanding it. You won’t be sorry you read Head Games; you won’t be jazzed about it, either.

 

 

Forests of the Night by David Stuart Davies

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books  ISBN:  13: 9780312360009

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A keeper! This is a tale you will want to read more than once just to make sure you haven't missed anything.  Talented author David Stuart Davies has managed to recapture the flavor of tales written in the thirties and forties that has nearly been lost in the crush of modern technology and car chases.

This is a wonderfully straight-forward tale of how an ex-policeman is injured on training in the service and washed out to build a new life. He can't return to his old employment due to his injury, but decides to put what he learned on the job to use as a private detective.

John Hawke is a more complex character than many P.I.s of this era in his responses to life, an orphan boy, a pretty girl, and his clients. This protagonist will quickly become a good friend to the reader as you join him in his hunt for a missing girl.  You will want to share his other adventures.

The author has a deep understanding of human nature and uses is well in creating the very realistic characters in this story. The timelessness of this story, the style of the writing, and the characters will satisfy any reader in a way the no amount of gore and car chases ever will.

Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

 

 

Dead Bang: An Art Hardin Mystery by Robert E. Bailey

Publisher: M. Evans & Company;  ISBN: 1590771095

Reviewed by Jake Chism, New Mystery Reader

Retired Private Detective Robert Bailey has crafted another thrilling Art Hardin mystery. Art Hardin is a middle-aged private detective living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When a casual lunch becomes a deadly affair, he has no idea that his life is about to turn upside down. Before he knows it, Art is up to his ears in danger and mystery. A close family friend finds herself mixed up with probable Middle Eastern terrorists.  When Art lends a helping hand he suddenly finds himself the terrorist's target when they blame him for the loss of their smuggled cash.  Meanwhile a 30 year-old mystery has resurfaced and Art is forced to finally find the answers he has wondered about for decades. To make matters worse, Art's family becomes involved and he must protect them at all costs in his quest for the truth.

Good writers write what they know and Robert E. Bailey knows about the world of Private Detectives. Using his own knowledge and experience he
depicts a believable tale that is entertaining and intriguing. Bailey constantly twists and turns the plot and the reader must really be alert and pay attention to follow the storyline. This is gritty, smart storytelling that forces the reader to participate in the story rather than simply observe it. The novel is full of inside PI jargon and references that at times seem to slow the narrative down a bit, while at the same time adding a touch of realism to the story. Fans of hard-core detective novels will enjoy this latest installment in the Art Hardin
Mystery series.