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THE CROSS-LEGGED KNIGHT   By Candace Robb

Publisher: Mysterious Press ISBN: 0446691666

Reviewed by Karen Treanor

The eighth Owen Archer mystery is every bit as complex and involving as the reader expects in a Candace Robb book. 

History buffs should be pleased with Robb's research, but you don't have to know much about England in the 14th century to enjoy the book just for the plots and characters.   

Owen Archer, the one-eyed Captain of the Archbishop of York's household guard, is up to his swordbelt in problems.  Bad enough that his wife, the apothecary Lucie Wilton, has miscarried a child and is recovering too slowly: now he has a paranoid visiting bishop to contend with.  The bishop insists an accident was an attempted assassination, but before Owen can sort that out, the bishop's house catches fire, leaving his tenants homeless.  Worse, two people are pulled from the flaming storeroom, one of them murdered, possibly by the other. 

Complicating all this is the matter of the cross-legged knight, Sir Ranulph Pagnell.  Sir Ranulph, at an age when most men would prefer to stay home with their grandchildren, had decided to become a spy in France.  Through a variety of mischances, he was captured, held for ransom, and killed.  The Pagnell family hold the Bishop responsible, and his visit to York is to bring them Sir Ranulph's preserved heart and to offer a choice piece of real estate to make up for the lost ransom.  Nothing can be accomplished until Lady Pagnell agrees to meet the Bishop, and this she seems unwilling to do any time soon. 

Chafing at his enforced visit to York, the Bishop sees Lancastrian plots behind everything that happens, and is driving his host, Archbishop Thoresby, quietly mad. The Archbishop vents his frustration on Owen Archer, who's working as hard as he can to solve the murder, discover whether the fire was accidental or intended, find out who dropped the roof tiles close to the Bishop's head, and also to try and help his wife regain her health. 

Matters are not made simpler by the discovery that the dead woman was Cisotta, a midwife who dabbled in spells on the side, and who was Lucie's friend.   Everyone but Owen seems to assume that the survivor of the fire, a servant, must be the murderer.  The servant is being tended by Magda, the Riverwoman, a skilled herbalist who would probably be burned as a witch in a later age.  Magda understands a lot of what Lucie is going through, but she's too busy with the badly burned man to explain much to Owen, who is just about running on empty trying to get to the bottom of the various mysteries, do his regular job, and care for his wife.  Meanwhile Lucie, still ill, is determined to discover who murdered Cisotta, which leads her into danger on several occasions despite Owen's express orders for her to stay at home.

 The cast of characters is large, but all of the supporting roles are well played and necessary to the forwarding of the story.  Skilled armchair detectives may suspect the identity of the murderer before Owen does, but it's unlikely. 

The plots and sub-plots are well woven into a satisfying medieval tapestry.  The story switches from scene to scene in the best movie thriller manner.  Readers shouldn't be surprised to hear themselves gasp aloud, "No, no, Lucie, don't go in there!" or "Look behind you, Jasper!"   

Robb has assisted her readers by the inclusion of two maps and a substantial author's note in which she explains more of the political and religious background to her story, and offers a number of suggestions for further reading.  This was a very tangled period in English history, and Robb has taken full advantage of the various undercurrents to set her scenes and maintain the tension.  Highly recommended. 

 

Something Deadly by Rachel Lee

Publisher: Mira Books ISBN: 0778320049

Reviewed by Donna Padilla

People are dying on San Martin Island, and medical examiner Declan Quinn does not know why.  Never in his entire career has he seen corpses that look like these.  He quarantines the island and sends for doctors from the Center for Disease Control.  They can find no sign of disease.

Kato, half wolf and half Siberian Husky knows what is happening, but cannot communicate it to his owner, veterinarian Markie Cross.  He knows he has to protect her, so he leads her to the scene of the first death where she meets Declan.

When they realize that an evil supernatural force is loose on the island and Markie is targeted as a victim. they leave no stone unturned to find a way to stop it.

The action starts on the first page and builds in intensity.  It is not until the very last page that the reader can stop holding his breath.  This book has everything—romance, religion, cliff handing suspense, the supernatural and greed. 

Dynamic!!

 

Prince of Lost Places by Kathy Hepinstall

Publisher: Berkley Pub Group; Reissue edition ISBN: 0425193780

When a shoot-out occurs at her young son Duncan’s school, somewhat unstable Martha Warden sees no choice but to kidnap Duncan and flee to the Texas-Mexico border to live in a cave an old man once told her of.  Feeling this is the only safe place left in a world gone mad, the two take it day by day, but are soon interrupted when a stranger appears.  Not knowing it’s the detective her husband had hired to find her, they soon fall into a love affair that also becomes threatened when the husband picks up their trail. 

 Easily read in just a few short hours, this little book packs a potent punch.  A mini masterpiece, it makes a powerful impact.  Exquisitely written, with a spare and raw beauty, this book does in 176 pages what it often takes some writers twice the amount to accomplish, if they’re even to accomplish it at all.  The profound love of a mother, along with her fierce need to protect in a world where that seems at times impossible, is so perfectly revealed, it’s astounding.  Don’t miss this one.

 

Intern by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Publisher: Mira Books  ISBN: 155166691X 

Reminiscent of a true recent disappearance of a young aide to a California Senator, Hill gives us a story that takes the “what ifs’ and makes them all too real. When Senator Eric Barry’s intern April Wayne goes missing, April’s family feels sure that the Senator has something to do with her disappearance, while Barry’s family resolutely stands by him.  But as the facts slowly trickle in, it becomes impossible to deny his affair with the beautiful young woman, and others like her.  Soon everyone has their doubts, and in a story that incorporates all the viewpoints, we follow along as the frightening and ugly truth comes to light.   

This new one from Hill is a surprisingly moving and compelling read.  The differing viewpoints of the major players add an emotional diversity that is both stimulating and absorbing. It’s a superb collage of politics, sex, grief, and madness.  And to top it all off is the added grace of hope and redemption.  This is a thriller that shouldn’t be missed by serious fans of mystery who enjoy depth and originality.  

Interview with Bonnie Hearn Hill

 

The First Law by John Lescroart

Publisher: Signet ISBN: 0451210220

Reviewed by  - Narayan Radhakrishnan   

John Lescroart’s latest thriller The First Law is one that will enthrall and keep happy the ardent fans of this lawyer-author. Following the success of The Hearing and The Oath, Lescroart’s series protagonist former cop- turned bartender- turned attorney Dismas Hardy, returns in fine form investigating a murder in The First Law.

Dismas Hardy’s friend, and sometimes rival, Abe Glitsky is recovering from a gun injury and is assigned a desk job, so that he will be free from ‘heavy action’. However, when Glitsky’s father Nat informs him about the murder of Nat’s best friend, Sam Silverman, Glitsky is forced to look into the matter. However, the detectives in charge of the case want Glitsky out of the way. It seems that the police have already identified the culprit- John Holiday, a bar owner and former colleague and client of Hardy.

 It seems to be an open and shut case with heavy evidence mounted against Holiday- and to make matters worse John Holiday could scarcely be called a model citizen. To add to Hardy’s woes, Holiday has absconded fearing arrest and slowly Glitsky, Hardy, and their families themselves become prime suspects for interfering with investigation and for helping Holiday abscond. And soon it’s a race against time for both Glitsky and Hardy to find out the real culprit(s) and also clear their tainted images. 

Though The First Law is a page-turner loaded with heavy action, compared to the Lescroart classic The 13th Juror, it would rank only a poor second. However, the suspense is riveting and the action is thick and steady throughout. The subtle noir touch adds greater thrill to the work. An exciting read, recommended highly for a good evening read.

 

The Cutting Room by Louise Welch

Publisher: Canongate Books ISBN: 1841954748

Rilke, an employee of Bowery Auctions in Glasgow, is living a lonely and disaffected  life as an aging gay man when he suddenly comes face-to-face with an unimaginable evil. Asked by an old woman to help clear out her brother’s estate, he comes upon some old pornographic pictures, pictures that go much further than simple porn, they actually show a woman being tortured to death.  Unable to let the matter drop, he begins an investigation that will take him down a road filled with menace and threat, and may very well signal the end of life as he knows it.            

In turns poetically tender and candidly harsh, Welch masterfully weaves a poignant tale of both the good and the evil that can reside in even the most inconspicuous of humans.  Her hero, Rilke, plays both the self-destructive anti-hero, as well as the tarnished knight in shining armor with a heart of gold.  This is a beautifully written and provocatively  gripping tale filled with passion, danger, and spirit.   You won’t leave this one without feeling a little changed somewhere inside, whether it be a greater empathy for some, or a greater anger for others, you will at the very least feel something.  Highly recommended, this is a must read debut from this very promising and welcomed author.