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Overexposed by Michael Blair

Publisher:  Dundurn Group ISBN:  10 1550025821

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Imagine waking up with a hangover and finding a dead man sitting in a chair on your roof.  What would you do?  This is what happened to photographer Tom McCall so he called the police and hoped he wouldn't be arrested for murder.

The dead man seemed to have many identities as the story unfolds and it takes a lot of asking to find his true name and what he was doing at the party on Tom's floating home where no one knew him.  How did he turn up there?

To add to Tom's troubles, a friend moves in with him after she loses her boat to a mysterious, unpleasant couple who claim they bought it for a dollar and considerations.  Did they?  How could they buy it when the owner had been missing for several months?  Did he really sign the sales slip?  Why?

Then Tom's sister comes to work at his studio, a move he's not sure he should have allowed and his daughter wants to spend a year with him while her mother travels to Australia.  Could he protect her when danger threatens as his home is broken into and the missing man turns up or should she go with her mother in spite of her objections.

A blend of action, suspense, wishful thinking on Tom's part, this story is played out by well drawn characters who will lure you deeper into the story with each page you read.  Talented author Michael Blair has created a twister that is sure to please any mystery fan.  Highly recommended.  Enjoy.  I really did.

 

A Killer Collection by J. B. Stanley

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime ISBN 0 425 20745 5

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The death happens early in this story, and nobody seems to be much bothered by it.  George-Bradley Staunton is a fat, greasy, overbearing bore; however even his worst enemies (and there are many) have to admit he knows his pottery.

George-Bradley elbows his way to the head of the line at a 'kiln opening' event,
where pottery collectors line up, salivating in anticipation of the chance to
purchase the most recent production of various southern potters.  Shortly after he has bowled over--literally--some of his competitors for the prize pieces, George-Bradley is found unconscious behind the barn.

Journalist Molly Appleby has been brought to the event by her pottery fanatic
mother, and just happens to see George-Bradley behaving strangely just before his death.   She is  convinced there's something unnatural about the death, and using the cover of her newspaper feature series about southern potters, Molly sets out to find out what happened to the dead collector.

It isn't long before Molly learns that some of George-Bradley's expensive and
rare collection of pots and jugs is missing.  Knowing greed is a popular motive
for murder, Molly is now convinced that George-Bradley did not die by accident.  But who could be responsible: the embittered wife, who hated the collection; the venal mistress; other collectors who'd been done down by George Bradley?   The field is wide open.

If you like a nice, gentle ,not-too-gory-or-scary story with (mostly) pleasant
characters, and at the same time learn something about a little-known area of
the plastic arts, this one's for you.

 

Bloodstone by Gwen Hunter

Publisher: Mira ISBN: 0778322211

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Many members of the St. Claire family are psychic, but Tyler St, Claire has done absolutely nothing to develop her gift.  When a State Bureau of Investigation agent, Evan Bartlock, comes to tell her that her brother David has been abducted she senses that he is somehow connected to the St., Claires, eventually discovering that he's a distant cousin.  And so reluctantly she accepts Evan's help in finding David, all the while fighting her growing attraction to this man who also seems to share the gift.  

What a marvelous book Hunter has written.  The plot has many quirks in it, but flows smoothly constantly pulling you into the action and suspense.  Tyler continually contacts David mentally so is privy to the torture he is enduring.  The cast of characters is extremely entertaining.  They include psychics, a covert government agent who has gone bad, local law enforcement officers who are so greedy they couldn't care less about finding David, land developers who cannot abide tree huggers, and spurned women seeking revenge, all combining for an enthralling read that is sure to be enjoyed.

 

TO KINGDOM COME by Will Thomas

Publisher: Touchstone ISBN: 074327234X

Reviewed by William Fietzer, author of PENAL FIRES

London, 1885. A terrorist bomb has just blown narrator, Thomas Llewelyn, head over heels into the Thames River. Those same terrorists have bombed Scotland Yard's Special Irish Branch and promise to extend their wave of terror across all of London within 30 days. What will he do?

For Llewelyn the answer is as simple as swimming for his life. Set enquiry agent and mentor, Cyrus Barker, onto the case, and see what he turns up. What Barker and Llewleyn discover during their investigations into the Victorian London underworld is evidence of a radical faction dedicated to founding a free Ireland at all costs. Along the way, they encounter a pantheon of London's leading criminal denizens including Barker's nemesis, Seamus O'Muirchairtaigh. They also meet real life personages, Charles Parnell and a young William Yeats, head over heels in love with beautiful red head, Maire O'Casey, sister to one of the terrorists. The last half of the story becomes a race against time. Will Barker and Llewelyn's undercover identities as bomb experts hold up? Will they discover the mastermind directing the terrorist faction before it strikes again? And will Llewelyn manage to control his fascination with Miss O'Casey long enough for any of the rest of this to happen?

Will Thomas' To Kingdom Come is an entertaining thriller whose greatest assets are its Victorian atmosphere and its colorful criminal characterizations that lie somewhere on the fictional spectrum between Dickens' Artful Dodger and Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarity. The main characters prove somewhat less engaging. Enquiry agent Barker comes off as an aloof Dutch uncle. Apprentice investigator, Llewelyn, is an uneven narrator who offers plenty of insight into the British underworld, but is noticeably unobservant about its French counterpart during his first trip to Paris to buy bomb materials. As history, the motives of Thomas' terrorists recall the blind fury of the Oklahoma City bombers rather than illuminate the social and political context underlying the Irish Question. Yet, these are trifling criticisms. To Kingdom Come provides an excellent read for a rainy autumn evening. Enjoy.

 

The Vanished Hands by Robert Wilson

Publisher: Harvest Books ISBN: 0156032821

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

The most striking aspect of Robert Wilson’s The Vanished Hands (U.K. title The Silent and the Damned) is the people. Setting an English language mystery in Seville, Spain is unusual enough to grab one’s attention, but Wilson provides as diverse a cast of characters as anyone could want, while still being to keep track of everyone.

Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon is called on to investigate the death of Rafael Vega and his wife while still recovering from the personal trauma Wilson described in The Blind Man of Seville. Vega was a contractor who butchered his own meat and had secrets hiding in the deep freeze. Falcon immediately encounters Consuelo Jimenez, a woman with history from the Blind Man case, now Vega’s next door neighbor. Maddy Krugman, an expatriate American, photographs people in what they thought were private moments, searching (she says) for the truths they keep shielded from others. Maddy flaunts her sexuality in front of any man who might be enticed, which means all those not blind or gay. Her substantially older husband doesn’t seem to care how Maddy comports herself with other men, until he cares too much. Actor Pablo Ortega’s career is in decline, his son is in prison as a pedophile, and the house he recently bought for several million Euros is sinking into a cesspool. Literally.

That list covers about a third of the important characters in Wilson’s book. All of them share one characteristic: they never seem to be wrapped in plastic until the plot needs them. Wilson always maintains the impression each character is living a full life apart from what the reader is privy to, and that the emphasis of the story could move from Falcon’s tale to theirs and not miss a beat.

That’s not to minimize the plot. Wilson weaves two seemingly disparate stories together seamlessly, without requiring mental contortions by the reader to maintain credulity. Each story is separate, yet removing one from the other would lessen both. Pulling it off is a writing tour de force of which Wilson is eminently capable.

Maybe too capable. Wilson has chops many better-known writers can only dream of, but even talent is sometimes best used in moderation. He reaches from time to time for creative similes that are beautifully phrased, but have only a tenuous relationship to the subject at hand. (“Strange siesta sleep left Falcon feeling oddly rested but with his brain sitting awkwardly in his head, like a breach birth.”) Saying the atmosphere was “as oppressive as an old regime” would work in a wisecracking, hard-boiled story; Raymond Chandler could have made it work. In the context of Wilson’s elegant prose it’s a fly rubbing its feet atop your Baked Alaska.

The well-differentiated characters share one trait in common: they are the most articulate and erudite bunch you’ll ever come across. Even the brutal, blue-collar pedophile can drop “atavistic” into the conversation at the drop of a dictionary, as can Maddy Krugman, even though Spanish is not her native language. The dialog is realistic and crisp when Wilson confines himself to short snatches of interplay, but too often the characters make speeches instead of talking to each other.

The above faults won’t detract from your interest in the characters or the story; it just doesn’t read as smoothly as it might. Wilson moves his cast through his intricate web of corruption and perversity with the skill of a master, and will keep the reader turning pages even if not particularly concerned about the symbolism and other “literary” devices he builds the story around. The Vanished Hands can be heavy going, and at the end you may feel tired more than invigorated, but you’ll also know you haven’t wasted the trip. Let’s hope there will be more of the evolving life of Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon.

 

Mortal Faults by Michael Prescott

Publisher: Onyx ISBN: 0451412044

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Prescott brings back LA private operative Abby Sinclair and Denver Special Agent Tess McCullum in this stunning follow up to last year's outing which originally paired the two markedly different women.  This time out, Abby is contacted by Congressman Jack Reynolds to investigate a woman who has been stalking him, a woman he claims to have fired years before and who is back for some sort of revenge.  Abby quickly discovers otherwise, the woman is much more intimately known to Jack, as she was his mistress 20 years before and had two children by him that she was later accused of murdering.  But that is not the only lie Jack is telling, and soon Abby will learn that behind the amiable façade is a sociopath of the greatest magnitude.

Tess is also soon on the case and arrives in L.A. against her better judgment to officially aid in the investigation surrounding the woman and the Congressman, still having to keep her association with Abby a secret as it goes against every FBI policy known. But she quickly grows concerned that Abby has crossed the line from stalking the stalkers to vigilantism and murder when a bad guy connected to the case winds up dead.  And so as one woman fights to discover the truth within the boundaries of the law, the other fights to discover the truth while fighting against her own temptations to cross the final line from good guy to bad guy, all culminating in an ending that just may leave one or both of these women in prison or dead.     

In Abby and Tess, Prescott has created two of the fiercest and most commanding heroines to come along in awhile, especially Abby, whose borderline control is as compelling as it is convincing.  And by putting these women on opposite sides of the law, he creates a daring dynamic that is simply fascinating.  Add to that a gripping plot and a vicious villain whose sociopath tendencies are flawlessly delineated, and you have the makings for a breathlessly exciting read.  Highly recommended, we hope to see these women again, together or independent of each other as in previous outings, either is acceptable and more than likely to be just as thrilling. 

 

Criminal Investigation Detachment by Don Bendell

Publisher: Berkley ISBN: 0425207382

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

A series of explosions is crippling the American Army in Iraq.  Major Bobby Samuels, formerly of Special; Forces and Delta Force, is now a member of the U. S. Army Special Investigation Division.  When he is sent to Iraq to investigate, he discovers that it is an inside job.  There is a traitor in the U. S. Army.  Samuels must discover who the traitor is and stop him, as well, as any accomplices he may have.

Bendell has written an absolutely captivating novel.  He pulls you in and makes you feel you are very familiar with the way Special Forces operates and the weapons they use.  This is a page turner that keeps you glued to the plot until the very end, which , by the way, is totally gruesome and gory.  All in all, an interesting read that takes you into an unfamiliar world with panache. 

 

The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais

Publisher: Ballantine ISBN: 0345451910

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader 

Our long national nightmare is over.

Yes folks, Elvis Cole is back. And with big ups to President Ford, the wait since Robert Crais delivered The Last Detective has been, well, both long and nightmarish. And things weren't all rosy for the World's Greatest Detective, either. We remembered. We waited.

The Forgotten Man, is the tenth (!) entry in the continuing tale of the afore-mentioned private eye, and is easily the most intense on various levels. What Crais accomplishes in this book will be discussed beyond the normal news cycle for such things, this much is certain. The Last Detective was Top 5 on the New York Times list, so the round is chambered, and the safety is off. This book should ignite in the marketplace.

We are reunited with Our Hero in the middle of the night, as he is awakened by a phone call. Informed by the police a man has been found, shot dead in an alley, and his final words spoke to a desire to find his son, one Elvis Cole. That on the body were clippings related to Elvis' big case a while back. We are reminded Elvis never knew his father. Cole's life wasn't that great before the phone rang, and clearly it's not going to improve anytime soon.

And thus Crais skillfully brings us forward and back--into the crazed violence of events  populating the "big case" in The Last Detective, and left Elvis in such a state as this. Those new to his writing, have no fear, you will feel fully informed in short order. And then hang on to something.

As Elvis gets into the new case, we are of course re-introduced to Joe Pike, Cole's enigmatic partner, radiating both menace and calm. We like to think Crais honors the tradition of the sidekick with Joe Pike. That's tradition, not cliche'. Not to mention that Crais has spent an incredible amount of time, and most of L. A. Requiem, giving full voice to Pike as a core value of the series. And we are re-introduced to Carol Starkey, first seen in Demolition Angel, and fast becoming vital to this series as well. The voice with which Crais writes her scenes is full of grit and honey. She is a great character and brings the series a fresh breath. There are numerous scenes with Starkey where the empathetic reader will nearly ache for her, she's written that well.

Pike and Starkey pitch in to help Elvis deal with the possibilities this case presents, and they are many. Elvis had a very organized mythology about his unknown father, and the idea that lying on a slab in the morgue might be the icon of that mythology, and could either codify or explode that mythology, staggers him.

Crais brings us to a point where we realize that, hey, we really don't know that much about Elvis' youth. We've known just enough, but it's limited. The soul of The Forgotten Man is the light Crais shines on young Elvis' quest to find his father. We meet people are vital to what Cole has become, and some of them play a role in the book's current events as well, so that's fun.

Over the course of the last three books, Crais has been taking Elvis down a pretty dark road. The first few books in the series were more of the straight-ahead variety. Massively entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny in places, action-packed and dialogue-smart. Then, as we moved into Indigo Slam and Sunset Express, it was clear Crais wasn't content in that place, that he was going to challenge us, and we'd best keep up.

With the last three books, he's shifting the borders of the PI novel. Crais' game has benefited much from the long break between L. A. Requiem and The Last Detective, when he wrote stand-alone best-sellers Demolition Angel and Hostage. The freedom gained from working outside the genre, plus the clout the success of the stand-alones brought, has allowed him to seamlessly push genre limits.

We go deep into the story of Elvis, the youngster who saturated a road-weary carnival crew with his lost-boy energy as he searched for his father, believed to be a vagabond performer. We forget the web of homicidal deviation Crais is weaving in a separate narrative. But when we are brought back, it's with a series of jolts that refresh our memories of the potential darkness of the human heart. It becomes clear early on that Elvis is hunting a psychopath, and it doesn't take too long for the tables to turn him, unknowingly, from hunter to hunted.

Lest you think this all sounds too morose, think again. The things that have become tradition in Elvisland---the investigational set-pieces, the snappy banter between Elvis and pretty much everyone---they are here, and they are better than ever. The shadings Crais has given to his characters over the course of nearly 20 years give more resonance to the humor. It becomes an island in a sea of relentless narrative propulsion.

So, let's talk about the end. When you read it, you can almost picture Crais wiping the sweat from his own brow. It's breakneck fiction at its prime, and will make for you a happy prison until you finish. And it's made more real by the interludes that come before it, the heartbreaking recollections of Elvis' young life. The way Crais' weaves the two concepts together is startling.

The Forgotten Man is the first great mystery novel of 2005. We can't imagine many more joining its rarified air. Crais has evolved and matured as a writer in a way that connects with the central nervous system of the reader, and to that, we must simply quote another Elvis and say--thank you very much!

 

Dark Eye by William Bernhardt 

Publisher: Fawcett ISBN: 0345470168

Bernhardt, master of several outstanding legal thrillers, takes an extreme left turn in his latest, and where he goes and how he does it will have you squirming and terrified out of your wits.  But with this dazzling and highly engaging cast of characters, it's a fear most welcomed. 

We immediately meet Susan Pulaski, a Las Vegas behaviorist or, in other words, a woman who knows how to figure out the deviant drives and motivations of a killer.  Only thing is, when the latest brutal serial killer strikes the City of Sin, she's caught up in an alcoholic maelstrom of grief and loss.  Still reeling from her husband's death, she's taken up the bottle and, as a result, has lost her home, the niece left in her care, and her job with the department.  But when the bodies of young girls start turning up, all with a mysterious note attached that will soon be related to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, she's summoned to assist.  And so her only hope out of this hell she's created for herself is to catch this latest madman.  Fortunately, she will have the help of a brilliant young man who sees more than most, but who just happens to be autistic, and the son of the chief.  But the two will have to work fast as the killer has his sights on Susan, and has already decided that she will make his next perfect victim.

Fans of Bernhardt's legal thrillers will undoubtedly be shocked by this dark and sweeping turn he takes into madness and malevolence.  While this is a novel packed with intelligence and disquieting notions, along with characters filled with both spirit and a propensity for peril, it is perhaps its shocking dose of uninhibited malice that will touch most of all.  It is petrifying and immediate and, under Bernhardt's accomplished touch, almost more than one can handle without a safety net nearby.  Highly recommended for both the delicious chills it creates as well as for its insightful and perceptive portrayal of the many forms of madness; this is one you won't to miss.

 

Suicide Squeeze by Victor Gischler

Published by Dell ISBN 0440241707

Reviewed by Jamie Engle for New Mystery Reader

“Conner Samson bounced a check for a dollar draft in Salty’s Saloon and decided it was time to get serious about looking for work.”

There were many things you could call Conner Samson, but lucky, rich and disciplined weren’t any of them. With rent due and bookies looking to collect their money, Conner took the only job he could find: repossessing a boat. Finding the boat proves to be the easy part. Staying alive long enough to get paid is the hard part. Unbeknownst to Conner, on board is perhaps the most collectible baseball card ever – a Joe DiMaggio baseball card signed by Joe, Marilyn Monroe and director Billy Wilder on the set of The Seven Year Itch. It’s a card people are willing to kill for  – literally. The boat owner wants it so he can sell it, run away to an island and live the good life. The boat owner’s ex-wife wants it as the alimony she never received. The insurance claim agent wants to use it as bait for bigger fish. Two mercenary Japanese collectors want it to one-up each other. Caught between them all – and his bookie’s collectors - Conner’s life goes from bad to worse as the body count rises. Can Conner pull himself together long enough to outwit them and get paid?

Suicide Squeeze is a hard-boiled, wild ride that doesn’t let up. Unexpected twists and turns are fast and numerous; you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. Gischler doesn’t waste a word. His terse style enhances and adds depth to the story and characters – and what a cast of characters there is! Each one is quirky, vivid, almost a caricature in itself, including the anti-hero, Conner Samson. With few redeeming qualities, yet very self-aware, Conner’s the bad boy underdog you root for despite yourself.  You can’t help but hope to see more of Conner’s exploits in more novels to come. With each page you’re pulled deeper into the story and the characters; you actually hate to see them go as some of them inevitably bite the dust. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and bought Gischler’s first two novels to read as well –discovering a new-to-me author with a backlist is always a bonus.

Gischler’s first novel, Gun Monkeys, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2002. His second novel, Pistol Poets, is now available in paperback.

 

 

Dance of Death by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN: 0446617091

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are back and so are the series characters FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast and Vincent D’Agosta. Ever since I read Brimstone, last year, I had been on the lookout for the next Preston-Child novel. With its spine chilling suspense and horror laced mystery I was engrossed and enthralled by Brimstone that I began craving for more. Unfortunately the earlier ones are not available in this part of the world…yet. So it was with great excitement that I started reading Dance of Death. Though not a spine-chilling horror novel in the strictest sense of the term, Dance of Death also provides a nail-biting and suspense filled read.

This time round Agent Pendergast meets the ultimate criminal -Like Aloysius Pendergast, he has a devious and sharp mind, Like Pendergast he is a Master of Disguise- and like Pendergast… well, he is everything and more of what Aloysius Pendergast is. The criminal is none other than Aloysius’s brother Diogenes. Diogenes is planning the perfect crime and he is in fact challenged Aloysius to stop him if he can. What the crime is, where it will take place and the consequences that might follow are unknown. Diogenes has given an open challenge, stop him before he commits the perfect crime or face the peril. And it is up to Agent Pendergast and Vincent D’Agosta to stop him.

What follows is superb action, vintage Preston- Child culminating in an exciting finish that can be described only as mind-boggling. A highly enjoyable and worthy read, Dance of Death is highly recommended.

For an excerpt of this thrilling novel:  chapter_excerpt20639.html

 

The Island off Stony Point by Regis Schilken

Publisher: Bridgeway Books ISBN 1 933538 13 9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is a bit of a curate's egg of a book -- "Good in parts".

There are some excellent characterizations, particularly the old priest Father Martin. There are some good bits of light relief amidst the pressure of the main plot, and some clever ploys to throw the police off the gang's tracks. 

The story revolves around five criminals who kidnap three monks and the tabernacle from the altar of the monastery chapel.  They demand a serial ransom from the Catholic Church, releasing one monk as each installment is made.  A parallel sub-plot looks at the interaction between the old priest and the youngest of the villains.

The two monks who are released can't help identify their captors or their prison, having been kept hooded much of the time.  By some brilliantly intuitive police work, police officer Jessica Harding and her temporary partner from the FBI find the place where the kidnappers are holed up, but a severe storm stymies their investigation for 12 hours.  When they finally get into the hideout, old Fr. Martin and the young criminal have vanished, leaving only the two main baddies, who aren't about to give up tamely.

Where Fr Martin is, how he gets home, where the ransom money ends up, and what happens to the youngest villain  will stretch your credulity, but satisfy your need for poetic justice.

The book  is somewhat spoiled by patchy editing and spots of stilted dialogue.  The reader may be irritated by the misuse of words -- 'adorned' for 'donned', for instance; or  'the absconded tabernacle', as if the holy receptacle went AWOL of its own volition.  That said, there are many worse books in print, and Christian readers particularly will enjoy this one.