July Mystery 2008


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Everybody Knows This is Nowhere by John McFetride

Publisher: Harcourt  ISBN-10: 0151014426

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

John McFetridge’s second novel, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, contains one of most memorable opening scenes to ever open a piece of crime fiction. To avoid the risk of spoiling the fun for any future readers, suffice to say negotiations for a common, not quite legal, business transaction are interrupted by activity from on high and leave it at that. (The source of the “on high” activity has no religious connotations.) From that point forward, McFetridge takes the reader on a twisting tale of criminal accommodations, double crosses, not quite double crosses, and marriages of convenience that may, or may not, have anything to do with what happens in Scene One.

It’s not bad enough that Sharon MacDonald’s house arrest makes her marijuana operation harder to manage. She gets by, mainly because she was able to persuade the electronic monitor installer expand her range a little, and because the grow rooms are on the top floor of her apartment building. It’s the police hanging around the building investigating the aftermath of Scene One that are threatening to put her out of business.

Richard Trembley is a businessman from Montreal, in Toronto to see if the operation there can be stepped up. He and Sharon are old friends, and maybe something can be worked out that will be mutually advantageous. Ray and Eddie have a unique plan for transporting the controlled substance of choice across the Great Lakes, but they’re such rubes Sharon can’t figure out if they’re an endangered species or savants. Detectives Armstrong and Bergeron are investigating Scene One, and getting undue pressure from Narcotics to wrap it up, beyond what either of them thinks is appropriate to protect an ongoing operation.

These stories, as well as a handful of lesser lines that complement them, weave through Everyone Knows This is Nowhere at their own paces, leaving the reader to keep the threads bundled together. It’s brave writing, treating the reader as an adult in an era when editors worry that people who move their lips when they read might miss something. There is no true protagonist; Sharon, Trembley, and Armstrong carry most of the story, though Bergeron and several gang members have their moments. The action in Scene One doesn’t get a lot of attention afterward; it’s used mostly to jump start what follows. When all is said and done—and a lot gets said and done—no one cares a whole lot about what happened there, though the event is critical to the eventual outcome.

This could get confusing in less competent hands. McFetridge pulls you into his characters’ lives as if you’re standing there as things go down, a physical presence unnoted by the narrator. The dialog sizzles, and Toronto is as much a character as any of the principals. Pay attention: EKTIN  is moving forward whether you’re ready or not, doling out backstory in necessary doses only when needed. Everything you need to keep things straight is here, spiced with enough humor, sex, and violence to hold anyone’s attention, even if you’re wondering, “What the hell is he doing this for?”

McFetridge’s first novel, Dirty Sweet, is a fine book; Everybody Knows This is Nowhere is a giant step forward, operating on a different plane. As unfair as it is to compare a relatively new novelist to an established star, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere is a book Elmore Leonard would be proud to have written.



Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by Jackie Lynn

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Minotaur ISBN:  978-0-312-37681-9

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Trouble had a way of finding Chariot Stevens and this time it came in the guise of death.  Chariot found her fiancé dying and he bade her flee.  So she did.

Having no better idea of where to hide, Chariot turned to friends Lucas and Rhonda Boyd who owned the Shady Grove Campground.  Shady Grove offered more than a place to rest, there was a warmth and friendship to be found here also.

This is where Rose Franklin found a new life also and befriended Chariot.  In trying to find out why Chariot was so afraid and on the run, Rose runs head long into danger. 

A well told tale that will leave you wishing you could meet the biker couple who own the campground and do good work and Rose who cares so much for others.  Talented author Jackie Lynn writes in a style that is easy to read and very enjoyable.  You’ll want to read her other books as well.

I’m pleased to recommend this mystery and its lifelike characters to any mystery fan for time well spent.  You may even take up camping with Shady Grove Campground as your first stop.

Enjoy.  I sure did.




The Sour Cherry Surprise by David Handler

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312376693

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

One might think that life would be great for Dorset, CT trooper Dee Mitry after breaking off her engagement with film critic Mitch Berger in order to give her glamorous ex-husband a second chance.  But, for some reason, instead of the joyful reunion expected, Dee finds herself plagued by spells of dizziness that all too often lead to fall out fainting spells - hazardous conditions for a keeper of the law.  So when crime once again rears its ugly head in her village in the form of drug dealers, a little girl lost, and murder, she’s not as prepared as she might have been months earlier.  And when it’s her own life that comes into danger, the question of just who will be there when most needed might just become almost more important than solving the crime. 

At first glance this latest read from Handler, coming in at just under 250 pages, might appear to be just one more on the monthly list of never ending cozies.  But don’t be fooled, because packed into these few pages behind the breezy looking cover is a mystery filled with amazingly solid characterizations and a surprisingly gritty plot that is chock full of surprises and an unexpectedly touching poignancy.  Handler understands small town dynamics -the importance of knowing your neighbors and forgiving them for their eccentricities – and he injects this personal viewpoint into the read with great success.  This is a great series, and one that I plan to get more familiar with.




Chasing Darkness: An Elvis Cole Novel by Robert Crais

Publisher: Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-7432-81640

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

As all Elvis Cole readers know, Robert Crais has put him through a real wringer as of late. Broken heart, broken bones and a near-broken spirit have tested The World’s Greatest Detective in the last few books.

And we loved it, of course.

So, if we tell you that, in Chasing Darkness, Crais has crafted a less Elvis-centric tale of Detective and Case, assume please that we are doing it with all kinds of YAY!!

A crucial element to any series is the ability to change pace and still move forward, and this installment does just that.

Crais immediately sets the scene: During a brush-fire evac, LAPD discovers the apparent suicide of one Lionel Byrd. We learn that, some years prior, Elvis helped clear Lionel of a murder charge. Evidence from the death scene tends to incriminate Byrd in that murder and many others.

Elvis is visited by a couple of bitter detectives that inform him of the current facts, including that two of the murders Byrd is implicated in occurred after Elvis cleared him, and of course Elvis demands to be dealt in. Cops say no way, conflict ensues, and we are rolling!!

Crais does a great job of refreshing the basic skeleton of the Cole series by bringing back the elements we’ve always appreciated—Elvis disrespects authority, Elvis gets the crap kicked out of him, Elvis Goes Detecting.  We’ve always loved the set pieces Crais constructs when he sends Elvis door-to-door to find out stuff. It’s when we get to see a little bit of how Crais views the world and the people in it. He gives us the taste, and then doesn’t linger, as Chasing Darkness is a very fast-paced story with twists and turns worthy of the roads in Elvis’ beloved Laurel Canyon.

As the story unreels, Elvis finds himself stalked, beaten, and accused of murder. Just another day for World’s Greatest.

Crais is using the story to get at a couple of notions, primarily how we process grief—particularly when it becomes a desire for revenge. Elvis is, in fact, chasing various kinds of darkness. Some of it his own, but primarily that of others, and the essence of the book is what happens when an open soul—Elvis—offers himself to souls that are stricken and closed. Even when those souls hold some pretty damn malevolent intentions towards his own.

The connections that Elvis makes in these situations will warm your heart. But don’t get too comfy, cuz you know that Elvis will soon be abused again.

And that’s just how we like it!!!