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Twenty Questions by Alison Clement

Publisher: Washington Square Press  ISBN: 0743272676

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Happily married and pleased with her job as a cafeteria cook for an elementary school, June couldn't be more content with her uncomplicated life.  But when the mother of one of the students is brutally murdered by a man who had also offered her a ride the same day, her life goes into a sudden tailspin.  Feeling like she herself barely escaped death at the victim's expense, she feels a certain responsibility to the murdered victim's family and is soon driven to become involved with them by pretending to be a friend of the victim.  And as things begin to spin rapidly out of control, her illogic sense of responsibility turning to compulsion, she will discover that her own life has been one of hidden truths and meanings, and everything she thought she knew will have to be re-written.

A beautifully written book, this offers more than the standard fare of the genre.  Deeply compelling and thought-provoking, it makes one ponder not only the character's choices and avoidances, but one's own.  It's easy to get enmeshed in the wonderfully portrayed June and her battle with self-deception and it's even easier to hope she finds her way out of the rose colored bubble she's inadvertently built around herself.  If you want something different that provides something deeper than the usual, pick this one up, you'll contemplate it long after you've finished it, and this is a good thing.      

 

 

Errors and Omissions by Paul Goldstein

Publisher:  Anchor  ISBN:  0307274896

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Showing up for work drunk is never a career-enhancing move. Even worse if you’re a lawyer and could get not just fired, but disbarred. Throw in addressing a judge as “a pompous toad” when he calls you on it and you’re almost up to lunchtime for crackerjack lawyer Michael Seeley.

Seeley’s drinking has cost him his wife, and enough clients to leave his job hanging by a thread. The only thing between him and the street is signing an errors and omissions statement that will allow United Studios to get financing for the next movie in their blockbuster Spykiller series.

Of course, there are problems with the rights. Paul Goldstein’s Errors and Omissions is so readable because the problems are never quite what you expect them to be. Even when they are, things rarely play out as you’d think.

Goldstein is aided by a cast to die for. While not as vividly drawn as some writers’ characters, Errors and Omissions is populated with as realistic a group of non-existent people as you’re likely to meet. Seeley is a flawed protagonist, but not so much to strain your credulity. He’s a sober drunk for most of the book. His struggle is never maudlin, and his mistakes are those anyone might make while swimming through unfamiliar waters with a monkey on his back. He’s not a cop, so he can’t handle some situations as well as he might, and Goldstein doesn’t resort to miraculous luck or hereditary talent heretofore unknown to save him. Seeley does the best he can, and it’s not always good enough.

The supporting characters are just as good, if not as minutely drawn. The bad guys may be malicious bastards, but they’re not evil incarnate. The good guys have good intentions, but they make mistakes and aren’t above acting in their own short-term selfish interests. Not knowing exactly how trustworthy anyone is rivets the reader into seeing what will happen next. 

Goldstein realizes that suspense is, in its way, more rewarding than excitement, and is a master at its creation and sustenance, sprinkling action scenes through the book judiciously (no pun intended). He always juices things up just before the level of tension starts to flag, never completely releasing his hold.

The writing is tight and well-constructed, if not transcendent. Goldstein is, after all, a lawyer, and lawyers are paid to produce cataract-inducing monuments of obfuscation, not briskly readable prose. Goldstein rises above that. While he’s not Scott Turow, he’s not John Grisham, either. There are some nice phrases, and nothing to make anyone cringe while reading.

Errors and Omissions is a quick read, not a trite one. There’s no indication Goldstein intends a series, but the raw materials are here. Good, expandable characters; a rich, relatively untapped vein of material in the field of creative law; and a writer of obvious talent and imagination. Let’s hope Goldstein’s law practice leaves him time to keep on moonlighting. We have more than enough lawyers already; writers as good as Goldstein are in short supply.

 

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

Once a promising artists' rights attorney, Michael Seeley is now spinning out of control.  He has only a handful of pro-bono clients, his wife has left him, and when he shows up drunk in judge's chambers, he is threatened with disbarment.

His law partners give him one last chance—to go to L. A. and write an errors and omissions opinion for United Pictures, a studio whose success is based on its popular Spykiller series.  The studio needs to prove that they own all the rights to the original movie.

Problem is, the executives at United don't necessarily want the truth to interfere with Michael's legal opinion, and although he seems to have reached the bottom, he still has his integrity.  As he delves deeper into the true authorship of Spykiller, he learns of ties to the era of Hollywood blacklisting and Nazi-occupied Poland.  Enlisting the aid of an attractive UCLA film historian, Michael travels to Munich, which during Oktoberfest, is full of danger for a newly-sober attorney.  Even when there aren't thugs out to get him.

The Leaving Las Vegas beginning of Errors and Omissions is deeply disturbing; while protagonists are supposed to be flawed, it's no fun watching one self-destruct.  But E & O, like its hero, is sort of insinuating and makes you care, even when you don't expect to.  Despite a comparative lack of action and confusing motives from some of the characters, E  & O is a noir-ish, thinking-person's suspense thriller.

 

 

 

A Thousand Bones by P. J. Parrish

Publisher: Pocket  ISBN-10: 1416525874

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In this new tale from the authors of the successful Louis Kincaid series, readers will be taken back even further in time than usual after a brief prologue with Kincaid and his lover Joette Frye.  Joe, now a successful detective, wants to share with Kincaid the horror behind her first case, a case that almost ruined her, and so in her telling the reader is taken back to Joe's first homicide case as a rookie.  Taking place in a small town during the mid-70s, Joe's introduction to murder was a case that involved several dead young women, a serial killer, and a police force that was very reluctant to have a woman joint the hunt.   

This new outing from the writing duo that has provided many great tales before goes even further in this latest with a tale that provides more than just an intensely plotted mystery, well-drawn characters, and non-stop suspense.  This intelligent look at crime from a female detective's point of view in the 70s is inspiring, insightful, and altogether evocative of time and place.  Throw in the perfectly tuned tension and anticipation, and you have a story that may just make this one of the best from these very talented authors. The book jacket indicates plans for more, so make this your first stop on what's bound to be a great journey. 

 

 

A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing   ISBN 0 446699495

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

What would you do if you suddenly discovered your admired and respected and rich cousin might be a murderer?

Madeline Dare, aptly named investigator, is torn two ways by the sudden knowledge that her cousin Lapthorne's army dog-tags were found near the bodies of two young girls who were murdered some 20 years ago.

Madeline is a journalist, but not the Brenda Starr sort (despite her name, which I think is just made for a TV serial!).   Madeline writes soft and gentle features of the   "Where to buy the freshest flowers--Ten Tips for a Perfect Holiday--Know your neighbourhood school crossing guard" genre.  Unlike other mystery heroines who work on newspapers, she has no longing to become a crime reporter.  Somehow she is drawn deeper into the mystery of the murders, and almost every stone she turns has another clue pointing to her cousin under it.  What she's  looking for is exoneration; what she finds is inculpation. 

Cornelia Read not only crafts a good mystery, she has a fine turn of phrase that makes the reading very enjoyable.  Take this thumbnail sketch of one character "…brussel-sprout-sized fake pearl earrings bobbled and pulled at her lobes, while her jaws smacked wetly over a defenseless wad of gum."   When Madeline's husband uses the phrase "white trash", Madeline quips "I prefer 'garbage blanc'."

Even the most reluctant investigator eventually gets to the bottom of a mystery: Madeline does so, but the discovery puts her in the greatest danger, and makes her regret ever finding the first clue.  How she gets out of trouble makes for a riveting final chapter.

 

 

Brush With Death by Hailey Lind

Publisher:  Signet  ISBN:  978-0-451-22179-7

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Working the graveyard shift at the Chapel of the Chimes Columbarium, art restorer/faux finisher Annie Kincaid is nearly mowed down by a ghoul escaping from a crypt.  Giving chase is a young graduate student, Cindy Tanaka.  Although the ghoul gets away, Cindy enlists Annie’s help in determining the authenticity of La Fornarina, Raphael’s masterpiece.  Annie thinks it’s doubtful that Italy’s national treasure is hanging in a forgotten corner of a columbarium in Oakland, California.  Especially when she sees the painting in question.  Not only is it a fake, it’s not even a good one.

However, encountering Michael X. Johnson, sexy art thief extraordinaire, piques her interest.  Although he claims to have gone straight, Annie suspects he’s up to something—other than trying to seduce her.  Cindy’s disappearance troubles Annie, as do the threats of Donato Sandino, forgery expert, who demands Annie’s help in finding the real La Fornarina, in exchange for protecting her grandfather, an internationally-known and sought art forger. 

Annie manages to balance solving a mystery, running a business, dealing with a menagerie of idiosyncratic friends, and juggling her boyfriend and two would-be lovers.  And all without losing her sense of humor. 

Agatha-awarded nominated Hailey Lind has created a third winner in her Art Lover’s Mystery series.  Readers who managed to miss the first two books have three great reads to look forward to.  Hailey Lind fans know this series is an intelligent reader’s chick lit mystery.

 

 

The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Publishers: Vision, ISBN: 0446618500

 Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

“Throw that book away. At least don’t keep it lying around in the living room. I don’t want to see it here…” Not my words…but my visiting mother’s, and I found myself unable to argue.. No mom would like her son reading a book titled THE BOOK OF THE DEAD- I think she might have thought that I had become an occult worshipper or Satan devotee or something of that sort.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have taken the perfect day for the launch of this novel- 6th day of the 6th month of the year 06- the same day on which the Omen is scheduled for a worldwide release- the ominous 666.  That the Book of the Dead is a horror work goes without mentioning and that it will rattle your bones and chill your spine also goes without saying if you are a veteran Preston- Child reader.

Following the success of Dance of Death, Preston-Child series protagonist Agent Aloysius Pendergast returns in fine form with The Book of the Dead. And this time also the nemesis is none other than Diogenes Pendergast, the brother of Aloysius.  The action picks up where Dance of Death left off, with the duo facing off once again, only this time centered around an ancient tomb that harbors a deadly secret.

What the secret is and how the brother against brother fight finally culminates forms the theme of the work.

I greatly, greatly enjoyed this book- with its spine chilling and heart stopping suspense- but hastily put the book in the back of the shelf as soon as I finished reading it.  Disapproving mothers can be almost as frightening as the battle between good and evil, so take your chances, the odds might be in your favor....or, they may not.   

 

 

Snow Blind by P. J. Tracy

Publisher: Onyx  ISBN: 0451412362

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

The winter snow in Minneapolis is slow in coming this year, but when it finally hits, it hits with a vengeance.  To kick off the season, a local park is having a snowman building contest, with hundreds of snowmen in every shape being built, but when two bodies are discovered packed inside a couple of snowmen, the winter wonderland scene turns to one of horror.  And when it's later it's discovered that the two men are cops, every officer on the force feels an obligation to solve this one, including the two detectives assigned the case, Gino and Magozzi. 

But the clues are scant, and when a parole officer is found in Dundas County up North, also wrapped in a snowman, newly elected Sheriff Iris Rikker calls in the detectives thinking the cases might be related.  But what's behind these bizarre cases is more complicated than anyone can guess, and in order to uncover the complex truth, the detectives, and the Monkeewrench gang will soon find themselves on a long and windy trail that reaches far into the past, and one that will make them question just who the victims really are.

Fans of the Monkeewrench gang might find themselves a tad disappointed at the small role that this group actually plays in this novel, only making a few brief appearances.  But this disappointment shouldn't last long, as the newly added character of the naïve but courageous Sheriff Rikker more than makes up for their absence with her innate intelligence and initially bumbling manner.  Not to mention the fact that this is one exhilarating story with a laudable plot, a deliciously chilling ambiance, and plenty of sly humor.  If you haven't read any titles from this amazing mother-daughter teem, now might be the time to start. 

 

 

Darkness and Light by John Harvey

Publisher: Harvest ISBN: 0156031418

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Retired homicide detective Frank Elder mostly spends his days in the quiet village of Cornwell taking walks and relaxing.  But when his ex-wife calls and begs him to look into the disappearance of a co-worker's sister, he heads back to civilization hoping not only to aide in the search, but to mend the strained relationship with his 19 year old daughter.  What starts as a missing person's case, however, soon turns into a murder case when the missing woman is found dead in her home, peacefully posed and minus any clues that might lead to her killer. 

Looking into the dead woman's background brings more questions than answers as its discovered that this mid fifties widow whose life had seemed terribly boring, instead had been living a life of sexual adventure, being anything but the sedate persona she presented to others.  And when it's realized that her murder resembles Elder's very first homicide case years before, he's officially brought on board to further investigate any possible connection between the two murders.  So as the number of suspects multiply, and Elder's familial ties crack and strain under yet another high pressure case, Elder will once again use his remarkable wits to outsmart a very clever killer. 

Harvey, an author who has written numerous titles, should be hitting a dry well by now.  Amazingly, he only seems to get better; his stories, characters, and plotting aging as gracefully as his writing, which seems to become more finely tuned with each new tale.  It's invigorating to read of a cast of characters well into "middle-age" whose passions and appetites remain vivacious and invigorating.  This alone makes this tale unique, and when combined with the reclusive and pensive Elder, you have a brooding and discerning story that is much more than the sum of its parts.  There are many reasons to catch Harvey's latest, with the wonder being that each reader might just catch of glimpse of something that resounds to only them, making this the ideal escape no matter what.    

 

 

Vanishing Point by Marcia Muller

Publisher: Mysterious Press ISBN: 0446619310

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

San Francisco PI Sharon McCone returns for another exciting outing that should please her many fans.  This time out Sharon is asked by Jennifer Aldin to investigate her mother's unsolved disappearance 20 some years ago, a disappearance that left a then 10 year old girl and her younger sister heartbroken and crushed.  Never knowing if her mother had just left, been murdered, or had committed suicide has ever since haunted Jennifer, and now with her father's recent death, finding the answer has turned into an obsession. 

But when Jennifer herself goes missing, the case only gets even more complicated for Sharon and her large crew of investigators.  And so as they follow the trails of both missing women, trails which seem to converge more often than not, they will eventually discover the startling and unexpected truth, a truth perhaps better left unknown.

Muller delivers this provocative tale of marriage and motherhood gone horribly awry in her usual concise and no-nonsense manner.  So while the subjects of marriage and lost family must resound in character Sharon McCone's heart based on recent events, that must be why this read still comes off as a bit dry and dispassionate at times.  Even so, it's almost impossible to put down, and anyone familiar with the lovely Bay area will delight in the many places visited.  All in all, a solid investigative story that fans of the genre, and Muller's very successful long-running series, will indubitably enjoy.     

 

 

COVER YOUR ASSETS by Patricia Smiley

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  ISBN   044661629X

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Evan Brice dumped Tucker Sinclair hard and fast many years ago, and ran off with her best friend.  Tucker thinks that's all in the past, but when Detective Green turns up on her doorstep to announce that Evan has been murdered, and indicates that he'd be equally happy to put Tucker or Evan's wife Cissy at the top of his suspect list, Tucker figures she'll have to do something about finding an alternative murderer.

This task alone would keep a girl pretty busy, but management consultant Tucker also has to deal with her mother, mother's boyfriend and mother's obese dog, who have all moved in to her small house, and her client Mr Geyer, who is trying to float his clothing business to safety on the back of a muumuu renaissance.  Add to this the necessity of finding a spectacular date to escort her to her ex-husband's wedding, and you have more trouble than Tucker can handle.

For a while, things only get worse: Tucker's ertswhile friend and Evan's widow, Cissy, convinces her to lend a hand by clearing out Evan's little love-nest apartment in a rough part of town.  This leads to Tucker making a new friend and several new enemies.   A complex plot becomes more so, and Tucker wonders if she's ever going to get to the bottom of it when suddenly the dead man's wedding ring turns up on an unexpected finger and points Tucker to the solution. 

Homicide Detective  Joe Deegan from the previous book, False Profits, turns up again to resume the verbal sniping  match with Tucker, but later it seems the relationship might be changing into something more interesting.

A light-hearted and enjoyable read for one of those days when you just don't feel like Henry James.