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A Fete Worse Than Death by Dolores Gordon-Smith

Publisher:  Carroll and Graf  ISBN:  13:  978-0-78671-990-7

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you love a well-plotted mystery with characters you won't want to leave, then A Fete Worse Than Death by talented author Dolores Gordon-Smith is just the book for you.  This is a tale with all those things that make for a great read.

Jack Haldean is attending a fete on the grounds of the manor house owned by relatives, enjoying himself in spite of the heat and noise. While he's relaxing he spies one man he does not wish to see, but the man has seen him and accosts him.

An unpleasant sort, the intruder is given short shrift and Jack does make his escape to resume his pleasure.  Unfortunately, it is cut short by an unexpected death that Jack sets out to solve. The odds seem against his finding a killer as other bodies start turning up and they are all connected.

Set in a period of not-too-distant history, the intrigue of this tale takes place in a period the author convinces us is yesterday with description that puts us in the time so we feel as if we actually visited the fete.  Lifelike characters carry the plot with their motives and personal agendas.  Are they all who they seem to be? Lots of action and tension in this tale that has its roots in the past, proving that things done today will affect tomorrow. 

Guaranteed a fun read worth the time and you'll be looking for more stories by this imaginative author.  Enjoy.  I sure did.



Orinoco by James A Ciullo

Publisher: Thomson Gale, ISBN 978 1 59414 553 7

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Independent Senate candidate Joe LaCarta is an advertising executive’s dream: tall, not bad looking, old enough but not too old, and has served his country as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  He’s got some ideas which have excited much comment in the media—including his proposal to suspend the War on Drugs and instead try to regulate the industry. 

25 years ago Joe and some Peace Corps friends made off with what they thought was a Nazi fortune, millions of dollars in cash and art being transferred from Switzerland.  Joe, Pancho, and Pete thought that this treasure should be used to fund health clinics for the poor of Venezuela, so they took it.  They believed they got away clean, but one always leaves a trail, especially idealistic young men with more enthusiasm than cunning.

The first warning sign is the supposedly accidental death of Joe’s old buddy, Pancho Morales.  At the funeral, Joe’s friend Pete tells him that he’s had a threatening phone message, instructing Joe to attend a meeting about a ‘not so well-kept secret’.  Over dinner, a very frightening man tells Joe it would be in everyone’s best interests if he quits the Senate race.

This is the start of a dangerous game in which Joe tries to outwit his shadowy enemies, aided only by a few old friends like Pete, and TJ, an ex-FBI agent.  Joe suspends his senate race, hoping to buy time while he tries to find out what’s behind the threats.

The plot becomes more complex with each chapter, as Joe and Pete track down old friends and contacts, find clues, and collect a few more allies, some of them unexpected.  Joe feels he’s on a roll, and will soon know the whole story and be able to get his life back on track.  But that’s before the man with the gun catches up with him in a dark courtyard in Cozumel.

This is an exciting story which gets an A for plotting, and a B for characterisations, with the truest line in the book coming when Pancho’s daughter tells him her father used to talk about Joe and the work of the Peace Corps. Joe says “And you were interested? Nobody else ever seemed to be, once we returned (home).”   Many RPCVs can vouch for that.





Hooked by Matt Richtel

Publisher: Twelve/Warner Books ISBN 978 0 446 58008 3

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This must be the year for comic strip writers to cross over to all-print work: “Hooked” is the second such book in a month.  So far the comic strip writers are batting 2 for 2, producing fast, punchy stories that hold your attention and are delivered in the print equivalent of sound bites. 

A journalist is sitting at a café when a stranger drops a note on his table.  Following her on an impulse, the journalist is outside the café when he reads the note.  His brain registers the message “Get out of the café NOW”.  Then the building blows up.

Most journalists would sniff out a story in those circumstances: Nat Idle knows there’s more than just a story, there’s a mystery.  The note was in the handwriting of his former lover, whom he thought dead.  Annie wasn’t just a girl friend, she was the love of his life, and Nat will stop at nothing to find out if she’s still alive.

The police are trying to figure out why the café was targeted, and if the waitress’s well-timed visit to the ladies’ room was coincidence or collusion.  One of the chief investigators is a cop whose corrupt brother Nat exposed in a newspaper story.  Lieutenant Aravelo would be delighted if he could pin the bombing on Nat.   Nat and Erin, the waitress, make common cause and set out to find out for themselves who blew up the café.  As you’d expect, this proves to be extremely dangerous.

This style of writing does tend to be a bit choppy: you barely get into the chapter and, zing, it’s finished, and another has begun.  If you are looking for a smooth flowing read that carries you along on a river of words, check out Thomas Hardy; if you like a busy babbling brook, try “Hooked.”




Jacob's Ladder by Jackie Lynn

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN-10: 031235231X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Author Jackie Lynn takes the reader back to the Shady Grove Campground on the shores of the Mississippi river in this follow up to last year's mystery featuring Rose Franklin, a divorced and lonely woman looking for answers to some of life's more baffling questions.  This time around, Rose is thrown back into death and mystery when she discovers a New Mexico Indian dead in his camper.  And when she discovers a bracelet marked with mysterious symbols, her curiosity is more than peeked, leading her on another self-propelled investigation that once again just might get her killed.

While this read might appeal to some who enjoy their mysteries on the light side, those who like something a bit more substantial may find it lacking.  Rose, who sometimes appears like an interesting and brave woman finally coming into her own, has the tendency to all too often slip into an almost childlike stupor- a tendency that lands her in absurd and hard to swallow situations.  Still, there are some shining moments in the book to be found-such as when Rose is working on answering those baffling questions of life, and if there were more of these and less of the overgrown Nancy Drew moments, this series might actually have a shot of becoming a true contender.    




Circumference of Darkness by Jack Henderson

Publisher: Bantam  ISBN-10: 0553805150

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

America is fertile ground for conspiracy theories, and 9/11 has spawned more than even the Kennedy assassination. Jack Henderson’s Circumference of Darkness is a sprawling edifice more complex and complete than anything even Michael Moore could imagine conservatives were capable of, run by a leader with (of course) inexhaustible resources, a fanatical following of (of course) rednecks, plus the required hacker geniuses and weapons experts. So comprehensive is the plan, the leader is disturbed because only four planes were hijacked on 9/11; the plan called for over a hundred.

Enter our heroes. John Fagan, millionaire hermit living in what appears to be an abandoned building in the shadows of the Twin Towers. Fagan literally remembers everything he’s seen or read and can actually do all of them, including build a computer system with firewalls and spoofing systems so advanced not even the government can find it.

Until Jeannie Reese comes along. Cornell graduate at twelve, at twenty-six she runs an ultra-secret government agency, where big shots twice her age and more tremble in her presence. Jeannie created IRIN, a Terminator-esque computer system that analyzes every byte of data from every computer connected to the internet, as well as cameras at traffic lights and ATMs, chat sessions and emails faster than Paris Hilton can draw a crowd of reporters. In her spare time Jeannie is a martial arts expert and incredible babe, in addition to being a virgin. (Which probably explains how she has time for all that other cool stuff.)

Fear not. Rob Vance, Navy SEAL, warrior-poet, and all-purpose hunk is available not only to help Jeannie save the country, but scratch the virginity itch for her. Rudy Steinman is Jeannie’s gofer, providing what passes for comic relief by doing a passable impression of the guy in the Airplane! movies who kept running around spitting non-sequiters.

The plot is too complicated to describe in under fifty pages. Suffice to say listing all the ways in which the reader must suspend disbelief would require a suspension of disbelief of its own. The events required for Circumference of Darkness to come out right make The DaVinci Code seem as plausible as Popular Mechanics.

One example: Vance comes to rescue Fagan at the evil compound. Their attention diverted, the baddies lock Fagan in a maintenance shed that happens to include exactly the materials he needs to build a generator to create an enormous explosion from the hydrogen he has fabricated and stored in conveniently available condoms. Out of the shed, Fagan has to fly a Piper Cub to safety. One catch: he’s never flown a plane. No problem. Vance talks him through it, while engaged in a firefight with not just the squad sent to capture him, but three machine gun nests intent on carving the Cub into toothpicks.

Real events are woven into a fabric with things we know didn’t happen, without the hypothetical musings of what if? We know there was no news footage of the Gateway Arch being destroyed in December of 2001, and that an A-10 Warthog was not shot down in the Hudson River before it could destroy the George Washington Bridge. Mentioning them as though they had happened challenges the reader to accept things he knows aren’t true if the rest of the story is to be swallowed. Science fiction, horror, and parody can get away with that. A thriller depends on the reader believing the events could happen.

Circumference of Darkness hits the trifecta: an improbable premise resolved through impossible events by unbelievable characters. It’s escapism run amuck, 24 on speed. If that’s your cup of double espresso, run right down to your local bookseller and get a copy. It’s almost enough to make one yearn for the (relatively) sedate tales of Brad Thor and Scott Harvath.



Slipknot by Priscilla Masters (Martha Gunn)

Publisher: Allison & Busby  ISBN-10: 0749081740

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When a young teenaged boy stabs another, an event that eventually leads to the victim's death, the small England town of Shrewsbury is shocked.  But to everyone's dismay, this is just the beginning in a string of violence that will claim yet even more victims; the next being the young knife-wielding teen who is found dead by an apparent suicide in his jail cell just a few days later.

On the case is coroner Martha Gunn, a single mother with teenaged children herself, who questions the all too coincidental suicide and decides to dig further, her investigation leading her down roads many would rather she not traverse.  And when this dismaying trail of violence claims yet even more victims, it becomes more and more evident that nothing is as white and black as most seem to claim, and it's only going to become worse unless the truth is exposed and dealt with once and for all.

Masters takes the timely subject of bullying and creates a convincing and insightful tale that leaves readers considering not only the possible alarming consequences but, possibly more importantly, the perhaps avoidable events that lead up to them.  Through the intelligently portrayed character of Martha Gunn, both sides of the issue are presented with fairness and compassion, her insights both provocative and persuasive.  There's no easy answer to this ever increasing dilemma, but kudos to Masters for asking all the right questions in a story that's immensely suspenseful and highly readable.