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The Taking of Libbie, SD by David Housewright

Publisher: Minotaur Books   ISBN:  978-0-312-55996-0

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Rushmore McKinzie is a retired cop who struck it rich by recovering valuable stolen property. So it’s not surprising that McKinzie alternated between angry and frightened when his front door was kicked and he was tasered by men he did not recognize. To make matters worse, he is thrown in the trunk of a car in his underwear and transported from his native Minnesota to Libbie, South Dakota.

After he finds that an imposter used his identity to defraud the city and many citizens, McKinzie is torn between catching the Imposter and suing everyone involved in his abduction. Going back to Minnesota, he decides on finding the imposter and returns to Libbie of his own free will. McKenzie starts an investigation by seeking an accomplice that knew codes to steal the money. He is making progress until he knocked out by a masked man with a baseball ball. While in the hospital, the town recluse and a city council member are murdered.

With a cast if characters ranging from slightly odd to openly mean, there are plenty of suspects including six city officials – five after the death of the councilwoman. McKenzie uses a combination of deductive reasoning and fists to deal with the citizens. The novel has an intriguing plot and interesting characters that make for an enjoyable read.

 

 

 

Hailey’s War by Jodi Compton

Publisher: Crown  ISBN-10: 030758805X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

She may be young, she may small, she may even be pretty, but Hailey Cain is far from your average girly girl.  She hasn’t even hit her 25th year, and already she’s lived through not only the loss of her father, but her dream of making it big at West Point and becoming one of the nation’s top soldiers.  And when licking her wounds from her spectacular failures and more than one potentially deadly mistake in her adopted home of LA proves to be too dangerous, she hits San Francisco. 

But her life is about to change when one of her LA friends, a gang banger, shows up asking for a favor. And it's in protecting a pregnant woman on the run from a family of mobsters while proving herself to LA’s finest bangers that will quickly lead her to discover the hard way what a soldier’s mission really entails.

At first bite, this tale is a bit much to swallow: a 20-something girl on a mission who can take down mobsters, get shot at and live, hang out with gang bangers, and outrun the law seeming a bit much for one girl with decent skills from West Point to accomplish.  And, okay, sometimes too the soldier language does come off a bit heavy-handed as well as the “mission” itself.  But, all in all, it’s one hell of a fun read. 

It’s great to see a woman in the role of protector and savior, not to mention one who keeps a gun in her sock at all times.  Compton also gives insightful and surprisingly compassionate glimpses into the gang life that go beyond the one-sided view that those on the outside are usually hand-fed.  She gets the culture in ways that while unfamiliar add depth to this adventure.  A fast-moving tale with just enough sentiment to make it worth the trip, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing this character again.

 

 

 

A Colourful Death by Carola Dunn

Publisher: Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312379463

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Self-absorbed, pre-Raphaelite obsessed artist Geoffroie Monmouth has been stabbed with his own custom made dagger in his English gallery, only to be discovered by his rival, Nick Gresham; Eleanor Trewynn, a white-haired businesswoman with an observant eye; and Geoffroie’s own girlfriend and fellow artist, Stella Maris.  Seeing Geoffroie’s body surrounded by a pool of bright red, Stella reacts hysterically, accusing Nick of the murder and promptly spurs Mrs. Trewynn to begin investigating so that she can clear Nick’s name.

The investigation takes the group to the artists’ colony in which Geoffroie and Stella lived, adding several possible suspects from the collective of free-spirited sorts while also filling in the unattractive details of Geoffroie’s personality and faked persona based on Arthurian legend.  Geoffroie has plenty of enemies, including the couple who created the colony on their rustic farm to further the landlady’s own artistic dreams but has instead only increased her laborious drudgery.

Globe-trotting widow Eleanor Trewynn returns in this follow-up to Manna From Hades in the Cornish Mystery Series where once more she irritates the local police, but this time, they grudgingly work with her because they trust her instincts.  Adding to the fun, her niece Megan Pencarrow serves as a local detective as well as a parallel narrative focus so that readers see how the investigation flows on both the amateur detective side with Mrs. Trewynn but also with the constabulary.

Some phrases and misogynistic assumptions by local police suggest a lack of modernization in the Cornish investigations while the elder ladies struggle to keep up with cohabitation and open relationships, possibly because of the isolation of the area.  Fortunately, the police detective inspector who ultimately takes over the investigation has more than a bit of Reginald Hill’s Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel in him, adding humor for the reader, even if not for his underlings.

Filled with appropriately scattered Cornish dialect and phrases, Carola Dunn creates insular small communities with an appreciative but realistic eye, pleasing fans of English cozies and tenacious amateur detectives.

 

 

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0061735868

Reviewed by Carol Reid, New Mystery Reader

Houston,1981. Former activist Jay Porter, now a struggling storefront lawyer and only weeks away from the birth of his first child, seems closer than ever to closing the book on his former life. But on a late night river cruise—a gift to Bernadine, his eight-months pregnant wife --  he saves a mysterious young woman from drowning, setting in motion a chain of events which bring all manner of dark deeds to the surface. Porter is compelled to risk his marriage, his sanity and his freedom to set things right.

This is a powerful first novel by screenwriter Attica Locke, whose storytelling skills make for a spellbinding debut in crime fiction. The tension never lets up as Porter follows the scant trail left behind by the woman he rescued, leading to betrayal, extortion and murder. His troubled past relationship with Cynthia, now mayor of Houston, opens many old wounds as he realizes how far she will go to promote her own position and success. The many secrets of his tormented youth, never shared with his wife, form a wall of silence in his marriage, testing Bernie’s love and trust in him to its limits.

Locke’s rendering of political upheaval and violence, from the Black Power movement of the 1970s to the union struggles of the early 1980s, is utterly convincing.

Shady dealings in the oil industry add another level of dark menace to this intricate plot and shine an unforgiving light on North America’s addiction to oil and the machinations of the powers that be to maintain the status quo.

Often stark and hardboiled, this novel still holds at its core a belief that standing strong against the darkness and endeavoring to do right will bring at least a glimmer of light. A worthwhile read, recommended.

 

 

 

Ashes To Water by Irene Ziegler

Publisher: Five Star ISBN-10: 1594148600     

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader                                         

It must be ghost season; I’ve reviewed three books recently wherein the protagonist is haunted by a relative who either helps or hinders the investigation.  Ashes to Water follows Annie Bartlett as she tries to arrange a funeral for her father and avoid getting involved with the woman who’s accused of killing him.  Annie’s dead mother Helen pops in and out of the story, sometimes acting as Annie’s alter ego, and often giving advice that deep down Annie knows is sound. The rest of the time she’s just annoying.

Whether it’s because Della Shiftlet looks so much like Annie’s dead mother, or because something in her desperate and lonely situation resonates with Annie, she stays in Widow Lake longer than she’d planned.  Initially she wanted to get back home to finalize her wedding plans, but when her fiancé calls to say they’ll have to postpone due to his teenage daughter’s problems with their relationship, there seems to be no reason to hurry back to the big city.  (He’s a drip and Annie’s well rid of him in this reader’s opinion.)

Annie’s childhood buddy Pete Duncan has been appointed by the court to be Della’s attorney. He thinks it’s an open and shut case, as does the sheriff and most of the rest of local folks.  Annie learns that there are other people who might have wanted her father dead: most prominent among them is a land developer who wanted to buy the family property on the lake.  Annie’s sister Leigh, a substance abuser and man-eater, is all for selling up and getting out, but Annie isn’t going to be steamrolled: she wants to know the truth.  Fortunately for her, so does the young woman deputy, Salceda.

Things get murky when it becomes clear that the judge in the case has more reason than most to want Della to be sentenced and stashed for life in the state prison.  She’s not the only one, but before Annie can act on the evidence she’s acquired, she finds herself in mortal danger, with little hope of getting out alive.

This is an involving story that works on two levels, as a straight-forward amateur sleuth adventure, and as a psychological thriller that looks into a number of sad and broken minds and gives the reader a lot to think about.

 

 

Broken by Karin Slaughter

Publisher: Delacorte Press  ISBN-10: 0385341970

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Going back home for the holidays to Grant County, Georgia is far from easy for pediatrician Sarah Linton; the reminders of her husband’s brutal murder just a few short years ago are everywhere. But when a body is found she all too soon finds herself picking up her old skills as a medical examiner while working alongside Agent Will Trent.  And when an accused man next is found dead in his cell, while it becomes apparent that the small police force left behind after her husband’s death has much to hide, it’s far from clear if any of them have crossed so far over the line as to be dangerous.  Cover-ups and secrets abound, and as the two get closer to revealing them, they might also find themselves getting closer in other ways as well.  

Slaughter has always been a master at creating multi-layered characters who walk the thin line between good and bad.  But in this latest it seems she’s literally written off her more interesting characters with a much more subdued telling of who these people are that ends up leaving off most of the depth and intricacies that made them exciting in previous novels.

Lena, in particular, a character who in Slaughter’s previous novels was one of the more interesting characters in suspense fiction, now is relegated to a cop with questionable traits that will leave new readers unaware of how previously fully developed she was before.  And that’s a shame.  And it’s not only Lena who is left unfinished and unremarkable, but most others leave little to the imagination as well.  An uneven plot that is more plodding than racing, Slaughter’s latest may leave fans less than excited.  And for those new to the series, while an interesting read might be found, it leaves one to wonder if they're better off not knowing what is missing. 

 

 

 

 

Far Cry by John Harvey          

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt   ISBN: 978-0-547-31594-2 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Ruth and Simon are good parents – protective parents. They want the best for their daughter Heather. Despite their better judgment, they give in to Heather’s wishes to go camping with her friend Kelly and her family. Ruth and Simon suffer a parent’s worse nightmare. The girls go missing. Kelly is found alive. Heather is found dead at the bottom of an abandoned mineshaft. Their marriage cannot stand the strain of the event. They are divorced.

Will Grayson is a good cop and a good father. With his partner Helen Walker, he has tracked down his share of criminals. Still, something about the child molester Mitchell Roberts got to him. Sending Roberts to prison only gives him some measure of satisfaction. Grayson knows the damage done by Roberts cannot be undone. To make matters worse, Grayson is paroled after only a few years. With a parole officer that seems more worried about protecting Roberts’ rights than future victims, Grayson decides to keep an eye on Roberts.   

Ruth remarries and has a second daughter. Then the unthinkable happens – Beatrice, her ten-year-old child, disappears. Will and Helen follow first one promising and then another with no results. Roberts disappears. Can they solve the crime before time runs out for Beatrice?

Harvey has produced a masterpiece thriller. Despite its five hundred-page length, the book holds the readers interest. This is a mystery in the best tradition of the genre.

 

 

 

The Silent Places by James Patrick Hunt

Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN:  978-0-312-54579-6

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Alan Preston is an ambitious man. He became a lawyer and then federal prosecutor. He rose from a poor background to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Then he made a successful bid for U.S. Senator. Now there is talk of him running for President. Why then would he when seek the help of St. Louis police rather than federal agencies when he is in danger from a traitorous former CIA agent he prosecuted?

Lt. George Hastings is a veteran St. Louis homicide detective. He’s a good cop and good commander. Hastings will stand behind his men. He will pursue a criminal until they are caught. The detective simply has no patience for politics or those who play them. This includes his deputy chief and a U.S. senator. When Hastings and his team are assigned to protect Preston as punishment for Hastings’ comments to the deputy chief, the detective makes his feelings known. When the former CIA agent tries to kill Preston and wounds Hastings in the process, the detective will not give up until he catches him or finds out what the senator is hiding.

John Reese was a quiet teen that ended up in trouble with the law. He chose the Army as an alternative. While there, he showed skills that drew the attention of the CIA. When he was offered a job, he first became a CIA assassin and then a field agent. He was exceptional at both. Why then did he leave the agency to become an arms dealer? Why was he sentenced to life in prison for an arms deal? Why did hired killers bring Reese out of prison after years inside and mark him for death? What did their failed attempt on his life have to do with Preston?

Hastings will have to find the answers to these questions that tie Preston and Reese together. In the process he will find that not all violent felons are what they seem. Glimpses into the lives and characters of the principles in this tale emerge as the story unfolds. Hunts shows himself to be a master storyteller by giving just enough in each chapter to make the book difficult to put down.

 

 

 

So Cold the River by Michael Koryta

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company  ISBN-10: 0316053635

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Michael Koryta is the author of the successful Lincoln Perry PI novels. His current standalone effort, So Cold the River, is a departure for him, more a Gothic tale than a straight ahead crime story.

Eric Shaw’s promising career as a Hollywood cinematographer has been derailed by an altercation with the directorial flavor of the month, reducing Eric to creating montages of family photos and videos for funerals in Chicago. His work catches the eye of a woman who dispatches him to West Baden, Indiana, to create a documentary of her dying father-in-law’s murky early life.

Eric’s research shows dear old dad may have been a real SOB in his youth, if it was even him Eric Is looking into; the ages of the dying man in Chicago and the man he’s finding out about don’t match. That’s the least of his problems. A mysterious bottle of mineral spring water is having a strange effect on him, and the last remaining local member of his subject’s family, while not holding the reputation of evil incarnate like his ancestor, is plenty bad enough, considering he’s in the here and now.

Koryta is an Indiana native, and his affection for his native state is obvious. (He still lives part-time in Bloomington.) The charms and history of the resort towns of West Baden and French Lick are described in a manner to make the Chambers of Commerce proud. The townspeople are not whitewashed caricatures of salt-of-the-earth Midwestern virtue, but by and large they’re folks you’d be comfortable running into at the local tavern or eatery. Their qualities make Josiah’s orneriness stand out without Koryta having to stretch his credibility and lends the story a believability much needed in a modern Gothic tale.

The characters work, Koryta is a talented wordsmith, and I’m aware enough of my lack of enthusiasm for Gothic fiction not to hold that against the book. Still, the whole doesn’t quite add up. So Cold the River is Koryta’s second standalone, along with 2008’s Envy the Night. Maybe his Lincoln Perry novels don’t sell as well as he’d like. If not, it’s a shame, as they’re first-rate. The standalones depend too much on the conventions of contemporary thrillers: convenient coincidences and relationships abound. Characters you care about will endure what appear to be hopeless situations better than can reasonably be expected.

This last comment may not be an altogether bad thing. If you like action, danger, creepiness, and important characters in jeopardy but still crave a relatively happy ending, So Cold the River may well be your cup of tea. Readers more closely drawn to the less fantastic consequences of the Perry novels may not agree. Koryta is a formidable talent; saying his standalone books don’t quite measure up to the standard set by Lincoln Perry is hardly harsh criticism. Still, be advised, some of the best qualities of the Perry books are missing here, without as much counterbalance as might be hoped for.

 

 

 

The Whole World by Emily Winslow

Publisher: Delacorte Press  ISBN-10: 0385342888

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Many young Americans can only dream about attending college in London’s Cambridge unique and challenging arena of higher learning. But for two young women, Polly and Liv, that dream has come true. 

Naturally, they’re drawn to each other, both being far from home, but it’s England-born Nick who really brings their small group together and makes it whole.  And while at first they revel in not only their new found friendship, but also a special project of researching the background for one of their professors who is writing a biography of her famous author mother, the good times will prove to be short lived.  As the project begins to reveal secrets from the past that were unanticipated, not only the professor’s but their own, things begin to go sour. 

Not only will their friendships be tested, but so will be their memories of their own pasts and their perceptions of their current relationships, all of which will lead them down a trail that will eventually end in a violent conclusion that exposes everything each of them has been trying to hide from themselves and others.

“You can run, but you can’t hide..” might be the theme of this debut novel from Winslow.  Beautifully written, but filled with sorrowful revelations that speak to how closely we’re tied to our pasts, this one soars right from the beginning.  By small degrees, Winslow reveals what she wants to, with each revelation coming as a complete surprise that takes readers down unexpected avenues that chillingly amaze.  Twists and turns make this one highly readable, and intricately carved characters make it just as highly memorable.  Can’t wait to see what this new author comes out with next; no doubt it will be great. 

 

 

 

Justice in June by Barbara Levenson

Publisher: Oceanview Press  ISBN 978 193351571 7

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

It’s always a pleasure to get a second book in what was a stand-alone story that you really enjoyed reading.  Closing the covers of an enjoyable book is a bit like a new love affair: you hope there’s going to be more, but you’re not sure.  This is the much-awaited second book about Molly Magruder Katz, which I think means that we have a series coming.

Molly is a lawyer who is required to put her theory of justice on the line.  She’s always said that everyone’s entitled to a good defence, no matter what the charge—but when her boyfriend Carlos asks her to take on a new client sight unseen, she’s horrified to discover that Luis Corona is charged with terrorism.  There’s no easy way to drop the case without looking like a hypocrite, and after she starts receiving threatening messages, Molly grits her teeth and decides that she will do her best for Luis.  This might be easier if she could find him, but it seems as if those friendly folk at Homeland Security have booked him a one-way ticket to a holiday camp in Cuba.  The more Molly investigates the more it becomes apparent that Luis has been scooped up in error, but how is she going to get the government to admit it’s wrong? 

At the same time she’s working on this case, Molly gets a visit from one of the local judges, who is being investigated for crimes she says she didn’t commit, but she can’t find any way to clear herself.  All of her staff have been with her for years, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to explain what’s happened other than the judge is dirty.

And to add the icing on the cake, Molly’s lover Carlos is having a class action for breach of contract brought against him by some of his clients for whom he is building posh apartments.  That would be bad enough if it weren’t for the fact that Molly’s nasty ex-fiancé is the lawyer on the other side.  She wonders if there’s more to the case than appears, if Frank is out to punish her by leading the suit against Carlos.  Anyone who remembers Franklin Fieldstone from the first book will be able to believe this; he’s one of the meaner baddies in modern fiction.

This is an entertaining read with some dark streaks through it, especially the sections dealing with what might happen to people who attract the attention of secretive government agencies.  But remember: it’s just a work of fiction.

 

 

 

Sidney Sheldon’s After the Darkness  by Tilly Bagshawe

Publisher: William Morrow  ISBN:  978-0-06-172830-3

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Lenny and Grace Brookstein are living the American dream. Lenny has made his fortune on Wall Street investing money for the average guy. Grace has come from a socialite family. Although Lenny was old enough to be her father, she fell in love and they were married.

The couple ferry between their Manhattan luxury condo, the weekend mansion on the Cape and various exotic locations. Lenny’s biggest concerns seem to be making money and keeping his young bride happy. Grace worries about lunch with friends, high-dollar shopping trips, and lavish dinner parties.

So how did it come to be that Grace sits in court charged with fraud? How did Lenny go missing at sea on their yacht? Where did billions of dollars go that Lenny supposedly stole and Grace is held responsible?

In due course, a body is found at washed up on shore. Grace is convicted and sent to prison for life. In prison, Grace learns of the hatred of those whose families lost the life’s savings in the fraud. Eventually, Grace decides to escape and find who is behind the whole thing.

The story is interesting on many levels. The use of flashbacks and other literary techniques are skillful. If there is a flaw, it is character development. The rich women are gold digging trophy wives. The rich men are struggling to keep up with their wives’ spending habits. Law enforcement characters are emotional basket cases. With the exception of one, the women in prison are victims of society. Perhaps a little more attention to balanced characters could take this book from run-of-the-mill to exceptional.

 

 

 

The Ninth Step by Gabriel Cohen

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN:  978-0-312-62501-6

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

There are many ‘Step’ recovery programs available to individuals who suffer from some form addiction or dependency.  None may be more famous than the program utilized by members of Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA’s Ninth Step calls for members to make direct amends to anyone they may have harmed while they were under the influence, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Much to the surprise of Brooklyn Homicide Detective, Jack Leightner, a middle-aged African-American man knocks on his door one day.  Leightner does not recognize the man and assumes he is either a homeless pan-handler or up to no good.  The one thing he did not expect was that the man was on his doorstep in an attempt to make amends for a grievous act committed over 40 years earlier.  It turns out the stranger in question, one Darnel Teague, confesses to being the man who stabbed Jack’s older brother, Petey, to death during an attempted robbery back in 1965.

This re-opens a wound that Jack Leightner has never been able to close.  He quickly cuffs Teague and admonishes him for his stupidity by alerting him to the fact that there is no statute of limitations for murder.  Teague, recently paroled for another crime, is well aware of this fact and seemingly at peace with himself and his decision to come forward.  The decades-old crime has never sat well with Leightner and he always suspected that there was local mob influence behind his brother’s murder in retaliation for trouble his father had with local members of the Red Hook mafia during the 1960’s.

Past slams into present as Leightner and his partner, Richie Powker, are called into a homicide at a Midwood deli.  The security camera in the Pakistani-owned deli shows a man of Middle Eastern descent beating a Caucasian man to death with a can of beans.  What makes this seemingly senseless assault that much more bizarre is the fact that Homeland Security steps into their investigation with claims that the alleged murderer may be part of an Islamic fundamentalist group who is wanted for terrorist activities.

Leightner and Powker are not pleased with having their investigation usurped and they continue to look into the background of the alleged murderer --- Nadim Hasni --- both with the aide of Homeland Security as well as behind their back.  As the true background of Hasni and his story begins to reveal itself, Leightner and his NYPD colleagues uncover a post-9/11 story of senseless imprisonment and brutality against an innocent Pakistani man that was perpetrated in the name of national security. 

“The Ninth Step” speaks to both the closure Darnel Teague seeks for crimes committed in his youth as well as the story of Nadim Hasni who is seeking his own form of redemption and possibly revenge.  Anyone who lived in the NYC area in the years following 9/11 will be particularly impacted by this story.  None more so than those residents of the section of Brooklyn known as ‘Little Pakistan’ that lost a majority of its’ residents as a result of the scrutiny brought down upon them by an angry community looking for scapegoats in the wake of that devastating terrorist attack that permanently scarred NYC.  Jack Leightner is placed firmly in the middle of two investigations --- past and present --- where the answers he seeks to both may not be the ones he expects.

Gabriel Cohen has created a non-typical crime drama that brims with intelligence and emotion and really takes you inside the minds and souls of the characters and their individual conflicts.  This is the fourth novel in the Jack Leightner series --- the first, “Red Hook”, was an Edgar Award finalist.  Not having read the prior novels, “The Ninth Step” makes me want to pick these prior novels up and become more acquainted with Detective Jack Leightner.  Having been raised in this area, the story really hits home as Cohen has a fine grasp of both NYC and his home-town of Brooklyn, NY.  More importantly, Leightner speaks with a voice that any New Yorker will understand and I hope to see more of this complex character.

(For interview with Gabriel Cohen)