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The Stolen Heart by Lauren Kelly

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks  ISBN:  0-06-0797290

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Summoned to her dying father’s bedside in Mt. Olive, New York, twenty-six year old Merilee Graf is haunted by the ghosts of her childhood—her unbalanced mother’s prescription drug addiction, her attempts to win the affection of her distant father, and her obsession with the disappearance of her fifth grade classmate, Lilac Jimson.  Seeing Lilac’s older brother, Roosevelt, at the hospital reawakens her adolescent attraction to him. 

But when a glass heart that she had given to her father disappears from his hospital room after his death, Merilee suspects Roosevelt of stealing it.  Her father’s death makes her even more of a curiosity in small Mt. Olive.  The elder Graf, a successful importer and former mayor who contributed the reward offered for clues in Lilac’s disappearance, was a well-known figure in town.  Merilee’s creepy “Uncle” Jedah, executor of her father’s estate, insists on calling her the heiress, reinforcing how the town views her. 

Although Merilee gradually reveals her own flaws, it’s still hard to understand why she doesn’t avoid Jedah after she discovers his sick predilections.  Instead, after an initial period of shock, she seeks him.  When she finally tries to break free from him, he forces her to confront facts about her past that reach far into her future.

Merilee grows more puzzling and less sympathetic as the novel progresses, although as the reader learns more about her parents her character flaws seem unavoidable.  Writing under the pseudonym Lauren Kelly, prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates has created a suspenseful, disturbing tale with dark characters.     



Getting Hers by Donna Hill

Publisher: St. Martin's  ISBN: 0312307284

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Three women get stuck in an elevator during a blackout.  Tess Mc Donald is lying low because she does not want to be identified and indicted as the woman the papers have labeled "Madam X." Her sister, the assistant DA, Nikki Perez is a street wise tough broad whose gang leader boyfriend let her take the fall and do time in prison.  She wants revenge.  Kim Sheppard is CEO of a corporation she has pulled up b6 the bootstraps but now her husband is threatening to blackmail her and get control of if.  He wants him removed.

The three women form a pact.  "I'll kill yours of you'll kill mine."

What a fantastic novel, Hill has written.  It is full of twists, turns, manipulations and action.  Every woman who reads this will love the excitement and suspense of the final solutions.



Killer Swell by Jeff Shelby

Publishers: Onyx ISBN: 0451412192

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

There is a new thriller writer on the block, and to call his first work Killer Swell “unconventional” is putting things too mildly. Jeff Shelby’s Killer Swell- sure will create a flutter- or rather a tsunami of an interest among the mystery loving public.

For the mystery genre saturated with Derek Strange (George Pelecanos), Alex Cross (James Patterson), Inspector Rebus (Ian Rankin) et al. - this new series protagonist will offer a welcome respite. Noah Braddock is no hero, he is no macho man, and is not intelligence personified.  In his late twenties, Braddock is most happy at home, enjoying the sunny beaches of San Diego, hanging around with friends and above all surfing all day long. And oh… he is also a private investigator.

And in Killer Swell we are introduced to Braddock’s first case. Braddock is called on by Mrs. Marilyn Crier. She knows him by reputation and without mincing words hated him once upon a time. Braddock used to date her daughter Kate, and Marilyn absolutely despised him. Now years later Marilyn has come to Noah to ask for a favour. Her daughter Kate is missing and she wants Noah to search her whereabouts.  Noah jumps into action, but soon the person missing case turns more serious when Noah discovers the murdered body of Kate in a trunk a car. What follows is murder mystery at its best, a whodunit…rather a whydunit.

I enjoyed the book and am looking for more Braddock works. Kudos, Jeff Shelby- a great beginning.



The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives by Sarah Strohmeyer

Publisher: NAL Trade  ISBN: 0451219104

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

The Desperate Housewives of Wisteria Lane cannot hold a candle to the wealthy and fortunate wives of Hunting Hills.  In The Secret Lives of Unfortunate Wives the reader is introduced to the social upper crust that live in the exclusive but fictional neighborhood of Hunting Hills and their “top ten” rules.  Behind the well manicured lawns and palatial stone facades dwell a group of people who are proudly inbred, have no qualms about changing marital partners, and feel trapped in lives that they privately detest.  The women spend fortunes maintaining their youthful and slender appearances since that is just the way things are in Hunting Hills, until John Harding brings home wife #2 from Prague.  Claire Stark meets John when she is in Prague as a newspaper reporter and she wants to get an exclusive interview with him.  She gets far more than the interview and winds up married to John.  Imagine the horror that ripples through Hunting Hills when the news gets out that John has ditched his well-connected wife Boots, to marry a professional woman from West Virginia.  Oddly enough Marti Denton befriends Claire and takes it upon herself to help with the indoctrination into the world of Hunting Hills.  Claire does not know that Marti’s motives are far from pure.  Marti thinks that she is in love with John and plans to steal him from Claire.  When scandal rocks the Prozac-induced tranquility of Hunting Hills, the wives band together and Claire becomes an unexpectedly valuable allay

Sarah Strohmeyer, well known for her ‘Bubbles’ series, creates a wildly entertaining satire of the “real” lives of the affluent.  She captures in vivid detail the extremes to which the wives are willing to go in order to look young and promote their husband’s careers.  Claire Stark is truly “a fish out of water” in this neighborhood of botoxed, liposuctioned, peroxided, valium-dependent, anorexic housewives; but she winds up the victor in the end.  The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives is a steamy and entertaining read that has a bit of everything.



4th Of July by James Patterson

Publisher: Warner Vision ISBN: 0446613363

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader 

What do you call an author who delivers a No.1 bestseller every month of the year. James Patterson is no more a person… he is an institution by himself- a man who churns gold in every genre he tries his hands on. First it was psychological murder mysteries with the Alex Cross series of books including Kiss the Girls, Along Came the Spider etc., then it was sci-fiction with When the Wind Blows, The Lake House etc., children’s books (Santa Kid), Romance (Sam’s Letters to Jennifer), Historical thriller (The Jester), Legal Thriller (The Beach House)…… James Patterson is an institution by himself- no doubt about it.

4th of July is the fourth work in the Women’s Murder Club Series consisting of 1st to Die, 2nd Chance and 3rd Degree. The Women’s Murder Club consists of smart and savvy four ladies, Journalist Cindy Thomas, Detective Lindsay Boxer, Assistant D.A. Jill Bernhardt and Clair Washburn.  3rd Degree had ended in a somber note with the death of Jill Bernhardt- my personal favorite among the four. Thus when the trio is enjoying a light drink reminiscing about past events- Lindsay Boxer is called for duty- and the suspects are two teenagers, a boy and girl. The routine check up goes awry when the two suspects open fire on Boxer. With no way out, Boxer returns fire and the result is that the girl is dead and the boy crippled for life. Within days Lindsay is defending a claim against her for police brutality. But when a series of murders hits the City, Boxer is desperate to return for duty- but with the law suit against her she has to keep quiet. What follows is traditional and mesmerizing James Patterson action that culminates in an exciting and grandiose finish. If I say anything more, I shall be accused of being a spoilsport. Read the book- its worth the money and time spent.



The Body in the Snowdrift by Katherine Hall Page

Publisher:  Avon  ISBN:  0-06-0525320

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

As fond as she is of her father-in-law, Faith Sibley Fairchild is not looking forward to the family reunion/ski trip to celebrate his seventieth birthday; she prefers both in-laws and skiing in “smaller and shorter doses.”  Discovering a body in a snowdrift on her first outing sets the tone for the rest of Faith’s vacation.

The family-owned Vermont resort is plagued by a series of pranks – an inflatable sex toy in the pool, ski-lift malfunction, and a burglary of their own condo – and the Fairchilds are quick to lend assistance.  When the restaurant’s chef disappears, Faith finds herself with a temporary job, providing her respite from the problem of her in-laws and nephews, to which she has unwillingly become privy.

Everyone suspects the troubled Ophelia, step-daughter of the owner’s son, of engineering the pranks, but Faith quickly focuses on Gertrude, the aging hippie who lives in the woods.

When someone puts a body in the snowmaking machine, resulting in carnage all over the mountain, the Fairchilds admit their vacation can’t be salvaged, but as they prepare to go, family crises reach a boiling point, delaying their departure.

Author Katherine Hall Page, in this fifteenth installment in the series, does not disappoint.  Return readers will be gratified to see that gourmet caterer Faith does have a flaw:  her strained relationship with some of her in-laws.  Page has thankfully toned down some of Faith’s obsession with designer clothes, making her even more likable.  For an author of cozies, Page has a knack for coming up with incredibly gruesome methods for getting rid of a body.   



Vineyard Prey:  A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery  by Philip R. Craig

Publisher:  Avon  ISBN:  0060843284

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

It’s early December, and aside from the deer hunters’ shotguns, all is quiet on Martha’s Vineyard…until J. W. Jackson’s friend and former commanding officer Joe Begay asks him for a simple favor.  J. W. knows Joe still has ties to the intelligence community and suspects there’s more to the request than an innocuous ride from the mall, especially when Joe spends the trip hiding under a bag of birdseed in the backseat. 

Joe is determined to limit J. W.’s involvement, but a beautiful woman on Joe’s property threatens to shoot J. W., so he starts to ask questions.  And when a mysterious stranger in a dark car tails J. W.’s ancient Land Cruiser, he fears for his family’s safety.  Three of the five participants on Joe’s last mission have recently died, and Joe suspects the killer is an assassin known as the Easter Bunny.  Soon J. W. is dodging not just the mysterious stranger but the amorous advances of the beautiful Kate MacLeod.  A death in the Jacksons’ driveway causes Feds to swarm Martha’s Vineyard, but of course, it is J. W. who tracks down the killer.

J. W. Jackson, with his amusing running commentary, is always a fun companion for a few hours and the latest in the series doesn’t disappoint.  If all law enforcement and intelligence agents are as bungling as author Philip Craig portrays them, it’s no wonder J. W. left the profession.  As always, Craig includes some appetizing recipes at the end.



Killing Rain by Barry Eisler

Publisher: Onyx  ISBN: 0451412184

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

A hired assassin who finds a conscience is really a bad thing.  John Rain understands this all too well when his new found conscience gets in the way and he botches an operation in Killing Rain, the fourth installment in the John Rain series.  Rain, who is part Japanese part American, runs a business in Tokyo when he is not on operations.  He prides himself on his meticulous planning prior to operations, his ability to get in close for the kill and make the death look accidental, and his anonymity which allows him to seamlessly blend back into the public after the job is done. 

In Killing Rain a couple of things are different from Rain’s common approach to operations.  He has a partner who is the exact opposite of Rain.  Dox (short for paradox) is a physically large man who is loud, gregarious and exudes a good-ol’-boy personality.  However, Dox is as deadly as Rain but he prefers the long range kill as a sniper.  Rain and Dox have been hired by Israeli intelligence and they travel to Manila to kill weapons dealer Manheim Levi.  Murphy’s Law comes into play during the operation and Rain botches the kill, Levi survives but several ex-CIA agents wind up dead.  As a result of the failed attempt, John Rain becomes the target and the only way he can save himself is to get Levi before the bad guys get him.  To make matters worse, the bad guys send a former love interest of Rain’s to snuff him out.

Killing Rain is a terrific book.  Eisler does a fantastic job of portraying both the physical, emotional, and psychological dimensions of John Rain, such that the reader will feel as though they know him.  John Rain is a cold and cunning assassin, who is also kind and has a conscience, but prefers to be a loner.  Eisler also fully explores his supporting characters; Delilah and Dox are as richly described as John Rain.  The portrayals of the settings are so colorful that the reader will feel as though they are right there with Rain.  Killing Rain is a brilliantly written, exhilaratingly fast-paced novel that the reader will hate to put down plus the ending is absolutely shocking.  Killing Rain is a must read and a powerful addition to a blockbuster series.



Red Leaves by Thomas Cook

Publisher: Harvest Books  ISBN: 0156032341

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Eric Moore thinks he has the perfect life living in a small town with his beautiful wife, his quiet teenaged son, and his satisfying, if not overly ambitious, career as a small business owner.  But in just one night his blissful contentment is shattered when the young girl his son had been babysitting turns up missing.  And as the police slowly zero in on his son as the main suspect, other ugly, but seemingly possible, truths begin their slow revealing.  Had the childhood he always thought as somewhat tragic really been something more sinister?  And now, is it possible that his son is perhaps guilty of the horrible crime that he is being accused of?  And what of his own happy marriage, is that a façade as well?  And it seems the further Eric looks, the more suspicious those around him become, until the last truth he must face in the mirror is his very own.

In this ominous tale of escalating threat and desperation, and of lives irrevocably unraveling, we see how easily one man can hide behind the veneer of a pleasant life, ignoring the reprehensible truths just a blink away.  Disturbing and frighteningly realistic, it screams a warning to anyone who has ever tried to hide from things that are easier to avoid, but which if not faced can create a fallout of tragedy.  Hauntingly heartbreaking, it's like watching a fast moving train heading for a car stalled on the tracks, the passengers too stunned to move to safety.  Not an easy read, but rather one that brings a startling discomfort upon seeing how easy it is to identify with the questions raised concerning the authenticity of an ordinary life, and how easily such a life can be ripped apart.   Highly recommended, this is one read you won't soon forget.