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Killer Heels by Sheryl J. Anderson

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0132992564

Killer Heels has all the right elements of modern chick lit: a yuppie-ish, twenty- or thirty-something single-woman narrator; a sharp wit that nonetheless allows the vulnerabilities of a 21st Century Everywoman to show through; true blue girlfriends, fickle boyfriends and a smart sense of fashion.  Add in a good mystery and you have a very enjoyable novel for those who like this genre (I do).

Molly Forrester yearns to be more than just an advice columnist at the glossy New York magazine where she works.  When she discovers the murdered body of a two-timing colleague in her office (and ruins a new pair of Jimmy Choo shoes in the process), she figures that solving the murder could give her the career break sheís been hoping for.  With the help of her two best gal pals, she assembles the pieces of office politics, romantic liaisons and business shenanigans that lead to the identity of the killer.

Anderson does a good job of making the literally cut-throat world of New York publishing feel authentic while still maintaining a good sense of humor about the whole scene.  There are plenty of satisfying twists and turns in the plot though the ending seemed rather obvious for the last 50 or so pages.  And there were times that the wise-cracking sarcasm distracted from the plot goings-on.  But these minor complaints do not seriously blemish a story full of fun.  I look forward to more in the series.

 

Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston

Publisher:  Ballantine Books  ISBN:  0-345-46479-6

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

The six bad things referred to in the title of this second installment of a planned trilogy are the number of people Henry (Hank) Thompson killed in Caught Stealing.  A killer with a conscience, Hank has a tattoo to remind himóas if he could forget.  After Six Bad Things, heíll have to add a few more hash marks to his tattoo. 

Hank has spent the past few years in comfortable exile on a Mexican beach, swimming, listening to music, and hanging out at The Bucket, the bar he financed.  Until the day heís been dreading, when a stranger with a Russian accent shows up, asking questions.  Hank has been living off several million dollars that belong to the Russian mafia and they want it back.

Soon Hank is on the run again.  Eager to protect his parents, he returns to the United States, where he is alternately assisted and threatened by two crazed surfer dudes.  Despite the number of murder victims he leaves in his wake, Hank remains genuinely shocked and disturbed by the havoc he wreaks.

Six Bad Things starts off promising dark humor, but somewhere along the way, the humor dissipates and the novel becomes merely dark.  Hank is a bad guy that any reader can champion, while being thankful he wasnít a classmate, neighbor, or friend.  Those close to Hank just keep getting killed.   

 

Lullaby and Goodnight by Wendy Corsi Staub

Publisher: Zebra Books ISBN: 0786016426

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader  

Peyton Somerset has much to be thankful for, a terrific career, a wonderful home in New York City and now, the most precious gift of all, the pregnancy she has long awaited for.  When her last few relationships didn't work out quite as she expected, Peyton took matters into her own hands to ensure that she would become a mother, and now, although single, she awaits the birth of the child she has planned with such precision and love. 

Joining a group for single mothers, she begins to make new friends who can share the common joys and difficulties she faces everyday, making her life that much easier.  But when her favorite amongst the group disappears, she suspects it's more than just a frightened mother heading for the hills, and soon begins to fear for her own safety.  But with so many new people in her life, including a handsome new suitor, who can she trust, and who should she fear?  Because one of these friendly faces hides an evil plan, a plan that has already befallen many before her, and the closer her due date comes, the closer her date with death.

If you've never read this fantastic author, you're truly missing out on some of the greatest domestic suspense stories around.  What's perhaps one of the most refreshing qualities of Staub's tales is her everyday heroines; women who are smart, resourceful, and anything but your typical trembling victims.  She convincingly takes an average woman, places her in an average life, and then BAM! throws in the punches, the danger, and the drama.  All believable, and so all the more frightening.  This latest is no exception.  Slowly ratcheting up the suspense, creating plenty of red herrings, making everyone a possible suspect, she creates a story that page by page holds the reader enthralled with heady anticipation and thrills.  As with all her previous, this one comes highly recommended.                  

 

Donít Look Back by Karin Fossum

Publisher: Harvest Books ISBN: 0156031361

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, , New Mystery Reader

In the quiet and idyllic neighborhood near Kollen Mountain in Norway, a young teenage girl is found dead.  Brought into the case are Inspector Sejer and his young assistant, Jacob Skarre.  All that is known of the young girl is that she had become sullen and withdrawn some months before her death, and had turned away from the things that had once brought her joy.  And as the investigation continues, the two men learn that all is not as idyllic in this lovely place as appears, and there are secrets to be discovered, secrets that someone has killed to keep quiet.

This first American release of the Inspector Sejer series, translated from Norwegian, has much to offer.  A great procedural, it will definitely appeal to fans of the genre, and others will find the setting, characters, and mood to be highly engaging.  Sejer and Skarre make a delightful pair, with the differences in their personalities playing off of each other perfectly.  As for the mystery itself, it gradually unwinds and makes itself known in a deliberate process that weeps of tragedy which eventually affects all that are exposed to it.  A fine, fine story, this one shouldnít be missed.     
 

 

A Clean Kill by Leslie Glass

Publisher: Onyx Books ISBN: 0451411897

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Glass brings back NYPD detective April Woo in this exciting mystery involving the "new money" wealthy and privileged living the pampered lifestyle in Manhattan's finest town homes.  Newly married and only days away from her long anticipated honeymoon, April gets involved in the case of a murdered trophy wife against her better judgment.  Not even in her division, but in her husband's, Captain Mike Sanchez, April once again heeds the call of duty and plunges head first into the investigation.  Suspects include the nanny, the trainer and, of course, the husband.  But when another trophy wife is murdered, this time in her own division, and once again the nanny is the prime suspect, April is convinced that the cases are related. 

Glass returns to her above normal form in this latest, after a disappointing outing in her last.  An inside, and not always gracious, look at the new wealthy, she seems to have some fun poking and prodding these sometimes selfishly led lives.  Personally, I would've liked to have seen a bit more of April's mother, the eccentric drama queen who speaks the universal language of obsessive mothers everywhere.  But nonetheless, this was still an invigorating and appealing outing with plenty of suspense and police procedural detail to keep the interest alive throughout.  Easily recommended, and definitely worth the buy.

 

LOOK CLOSELY by Laura Caldwell

Publisher: Mira ISBN: 0778321835

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When attorney Hailey Sutter receives an anonymous note that advises her to "look closely", and intimates that her mother's death when she just a child was perhaps in fact murder, Hailey feels compelled to look into the tragic incident.  The only people who were suspects at the time were her father, who refuses to talk about it, and her brother and sister who she has not seen since the death was finally pronounced a suicide. 

Hailey cannot remember what happened, but begins to have flashbacks and becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth.  She visits the house where her mother died twenty years ago and starts looking for her siblings, following a trail long cold but about to heat up once again.

Caldwell has a very unique style of writing that moves very smoothly and keeps the readers attention glued to the story line.  The plot moves logically through developing clues ---   but never hints at the surprise ending.  This book is a keeper.

 

The Judgment of Caesar by Steven Saylor

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312932979

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader  

Gordianus the Finder has left Rome to take his ailing wife Bethesda home to Egypt, hopefully to be cured by bathing in the waters of the Nile.  Believing his wife lost in the river, he eventually winds up in the palace in Alexandria during the civil war being fought between Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy.  With the arrival of Caesar, comes Gordianuses disowned son Meto.  A reconciliation between father and son becomes necessary when Meto is charged with murder and Gordianus pledges to defend him.

Saylor is an extraordinary writer who can bring the ancient world into the reader's mind and make him feel a part of it.  This is a historically accurate, spellbinding tale that stays with the reader long after the book is finished.

 

Black Maps by Peter Spiegelman

Publisher: Vintage;  ISBN: 1400033594

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

John March is in the private eye business after a tragic event three years previously that ended with his wife dead and his life in shambles.  Now heís quietly putting his life back together, taking on cases worthy of his time, and diligently searching for solutions.  His new case is that of Rick Pierro, a wealthy Manhattanite who is being blackmailed by an unknown source.  It appears that someone has proof that Pierro was party to money laundering and other nefarious schemes when he was younger.  And as March searches for answers, the trail leads him to a man who is as evil as they come, but who is nowhere to be found.  As it becomes apparent that this master manipulator has left many others open to blackmail with proof of their shortcomings, Marchís quest leads him to a scheme that is so Machiavellian, even the renowned sadist would be impressed.  The deeper March digs, the more he finds, including secrets his own client has kept from him.  Surrounded by lies and threats, he must put it all together before he once again is left with a life in shambles.      

An original and exciting debut, Spiegelman has wrought a story that should delight and thrill even the most cynical mystery lover.  John March is a character entirely worth his weight in gold, and his intelligence and strength is enough to impress men and make women swoon.  He doesnít drink, doesnít smoke, doesnít have one night stands, and yet heís interesting and real.  And the story itself is creative, brisk, and thrilling.  Spiegelman takes a plot that in lesser hands couldíve turned dull, but he manages to pull you upright at every corner, greedily turning the pages for more.  Donít miss this exciting first appearance; itíll leave you eagerly anticipating the next outing featuring John March.    

 

 

Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard

Publisher: Harper Torch   ISBN: 0060083964

Reviewed by Paul Kane, New Mystery Reader

Mr. Paradise is Elmore Leonard's thirty-eighth novel; and it provides further evidence that, longevity notwithstanding, the old master remains at the top of his game.  Set in contemporary Detroit, Leonard's hometown, Mr. Paradise reads as fresh, as "now" and "with it", and as downright cool as anything he has written in the past.  If anything, the guy seems to be getting better.

Leonard's hero this time out is Frank Delsa, homicide detective and widower - his wife Maureen had died of cancer a year prior to the novel's opening - who is called in to investigate the murder of an elderly lawyer, one Tony Paradiso, the eponymous Mr. Paradise.  Frank meets Kelly Barr, a possible witness to the killing, at the crime scene; and he begins to believe that she may (perhaps unwillingly) be holding back vital evidence.  Kelly seems in imminent danger, and so Frank decides to take her under his wing.  He is attracted to her, big-time Ö

What is Elmore Leonard's secret, how is he able to write such great crime novels; in fact, such great novels period?  Here are a few reflections.

First off, one must take note of Leonard's mastery of genre conventions.  Mr. Paradise is a crime novel (actually, a police procedural), but it is also a romance, has some wonderful moments of deadpan humour, and even has elements of the Western.  The denouement of the novel is a showdown where Frank, like Gary Cooper in High Noon, exhibits grace under pressure; it is pure Western gunfight.  (Leonard, of course, has written Westerns in the past and he came out of this genre originally.  Some of his Western novels, notably Hombre, have been made into movies.)

Second, there is Leonard's style, which rightly has garnered many admirers - Martin Amis being not the least of them.  Leonard has a distinctivet tone and attitude to his writing, a mastery of a certain kind of American idiom, cool and street-wise, and it is this, above all else, that holds together the seemingly disparate elements of the novel.  And it seems that he can make this language express just about anything.  Here is a short virtuoso example of it; Frank Delsa is coming to the realization that he's falling in love with Kelly Barr:

He could miss Maureen, feel love, sorrow, and he could stare at a woman sometimes and wonder about her, not many, not any the way he stared at Kelly Barr and wanted to touch her.  Touch her - Christ, eat her up.  He had refused to admit it this morning and this afternoon, but now, hearing her voice in his mind, See you, Frank, he had to tell himself, You're fucked, you know it?  (150)

Rarely can the "f" word have been used so tenderly.

Third, we have Leonard's considerable skills as a storyteller.    Not only is he adept at playing about with the timeline of events, but he will also often recount the same event, or describe a situation, from the viewpoint of two or more characters. So the central murder in Mr. Paradise is told from the viewpoint of the victims and hitmen, the various witnesses and accomplices to the killing, and even from the viewpoint of the police, as they analyze the crime afterward.  The overall effect is rich and multi-dimensional, as though one were turning a precious stone around in one's hand, viewing it from different perspectives.

On reaching the end of this novel, I recalled the answer of an old jazzman when asked the question how he could tell whether a piece of music, something heard or improvised, was any good.  Easy, he famously replied: either it pours into the ear like honey, or it falls like breaking glass.  Mr. Paradise is honey all the way.  Paradise, no less.

 

 

Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath

 Publisher: Hyperion ISBN: 078689072x

This first in an intended series featuring Chicago Lt. Jacqueline Daniels, AKA ďJack DanielsĒ has all the hallmarks of a successful and enticing series.  We first meet up with Jack when she becomes involved in a case involving murdered young women that all have one thing in common, a gingerbread man is left at each brutal scene. It soon becomes obvious that a serial killer is at work, and things become really personal for Jack when he sets his sights on her. 

Meanwhile, she must also deal with her incessant insomnia, her sudden entry into the world of singles, and her junk food loving partner, all which make for a humorous and slightly bent foray into the world of mystery.     

This new series featuring Jack Daniels is a welcomed addition to the genre, with Jack herself being the major draw.  This forty-something detective may have her priorities a little skewed (she barely notices when her live-in-lover leaves her), but sheís trying (note her attempt to join a dating service).  This all just makes her very human, and very likable.  Paired with a suspenseful and addictive story, youíve got all the making for a great first outing.  Highly recommended, we eagerly await this new starís next fight with crime.

 

Lazybones by Mark Billingham

Publisher: Avon ISBN: 006056086x

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Londonís Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is about to face one of his greatest foes yet when itís discovered that the recent murders happening on his watch are those of convicted rapists.  Each man is found raped and brutally murdered, and itís apparent that revenge is the motivating factor in each.  But for as many answers as he and his crew have, there are just as many questions, and so the hunt begins, a hunt for a killer that no one is too eager to catch.  Meanwhile, Thorne and his crew each seem to be facing life-altering events that will interfere with their abilities to see clearly. Thorne himself has met a woman whose initial involvement in the case is marginal enough to be safe, and so yet another pursuit begins.  And as they come closer to the identity of the killer, the killer is closing in on one of them, with deadly intent.

Billingham is a master of the British procedural, combining non-stop suspense with just the right amount of personal side stories to create a read that is both thrilling and inviting.  The reader canít help but be drawn into Thorneís personal life; his ailing father, his penchant for American country music, and this time around, his hesitant foray into romance, all adding greatly to a read thatís already enticing and engaging.  One of his best, this latest from Billingham comes highly recommended.      

 

 

Red Tide by G.M. Ford

Publisher: Avon ISBN: 0060554819

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

To read the latest nail-biter from Seattle's own G.M. Ford is to witness the evolution of a very interesting novelist. Those who first came to Ford through the Leo Waterman series, with clever titles like "Who In Hell Is Wanda Fuca", came to love his skill at storytelling, along with his humorous style. Leo got the job done, but had his issues along the way. Ford took a fairly amazing turn with "A Blind Eye", the first of the Frank Corso series. More of a straight-ahead thriller, it's clear that Ford was staking a claim to a higher rung on the crime-fiction ladder. With "Red Tide", he is standing firmly on that upper-most rung.

Corso has fashioned a timely thriller of venal terrorists, stand-up cops, Ashworth-y FBI agents and romantic regret. A simple visit to old flame Meg Dougherty's photography exhibit sets Frank on the path of involvement with a heinous act of terrorism that threatens an entire region of the USA. To say too much would spoil your fun, and you know that we hate to do that. Suffice to say that, besides perhaps Robert Crais, no author has raised his game in the last few years to a degree that G.M. Ford has. Get "Red Tide", and then strap yourself in!