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Grim Finale by Dorothy P. O’Neill

Publisher:  Avalon Books  ISBN:  0-8034-9798-9

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

While nosing into the murder investigation of Chadwick Academy drama coach Marva Malin, coroner’s assistant Liz Rooney is kidnapped on a busy Manhattan street by members of an Al-Qaeda cell.  If that sounds unlikely, then much of Grim Finale will seem implausible.

Liz is soon rescued from her palatial prison by NYPD homicide detective Ike Eichle (who also happens to be her fiancé) allowing them to devote more time to the murder investigation.  Malin’s acid tongue and vicious nature have provided no shortage of suspects; the real mystery is why no one killed her sooner.  Liz is also distracted by her friend Sophie’s upcoming wedding, as well as her own imminent nuptials, which will force her and Ike to find a new apartment.

Senior citizens trapped in the bodies of twentysomethings, Liz and Sophie make some frightening wardrobe decisions while liberally littering their conversation with dated (and sexist) terms such as “broad” and “dame.”  Despite the wooden dialogue, curiously dull action scenes, and complete unconvincingness of the chaste Liz/Ike romance, Grim Finale is unaccountably engaging—a mystery someone’s grandmother may have written.

 

A Final Judgment-A Ron Shade Novel by Michael A. Black

Publisher: Five Star/Thompson-Gale ISBN 1-59414-426-5

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Michael A. Black has an interesting series brewing here. Ron Shade is a world-class-kickboxer and an ex-Chicago-cop-turned PI. In A Final Judgement, he's presented with a case by a lawyer in private practice, something Shade prefers to avoid, since he's averse to their typical clients--traditionally guilty scumbags.  But this lawyer is a friend, and Shade feels compelled to help.

Yup, mistake #1.  Shade soon realizes he is up against some legendary opposition on the Cook County side of the case, and pretty soon the fan gets very clogged, if you get the drift.

Black has a sparse, no-nonsense style that is refreshing in an age of Parker/Crais wannabees.  His first-person style is information-packed and light on punchy metaphor, which services this particular story very well, particularly the very well-drawn action sequences.

As he winds up the story, Black gives us an ending that both inspires and intrigues, which is a neat trick.

If you are a reader that likes to discover new talent and spread the work, consider yourself advised: Michael Black is the real thing. Check it out!

 

 

A Single Eye by Susan Dunlap

Publisher: Carroll & Graf ISBN: 0786718501

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When stuntwoman Darcey Lott freezes when a stunt goes bad because of her long held fear of the woods, she knows it's time at last to confront her phobia and hopefully banish it for good.  A long time student of Zen, she signs up for a session in the beautiful Redwoods, hoping that the monastery will provide her with the strength she needs.  But all is not well at the beautiful and rain drenched monastery in the woods; the Zen master, Leo Garson, along with the other live-in staff, seem to be holding some dark secrets, one involving the disappearance of a young student six years previously when the center first opened.  But the secrets this place holds are about to be revealed, along with a possible murder suspect, one of whom wears a face that Darcey has come to trust.

The setting for this new mystery from Dunlap is certainly unique enough, bringing with it both good and bad elements to the story.  Some might find the author's immense detailing of life in a Zen monastery a bit much, sometimes overwhelming the mystery itself, while others may actually enjoy the learning experience.  Either way, it's apparent Dunlap knows her stuff and she is able to effectively convey it for even the most uninformed.  So while this one might not be for everybody, those who like something different and the opportunity to pick up some knowledge will definitely want to give it a read.

 

 

Run Afoul by Joan Druett

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN:  0312353367

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards

If you like the smell of the sea and the taste of salt spray on your lips, the wind in your hair and the snap of sails on their rigging, then Run Afoul by talented author Joan Druett is a must read. 

Join William Coffin better known as Wiki on board the Vincennes while an American fleet sets out to make a scientific exploration of the world.  Wiki serves many functions without actually being assigned to any one task.  He is forced by circumstances to bunk with a scientist who does not want to share a room with a man who is half Maori.

When the man dies, Wiki finds himself in the dock as one of three men accused of having murdered the man. When not found guilty, he begins an investigation into what really happened and finds himself on a winding trail of adventure and danger. 

Just how did the scientist die?  What did his symptoms point to?  Follow the trail with Wiki in a well told tale of life at sea and meet the many interesting people who cross his path.  A complicated tale that will keep you reading.  A surprise ending awaits you.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

A Good Day to Die by Simon Kernick

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312349955

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

I was fortunate enough to review Simon Kernick’s The Crime Trade last year. His latest book, A Good Day to Die, is a worthy addition to his oeuvre.

Dennis Milne was a respected London police detective, seduced by frustration into killing those who received insufficient punishment. Then killing them for money. Eventually he got wrong information and killed three innocents, provoking his sudden reinvention as Philippines hotelier (and still occasional hit man) Mick Kane.

Kane’s problems start when he recognizes his next victim, another Brit ex-pat. Kane had decided to fake this one, letting the mark live while keeping the money. When Kane realizes this quarry killed a copper friend of his, Kane kills him and returns to England under his new moniker to sort things out.

The plot is satisfyingly intricate, never confusing. Kernick has a gift for layering on different levels of complexity, allowing the reader time to absorb new developments, but not telegraphing what they mean. Enough is told to allow your suspicions to move ahead without revealing anything before its time.  

Kernick works hard to make Milne/Kane as sympathetic a protagonist as can be made of a professional killer. This is no mean task, as Kernick isn’t mining the same sardonic vein as Lawrence Block does with his Keller stories. A Good Day to Die is relentlessly serious, playing the reader’s competing sensitivities against each other. Kane only kills those who deserve it, but even he realizes the dangers of one man playing judge, jury, and executioner with potentially incomplete information?

A Good Day to Die is written completely from inside Kane’s head, which is necessary as he explores his own ambivalence about the path he has chosen, wondering how outside forces have guided him. The first person perspective works well in that regard, but makes Kernick have to work hard to allow the reader’s mind to move ahead of the story, as you can never know more than Kane does.

Kernick’s no-nonsense style teases the reader from time to time with hints of a dry wit that slips into some scenes announced, and will slip out unnoticed if you’re not paying attention. Subtle as it is, Kernick is so good at it one can’t help but wish he’d do a little more, if only to break some of the stretches of dreariness in Kane’s life. Not that Kane would (or should) be a cut-up. The ending’s final depravity might seem much more so if some leavening had taken place elsewhere in the book.

Quibbling, that. A Good Day to Die is a solid read from a talented writer who shows every indication of continuing to grow. Simon Kernick is yet another of the current batch of Brit and Irish crime writers who keep things interesting on this side of the pond, where publishers seem more inclined to stay with formulaic projects. I may be wrong in my criticism of American publishers, but I’ll stand by my endorsement of Simon Kernick. He’s a welcome addition to any bookshelf.

 

 

 

Shadow of the Lords by Simon Levack

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 031234841X

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It is the early 16th century shortly before the conquistadors take over the Aztec lands.  Yaotl, an Aztec slave, is on the run looking for his son. He stumbles across a dismembered body and while trying to piece the clues together gets caught up in a diabolical plot of greed among the secret society of feather workers.  Trying to stay one step ahead of his master he must unravel this plot and find his son.

Leading you through the ancient Aztec world, which is woven around a fear of their gods, Levack spins a fascinating tale that keeps you glued to the pages.  He has created a main character who is intelligent, logical, disrespectful and loyal to his own concept of what is right.  The suspenseful ending leaves you filled with anticipation for the next novel.  I can hardly wait for the next segment of this marvelous tale.     

 

 

Knights of the Cross by Tom Harper

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312338708

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It is early in the 11th century, the crusades have begun, and Christian soldiers are pushing their way toward Jerusalem.  A multinational army from Christian countries have laid siege to Antioch. When an unarmed Norman solder is found murdered with a cross cut into his back and strange symbols painted on his forehead in blood, the Norman leader asks Demetrios Askiates, who has a reputation for unveiling truths, to investigate the death and report back to him.

With historical accuracy Harper has built a plot with all the strenghts/flaws, justices/injustices, and hopes/fears of the crusaders.  Demetrios observes, asks questions, investigates and fits puzzle pieces together until he is satisfied.  Serious historians will enjoy this for its accuracy and mystery fans will develop a genuine affinity with Demetrios.