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THE SAPPHIRE SEA by John B Robinson

Publisher: Wm Morrow/HarperCollins ISBN 0 06 052725 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Throughout history, a handful of great gem stones have captured the imagination and fired the cupidity of adventurers, both real and armchair.  The Hope Diamond, the Star of India, and others have left a trail of blood and intrigue before coming to rest in museums and royal jewel repositories.

It's therefore not hard to foresee that when gem trader Lonny Cushman buys a gigantic first-water sapphire from a Madagascan peasant, his path back to Fifth Avenue is not going to be an easy one.

Lonny at 27 is still stuck in a protracted adolescence and trying to find the meaning of life, or at least, his life, by wandering the world.   The finding of the perfect stone is like the match to the fuse: it sets off a series of violent events and pushes Lonny's ability to survive to the outermost limits.

The story is peopled from Central Casting: the sexy diplomat who sees
Lonny's dilemma as her way back to civilization; the corrupt army officer; the gruff but urbane expatriate Frenchman; the devoted servant; the Church of England Bishop who sees good in everyone; the bored yachtsman with a past--but it is the great exotic island of Madagascar itself that plays the main supporting role in the story.  You will be  able to smell the steamy jungle, feel the snatching thorn trees, taste the salt tang from the moon-silvered beach as you follow Lonny's desperate flight.

You can forgive Robinson for his excessive fondness for adjectives when
you get to the middle of the book where the escape through northern
Madagascar becomes the focus of the action.  It's a trek worthy of Dirk Pitt himself, and more believable because Cushman, unlike Pitt, doesn't make a career of hair-breadth escapes, and every modest bit of progress comes at a high and bloody price.  Along the way he loses, one by one, his traveling companions, until at last he reaches temporary salvation.

Reaching temporary physical safety is one thing; being able to parley the giant sapphire into the means to start the new life that has begun to coalesce in Lonny's thoughts is yet another matter.  The great blue stone, drenched in metaphorical as well as actual blood, has one final task before it passes from his keeping to pursue its destiny.

If you like a rollicking adventure but find the block-buster 800-page epics a bit too much to handle, you'll like this one.

 

Dangerous Curves by Judith Skillings

Publisher: Avon  ISBN: 0060583193

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Former D. C. reporter Rebecca Moore now restores classic auto in a shop she inherited from her uncle.  When the body of a stripper shows up in an old Bentley, her ex con employees are the prime suspects.  Rebecca decides to go undercover at the strip club to find the real murderer because more bodies keep surfacing.  When Detective Mick Hagan starts hanging around she is confident that she will have backup, and maybe even something a little nicer than just backup, maybe even a little romance?

Skillings knows everything there is to know about restoring classic cars and creating characters that skip through the pages picking up clues and fending off bad guys.  Rebecca is extremely independent and goes her own way regardless of what anyone tells her to do.  This is a good read.

 

In the Moon of Red Ponies by James Lee Burke

Publisher: Pocket Books. ISBN: 0-7434-6664-0

Reviewed by Tim Davis, University of West Florida for New Mystery Reader

“Before it’s over, the body count will be higher than anyone could have ever imagined. I’m talking about right here at home. None of us will be unaffected.” That is what one character says in the early moments of James Lee Burke’s latest—and probably best—Billy Bob Holland novel, In the Moon of Red Ponies.

The protagonist of In the Moon of Red Ponies, Billy Bob Holland, attorney and former Texas Ranger, appeared first in Cimarron Rose where he faced the difficult challenge of clearing his son Lucas who was charged with rape and murder. Then, in Heartwood, Holland was drawn into a simple case of larceny that rapidly escalated into a harrowing case involving tremendous wealth, complicated motives, and an epidemic of lies. Later, in Bitterwood, having been summoned by a friend to Missoula, Montana, Holland and his family left Texas and had a terrifying encounter with the extraordinarily treacherous Wyatt Dixon, the ex-biker and rodeo clown that Holland’s wife Temple would understandably later characterize as a “psychopathic bucket of shit.”

Now, in Burke’s superb fourth addition to the excellent series, Holland faces even bigger challenges when he sets out to represent Johnny American Horse, a Native American activist who draws Holland into a dangerous and complicated case involving big business, politics, corruption, sexual intrigue, blackmail, and—of course—plenty of murder. To make matters even worse for Holland and his family, Wyatt Dixon—because of a legal technicality—is released from prison after serving only one year of a sixty year sentence. And when Dixon returns to Missoula, things fall apart. Holland’s exposure to danger is rapidly growing, and his options for success—or even survival—are becoming seriously limited. Holland realizes he will need some allies he can trust. Holland, though, has good reason to wonder: Who are the enemies? Who are the friends? Is there anyone at all who remains trustworthy?

Everything that happens in In the Moon of Red Ponies, as Holland himself as the narrator observes, is a story “about the presence of courage, self-sacrifice, and humility in people from whom we don’t expect those qualities.” Those lofty abstractions aside, Burke’s novel is about all of that and more. It is also a fascinating character study, an intricately plotted mystery, a fast-paced adventure, and a whole lot of fun. Burke, well-known for fourteen superb Dave Robicheaux novels (beginning with Neon Rain and culminating in the forthcoming Crusader’s Cross, each of them set in Louisiana Bayou country), proves again in his fourth Billy Bob Holland novel that he is equally adept at writing a great Western novel that just happens to be a darn good mystery. Let us just selfishly hope that Burke keeps on writing these great page-turners forever!

 

Lethal Lies by Laurie Breton

Publisher:  MIRA  ISBN:  0-7783-2151-7

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

Reporter Chelsea Logan has finally gotten her personal life in order and when she uncovers the story that will make her career, her future seems rosy.  But on her way home that night, she drives off the road into a river.  Chief of police Ty Savage doesn’t believe she killed herself, and neither does her cousin, Faith Pelletier.

Faith, a successful writer in New York, returns to the Maine town she left eighteen years earlier to attend Chelsea’s funeral and take custody of her fifteen year old daughter, Jessie.  Faith finds her hometown of Serenity anything but serene.  Racial tensions are running high since the arrival of Somali immigrants, the economy is depressed, and drug use among teenagers is rampant.  Which problem was Chelsea investigating before her accident?  When Faith begins to ask questions around town, she becomes a target for the unknown killer, but fortunately, her high school crush Ty is as eager to protect her as she is to be protected.  Ultimately, Faith’s rescue from the surprising killer comes from an even more unexpected source.

Part mystery, part romance, in Lethal Lies, author Laurie Breton has crafted an absorbing story in a memorable setting, reminiscent of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls.  Breton does an excellent job evoking the “Maine tourists never see.”  She also creates a very sympathetic character in the teenaged Jessie, who shows more maturity than most of the adults.  No stranger to grief, Faith displays a peculiar lack of empathy for her young cousin’s loss.

 

The Irish Village Murder by Dicey Deere

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312996748

Reviewed by C.J. Curry, New Mystery Reader

Dicey Deere. Isn’t that an absolutely delightful name? If she was born with this name, then we know for sure where she got her imagination! She has written a very cozy little Irish tale.

So typical of small town life or village life. Everyone knows everything about everyone else’s business. But no one seems to know how or who committed this awful murder. John Gwathney, noted historian and writer has been brutally murdered in the parlor of his home, Gwathney Hall. And with a shotgun. And this being hunting country where everyone has a shotgun for birds and hares and the like. What a mixup!

Our heroine, Torrey Tunet, has been away on a translating job in Warsaw. On the bus from the airport to Ballynagh, her home, she can only think of a nice warm supper, a warm bath and bed. She planned to stop in to Coyle’s Market for milk and bread with perhaps some nice ham paste for a light supper and then on to her cottage ten minutes from the village. Also on the bus is a small, timid seeming girl about eight years old. Torrey hadn’t even noticed her. When the bus stopped the driver told the girl where she was to wait for her aunt. So Torrey headed on to Coyle’s for her supplies. Ten minutes later, however, when Torrey came out of the market, the little girl was still waiting. It was getting dark and men were stumbling out of O’Malley’s Pub. Torrey couldn’t just leave the girl stranded so she crossed the street to offer assistance to the child. Upon learning that ‘the auntie’ was Megan O’Faolain, a friend, Torrey heaved a sigh of relief. Megan was very dependable and she felt sure they would meet Megan upon the path to Gwathney Hall. But, alas, no. It was not to be! Upon arriving at Gwathney Hall the pair found all the lights blazing and the front door standing ajar. Entering the front hall and calling out for Megan, Torrey went through the arched doorway into the parlor. Seeing a vase of hyacinths overturned on the carpet, Torrey bent over to pick them up. As she straightened, she saw John Gwathney, in his chair with a huge red flower blossoming on his chest!

And so it begins. Torrey Tunet an American who speaks and writes a dozen different languages, was also a part time sleuth. Nosey was what Inspector O’Hare and Sergeant Bryson of the local police called her. Torrey had been in Ballynagh for a couple of years as it was a good jumping off place for all of her European jobs of interpreting and translating. And she had run afoul of Inspector O’Hare before. Her curiosity sometimes just wouldn’t let Torrey leave matters alone. We meet all of the local characters in this tale, Winifred Moore and her friend/publisher/companion, Sheila Flaxton who reside most of the time in Castle Moore which Winifred had inherited three years before. Roger Flannery, assistant to and researcher for John Gwathney. Roger lives in Gwathney Hall part time when the two are working on a book. Otherwise he lives in Dublin. Liam Caffrey, potter and reputed lover of Megan O’Faolain, has a small cottage and shop down the road from Gwathney Hall. And then we have Blake Rossiter, an art dealer who has a gallery in Dublin but spends his weekends in Ballynagh. Supposedly to paint, hunt and fish. And then we have the Owen and Constance Thorpe family who reside in Castle Creedon in Baltimore. Castle Creedon figures in an ancient raid by Algerian pirates known as ‘The Sack of Baltimore’ where the pirates kidnapped and carried away over a hundred of its citizens, including the young couple and their child who resided in the Castle. These plus a few other characters comprise the cast for The Irish Village Murder. They all have their definite personalities. Different but yet so alike in their small town ways.

Ms Deere has written a very clever and witty story. I did enjoy reading about Ballynagh and it’s denizens with all their foibles. I will be looking forward to the next Torrey ( confessed chocoholic) Tunet adventure. I hope it isn’t long.

 

Wind Spirit by Aimee and David Thurlo

Publisher: Forge ISBN: 0765343975

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Ella Clah, an investigator on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico makes a stunning return in this latest thrilling adventure from the Thurlos.  While attending a land purification ceremony, Ella is fortunate enough to be within rescuing distance when her nephew almost falls down a mine shaft, but shortly after rescuing him, finds herself suddenly covered by the same suffocating sand.  Before she herself can be rescued, she has an extraordinary experience in which she meets with loved ones who have died, and is not sure later if she’s had an after life experience, or simply was having hallucinations because she was oxygen deprived.  But she is even more stunned, and then dismayed, when upon her return to the living, she discovers that she is now considered a pariah amongst many of her fellow citizens because of her brush with death, as many fear she may now be e tainted with evil.

Meanwhile, she must also continue her investigation into the current crimes of arson and vandalism that have been threatening the reservation, crimes that are arising from the ongoing debate over gun control, a debate that is provoking very strong emotions on both sides.  And as she becomes a target of increasingly sinister events, she must uncover who is behind it; those who see her as an evil threat, or those who will stop at nothing to make their point, because whoever it is is getting increasingly closer and more dangerous every day.   

An enchanting and enlightening journey into Navajo traditionalism, modernism, and life on a reservation, the Thurlos take their readers on yet another thrilling ride through the deserts of New Mexico. Ella is a wonderful combination of strength and dedication, serving her people with a passion and respect that is dignified and graceful, and in this novel that explores the conflicts between the old and the new ways, she simply shines.  Suspenseful, mystical, and just plain exciting, this read comes highly recommended.       

 

The Body of David Hayes by Ridley Pearson

Publisher: Hyperion Press ISBN: 0786890010

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

This latest outing featuring Seattle Detective Lou Boldt finds the detective caught in the crossfire between loyalty to his wife and loyalty to his job when danger comes knocking on his very own front door.  Several years ago, his wife Liz had an affair with a co-worker David Hayes, and although the affair was short-lived, the repercussions are anything but when it’s discovered that Hayes had embezzled several million dollars that now the Feds, the bank, and Russian mob want back, and Liz is one of the few who has the security clearance and knowledge to make it all happen.   So now it’s up to Boldt to navigate these dangerous waters to come up with a scheme that will not only keep his wife safe, but protect their future as a family as well.      

It’s Pearson’s incredible sense of timing and pace that bring this non-stop action thriller to life.  Racing from scenes of electrifying tension to scenes of marital intimacy and discord, Pearson presents a heady balance that makes the most of this rousing plot and these convincing characters.  Now we just need to wait for the movie….     

 

Blinded by Stephen White

 

Publisher: Dell ISBN: 0440237432

 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

 

This latest suspense featuring Boulder, Colorado psychologist Alan Gregory is perhaps one of the best in the series.  When an old client contacts Gregory and shares with him a shocking secret; that she believes her husband may have killed a woman, maybe several, Alan is caught in a conundrum in how much information he can divulge to the police.  Meanwhile, his best friend Sam is recovering from a heart-attack, when he somehow becomes unofficially involved in the case as well.  And as the two men search for answers independently from one another, they must also face some personal crisis’s as well. 

 

Not only is this latest filled with the characters we have grown to love, but they seem to have gotten even better in this highly engaging and suspenseful tale of madness, marriage, and murder.  Part of the book is written from Sam’s perspective, adding a wonderfully fresh and appealing viewpoint.  We get to see Sam like never before, and his vulnerabilities and his courage are tenderly portrayed with a sweet realism.  Everything one might love in a great mystery is here in abundance: appealing characters, unabated suspense, rapid-paced plotting, and of course, intelligence and depth.  Kudos to Mr. White for keeping things real and keeping them fresh.  

 

The Dead Stone by Vickie Stiefel

Publisher: Leisure Books ISBN: 0843955201

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Boston homicide counselor Tally Whyte has seen her fair share of death and mystery but she's totally unprepared for what is about to come next.  Receiving a mysterious phone call one night, she's left baffled and confused.  The call, concerning her father and her hometown of Winsworth, Maine, brings up some bad memories, memories of her and her father leaving town in the dead of night, their home engulfed in flames behind them.  So Tally, now determined, feels she has no choice but to head out to her childhood home to solve the mystery once and for all. 

But upon arriving she is faced with a new mystery; the very recent murder of a childhood acquaintance, one who seemed to have many admirers, but just as many enemies.  And as she delves into this new mystery, she will have to confront the people of this small seemingly idyllic town whose secrets are many.  And as even more deaths occur it becomes obvious that someone is willing to kill to keep their secrets, and the closer she comes to the truth, the closer she comes to danger.

High on suspense, this wonderfully gripping tale is just about impossible to put down.  Tally, an appealing heroine, is full of life and determination, and following her as she dismantles the clues is a wild and entertaining ride throughout.  And with the charming setting of Maine adding the perfect backdrop to this chilling story of small town secrets, there is a perfect ambiance to enjoy as well.  We look forward to Tally's return, and hope she decides to make Winsworth, Maine a permanent part of her life.         

 

Fairway to Heaven by Roberta Isleib

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN:  0-425-20155-4

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

Cassie Burdette is not eagerly anticipating her trip to Pinehurst, North Carolina.  She is competing in a golf tournament with her moody sometime-boyfriend Mike Callahan and her formerly estranged father as her partners.  At the same time, she will be participating in a number of bizarre social engagements in her capacity as maid of honor in her friend Jeanine Peters’ wedding.  And the weekend will culminate in Cassie donning an unflattering aubergine gown for the nuptials.

As it turns out, her golf game and the ugly dress are the least of Cassie’s worries.  The poor play of Cassie’s partners quickly eliminates her team from the tournament, permitting her to devote her full attention to the disappearance of the bride’s father, retired Marine officer Dan Peters.  Is his vanishing act related to the murder of town councilman Junior Mammele?  And what about the discovery of a dead body on land owned by Peters — land that is slated for development, despite efforts by Mammele to block it? When the family receives a ransom note, they ask Cassie to redouble her efforts to find Peters. 

With the help of golf psychologist Joe Lancaster and caddy Laura Snow, Cassie unravels the mystery, despite the distractions of a disintegrating relationship and an attempt on her own life.

Don’t permit the subtitle, “A Golf Lovers Mystery,” to scare non-golfers away from this fine story.  With the aid of a glossary at the back of the book, the golf scenes make sense.  What will strain credulity is Mammele’s murder by a sniper at a bridal shower, and the bride’s family’s ability to come up with a million dollars in ransom money in the middle of the night.  But Cassie and her friends are such likable, sympathetic characters that readers will be easily swept into this genuinely fun mystery.

 

The Narrows by Michael Connelly

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN: 0446611646

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader 

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch thriller The Narrows is an exciting and wonderful read, and one that should no be missed by his ardent fans.

This time round, all favorite Connelly protagonists including Bosch, Rachel Walling  and Terry McCaleb come together in this suspense mystery, the best work by Connelly since Blood Work and City of Bones.

FBI Agent Rachel Walling gets a call she had long expected, a call from Robert Backus, the sinister villain whom we first met in The Poet. It seems that he has a score to settle with Walling. Harry Bosch, former LAPD Detective and presently family man to the core also receives a call. But this call is a plea for help. Garciela McCaleb, wife of Terry McCaleb (of Blood Work fame) asks Harry for help. Terry McCaleb has died and that too under mysterious circumstances, and she requests Bosch to investigate into the matter. Bosch’s investigation leads him to Backus- and so together with Agent Walling, Bosch investigates the matter. What follows is usual Connelly suspense and action ending in a stunning and totally unexpected twist in the tale finish.

In many ways The Narrows can be considered to be the sequel to The Poet- but at the same time it’s also a stand-alone novel. But I believe, The Narrows will be enjoyed more by ardent Connelly fans, rather than the regular mystery reader.   I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it very, very much.

 

SOUTHERN FRIED By Cathy Pickens

Publisher: St. Martin's ISBN: 0312995539

Reviewed by C.J. Curry, New Mystery Reader

How refreshing to read a good old-fashioned murder mystery! No gimmicks, no psychological terror, no horrid brutality, just good reading. But after all, this novel won the annual St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Contest as the Best Traditional Mystery in 2003. Cathy Pickens has come up with some real characters for this story. As only a small town person could. People in a small town rub elbows with the ‘characters’ every day. Take Donlee Griggs. He is in love with our heroine, Avery Andrews, but since he is less than desirable plus being a little on the stupid side, Avery won’t look at him twice. So what does he do but make life miserable for the local law enforcement people (and Avery) by calling in false ‘emergencies’. Such as claiming to have murdered Pee Vee Probert and having thrown Pee Vee’s body off the bridge. Thereby causing the rescue teams to spend the morning dragging the river for a body.

Avery had been a highly paid lawyer in Charleston until she had been fired for badgering her own expert witness on the stand . Never mind the fact that the man was deliberately lying to help Avery win the case. And under oath! Anyway, Avery came home to small town Dacus, South Carolina, where she grew up and attended school with the likes of Donlee and Sheriff L.J. Peters. L.J had been Avery’s worst nightmare in elementary school with her bullying, but had eased off some by the time they reached high school. L.J was enjoying tormenting Avery about Donlee’s escapade.

Avery’s great Aunts were not taking it much better. Great Aunt Letha and Great Aunt Vinnie were retired school teachers while Great Aunt Hattie had married and raised a brood of five children. Great Aunt Letha was a little intimidating as she spoke what was on her mind as a rule. Sylvie and Harrison Garnet considered themselves the Elite in Dacus. Owners of a furniture making plant Harrison has employed half the town. And goodness, butter wouldn’t melt in Sylvie’s mouth. And now her son is running for governor. Take all these great characters and add Cathy Pickens fine touch with a pen and you have a great read. I enjoyed it very much and I suspect we will hear a lot more from Avery Andrews and Cathy Pickens. Plus I hope there is more of Sheriff L.J. Peters and the other ‘characters of Dacus.

 

The Laws of Invisible Things by Frank Huyler

 Publisher: Picador ISBN: 0312424523

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Sometimes it feels as if the characters in this tale are being viewed under water or through a great fog, and that is probably the point.  Almost sleepwalking through life, Dr. Michael Grant isn’t awakened until a young patient of his dies and, feeling that he was remiss in his duties in attending to the young girl's symptoms, Dr. Grant agrees to see the infant's father who is now exhibiting odd symptoms of some unidentified disease.  And when Michael himself lands in the hospital with the same symptoms, he is just about the only one who suspects something unknown has struck.   

Although this novel would be hard-pressed to be identified as a mystery in the genre-related sense, it still holds the reader enthralled with its subtle dosages of suspense and its unique voice.  Written by an author who is a poet as well and an ER physician, both elements come through with words that not only provocatively flow and provide a very distinctive feel and emotion, but through the occasional glimpses of medical knowledge.  The dismal solitude of an unexamined life is brilliantly portrayed, and Dr. Grant’s slow awakening is akin to the clouds clearing after a dreary rain.      

 

The Promise of a Lie by Howard Roughan

Publisher: Warner Vision ISBN: 0446615358

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Manhattan psychologist Dr. David Remler is still getting over the death of his young wife when a mysterious patient enters his life.  Samantha Kent, a beautiful young woman, claims that she’s thinking of killing her husband, and is hoping therapy will help her get over her anger and hatred towards the man, and even though Remler feels a definite attraction, he can’t help but agree to see her.  Remler’s feelings continue to grow so that by the time she calls saying she has killed her husband, Remler rushes right over prepared to play the knight in shining armor, and is totally unprepared for what comes next.  It seems that he is to be the fall-guy in an insidious and clever plot of revenge and murder, and it’s going to take all his wits to find out what is really going on, and to reclaim the life he is now ready to live again.

This diabolical and twisted plot is so cleverly and grippingly rendered that once the reading has started, be prepared to stay at it until it’s finished.  All those wonderful reviewer cliché’s apply here: “heart-pounding suspense”…”a roller-coaster of a ride”…”stunning”….you get the picture.  The characters are also noteworthy, with the villain(s) being wickedly depraved, yet intelligently devious, and the good guys giving it right back.  Not to be missed, this one comes highly recommended for those who love their thrillers to be intelligent, well-written, and devious as sin.