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Dublin Noir: Celtic Tiger vs. The Ugly American  by Ken Bruen (Ed.)

Publishers: Akashic Books, ISBN: 1888451920

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

You get a juicy hot hamburger in your hands - your mouth drools and you take the first bite of the burger – and, mmmm, it’s wonderful.  And you are about to take the next bite when somebody snatches it away from you….. what would you feel? That’s precisely the feeling I got while reading Dublin Noir: Celtic Tigers vs. The Ugly American.  Let me tell you why.

Dublin Noir is, - I believe the best and only collection of suspense short stories by the modern best-selling suspense writers from Ireland and elsewhere. From Laura Lippman’s “The Honor Bar” to Gary Phillips’ “The Man for the Job” and from  “Taking on PJ" by Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame) to Kevin Wignall’s “The Death of Jeffers”- Dublin Noir offers an array of stories that have one thing in common - they all focus on the “Celtic Tigers vs. Ugly American” theme. What this theme really is - is simple, read the collection and you will find it out.

But for me, the best of the anthology is Pat Mullan’s “Tribunal” – which I compare with the above said hamburger story. “Tribunal” is not actually a short story - rather the first few pages of a novel. It is the story about Irish born American criminal lawyer Edmund Burke (who by the way has no relation to THE Edmund Burke), who returns to Ireland to defend one Dan Mortimer, a Celtic Tiger member in a class action suit. His return reunites Burke with Pia, his erstwhile girlfriend and presently the wife of a high ranking minister. But when, during trial, Burke gets his hands on some sensitive documents that conclusively points to the guilt of his clients, he has no option but to handover the same to the Tribunal. That decision proves foolish… and soon Burke finds himself implicated for the murder of Pia, and on…..- and thus ends “Tribunal”, keeping the reader on the needlepoint of suspense - frustrated - like as if a juicy hamburger has been snatched away from me.

A grand collection and an astounding suspense read - but I for one am waiting for the book of the work Tribunal.

 

Down and Dirty by Gammy L. Singer

Publisher: Kensington Publishing Group ISBN 0 7582 0895 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I have to confess I was prepared not to like this book.  Flicking through it and spotting a great deal of rough language, and an assortment of apparent low-life characters, I thought it was definitely not my type of book.

Well, apologies to Gammy L Singer: after a couple of chapters I had been drawn into the plot and really began to care what happened to the hapless landlord Amos Brown and the old man Deacon Steadman.  The rough talk became part of the background noise and ceased to intrude.

It's winter in Harlem, Christmas is coming, Amos's tenants are having a harder than usual time coming up with their rent, and to top it off, there's a new disease, a nameless plague that is beginning to kill people in the black community.  They don't have a name for it: some are calling it "gay man's cancer".  Singer has chosen to set her story in the recent past, just far enough back so the reader finds herself mentally yelling, "Hey, hey, it's AIDS, man, watch out!" as people start to sicken and die very fast.

Not all of them are dying of aids: Dap Jones was murdered, and the cops believe the frail old Deacon Steadwell did it.  Seems there's a matter of a rack full of high-grade mink coats that the Deacon liberated and Dap made off with.  Motive enough, the police think. Amos has put up his rundown brownstones as surety for the Deacon's bail; then the old man vanishes. 

Amos thinks there's more to this case than simple revenge between thieves, and sets about finding the missing old man and identifying the real murderer.   Before long he runs into a duplicitous woman or two; a slick lawyer who wants to be a politician; an ex-girlfriend, a collection of ladies of negotiable virtue, and the very early outriders of the Russian Mafia.   Every step of his investigation brings him closer to serious trouble.  The scenes in the tunnel under New York will haunt you long after you finish reading the book.

If you like your mysteries dark and gritty, and don't mind if the ending isn't all music and roses, read this book. (And someone tell Jerry Bruckheimer he might have another hit series here if he moves fast.)

 

 

Watch Your Back! by Donald E. Westlake

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN: 0446617121

Watch Your Back! is a sunlit mystery of great charm in which there is nary a threat of violence; and indeed, no character dies within the pages of this book.  Instead, we are taken on an enjoyable and easy-going journey, paced at a tempo that is trad jazz rather than techno, that seems to end much too soon.

This is the set-up.  John Dortmunder and crew have a simple plan: to rob the vacant penthouse of a venture capitalist playboy, one Preston Fareweather, whilst he is out of the country, lapping up the sun in the Caribbean and trying to keep out of reach of the clutches of his ex-wives.  Along the way, though, they are waylaid into saving the O.J., because it is their favourite bar and has fallen into the hands of New Jersey mobsters.  Can Dortmunder's crew thwart the mob's attempt to make a "bust-out joint" out of the O.J.?  Will they be able to focus once more on the main event, to "make the score", as Parker (another of Westlake's a.k.a. Richard Stark’s great iconic characters) might put it?  As usual with Dortmunder and Co., we are taken on a rollercoaster adventure that is by turns unfortunate and fortuitous, where everything manages to go wrong but somehow it's all for the best.

Westlake has been called a humorous writer, as he is, and it is a subtle humor that derives in part from a great sense of character, an acute ear for dialogue, and an absurd and often acerbic view of everyday existence.  A small example, to illustrate: Otto Medrick, a curmudgeonly old guy, is forced to return to New York for business reasons.  "How'd you like it, a dozen New York City wholesalers coming after you?" he complains to John Dortmunder.  When Dortmunder replies that he wouldn't like it, Medrick goes into this glorious riff about said wholesalers:

These are guys, don't want you to return that deposit bottle, they got uses for that nickel.  Florida is not far enough away, Mars is not far enough away, you stiff those guys, they'll eat your flesh, a little more every day. 

In a recent B.B.C. interview, Ed. McBain made the astute comment that all great mystery series are primarily about “a family in a house” - familiar characters, their various foibles and relationships, in a well-known setting.  The Dortmunder novels admirably fit the bill in this regard, and in Watch Your Back! we welcome a new arrival to the “family” in the form of Judson, a teenage initiate into Dortmunder’s world of capers and cons.

To get some idea of the ambient charm of Westlake’s achievement in Watch Your Back! try to imagine what The Asphalt Jungle would have been like if it had been written by Peter de Vries.  It is that good.

 

 

Death of the Party by Carolyn Hart

Publisher:  Avon ISBN:  0060004770

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Annie and Max Darling at their best. Reminiscent of Agatha Christie's tale of people stranded in a lavish house on an island, Death of the Party is equally as enjoyable and baffling.

Britt Barlow hires Max to help her catch a killer who will be one of several invited guests who will be spending the weekend on her island called Golden Silk. He agrees because he senses she is placing herself in danger by refusing to take the matter to the police.

The guests are the same people who were present on the island the weekend Jeremiah Addison was found dead by Britt. She thought she was the only one who knew his death wasn't an accident, but a mysterious letter hinting at blackmail proves her wrong so she brings them together again to identify the letter writer.

Red herrings, false clues, vanishing guests, lies and omissions all point at different people as the would-be blackmailer, but another murder and a disappearing handyman give the hunt a nasty turn and the book a surprising twist at the end. 

Altogether a fun read. Talented Carolyn Hart gives her fans a treat as they follow the Darlings on this latest adventure in murder.  A delightful story that will keep you glued to your chair.  Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

 

Company Man by Joseph Finder

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks ISBN: 0312939426

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Hard to believe it's possible that Finder could top his last success with the corporate thriller "Paranoia" but that's exactly what he does with his latest.  Not only can you find the requisite devious corporate moves, but even more enticing is the sincerity, heart, and sometimes just plain madness brought about by a truly inspired cast of characters. 

Nick Conover, CEO of a high-end furniture corporation, was once the golden boy who had it all.  Small town boy rising above his blue-collar roots to make it big, along with the perfect family, life couldn't get better.  But it could get worse.  First there are the company lay-offs, followed by the backlash of an angry town and threats to his family, and then the topper-- his wife's tragic death.  Now he's a single dad barely hanging on with things about to get even worse when one of those threats escalates into homicide. 

Convinced by his Chief of Security to cover it up, Nick now lives in fear which only grows when he discovers that there's some funny business going on behind his back at the corporation.  With no one to trust, and with his family life also falling apart, Nick finds his life rapidly spinning out of control.  What follows is a breathless page turner culminating in a shocking ending that is impossible to see coming.    

This must read comes highly recommended for its stunning suspense, intelligent writing and gripping plot, along with a cast of characters that are so perfectly drawn they seem to fairly leap off the page; including the gently intelligent family man Nick, his evil arch-rivals- of which there are plenty, as well as the truly good and kind detective Audrey, her obnoxious sidekick, and  Nick's love interest, the emotionally fragile, Cassie.  When you put all these ingredients together, you have one heck of a perfect read that shouldn't be missed.        

For more info on Joseph Finder and his previous titles, visit www.josephfinder.com

 

All the Flowers Are Dying by Lawrence Block

Publisher: HarperTorch ISBN: 0061038961

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

A new book from Grand Master Block is always exciting. A new Matthew Scudder book is cause for a fuss.

Scudder has always been Block's franchise player. Oh sure, there's the Burglar series, and Keller is popular as well. Not to mention his stand-alones: Small Town was one of the more compelling reactions to the horrors of 9/11 ever published.

But Matthew Scudder's chronicles are some rarified air indeed. No other character in the genre has gone through more changes, overcome more obstacles than Manhattan's longtime protector. So it's with considerable excitement that we greet the newest chapter in Scudder's life, All The Flowers Are Dying.

The book opens simply enough, weaving Matt's meeting with an soon-to-be-ex-cop, angling for some PI work, into a story of the pending Virginia execution of a convicted multiple-child-murderer. The evidence is overwhelming, of course. And the inmate is professing his innocence. Another big surprise, right?

Then, we meet the Monster of our story, introduced to us as a psychologist doing a "profile" of death-row inmates who so fiercely maintain that innocence.

No spoiler warning needed to clue you in that the scenario plays out differently than expected. Block uses this as an introduction to his villain, and believe us when we tell you, this guy is beyond creepy. We're talking a character of Lecterian proportions, folks.

Once that is established, we are back in Manhattan, at locations so familiar to readers of the series. To be able to once again peer into the lives of Scudder, his wife Elaine, their friend TJ and the Irish Wonder that is Mick Ballou, is to feel at home with friends.

Block has done what so many series authors will not do, and that's age Scudder in real time.

It's a neat trick to do this, rather than to keep him timeless and of the moment. It imposes all sorts of boundaries on a writer, but than again it allows a character to evolve in a more organic fashion. For every "action-tool" that Scudder's age denies Block, there are elements of the man that more than compensate, making the resultant action seem more fierce, not less.

Block is very skilled at making us feel comfortable with these people. He uses Manhattan as a character to help do this. We relax as Matt moves within his universe in places and situations we know; from the AA meetings that provide both plot and theme underpinnings, to a seemingly unrelated case involving a fellow member and her new boyfriend. At which point, he ratchets things up a notch by bringing the horror home, when a friend of Elaine's is murdered in grisly fashion.

Now, Block is writing at full force. With the very real possibility that he and Elaine are the monster's next target,we're pulled deep into Scudder's head, and the moral and physical issues that such threats create.

Block moves effortlessly between narratives as Scudder and the monster careen towards each other. The resultant final third of the book is written at a deceptively break-neck pace, and boils into a finale that brings the whole history of the characters into laser-sharp focus. Of course, you'll be too busy freaking out to notice that until it's over.

Hey, not for nothing is he a Grand Master, after all....

 

 

Killing Kelly by Heather Graham

Publisher: Mira ISBN: 0778322777

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Kelly Trent is the main star in the soap opera Valentine Valley . She plays the part of Marla Valentine, the youngest of three sisters, and is a bitter, man- hating woman who is free with her advice on how to deal with men.  On the set Kelly has an accident that could have cost her life.  The writers put Marla in a coma and Kelly, with not much else to do, accepts an offer to dance the tango in a music video.  The only problem is that she doesn't know how to dance.

Ally Bassett, Kelly's business manager, hires dance instructor Doug O'Casey to teach her.  Only Ally knows that Doug is also a private investigator who used to be a cop, and because there have been other deaths of industry stars like Kelly, they fear that that she may be next, and so it's his job to protect her.

Once again Graham has given the reader a wonderful romantic murder mystery.  Very intricately she develops an escalating plot to hold the reader enthralled.  Action, romance and human emotions are expertly woven into the fabric of the novel.  Heather Graham fans will love this one.

 

 

Missing Persons By Stephen White

Publisher: Signet ISBN: 0451215753

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Boulder therapist Alan Gregory makes another very welcomed return, and if you haven't read the previous, don't worry, this is a great place to start.  In this latest gripping read from White, the coinciding of several strange events once again places our dear Doctor in the precarious position of choosing between moral and professional ethics which, unfortunately, are not always one and the same.

Alan and his office mate, Diane, are shocked when they discover another therapist's body in an empty office, and as the woman was a very close friend of Diane's, she is hit hard by the mysterious death.  Meanwhile, a young teen girl who has ties to the dead therapist goes missing on Christmas night, reminding the community of another little girl who went missing the same night 8 years previous.  And when Diane decides to take a trip to Vegas to look into these strange events, she too goes missing. 

Alan, remaining in Boulder, covertly investigates things at home, while he is being kept  abreast of the situation in Vegas through Diane's husband.  And when one of his patients begins to hint that he may know something about all that has been happening, things take on an even more ominous tone.  So once again Alan finds himself walking the tightrope between confidentiality and helping a friend whose disappearance has left him reeling and shaken to the core.    

As usual, White puts forth an astoundingly thrilling read filled with characters that are amazingly human and original.  This inventive and exciting read flies by much too quickly and reaching the end is only disappointing in that, well, it's the end.  This is one author who never fails to astound, entertain, and amaze, and for that we will gladly welcome his return anytime.

 

 

SEE ISABELLE RUN  by Elizabeth Bloom

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN 0446617180

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader  

Left in the lurch at the church, and stuck with an expensive apartment that she can't afford , Isabelle does what any smart girl would do: puts on her best clothes, eats a slice of bread and peanut butter, and lands a job with a TV show.

Becky Belden is a hard-driving, mean-spirited greedy person who hides all that under a public persona of charm and sympathy.  But she provides a paycheck and that's what Isabelle needs right now.  The fact that a lot of Becky's former staff members have died recently and mysteriously  is probably just a coincidence….or is it?

Before you can say "almost electrocuted in my own bathtub by a burglar who didn't steal anything", Isabelle discovers she's in a seriously dangerous place..  The police don't seem to understand that all the deaths are linked and that the suicides are anything but, so what's a girl to do? She can't afford to quit the job, so she decides to solve the mysteries, with the aid of her friend Trevor. 

Things go from bad to worse when the evidence begins to point towards Mac Collins, the new man in Isabelle's life, and a senior staffer at Becky's production company. 

There's a shocking climax where everything comes together with a loud click, just a little bit too late for Isabelle to take her knowledge to the police.  Then salvation appears, but quickly proves to be false, then there's another ray of hope, and--

Anyway, read it for yourself.  It's a quick read, no more than two hours for a fast reader, and it will leave you with a nice up-beat feeling.  This is bound to turn into a series: the very likeable Isabelle will have to find a new job, and I just know that will be somewhere else with a secret, a crime, or a mystery for her to investigate..

Full marks for a good maiden effort.

 

With No One as Witness by Elizabeth George

Publisher: HarperTorch ISBN: 0060545615

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Coming in at just a bit over 600 pages, one would think that this latest from George would get tedious after a while.  But, amazingly, this is far from the case as George puts forth a stunning and gripping read that sustains its suspense entirely throughout. 

When a body shows up of a young boy who has been ritualistically murdered, New Scotland Yard fears that a serial killer may be in their midst.  Further investigation proves that he was not the first, as three others had come before, three other young boys killed in the same brutal manner.  But as they were of mixed race, the deaths were not treated with the same diligence as they deserved, creating a political maelstrom from the public.  And now it's up to Acting Superintendent Thomas Lynley and his team, including the demoted Barbara Havers and the recently promoted DI Winton, to track this vicious killer.

Perhaps because of its length, George has managed to flesh out each and every character to almost pure brilliance.  Barbara, one of my favorites, is so vividly realistic and human, with her disheveled but compassionate manner, it's impossible not to feel along with her the burdens and pitfalls of her position.  And the investigation itself reads as if Scotland Yard had dictated a real case.  A luminous and intoxicating read, with never a moment of boredom or disbelief, George has created a cast of characters and a plot of biblical proportions that every reader will surely gobble up.  Don't miss this one, it's worth every minute.