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Fade To Clear by Leonard Chang

 Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312308450

Allen Choice, a P.I. in the Bay area, is quite content to handle the simple cases such as insurance fraud and corporate espionage, so when his ex-girlfriend approaches him about her missing niece, he has his doubts.  Not only is his current girlfriend against the idea, but when he discovers that the previous P.I. assigned to the case died of unnatural causes, he knows it’s only going to bring trouble.  But unable to say no, he starts investigating and soon finds himself up against drug smuggling, money laundering, and murder.  And when a tragedy of epic proportions strikes, he finds himself sinking further into this morass of criminal behavior and danger that seems to be getting closer and closer to those he loves.

Mixing investigative techniques, philosophy, past regrets, and current love woes, Chang builds his story slowly but surely.  And while Choice is a highly agreeable character, sometimes it still feels as if the reader is far removed from the heart and soul of what is truly going on…perhaps it’s the style of the book, which is written in the present tense and which sometimes comes off sounding distant and cold.  But strangely enough, the story is anything but, and so in the final analysis, this intelligent and brooding mystery will most likely appeal to many, while leaving others inexplicably unfulfilled.     

 

A Defense For The Dead by Michael Fredrickson

Publisher: Forge; 1st edition ISBN: 031287457X 

Boston lawyer Jimmy Morrissey is looking for some distraction in his life; distraction from his wife’s cancer, his assistant’s violent boyfriends, and his stalling career, when it seems to fall conveniently into his lap.  The serial killer known as Van Gogh, whose targets included gay men, has been shot and killed by the police.  The case should be closed, but when a photo of a beautiful woman is found with Jimmy’s name and number on the back he sees a chance for some diversion from his troubles.  Following the clues, he tracks the photo to a transvestite in Provincetown, and is soon aware that the killer may have not responsible for all the victims.  And the deeper Jimmy digs, the more complicated things become when he discovers that all is not as it seems, and he’s now playing a part in a very deadly game.

Morrissey is a likable enough guy to keep this read interesting.  A little frustration is caused by watching his heedless headlong tumble into trouble when there is so much at stake in other areas of his life, but that’s Jimmy, and so it also adds to the charm of this somewhat feckless character.  And while the suspense is somewhat tame, the ending is full of enough blows to make it all worthwhile, and with plenty of strings left dangling, we’re left eagerly anticipating Jimmy’s next go-round.

 

The Dead Sit Round In A Ring by David Lawrence

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312327102 

Out in the U.K. for a couple of years, this is Lawrence’s U.S. debut, and it’s a good one.  Stella Mooney, a London detective, is called in to investigate when four people are found dead in an apartment.  It’s soon discovered that three of them had committed suicide, but the fourth man’s death remains a mystery, as he has no apparent connections to the others.  The search for answers will lead Stella and her crew into deep danger as they confront crime rings that are involved in all sorts of horrendous acts.  Meanwhile, Stella’s life is slowly unraveling as she finds herself caught between two good men and on-the-job injuries, all of which are compounded by her search for solace inside a bottle of vodka.

This is not the London one might find in the travel brochures, and through scenes of violence and destruction, Lawrence gradually reveals the ugly underbelly of this complex city.  This is a dark and terrifying story, but with many shades of poignancy and depth as seen through the brilliantly created character of Stella.  Flawed and intensely human, she is easy to empathize with as we watch her slowly sink into the abyss of her self-created confusion, and we sincerely hope for more from this gifted author of this intelligent and powerfully written series.         

 

Hard Ticket Home by David Housewright

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 031232149X 

Rushmore McKenzie, an ex-cop out of St. Paul, now takes on odd jobs of finding answers for people with nowhere else to turn.  So when a friend approaches him about finding his long lost daughter, Mac quickly agrees.  But what he finds is much more than he bargained for when he is suddenly thrust into the dangerous world of gangs, shady big-business, and violence.  And as the bodies stack up, it seems that the answers lie in the higher echelons of society, where playing dirty comes with the territory.

What starts out as a pretty good read, slowly but surely escalates into just another shoot ‘em up thriller with the same cast and crew as in several of its ilk.  When we first meet McKenzie, he sure seems like a nice guy; mutters all the right words, hates violence, and believes in loyalty and friendship above all else.  But before you know it, the guy has shot two men dead, pulled out a grenade for further battle, and shown other cracks in his nice guy veneer (such as the subtle come-on to his best friend’s wife).  Those readers who like this kind stuff, will like this, but for those of you who don’t, be warned that the first few chapters are not indicative of what’s to come, which is simply all too much of what we’ve already seen countless times before.    

 

Crossing The Line by Clinton McKinzie

Publisher: Delacorte Press ISBN: 0385336373

If you pick up this latest from McKinzie, you might want to consider getting something to strap you in at the same time.  Reading like a high-grade action movie, this stunning and absolutely breathtaking ride is gloriously addictive. 

This time out, Wyoming's special agent Antonio Burns is approached by the FBI to aid in bringing down the head of the Mexican drug cartel, and they also want to enlist Ant's brother, the infamous rock climber and drug addict, Roberto.  What follows is nothing short of non-stop thrills and adventure, plenty of pathos, and some heartbreaking scenes that will render the reader breathless.  McKinzie keeps getting better, deeper, and more intense with each outing.  We hope he doesn't put this character to rest, because Anton is finally coming into his own, and because he still has so far to go, we wouldn't miss a thing.     

 

The Bug Funeral by Sarah R. Shaber

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312322186

Reviewed by C.J. Curry

Well life just kept interfering with my reading of this book. I did not want to put it down and that doesn’t happen too often anymore. Ms. Shaber has hit upon a real life hero for us. Professor Simon Shaw teaches history at Kenan College in historical downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. However teaching history to students who think of only Tomorrow is not always completely satisfying. So Simon’s busy mind is always looking for something interesting to think about. Regardless that one of his published books had won a Pulitzer Prize, the Raleigh press had been calling him The Forensic Historian. Simon seems to have a knack for solving decades old murder cases.

But this new client…………..well, her claim of having lived another life at the turn of the century! Helen Williams was the goddaughter of his friend and doctor, Wade Ferrell, so he couldn’t dismiss her out of hand. But reincarnation? How would he ever explain this to his colleagues? Simon hasn’t found a way to brush her off without hurting her feelings and irritating his friend, Ferrell. But there is something about this Helen that appeals to Simon. She seems sincere. And she has been having these recurring nightmares for years, and has consulted numerous psychiatrists and psychologists who could find nothing wrong with her. In other words, she “wasn’t crazy”. But claiming to have been a matron in an orphanage didn’t seem to be your average every day thoughts of a totally sane person. So Simon’s first thought was to prove that this matron, Annie Evans, never existed.

Whoaaa. She did exist. And she WAS matron of the Baby Cottage at Raleigh Christian Orphanage! What next???

Professor Simon Shaw is a wonderful character. Ms Shaber has done a very nice job in making him believable. I must take exception, however, to the propensity of authors of the modern day amateur detective series in making their heroes so busy, or lazy, or scatterbrained, or whatnot that all they can eat or drink are cokes and snacks, etc. I would like for some of these guys to stick around for a number of years but they won’t be able to at they rate they are going. Let’s keep Professor Shaw going for a long time!

 

The Haunted Abbot By Peter Tremayne

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312287690

Reviewed by C.J. Curry

Every one who is Irish and especially everyone who loves Irish history will love this book set in the year A.D. 666.

Fidelma of Cashel and her companion Brother Eadulf have finished their business with the Archbishop of Canterbury and are on their way home to Ireland. Brother Eadulf, however, has received an urgent message from his boyhood friend Brother Botulf begging him to come to Aldred’s Abbey before midnight of the pagan festival of Yule. As Brother Eadulf wants to show his beloved companion Fidelma his home country, they decide to detour to Aldred’s Abbey. Being caught in terrible blizzard they were fortunate to have stumbled onto an inn run by Cyric, who proceeded to catch Eadulf up on the local happenings. It seems that things are not as Eadulf had left them. Some of the leaders who had converted to Christianity have since reverted to their pagan ways and there is a feeling of unrest in the area. The inn is only four or five miles from the abbey and a local farmer ‘Mad Mul’ will give them a ride in his wagon for a fee. It is an arduous journey but they do arrive before midnight only to find that it has become a closed abbey and women are not allowed. Having bullied the gatekeeper into admitting Fidelma, Eadulf goes in search of the Abbot, only to find him presiding over the funeral service of Brother Botulf!

Eadulf is to soon learn that Brother Botulf has been murdered and there are very mysterious goings on at the abbey. It has been said that an outlaw named Aldhere was seen in the area the morning of the Brother’s death. This and the strange sighting of a woman in the abbey passages lead Eadulf to believe there is something drastically wrong with the abbey and its inhabitants. Fidelma has taken a fever and a chill and is bedridden so they cannot leave the abbey until the fever breaks.

Eadulf has many questions………is the Abbot insane? Why was a woman there if the abbey was closed to women? Who is this outlaw who lives in the marshes? Why do the local people call the abbey evil? What did happen to the wife of the abbot? Without Fidelma’s help, Eadulf must use his logic and observations to get to the bottom of things before there is general warfare in the area and many lives are lost.

Peter Tremayne is the pseudonym for Peter Berresford Ellis, a prominent authority on the ancient Celts and has written numerous works of history and scholarship. As Peter Tremayne he has written eleven books featuring Sister Fidelma. The author is aware of how difficult the pronunciation of Irish names are and has included a section on how to pronounce Irish names and words.

I enjoyed this book and look forward to others by this author.