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The Water Lily Cross by  Anthony Eglin

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press  ISBN: 0312365462

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Botanist Stuart Halliday is missing and his wife turns to his longtime friend, Lawrence Kingston to help her find him.  Fearing that his friend may be in trouble and knowing that Stuart is a fellow cruciverbalist (lover of crossword puzzles) Lawrence starts looking for clues that only he would find and he is successful.  Stuart’s wife thinks he has been spending his time at the local garden club meetings instead he has been working on a secret project to use giant water lilies to desalinate water, if successful this discovery could be worth billions.  Kingston quickly comes to the conclusion that his friend has been kidnapped and begins his own investigation to find him.  Needless to say; Kingston finds himself in a whole lot of trouble due to his amateur sleuthing; to include being shot down in a helicopter while taping a video for a TV show about famous English gardens.  Despite warnings from the police, Kingston continues his investigation but he seems to be one step behind the bad guys, because all of his leads die before he can get to them.  Kingston puts his life in jeopardy in pursuit of his missing friend, the question that goes unsaid is will he find him in time.

The Water Lily Cross is the third installment in Anthony Eglin’s English garden mystery series.  Lawrence Kingston is a truly an endearing character.  He is a retired botany professor and an avid lover of crossword puzzles.  Eglin does a masterful job of enveloping the reader in the majestic beauty of English gardens and the passionate pride of their owners.  Eglin adds a bit of romantic intrigue to Kingston’s life, the widower tangles with a mysterious woman who is tied to the disappearance of his dear friend.  The Water Lily Cross is a highly entertaining British horticultural cozy which has cleverly designed clues, beautiful scenery, a hint of the Russian mafia and a potential global crisis all in one novel.

 

 

The Big Girls by Susanna Moore

Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf  ISBN:  978-1-40000-4190-9

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Dr. Louise Forrest, new chief of psychiatry at Sloatsburg women’s prison, immediately violates some of the prison’s rules.  Too kind by half, Louise is drawn in by her patients, particularly Helen, who despite her horrific crime manages to be sympathetic, in large part due to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather.  Although she hasn’t committed a crime, Louise shares more with her prisoner patients than they could ever imagine.  Lonely, recently divorced, and no stranger to mental illness, Louise’s vulnerability is obvious, particularly to Ike Bradshaw, a corrections officer with whom she forms an unlikely romance.

Told in multiple points of view, The Big House tells the interrelated stories of Louise, Helen, Ike, and Angie, a Hollywood starlet who happens to be both Louise’s ex-husband’s girlfriend and Helen’s alleged sister.  Their interwoven experiences have surprising, touching, and heartbreaking results.

Often as bleak as the setting it evokes, The Big House shows a reality many readers might prefer to remain ignorant of; Louise’s empathy for her patients is completely defensible.  Susanna Moore’s fine, spare, and deceptively simple writing gives depth to this disturbing, character-driven novel.

 

 

 

Majestic Descending by Mitchell Graham

Publisher: Forge/Tom Doherty Books  ISBN 978 0 7653 1812 1

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Just because there’s an Arab involved, should you assume a major crime is motivated by religious terrorism? This is the question posed by Mitchell Graham’s “Majestic Descending”.   Graham puts an interesting grab-bag of people together on a mammoth cruise ship and then stands back to watch the action.

Katherine Adams, “K J”, an overworked, stressed out lawyer, books a trip on the Ocean Majestic with her old friend Beth Dolliver.  She is just beginning to enjoy the relaxing trip, and the company of Law Professor (and ex-cop) John Delaney when the ship is torn by several explosions and begins to sink.  Just before she leaves the ship in a lifeboat, KJ finds one of her dinner companions, the inventor of a revolutionary stem cell process, dead of gunshot wounds in his cabin. 

The rescued passengers are taken on board another ship and end up in Italy, where Katherine and Beth are the subject of a couple of apparent assassination attempts.  The reason for this must be something they know or something they’ve seen, but what?   John fights one of the assassins, “a man of Middle Eastern appearance” as the news bulletins like to put it, but the man dies and can’t be questioned.  

Joining forces with an elderly but very sharp Italian policeman, KJ and John set themselves the task of finding out what’s behind the attacks. John’s connections with the NYPD come in handy here; apparently the brotherhood of the thin blue line never really breaks, not even if you’ve left the job and become a law professor.

Returning to the USA, Katherine finds herself suspended from work and threatened with a huge lawsuit for wrongful arrest, due to her having identified a former criminal as having been on board the ship and involved in an argument with the dead man.  She hides out at home for a while, but with the help of John picks herself up and sets about finding the real reason for the ship’s sinking, which is the only way she can clear her name.

The story has a needless subplot which is apt to misdirect the reader’s attention; this could well have been left out or given much less prominence.  Other than that, the book moves fast and keeps your interest.  It could be made into a film without too much rewriting: it’s got action, exotic locations, likeable protagonists and plot tension.

 

 

Shooting Star by  Cynthia Riggs

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books  ISBN:  13:  9780312370275

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Hey, mystery lovers.  This is a book you will really enjoy for more than the mystery.  This is a tale with a series of characters, settings, and a plot that you will want to reread to see what you missed the first time. 

You'll feel like you've been to Martha's Vineyard and had a lovely time.  Between trying to solve the mystery and trying not to guffaw too loudly at the antics that occur on stage in Victoria Trumbull's adaptation of Frankenstein, you will be thinking its time to think about other books by this talented author, Cynthia Riggs.

Victoria is anything but the typical elderly lady who writes poetry, is a deputy sheriff, and now writer of a play for the local community theater.  Will she be able to help when a member of the cast disappears and another might have been murdered? 

Hang onto your funnybone and join Victoria as she tries to figure out what is going on and if the play's the thing she meant it to be.

From beginning to end, this is one book any reader of fiction will enjoy and I'm pleased to highly recommend it as a book worth reading.  You will love and long remember the characters.

Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

Yesterdays Fatal by Jan Brogan

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312359977

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Hallie Ahern comes upon a deadly one-car accident one rainy night, she's torn between her empathy for the young woman who died and her position as a Rhode Island investigative reporter who senses a good story.  And so with her instincts warning her that there is much more going on that a simple crash, she begins to investigate the young woman's untimely death.  But when her investigation brings her too close to revealing a deadly insurance scheme and pits her face to face with some very bad guys, one of whom is closer than she thinks, she realizes that if she fails to uncover the deadly truth, this story may be her last.

There are a few aspects to be enjoyed in this latest from Brogan - mostly of which is Hallie herself -an incisive reporter whose battle with multiple addictions makes for a realistic and engaging heroine.  But, while Brogan adroitly renders her timely tale of insurance fraud and the demise of newsprint media, her obligatory nod at portraying the losing struggle of illegal immigrants with limited options may occasionally strike a false and patronizing note that some readers may find difficult to ignore (locking your car doors when simply leered at by a bunch of goofy males in a Hispanic neighborhood seems a bit over the top).

All in all, however, if one can overlook this one aspect, what remains is an entertaining and suspenseful read that holds promise for the next outing.

 

 

Sanctuary Hill by Kathryn R. Wall

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312362099

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Bay Tanner, unofficial PI living on the coast of South Carolina without a mystery to solve at the moment, has never really taken to idly spending her time, so it's not a big shock when her boredom and curiosity once again land her in the middle of the mystery involving a suspicious death.  This time it's that of an infant whose body has washed ashore near her father's Hilton Head home, the only clue being a pouch of roots left with the infant's body, a clue that's connected to an ancient magic that some of the islanders still practice.

And as events seem to get more dangerous the closer she comes to the truth, it's only going to get worse when she's next hired by a wealthy man to find his missing wife.  And when a woman's corpse soon appears, presumed to be that of the missing woman, the danger is complete- with Bay's involvement in the case making her the next potential target for a killer who will gladly kill again to keep from being exposed.

For those who like their mysteries minus graphic language and violence, this one might do the trick.  Not only does Wall cleverly manage the two mysteries at once, giving both their proper due, but she also manages to avoid crossing the line from a compelling mystery featuring a thoughtful investigator to that of the overly breezy and lighthearted type featuring the goody-two shoes amateur sleuth.  Additionally, fans of the series might also find some satisfaction in the new directions she's taking with some of the previously unanswered questions. All in all, an entertaining read that goes down smoothly.

 

 

In Secret Service by Mitch Silver

Publisher: Touchstone  ISBN-10: 1416537945

Reviewed by John C. Ford, New Mystery Reader

In this regrettable attempt to hop on the Da Vinci Code bandwagon, debut author Mitch Silver tantalizes readers with the revelation of a “terrible secret” that has been covered up for decades—this one dealing with British history in the WWII era.  By structuring a thriller around such a supposed secret, which in the world of this novel explains all manner of historical curiosities (including nothing less then the death of Princess Diana), former ad man Silver has set himself quite an ambitious task.  And indeed, the ambition of “In Secret Service” is surpassed only by its silliness.

The set-up is this:  Amy Greenberg, a newly engaged college professor and daughter of a Yale Renaissance scholar, inherits a manuscript being held at a bank in Ireland.  The unpublished manuscript is the work of one Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels).  The pages tell—rather flamboyantly—of his allegedly true-life wartime exploits, which led to his discovery of the forbidden knowledge at the core of “In Secret Service.” 

With due respect to the masterful Mr. Fleming, the fact that “In Secret Service” vests its secret with a pulp writer tells you a lot about how seriously this work takes itself. 

The story ping-pongs between Fleming’s text and Amy’s return trip to the United States, neither of which provides a very satisfactory tale.  After assigning himself the audacious task of writing as Ian Fleming, Mr. Silver renders the great author in these pages as a chatty, giggly name-dropper who seems most engaged when describing the various carnal matters that manage to arise.  With rather boyish enthusiasm, Mr. Silver/Fleming spins a tale of being pressed into covert service by Winston Churchill, with lots of royal history and exotic place names sprinkled along the way.  The narrator clearly revels in his mastery of European history—a bit too much—although his meandering tale does have sporadic moments of infectious delight.

Alas, the artificial format proves too constrictive.  The manuscript is written as a long personal letter, and as such it reads like an extended glossing over of events instead of being a series of conventional scenes with dialogue and other trimmings that make fiction come alive.  For the most part, it feels like listening to a story from a mildly entertaining friend who is having a very difficult time getting to the point. 

Unfortunately, the more conventional side of the story—coming from the modern-day viewpoint of Amy Greenburg—falls completely flat.  The vast majority of Amy’s story takes place during her trip back from Ireland.  During this time, she (i) cogitates with great naiveté about her fiancé, who has been dropping elephant-sized hints over the telephone that he knows much more about this manuscript than he is saying; and (ii) tries to evade efforts from an organization that, through rather tortuous logic, is willing to kill Amy to keep the manuscript from the public eye.

Amy’s pursuers are allegedly sophisticated assassins, and their appearance in the novel is meant to inject a shot of adrenaline.  Fortunately for Amy (though not the reader), these thugs are more inept than Inspector Clouseau.  A bad guy who can’t keep his fake mustache from peeling off does not inspire fear.  Unintended laughs, yes, but not fear.

In the end, readers are unlikely to feel invested in the vanilla personage of Amy, or even the “terrible secret” at issue.  While it would be remarkable if true, the author assumes no Dan Brown-like pretense here that there is anything real behind his imagined tale.  “In Secret Service” is, indeed, nothing more than an exercise in frivolity.

 

 

 

Dead Boyfriends by David Housewright

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312348304

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When self-proclaimed "semi-professional investigator" Rush McKenzie gets lost in one of the Twin City's meandering neighborhoods, the last thing he expects is to end up knee-deep in a murder investigation yet again.  But when he encounters an incoherent and blood-splattered woman who claims her boyfriend is dead, that's exactly what happens.  And when the first cop on the scene begins to assault the dazed and very drunk woman, McKenzie's automatic rush to her rescue, followed by a brief stint in the slammer, only serves to involve him even deeper into the baffling case, an involvement made complete when next he's hired by the woman's attorney to help investigate the murder.

All too soon McKenzie discovers that not only does the woman have more than one dead boyfriend, but she also has some very close ties to a wealthy and powerful woman who also seems to have a past filled with questionable deaths.  To further muddle McKenzie's search for the truth are the heavy hitters behind the scenes on both sides of the case, their ruthless influence and willingness to forsake justice putting McKenzie right in the treacherous middle with no easy way out.

This latest outing featuring McKenzie, the indiscriminate and gently flawed knight in shining armor, will most likely please his growing fan base.  As in previous ones, men will admire McKenzie for the countless fist fights he manages to get into, and women will love him for the number of damsels in distress he manages to rescue, a formula that seems to serve Housewright well.  Additionally, Housewright stirs into the mix some new drama via McKenzie's tumultuous relationship with his lover and his flashbacks to a long ago event that he has never really confronted, both of which add some refreshing spice.  As for the investigation itself, well, that may leave a bit to be desired; with so many questions left unanswered, readers may find themselves wondering why they were asked in the first place.  All in all, an entertaining read that easily satisfies.