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I Right the Wrongs by Dylan Schaffer

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA ISBN: 1582345708

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Gordon Seegerman, a Santa Rita, CA, public defender, is quite content handling the simple misdemeanor cases that go through the system.  He'd much rather spend his time with his Barry Manilow cover band, The Mandys, and continue on his life-long ambition of meeting the man himself.  He's also otherwise occupied with his father who has Alzheimer's and needs constant care, as well as dealing with his unrequited love for his ex-girlfriend Sylvie.  But all these concerns are going to have to move to the backseat when high school football star Marcus Manners is charged with dog-napping and drug possession.  A case that at first that seems easily resolved turns into chaos, confusion, and hidden agendas, when a woman loosely related to the case is murdered.  And now Gordon must decide if he's ready to take on this new challenge and actually play at the role of a true lawyer and, even more frightening, the role of adult.

Schaffer's second novel featuring Seegerman is actually better than his first.  He's added a bit more depth to the character, resulting in a story that is more heartfelt and compelling.  And while Manilow is mentioned with a bit of frequency, Schaffer seems a little less obsessive with the details of his idol, thereby concentrating more on the legal and personal aspects of the story, making for a well-rounded and well-told tale.  However, don't be surprised if you find yourself humming Barry tunes while reading this witty and sharp novel, which is in itself not such a bad thing at all, because as Schaffer is quick to point out, he is indeed one of the greats.    

 

 

Nothing Like the Night by David Lawrence

Publisher: Leisure Books ISBN: 0843957212

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

David Lawrence returns to the mean streets of London with the unpredictable and intrepid detective Stella Mooney, this time out investigating the brutal murder of a beautiful, rich young woman found in her apartment with over 50 stab wounds.  At first thinking it might be related to the affair she was having, or maybe even a drug deal gone bad, Stella and her crew are unprepared when another body turns up in much the same condition.  Another beautiful young woman slashed and battered is found; which can only mean one thing, a serial killer is working the streets of London.  But this time it's different, because it's not just one working alone, it's a team, a man and a woman working in tandem to feed their vicious fantasies.

Stella Mooney cuts such a sad and tragic figure that it's almost impossible to condemn her for the rash of bad choices she seems intent on making.  Taking a lover while living with another is only the first, the second being the unintentional killing of a man in self defense and then hiding the fact from her superiors, or worse yet, from herself.  It helps that Lawrence writes of all this, along with Stella's furious hunt for evil, with such knowledge and depth, that one is easily and quickly drawn in to Stella's world with a startling but welcomed intensity.   Hard to believe that he could outdo his first in the series, but Lawrence hits the book market with a second outing that is so refreshingly poignant and stunningly suspenseful that you just know this guy has a long and winning career ahead of him.  Highly recommended, don't miss this one.           

 

Falls the Shadow by William Lashner

Publisher: HarperTorch,  ISBN: 0060721588

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Philadelphia defense attorney Victor Carl has no problem with his self-appointed role as a self-absorbed and uncaring man; in fact it's a role he plays quite proudly.  Only thing is, it's as far from the truth as can be.  And it's in his recent duo of cases that Victor proves just how caring and sensitive this irreverent and irrepressible lawyer can really be. 

The first case involves that of a local chef, a real ladies' man, accused of killing his young estranged wife and, as he's already been convicted and sentenced, it's Victor's role to win an appeal and get him acquitted.  But of course it's never as easy as it is on TV and Victor, unsure of his client's guilt but very sure of his client's perverted ways, is having a bit of a hard time proving his innocence, especially when all evidence seems to indicate otherwise. 

Meanwhile, Victor is also handed the pro-bono case of a young boy in need of a child's advocate to protect his interests and safety, as his living conditions are far from ideal with a mother whose commitment seems to lie elsewhere.  And Victor, uncomfortable in his role as a child's protector, must now come to face the facts that he does indeed care about more than his next big check (which usually never come anyway). 

But what makes this story so impressive and inspired is Dr. Bob, Victor's new dentist, a man that seems to be in the thick of things no matter which direction Victor turns.  Not unlike the Wizard of Oz, this dentist is far more than a mender of teeth, but more of a man behind the curtain who manipulates events so that the good guy always wins.  Only thing is, this time around Dr. Bob's plans may have run into a few kinks, and as all is tied to Victor's case it's up to Victor to figure out exactly which role did Dr. Bob play, hero or villain? 

In Victor Carl, and now Dr. Bob, Lashner once again proves himself to be the master of characterization.  These are not your typical cookie cutter characters, but rather individuals so fully realized that the life they breathe into this suspenseful and fable-like tale is second to none in its wildly creative spin.  And the wonderfully refreshing humor that Lashner infuses his latest with only strengthens this most indescribably heart-melting read.  First-rate throughout, this is one read you'll want to enmesh yourself in, wishing all the way that you were more than just an observer, and that in itself is worth more than the cover price alone.   

 

 

BLOOD FROM A STONE Donna Leon

Publisher: Penguin ISBN 0 14303698X

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

In common with other cities, Venice has an underclass of mostly illegal immigrants who make a living from selling name brand ripoffs to tourists.   In the normal course of events, the shooting of one of these illegals wouldn't attract much interest.

Ah, but wait: Commissario Guido Brunetti catches the call for this murder, and he's not the sort to sweep it away into the 'unsolved' file without a serious attempt at getting to the bottom of it.

It doesn't take much digging to learn that the itinerant handbag seller wasn't what he  seemed to be,  and that it's likely that the investigation will result in the embarrassment of the Government if certain details get out to the public.  The discovery of a handful of huge diamonds further complicates matters.

There's not much chance of that, however: before Brunetti has gone very far with the case, Vice-Questore Patti informs him that the Ministry of the Interior has taken over the case and Brunetti and his staff are told to return to other work.   Brunetti is now convinced that there's a lot more going on than a simple street murder, but it's hard to get any further with his investigation when the files, notes and even the computer records of the case are spirited away over the Christmas break.

He consults his father-in-law, the old Count, who has connections in every corner of high society and government, despite having been long retired from active participation.   It is clear that some very powerful people have an interest in not having any further investigation into the dead African.   Brunetti just can't leave it alone, and despite official instructions, continues to investigate
until he nearly brings his two favorite colleagues into danger.

As always, Donna Leon paints a realistic backdrop of Venice in all its smelly confused beauty, including the dark side of the canals where the illegals scrape out an existence--you couldn't call it a living.  This edition has an excellent map on the inside covers which  will help those readers who like tracking the action visually.

With a good cast of familiar supporting characters, including the ommissario's long-suffering wife and  his secret informant, Signorina Elettra, this 14th book by Leon will please old fans as well as those new to the series.  Put this one on your summer reading list for sure.

 

 

The Vanishing Point by Mary Sharratt

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin,   ISBN   0 618 46233 3

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This historical mystery takes you back into the early days of the not-yet-nation
of America, when almost every place was still the frontier.

Hannah Powers grieves for the loss of her elder sister May, who leaves England for an unknown husband in an unknown new land.  Several years later, when their father dies, Hannah sets sail to find May, packing up the medical bag that she has learned how to use despite the 17th century prejudice against women doctors.

The voyage is long and rough, and the new land is frightening and wild.  Hannah arrives at May's plantation to find it a ruin, inhabited by a few chickens and dogs, and May's gentle, feral widower, Gabriel.

Hannah makes the best of things and sets about making herself useful.
Eventually she and Gabriel are drawn into a closer relationship, and they make
a life of sorts for several years.  Then, not long after she gives birth to a
son, Hannah makes a discovery that tears apart her new life and sets her on the road to yet another new beginning. For the next forty years she tries without success to learn the true fate of her long-lost sister.  On the threshold of her own death, she at last stumbles across the truth.

This well-researched book will provide readers with an insight into life on the
wild edges of the fledgling nation that became the USA, through the eyes of a
tough and determined young woman.   It's a woman's book in the best sense of that term, but not 'chick lit' by any definition.

 

Alibi by Joseph Kanon

Publisher:  Picador  ISBN:  0312425902

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

It’s 1946, and just discharged form the army, Adam Miller joins his socialite mother in Venice, which seems untouched by the war – especially the atrocities Adam witnessed as a war crimes investigator in Germany.

But when he meets Claudia, a Jewish woman, at a party, he learns that beneath its postcard-perfect appearance, Venice is seething with secrets.  The wartimes activities of Dr. Gianni Maglione threaten to come too close to home, as Adam’s mother announces her engagement to Maglione.

Adam’s own relationship with Claudia transitions quickly from purely an affair to a romantic entanglement until one evening’s shocking events takes the relationship to an entirely different level.

Both a psychological and a political thriller, Joseph Kanon’s Alibi will challenge its readers to explore their own beliefs regarding guilt, retribution, betrayal, and self-preservation.  Despite its weighty subject matter and length (400 pages), Alibi is an absorbing and fast-paced book, which asks as many questions as it answers.

 

The Stepmother by Diana Diamond

Publisher:  Mass Market Paperback  ISBN:  0-312939442

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Steven Armstrong's adult children aren't happy when their sixty-five year old father announces he is marrying his thirty-five year old personal trainer.  The prospect of acquiring a stepmother who is their contemporary is not as troubling as the amount of money they stand to lose in light of their father's refusal to consider a prenuptial agreement.

But Charlene (Charlie) isn't the gold-digging seductress everyone makes her out to be; she just wants a better life for her teenaged daughter.  Charlie's first inkling that the changes in her life may not be for the better comes a few weeks before the wedding.  Swimming in the ocean, training for a triathlon, she is deliberately run over by a wave runner.  Shortly after their marriage, Steven and Charlie's small boat explodes.  Only Steven was aboard, but Charlie is sure she was the intended victim, even as she becomes the principal suspect in the murder investigation.

Detective Jerry Toomey takes a personal interest in her case.  Very personal.  Charlie increasingly depends on him as he tries to clear her name, but she notices that he will go to any lengths to gather evidence—even manufacturing it.

This is a book that demands to be read in one sitting.  Charlie's plight will engage the reader and keep those pages turning.  Steven's children and daughter-in-law are completely unsympathetic, devoid of any redeeming qualities; it's always fun to have someone to hate without reservation.  And there are enough plot twists to surprise even the most jaded mystery/suspense reader.

 

Broken Prey By John Sandford

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN: 0425204308

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

The “Big Three” are a trio of serial murderers who are behind bars at St. Johns, a Minnesota Security Hospital.  Lucas Davenport, a Minnesota State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator is called to help with the gruesome murder of Angela Larson.  She was bound, scourged with a wire whip, raped and posed for display.  While working this case, Adam Rice is found murdered and it is clear that he was brutally tortured and assaulted in a similar manner as Larson before being killed.  But the killing spree is not over, the cases match the MO of the “Big Three,” and the evidence points to Charlie Pope, a convicted sex offender recently released from St. Johns.  Charlie Pope is on the loose after sawing off his ankle monitor but he does not fit the psychological profile of the murderer despite the evidence.  Lucas wonders whether they are looking for the right guy and if so, is Charlie working with an accomplice?  What is even more baffling is that the “Big Three” seem to be directing the murder spree from the hospital even after they are put in isolation. 

Broken Prey is the 16th book in John Sandford’s Prey series and is one of the most thrilling books that I have read this year.  Sandford continues to provide fast-paced, gritty murder mysteries that are hard to put down and that you hate to finish.  Lucas Davenport is a very believable character who becomes obsessed with his cases and has the personal scars of a career in homicide.  There is a lighter side to Davenport that comes out in the book; while working the investigation he is putting together his Top-100 songs of the rock era.  He plans to load them in his new iPod and he gets advice from all the cops involved in the investigation.  The final list is provided in the back of the book.  Broken Prey is a must read that I most highly recommend as well as the others in the Prey series.

 

The Practice of Deceit by Elizabeth Benedict

Publisher: Mariner Books ISBN: 0618710515

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

New York psychotherapist Eric Lavender is happy with having reached his mid-forties and having never married.  But when his father dies and he meets the stunning and wily Colleen who has a young daughter, his interest begins to veer towards the thoughts of finally having a family.  And so when Colleen announces she is pregnant, he dives right in and makes it a reality.  Things go smoothly, at first, with the birth of their daughter, and Eric's relocation to the suburbs of the upper middle class, with Eric being pleasantly surprised at how much he adores his new lifestyle. 

But everything is soon about to turn when Eric begins to question his wife's ethics involving a client that they have in common.  And the closer he looks the more he begins to see that all is not right with his wife, that she has secrets she's been hiding, and lies she's been telling.  And the closer he gets to the truth, the more vindictive Colleen becomes, placing Eric's newfound happiness into a nightmare of epic proportions.       

Writing in the first person, Benedict convincingly nails the perspective of a die-hard bachelor who surprises himself by falling in love with domesticity, family, the suburbs, and all the cozy accoutrements that any self respecting aging lothario would run screaming from.  A man who thinks his concessions and sacrifices, along with his grudging submission to contentment, has somehow rendered him immune to the pitfalls of those he treats, his surprise at having it all turned on him is made that much more convincing.  But even more interesting is how Benedict turns the tables in the gender game, devising a Machiavellian plot that if perpetuated by a man would be, if not understood, at least accepted.  And in the hands of her female villain, it somehow seems that much more treacherous for the rage that begets it.  Authentic motivations and characters that are both despicable and engaging make this a realistic excursion into the havoc a woman can wreak if holding the right amount of power.  Highly recommended, and sure to make any bachelor think twice about marriage, this is a suspenseful and provocative look at the intricacies and dangers of intimacy with the wrong person.

 

Deadly Housewives by Christine Matthews (Editor)

Publisher: Avon Trade  ISBN: 0060853271

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

The desperate housewives of Wisteria Lane should all go out and buy a copy of Deadly Housewives as a “how-to” book on murder.  Deadly Housewives is an anthology containing fourteen short stories written by a number of the leading ladies in the mystery genre. 

The introduction sets the tone for the rest of the book with Dear Christine letters from housewives seeking advice on murdering their spouses and how to tidy up afterwards. “The One that Got Away” tells a tale about a woman who out cons two conmen not once but twice.  Nevada Barr in “GDMFSOB” and Marcia Muller’s “He Said…She Said” write about wives who have had enough of their husbands and plot their demise.  Christine Matthews’ “The House of Deliverance” and Eileen Dreyers’ “Vanquishing the Infidel” are tales about mothers avenging their daughters.  Mothers-in-law are the focus in “Lawn and Order” by Carole Nelson Douglas and Suzanne Ledbetter’s “How to Murder Your Mother-In-Law.”  The other woman is the target in Nancy Pickard’s “Joy Ride” and “Purrz, Baby” by Vicki Hendricks.  Next door neighbors are the subject of Elizabeth Massie’s and Sara Peretsky’s short stories.  In “Trailer Trashed” Barbara Collins tells the tale about a deadly reality show.  A depressed housewife who bungles her own suicide is the main theme of “An Invisible Minus Sign” by Denise Mina.  S.J. Rozan expands the target list beyond family member and neighbors to include the hired help in “The Next Nice Day.”

All of the short stories in Deadly Housewives are absolutely superb.  There is something for everyone in this anthology which is a must-have for all mystery readers.

 

Fruit of the Poisoned Tree by Joyce and Jim Lavene

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime ISBN 0 425 20967 9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is probably the best crime-writing couple since Frances and Richard
Lockridge.  I'd love to know who does which bit: the encyclopedic botanical
information, the character creation, the fiendish plot twists--it all goes
together seamlessly, so that you're not aware of any "he wrote" and "she wrote" sections.

Dr Margaret ("Peggy", off course) Lee runs a popular garden center in North
Carolina and does a little gentle sleuthing on the side.  Her policeman son
Paul and his superior officer wish she wouldn't, but when Peggy's friend Beth
is accused of being responsible for the murder of her mother-in-law and worse, of having somehow brought about her husband's death in a car accident, Peggy can't just let the law take its course.  For one thing it's too slow, and for another, it's going in the wrong direction.

Thanks to her vast knowledge of plants and their byproducts, Peggy soon
discovers how Jim came to have the car accident, but this just makes things
worse for Beth, because the police think she could still be responsible through an intermediary of some sort.  Peggy digs deeper and proves that three other men at the same meeting in New York suffered problems from the same contaminant.  That gets Beth off the hook for that crime, but still leaves her dangling with the mother-in-law murder.

In between bouts of detecting, Peggy tries to keep her garden center on a even keel, dispenses advice about various relationships when her staff, her son and her potential daughter-in-law come to cry on her shoulder, and battles to keep her huge house out of the greedy paws of her dead husband's family.  Oh, and she also teaches part-time at the local college.

If you like mysteries that give you an in-depth look into the characters' lives,
and inform you about something you didn't know much about (in this case,
botanical poisons), you will enjoy this no end.  Highly recommended.