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The Witch in the Well by Sharan Newman

Publisher:  Forge Books  ISBN: 0-765-30881-9

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

Twelfth century heroine Catherine LeVendeur is summering at her brother Guillaume’s castle in the French countryside when they are both summoned to their ancestral castle, Boisvert, where the well, crucial to the family’s wealth and status, is running dry.  Joined there by her sister and their mentally ill mother, Catherine and her family soon discover that there are even greater problems at Boisvert.  Resident family members are barren, an attack is being planned by an enemy, and the family treasure has disappeared.  Catherine’s oversexed grandfather is more interested in frolicking with his young wife than he is in the growing problems.  Catherine and her children are haunted by visits from a mysterious woman, delivering messages of warning.  A cousin is murdered, another goes missing, and it soon becomes obvious that there is a traitor in their midst.  In the end, Catherine’s husband Edgar and his business associates, Solomon and Martin, save the castle.

Perhaps the best part of this novel is the subplot reuniting Catherine’s maid, Samonie, with an old lover.  Catherine’s reconciliation with her suddenly recovered mother seems abrupt, and constant references to previous adventures might be annoying to those who haven’t read other books in this series.

This historical mystery is not for everyone, although author Sharan Newman provides evocative details – a flea in Guillaume’s beard, Catherine’s frantic search for a privy during a sumptuous banquet – to remind us of the less savory details of twelfth century life.  If not entirely riveting, this is an enjoyable read, although one does get the sense that the story could have been told in far fewer pages.

 

The Fire Baby by Jim Kelly

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN:  0312321457

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you like mysteries with a different flavor, The Fire Baby is for you.  No formula PI or plot to disappoint, not a lightweight read.

Philip Dryden, reporter, has a lot going on in his life and the dying confession of a woman he'd known for many years adds another complication he really doesn't need.  Caught between a desire to investigate multiple murders, arson, a pornography ring, illegal immigrants, spending time with his wife who lies in the hospital in a coma, he must also search out the dying woman's daughter.

Imagine Phillip's feelings when he discovers his wife is trying to communicate with him about one of the cases, something she couldn't possibly know anything about. Then, he learns his investigations overlap with the confession of the dying woman. 

A fascinating weaving of several subplots by a very talented author, Jim Kelly, a story that will keep you guessing and reading.  This is a book you won't want to put down and may read again.  Highly recommended as an enjoyable and satisfying way to spend your time.  Enjoy.

 

The Dreaming Detective by H. R. F. Keating

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books ISBN:  0312322143

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you like Cold Case on t.v., The Dreaming Detective is right up your alley. Against seemingly impossible odds, Detective Superintendent Harriet Marten is given the task of trying to solve the thirty-year-old murder of a young preacher from India. Her new boss who seems to be hostile to her for no reason assigns the case with the apparent hope she will fail.

The list of suspects has been diminished by time but with the dogged digging of herself and her aide she manages to uncover new facts to fill in gaps left by the first investigator.  And in spite of her professionalism, she finds herself sympathizing with one suspect who is thought to have been a very nice guy.  Yet the finger of guilt keeps pointing back at him no matter what other lead she follows. Could her instinct be wrong?

A cast of fun characters and their reasons for being part of the preacher's inner circle will keep you  reading as their real personalities and pasts are revealed. They are people who, though flawed and very human, seem to have no real motive to commit this murder.

A fun read by talented H. R. F. Keating that will keep your attention as you try to outguess Harriet Martens in her search for the killer.  Plenty of red herrings and false trails and a surprise ending will satisfy any mystery fan.  Enjoy.

 

 

The Hangman's Hymn by P. C. Doherty

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312300905

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Remember The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer?  The Hangman's Hymn is your chance to renew old acquaintance with some fun and not-so-fun characters that peopled his stories.

New dimensions of their personalities have been added and their stories contain information previously untold.  Talented P. C. Doherty takes the reader back to a time when supplicants seeking the blessing of a saint might have to journey for weeks to reach their destination and while traveling entertained each other with stories at their nightly stops.

Simon Cotterill, a young carpenter is among the petitioners making the pilgrimage to Canterbury and it is he that tells the tale. The tale is one of mystery with a touch of horror that will cause the hair on the nape of your neck to rise as you imagine yourself sitting at the fireside listening, remembering this is a time of great superstition and knowing death could strike any moment.

The tale is of a young carpenter far from home who becomes a hangman and finds himself involved with a witches' coven, murder, spells and terror. The coven threatens his life and it is all he can do to stay alive. 

The Hangman's Hymn contains red herrings and false trails. Beware of jumping to conclusions before reaching the end.  A well-told tale that will keep you turning pages and not wanting to turn your lights out.  Enjoy.