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Second Sight by Philip R. Craig and William G. Tapply

Publisher:  Justin, Charles and Co.  ISBN:  1932112413

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

J. W. Jackson accepts what appears to be a cushy job as driver for beautiful pop star Evangeline while she’s on Martha’s Vineyard to perform at the Celebration for Humanity.  At the same time, fellow fisherman and Boston attorney Brady Coyne agrees to look for the runaway daughter of his dying law school buddy.  He quickly tracks the girl, Christa Doyle, to Martha’s Vineyard and the connection between the two mysteries is established.

Before long, two men associated with Evangeline have been murdered, and Princess Ishewa, a psychic Brady consulted in his search for Christa, has been killed in a hit and run accident.  The discovery of another unusual similarity, eye of Horus tattoos on Christa and Evangeline’s hips, leads both investigators to focus on the ashram of Alain Duval and his vigilant security staff, the Simon Peters.  

Told in the first person, with chapters alternately narrated by Brady and J. W., the technique helps build suspense as the reader is forced to wait until the next chapter to find the result of the previous chapter’s cliffhanger.  The fast-paced mystery is an enjoyable read, but as finely crafted as the story is, Brady and J. W., experienced investigators though they are, overlook what seems to be a fairly obvious subplot.  The one-dimensionality of Evangeline and the casual treatment of Christa’s near involvement in a monumental tragedy flaw this otherwise fine story. 

 

Blue Valor by Illona Haus

Publisher:  Pocket Books  ISBN:  0-7434-5809-5

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

Baltimore detectives and lovers Kay Delaney and Danny Finnerty are called to investigate a grisly discovery on the campus of an exclusive prep school:  a human heart.  Is the heart related to the unsolved murder of a beautiful young student six weeks earlier?  Kay thinks so, and she also believes that the rape and beating of another young woman may be related as well.

Finn is surprised to learn that one of the girls was a friend of his daughter's.  While Kay investigates the serial killings and continues her protection of twelve-year-old Antwon, Finn tries to make peace with his distant daughter.  He ends up making more than that with his ex-wife.

The killer seems to be toying with Kay, but when Amber Estcott disappears, Kay and Finn are in a race against time.  The confession of a young man solves little of the mystery; how many killers are at work?

Disturbing on a number of levels, Blue Valor will keep you in suspense until the final pages.  Author Illona Haus doesn't sugarcoat any of the gruesome portions, making the book a big graphic for some tastes.  This is an excellent police procedural…and a reminder of why cozies are preferable to some readers. 

 

Busted Flush by Brad Smith

Publisher:  Picador  ISBN:  0312425678

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Remember the old saw about the world beating a path to your doorstep?  That's what happened to Dock Bass when he unexpectedly discovered a treasure trove of historic  artifacts on an old farm he inherited near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Having decided to renovate the old farmhouse to live in, Dock Bass is busily replacing the roof when, on a break, he discovers a hidden door.  Once the word is out, it seems everybody from local scam artists to nationally known newspeople are sticking their noses into his business when all he really wants is to finish his roof.

Dock is faced with dealing with a great cast of fun characters who plot behind his back to either buy or steal the artifacts. There'a a famous lady newscaster, a professor from the Gettysburg College, a phony antiques dealer and his partner, and a woman who claims to be the real owner of the farm.

Highly recommended as a great read that seems written in a tongue-in-cheek style. Talented author Brad Smith paces this tale with an easy-to-read style that you will love. A change of pace from the shoot 'em up thrillers and gooey murders and you will be looking for other books by this author.  I really enjoyed it and am sure you will too.

 

 

Improbable by Adam Fawer

Publishers: HarperTorch ISBN: 006073678X

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader 

A first time author, a hardbound edition, already translated into 5 different languages…., with a debut like this there is bound to be something special about Improbable. And it was with a lot of expectations I began reading Improbable- and it was just F-A-N-T-A-B-U-L-O-U-S.

In short, Improbable is a “Matrix” meets DC Comics meets Michael Crichton sort of plot formulae- and added with a fast paced narration, you got a real page-burner in your hands.

David Caine is just the perfect ‘guy next door’. But he is a compulsive gambler, a real card shark who does not know the meaning of losing. However, there is problem which haunts Caine – he is a chronic epileptic- and sudden fits may occur at any time. It is at this time a controversial new drug which promises treatment for epilepsy is brought to the attention of Caine. The tests are still going on and nobody knows whether the same has any side effects. Caine agrees to be a guinea pig- and the result is total chaos. Caine begins to get visions of his past, the future and enters into the world of “alternate reality”. Is it a gift or bane- Caine has yet to decide. But one thing’s sure; life for Caine is never the same as before.

From this point onwards the novel enters the Matrix mould- and we are reminded of the protagonist in Michael Crichton’s Terminal Man- the way Caine goes ahead with his “gift’. And sure, it culminates….. (I believe culminates- but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a sequel in a couple of year’s time), in an exciting and thought -provoking finish.

Improbable is a superb read- but don’t start the work late in the night- you will lose all the sleep you want.

 

Sleeper by Gene Riehl

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks ISBN: 0312987730

Reviewed by Paul Kane, New Mystery Reader

Sleeper, Gene Riehl’s second novel, is an example par excellence of the thriller as pure entertainment.  Whilst the skeleton of its plot will be familiar to most readers (a sleeper agent is activated to carry out the assassination of a visiting head of state), what is uncommon and exceptional is the verve with which Riehl is able to flesh out these bones.  What we have here is a master class in how to write a thriller.

Lesson 1: create an intriguing, flawed hero.  Why flawed?  Because then his (or her) thoughts and responses to events will be more complex and pronounced, can be more vividly described and will thereby be more involving for the reader. 

Puller Monk is such a character, a true-grit hero with a disastrous personal life. This latter point is perhaps best exemplified in a scene where Monk, in the act of consummating some make-up sex with Lisa, his live-in girlfriend, is interrupted when his answering machine kicks in.  It’s an urgent, desperate message from the very same woman who had caused the rift between the two lovers.  Monk, a true hero, goes to the aid of the damsel in distress.  He picks up the phone.  Ouch!

Lesson 2: balance any improbabilities in the plot with realistic descriptions of police procedure.  In the writing books, this would probably come under the heading of verisimilitude.  Needless to say, Gene Riehl, an ex-FBI agent himself, knows his stuff.  And boy, do the improbabilities increase, especially toward the brilliant and blistering end of the novel, when Monk turns into a gung-ho hero to outdo even the Bruce Willis character in the Die Hard movies!

Lesson 3: once you have your hook in the reader, don't let him go.  Throughout Sleeper, nothing is superfluous.  Each chapter ends with a suspenseful "what happens next?" moment and opens with an immediacy that sets you plumb in the centre of the action once more.

And I could go on, but I suspect that further recommendation is unnecessary.  If you’re looking for psychological depth, or a profound exploration of the great social issues of our time, go elsewhere.  You’ll be disappointed.  If, on the other hand, what you want from a thriller is simply more bangs for your bucks, then this Riehl guy is your man!

It's ironic that Riehl's novel is called Sleeper, by the way.  For over the past week this compulsively readable and adrenaline-evoking thriller has kept me up late into the night.  Like the man said, “This is better than literature!”

 

 

Hung Out To Die by Sharon Short

Publisher: Avon ISBN: 0060793244

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Josie Toadfern runs the Laundromat she inherited from the aunt and uncle who raised her.  She also writes a monthly stain busting column for the local paper.  Her father's family turned their back on her 20 years ago when he abandoned his family.  Now the family wants Josie to come over for Thanksgiving dinner and, much to her surprise, her long lost parents show up out of nowhere.  But before the evening is over her Uncle Fenwick is murdered and her father jailed as the prime suspect. Always known as Nosey Josie she has to get involved in the investigation, and with the added incentive of possibly mending some family rifts, it's full steam ahead for this plucky heroine.   

Short entertains you with plausible murder plot while keeping you rolling of the floor laughing.  Throw in some good family drama, some ideas on stain removal, and an amateur sleuth who enjoys a good mystery to solve, and you have all you need for a cozy afternoon.

 

The Not Knowing by Cathi Unsworth 

Publisher: Serpent's Tail ISBN: 1852428929

Reviewed By Paul Kane, New Mystery Reader

Cathi Unsworth’s debut novel is a dark, visceral rollercoaster to hell.  It tells a traumatic tale that is both vividly imagined and on some level – at least, this is my guess - deeply personal.

The opening scenes are conventional enough.  When Jon Jackson, a film director of some celebrity, is found beaten to death in an old part of London, his death naturally attracts media interest.  This interest rapidly reaches fever pitch when it is realised that the murder is a grotesque recreation of a scene from Bent, Jackson’s most recent gangster movie.  Diana Kemp, an ambitious journalist with a reckless personal life, becomes interested in the story and gets a little too close to the truth.  Eventually, after not a few idiosyncratic twists, she must undertake a final odyssey with the killer, back to the scene of his original crime.

Unsworth has a mordant wit, evident on the occasion when her heroine gives the bum’s rush to a one-night-stand on the morning after, and a finely honed ear for the idiom and diction of contemporary London (England’s finest “medieval village”, in Mark E. Smith’s apt epithet).  Her novel is pure neo-noir in the sense that while there is an echo of pulp hubris in the fate of her flawed protagonist, there is also a stark personal trauma at the story’s core.  The influence of Ken Bruen and Derek Raymond is present and duly acknowledged (the novel is in fact dedicated to Bruen), and these writers seem to have acted simply (or not so simply) as catalysts to Unsworth’s own dark imaginings.

If you don’t yet know of Cathi Unsworth, I’d recommend you rectify that as soon as you can by seeking out a copy of The Not Knowing.  After all, she’ll establish a reputation soon enough for chick lit as Patricia Highsmith or Shirley Jackson might have written it, and it’s best to be in on the ground floor, don’t you think?

 

Obsessed by Ted Dekker

Publisher: WestBow Press ISBN: 1595540784

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

The story begins during the Holocaust with two pregnant women who become friends in a Nazi concentration camp.  Gerhard Braun is the Nazi in charge of the concentration camp and his son Roth assumes responsibility for cleaning up his father’s mistakes from that time.  The story then moves to the 1970’s and the death of Rachel Spritzer.  She possesses one of the “five stones of David” which is a priceless religious relic.  Rachel was one of the pregnant women in the concentration camp and she brands her infant son with the sign of half of a stone of David so that she can recognize him when found. 

Stephen Friedman is a realtor in Los Angeles.  He is an orphan who believes that his family probably died during WWII in Poland.  Stephen spends years looking for his family but he gives up and moves to America to start a new life.  Stephen has the brand of the half stone of David on his chest and finds out that Rachel may have been his mother after her death.  The story moves between the 1940’s and 1970’s telling the tale of the parents and moving to the children, Stephen and Roth, who must resolve the unfinished business of the past

Ted Dekker does a masterful job of recounting the atrocities of the concentration camps and the helpless victims.  He then adds the riveting “treasure hunt” thread into the story with the second generation offspring and the “five stones of David.”  Obsessed is a well written, graphic thriller that is intense from beginning to end.  The author is well known for his ability to write a great thriller that pits good against evil.  I most highly recommend this book to fans of The Da Vinci Code and to those readers that enjoy an intense thriller.

 

 

Suspicion of Rage by Barbara Parker

Publisher:  Signet  ISBN:  0-451215745

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

In lieu of a traditional honeymoon, newly wed Miami attorneys Gail Connor and Anthony Quintana travel to Havana for his niece’s quinceanera, accompanied by Gail’s mother and daughter and Anthony’s two children.  As if that’s not enough company on a honeymoon, they take along the strangest of bedfellows — politics. 

On the eve of their departure, a CIA agent approaches Anthony, claiming that the life of his brother-in-law, General Ramiro Vega, is in danger, and Anthony should encourage him to defect.  For most of his life, Anthony has managed to remain apolitical, despite having close family ties to Castro’s government as well as friends who are well-known dissidents.  Agreeing to carry the CIA’s message to Vega forever changes his view of Cuban politics.

While Anthony is dealing with political intrigue — blackmailed by Vega’s boss, Abdel Garcia, into getting information from the U. S. government — Gail discovers the body of his onetime lover.  But it is not Anthony’s deceased lover who threatens his new marriage, but one whose closely guarded secret will rock everyone. 

This suspenseful political thriller will keep readers guessing, and wondering how Anthony keeps track of what he is telling whom.  A few scenes toward the end are reminiscent of a Pedro Almodovar film, but a little levity at that point is refreshing. 

 

 

Breakwater by Carla Neggers

Publisher: Mira ISBN: 0778322378

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Quinn Harlowe quits her job at the Justice Department to become an independent consultant and believes her life will become considerably less stressful.  But when she goes to her weekend cottage at the bay she and a passing jogger discover the body of her friend who has been staying there.  Law enforcement officers believe the death to be either suicide or an accident, but Quinn doesn't buy it and begins investigating on her own. 

Quinn soon learns that every effort she makes to investigate is immediately known by the jogger who claims to be a bodyguard at the neighboring Breakwater Security compound.  In actuality he is Joe McCabe an undercover U. S, Marshall who is trying to infiltrate a vigilante network.  He wants Quinn out of his way and out of danger. 

Neggers is a masterful plot technician who leads us through the action packed twists and turns of this novel.  Most of the characters are federal employees who can be brave or fence sitters or down right cowards.  Once again she brings in characters from prior novels so that die hard Neggers fans can get a glimpse of how their lives are progressing.  Fans will surely love this latest thrilling outing from Neggers, I know I did.