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Under A Cloud by Eliot Sefrin

iUniverse Inc 978 0 595 372 0 / 595 37214 7

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

New York and violence: they go together as closely as peanut butter and jelly o  Homer and Marge.  Eliot Sefrin's first novel looks at the emotions and motivations behind the violence, and asks if there's any hope for real social progress in our crowded cities.

Police officers Matt Holland and his partner Rachel Cook are on an ordinary call out for a suspected burglary. It's a normal day for them, they do all the right things, go by the book--and suddenly their world falls in on them.  Matt shoots a suspect in a dark cellar, the suspect turns out to be a young--and innocent--black boy, and after that a tornado of trouble blows Matt into a nightmare.

The award-winning, much-decorated cop becomes an untouchable to some former friends, a butt of media malice, the lit match to a potential race riot, and an embarrassment to some of his colleagues, and an unwilling hero to others.  His family is horribly affected by the aftermath of the shooting; he has to send his daughters away, guards are stationed in his house, and the inexorable process of determining whether the shooting was culpable homicide or self defense seems to go on forever.

About the time Matt (and the reader) are wondering how much more he can take, there is a surprising twist to the story. 

Sefrin's background in journalism shows clearly throughout the book.  His attention to detail, his ability to take you into the hospital waiting room, the police interview room, and the dark streets of Brownsville is what makes the book a stand-out of its genre. 

 

 

Gargoyles by Alan Nayes

Publisher: Tor Books ISBN 0 765 34056 9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

The premise of this book isn't original--desperate daughter will do anything to help her mother who's dying of cancer--but everything after that familiar jumping off point is new and scary.

Medical student Amoreena Daniels learns that her mother Geneva has no hospital cover when she most needs it.  She should know better, but Amoorena accepts the first chance that's offered to earn big money to pay for the cancer treatment. 

As the book progresses, some readers may find themselves remembering sitting in a darkened theatre as Janet Leigh pulled into the forecourt of the Bates Motel.  You wanted to yell to the heroine, "No, no, don't do it!" , but of course she didn't listen.

Amoreena gets a phone call from someone representing a women's reproductive health clinic.  Next thing, she's signing a contract to carry a child for someone unknown.  Her troubles are over: Geneva can get her cancer treatment, Amoreena won't have to go into more debt to do it, and a childless couple will be fulfilled.  What's to worry about?

Oh, sure , there are a few little niggling worries,  the clinic is being funded by a pharmaceutical company, there seem to be an unusual number of tests and sonograms and the like, then there's the unusually early activity of the fetus--but for the $50,000 fee, Amoreena pushes her doubts aside--but not for long.  There's something wrong with the pregnancy, she knows it, and a glimpse of a sonogram proves it.  For starters, there are three babies…and they don't seem to be normal.  Then a doctor is murdered before he can tell her more about what she's involved with.

Before Amoreena's investigation into what is going on gets very far, she is drugged, kidnapped, assaulted, taken to somewhere in Latin America, and held prisoner.  How she gets away forms the latter third of the book, and I defy you to read it and then have dreamless sleep afterwards.

At $6.99, this book is a bargain, and highly recommended for an afternoon's escapist reading.  What effect it might have on the number of volunteer surrogates is another matter entirely.

 

The Third Secret by Steve Berry

Publisher: Ballantine/ISBN 034547614X

Reviewed by Tim Davis for New Mystery Reader

First, consider this: The world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics have a new leader. The German-born Pope Benedict XVI succeeded the recently deceased Pope John Paul II on Tuesday, April 19, 2005. Because of contemporary media coverage, those are now internationally known facts.

Now, consider this: In The Third Secret, Steve Berry’s sizzling new tale of papal succession and Vatican secrecy, you have—I would suggest—a fascinating way of reconsidering the known facts.

Berry begins his provocative novel with an historical flashback to 1917: We travel to Fatima, Portugal, where three children claim to have seen the Virgin Mary who communicated three secrets; two of the communications were soon disclosed to the world, but the third remained a secret throughout the century. We also—a bit later in the novel—learn something else from history: A 12th century Irish priest named Malachy experienced a strange vision of the future in which he saw a long list of men who would one day rule the Roman Catholic church as pontiffs; Malachy’s vision also included information, considered by some, to be potentially apocalyptic to the church’s existence.

In the fictional present of the novel (i.e., an imagined and not-so-distant future), Berry masterfully takes us deep into the powerful world of the Vatican where we meet key characters: the German-born Pope Clement XV, the 267th successor to Saint Peter; Monsignor Colin Michener, the personal secretary to the pontiff and an ecclesiastical lawyer; Alberto Cardinal Valendria, the Vatican secretary of state; and Father Paolo Ambrosi, special assistant to Valendria. We also soon meet two other very important characters: the journalist Katerina Lew, and Father Andrej Tibor of Romania.  

The historical antecedents converge quickly upon the characters of the fictional present in Berry’s tour-de-force of imaginative writing, and “the third secret” becomes powerfully and dangerously revitalized. If it is revealed—by any one of the few people who know the secret’s full contents—the Roman Catholic Church may never be the same again. Lives will be altered. Deceptions will be exposed. Powerful figures will be rendered impotent. Thousands of years of Vatican tradition hang in the balance. And adding to the danger, some people will risk everything and do anything, including murder, to protect the Church from “the third secret.”

Is Berry’s book controversial? Is it exciting? Is it fascinating? Is it surprising?  You will not want to miss reading The Third Secret, and you will then know that “Yes!” answers each of these questions.

 

Shadow Family by  Miyuki Miyabe

Publisher:  Kodansha International ISBN:  4770030045

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

An English translation of a Japanese mystery by talented Miyuki Miyabe, this tale offers something different in plot and villain.  Worth the time to expand your reading in the mystery genre.

A young woman is murdered in a night spot and a middle-aged business man is murdered in an unfinished house. Two separate crimes. Or are they?  That is the problem that faces the police as they begin their investigation.

Clues surface but no real proof or whether they are dealing with one or two killers until the background probes on both victims lend credence to one policeman's theory.  From this point they begin to build their case and identify the killer.

Surprises await the reader as the plot thickens.  An enjoyable tale of police work in another country and how investigations may differ.  Recommended reading for any mystery buff who enjoys a wide variety in the mystery genre. 

 

The Siren Queen by Fiona Buckley

Publisher: Pocket ISBN: 0743457498

The Siren Queen by Fiona Buckley:  Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A great tale from talented author, Fiona Buckley, is The Siren Queen. You will find yourself living and experiencing the uncertain times of Elizabethan England when crime was investigated at the point of a sword and justice dispensed by the whim of your overlord. 

While Queen Elizabeth's half sister, Ursula Stannard, and her family are guests of the Duke of Norfolk, they become involved in a mix of murder and intrigue that could change the way they live.  Loyal to the queen, Ursula and her serving man, Brockley, investigate and learn more than they wanted to know.

They uncover a plot that reaches from the wilds of Scotland to the palace itself and means danger to the entire nation. There are few men Ursula trusts enough to tell, so she goes to the queen's councillor Cecil.

An exciting tale with plenty of action, schemes with cross purposes, murder and court intrigue.  Will they be able to stop the plot before it ends in civil war?  I'm not telling.

Highly recommended as a fascinating read, a tale of an era when spies abounded, pirate ships chased treasure galleons, and life was cheap. Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

An Invisible Woman by Anne Strieber

Publisher: Tor ISBN: 0765349442

An Invisible Woman by Anne Strieber: Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Kealy Ryerson, a New York socialite, feels she is at the age where she is becoming invisible.  Cab drivers don't see her and construction workers don't whistle at her.  But at least she is happily married to a wonderful man who still loves and respects her. 

All that changes, however, when one day her husband calls and tells her to disappear immediately, and upon rushing to the restaurant where he is lunching, she finds him shot to death.  In a desperate and confused rush of emotion she calls her two college age children home, and tries to plan her next step.

Calling the D.A. who was lunching with her husband, she is told to trust no one and to get away as far and fast as she can.  But she discovers that her bank accounts and credit cars are now useless, so she and her children have no way of getting out of town.  They begin walking the streets and become as unrecognizable as the homeless population.  They must stay and find out what is happening before they too are killed.

This is an extremely fast paced novel with new and exciting events occurring every few pages.  The plot moves through the action with great skill and cunning, keeping readers glued to the pages.  The characters begin as elite personalities but are forced very quickly to come down to earth and look at life as it really is.  This is a great novel and if Stieber continues to dazzle readers, she will soon make the best seller list.

 

Death of a Bore by M. C. Beaton

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN 0446617199

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Hamish McBeth is back, along with the usual cast of supporting characters in the little Highland town of Lochdubh.

Just when it looks like television has sounded the death knell for cultural pursuits in the Highlands, along comes John Heppel, self-proclaimed literary genius.  He starts up a writers' group and before you can say 'personal computer', everyone from the town drunk to the Currie sisters has bought one and is tapping away frantically.

You can probably guess that Heppel's motivation isn't  really to help struggling writers: no, it's a sneaky way to get a captive audience.  When the class protest that they've heard enough about him and now want his critiques of their work, he turns nasty--nasty enough to provide a whole anthology of reasons for murder.

And that's just what happens: Heppel is found dead, and while Hamish is sure it's murder, his superior (in rank only) Chief Inspector Blair wants to pass it off as suicide.   Finally accepting  that it's murder, Blair arrests the nearest handy suspect, leaving Hamish, as usual, to get to the bottom of the mess.  Another murder disguised as suicide just thickens the plot.

Blair is temporarily put out of the picture by Superintendent Daviot, who has him up on charges of police brutality after the second death, but his replacement is a whisky-swilling Amazon who pursues Hamish relentlessly.  His virtue is saved in the nick of time by the reinstatement of Blair.

Meanwhile a number of sub-plots are simmering away, featuring some dangerous smugglers and a handful of shady television production staff who are covering up something  that may well have a bearing on Heppel's murder.

Hamish's old flame Elspeth Grant turns up to find the local school teacher sniffing around Hamish, and just for a moment we think Elspeth and Hamish may at last get their act together.  But wait: another female comes into the picture: Sonsie, a wild Highland beauty who captivates both Hamish and his old dog Lugs, and to the surprise of everyone she moves into the police house. 

To say any more would ruin the read for you, but this twentieth book in the McBeth series is as entertaining as any of its predecessors, and is a bargain for the price.

 

The President's Assassin by Brian Haig

Publishers: Warner Vision ISBN: 0446617113

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader  

I had been enthralled by Secret Sanction

I had been absolutely hooked into Mortal Allies

I had been stunned by The Kingmaker…..

And Private Sector made me a complete and total devotee of Brian Haig- Sean Drummond thrillers.

So it was with great expectations that I pounced on to the latest from this stylish author- The President’s Assassin. Granted, the book is a great read, sure there is suspense, sure there is hotshot action…..but compared to other Haig works, The President’s Assassin proves to be – well, not up to the mark- from an author from whom I expected much, much more.

The prime reason is the fact that Drummond has become more subdued- and the maverick Drummond whom we know has taken a back seat to a more serious Drummond. The prime reason, might be the fact that Drummond has de-listed from the Army to amore subdued life in the CIA Office of Special Projects Section. However, his sense of humor and wise-ass cracks still rules the day.

But all this changes when Drummond is called to investigate a case involving six murdered victims- one of them being the White House Chief of Staff. An assassin is on the prowl and his target is none other than the President of United States- the previous 6 murders being practice shots. And to add more misery, the killer knows exactly what goes inside the White House. Soon Drummond is caught in cat and mouse game, where one mistake would mean the death of the American President.

What follows is suspenseful reading of the sort we see in James Patterson and David Baldacci (especially Absolute Power) books ending in a thrilling but expected finish.  A good read, but not a grand one.