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The Road To Ruin by Donald E. Westlake

Publishers:  Warner Books ISBN: 04464002x

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

The noir fiction master, Donald Westlake is back, and boy, oh boy, he is as stylish as he ever was. Westlake famous for his John Dortmunder- the lovable crook- series and Parker novels (which he writes as Richard Stark) was always a favorite author of mine, and I have made it a point to prodigiously read all his novels and shorts stories.

This time round, series protagonist John Dortmunder, star of Bad News and The Hot Rock- plans a caper of a lifetime- to rob a crook, (a bigger, hi-fi crook), Monroe Hall of his money. The plan is simple, Dortmunder and his gang, including Andy Kelp, Tiny Belcher, and Stan Murch (reminds me of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin team) hire themselves as employees- (butlers, chauffeurs etc). - of Monroe Hall- a corrupt CEO- and to rob him of his multi- million dollar antique auto car collection. The only problem they have is to siphon of the cars from the estate- and the foursome has a good plan for it. But all goes awry when the four, finds out that they are many persons outside, planning either to kill or kidnap and do what not to Monroe Hall. What follows is a mildly thrilling caper, that will keep happy the legions of Dortmunder fans worldwide. 

All in all a good, read, but not the Master’s best


The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood

 Publisher: Bantam ISBN: 0553383256

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

This is one of those books that feels more like a gift for the heart than just a mere book.  This magical tale follows Charlie St. Cloud, his brother Sam, and the love of his life Tess, through the loss of all and then back again to life.  It begins, when at the tender age of 15 and 13, Sam and Charlie get in a tragic car accident, leaving Sam dead, and Charlie making a promise to Sam that he’ll never leave him.  It’s a promise he can keep, as he now has the ability to speak and see those who have passed and have not crossed to other side.  So for the next 13 years, he spends every twilight playing catch with his younger brother in the woods of the cemetery where he now works. 

Meanwhile, Tess, a young vivacious woman from the same small town, is planning for a solo sailing trip around the world.  But during a last practice run things go horribly wrong when she's caught in they eye of a storm, a storm that lands her magically in Charlie’s world of ghosts and shadows, and so begins yet another miraculous journey for Charlie.

This beautiful and all too short book can be read in just a few hours, and although not a mystery in the true sense of the word, the suspense and subject matter make for a fine tale that has all the right ingredients nonetheless.  A fearless flight into the unknown, this book soars unashamedly into areas of loss, grief, and finally letting go.  Amidst all of that is a story of true love, of finding yourself, and of making the most of life while it’s available.  This is one that will truly touch your heart, that will engage all your senses, and that will linger long after its over. 

For some more information on Ben Sherwood and his new title, please visit Ben Sherwood.  


Bubbles A Broad by Sarah Strohmeyer

Publisher: Onyx ISBN: 0451411773

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you're finding New Wave crime a bit overwhelming, take heart: our favorite hairdresser-cum-sleuthette is back in a burst of hairspray and enthusiasm.

Bubbles Yablonsky in all her ditsy blonde glory takes on her fourth adventure with guts, effervescence, and a one-armed zebra-patterned top.

A sure bet to make Mr. Blackwood's Worst Dressed List, Bubbles doesn’t let her questionable fashion taste stand in the way of nailing a job as a reporter for the News-Times.he's only got a week to make good, but she's starting from a position of strength when an escaped murderess turns up on her doorstep.

Things stall for a bit when Bubbles' archenemy Lorena drags her into a  catfight at a society do, but nothing keeps our Bubbles down for long.

Fighting an uphill battle for her chance to be a reporter,  along the way Bubbles helps a battered wife, nearly delivers a baby, and finally gets it on with stud-muffin Steve Stiletto in the most eagerly anticipated coupling since Scarlett and Rhett.

Bubbles has been called "Pennsylvania's answer to Erin Brockovich", and like Erin, has an inner voice to tell her when something's right or wrong--even if in her private life she sometimes ignores that voice.  The denouement in a graveyard shows Bubbles on the high moral ground, and for once, she gets some back-up, rather than just getting backs up, as happens so often in her mixed-up life.

Forget the war and all the grim news: pick up the newest Bubbles and enjoy a bit of flashy trash to lighten your day.  (You'll also get a few useful recipes for home-made beauty products.) 


Deep Freeze by Lisa Jackson

Publisher: Zebra Books ISBN: 0821772961

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Jenna Hughes, once a big time Hollywood star, has left the life behind for the woods of Northern Oregon, hoping to give her two daughters a quiet and "normal" life far from the stress of movie making.  Leaving behind a promising career that was cut short when during the making of her last film, a tragic accident killed her sister and left her marriage in tatters, Jenna is ready for a new start.  But what she doesn't know is that someone has followed her, someone who will do anything to possess her.  And when women start disappearing from this small town, and Jenna begins receiving menacing threats, the hunky Sheriff begins to suspect that there's a killer on the loose and it's all somehow connected to the beautiful star who now graces his small town. 

Jackson really knows how to ratchet up the suspense degree by excruciating degree.  Lovers of romantic suspense will revel in the cold and wintry atmosphere lit afire by the burgeoning romance between the handsome sheriff and the down to earth movie star, but there's also enough thrills and chills for aficionados of hard driven suspense as well.  Definitely a good read with high entertainment value, this is one that shouldn't be missed.     


An Intimate Ghost by Ellen Hart

Publisher: St. Martin's  ISBN: 0312317484 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Minneapolis restaurateur Jane Lawless, and her crazy but lovable sidekick Cordelia, is back in another wild adventure.  This time out Jane receives a phone call summoning her to a wedding her company is catering and is horrified to discover the guests roaming around incoherently, and the groom almost fatally killed after a dive into an empty swimming pool.  She’s even more shocked when she discovers that somebody had tainted the food with magic mushrooms, a highly hallucinogenic drug.  Fearing multiple lawsuits, even though the groom’s parents are good friends of Jane’s, she sets out to uncover who did this ghastly deed and why.  What follows is a mystery that goes back decades, and the revealing of secrets of people she only thought she knew, some secrets that may turn out to be deadly.

Though only my second read out of this highly compelling and engaging series, I am finding that this author may turn out to be one of my favorites.  With characters as wonderfully human as Jane and Cordelia, Hart has put forth another magnificently appealing and winning read.  Her plot, filled with shocking surprises, is both exciting and poignant, as it easily flows from past to present with writing that is both thrilling and convincingly real.  If you’ve never read this spectacular author, now might be the time to start, but be prepared for a new fiction addiction, as one will only entice you towards more.


Unlucky In Law by Perri O'Shaugnessy

Publisher: Dell ISBN: 0440240883

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

After a long summer in Carmel, and with a few scattered cases under her belt, defense lawyer Nina Reilly jumps at the chance to assist in a trial headed by her one-time mentor, Klaus Pohlmann.  The defendant is the unlucky Stephen Wyatt, a young man accused of digging up the grave of an old Russian man, taking his bones, and then killing his daughter and placing her in the same grave.  It doesn't take long for Nina to realize that Klaus, already past 80, is not at his best, and with the trial only days away and the defense's case in tatters, she has her work cut out for her. So while dealing with her tumultuous relationship with her investigator Paul van Wagoner, she must not only go back in time in Russian history, but look ahead to the future and make some heavy decisions that could change everything. 

The O'Shaugnessy sisters by far hold the crown for the leaders of the legal thriller.  This latest doesn't disappoint with its potent blend of dramatic court scenes, its intelligently written characters, and its highly suspenseful and fascinating plot.  This is simply superb story-telling at its best, with the only complaint being Nina's continued inability to make a decision regarding her love and her life through most of the book.  But of course all is neatly wrapped up yet again when the final page is turned, and readers will be delighted with the shocks and surprises in store.  Another score for the writing team of the O'Shaugnessy sisters, and as usual we're left eagerly anticipating the next in this furiously engaging series. 


After Havana by Charles Fleming 

Publisher: Picador ISBN: 0312424507

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

The scene is Cuba in the late 50's.  Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries are training in the mountains and terrorizing Havana.  Batista's corrupt government is crumbling. 

Anita, a beautiful mixed race American witnesses the murder of an American movie star by Batista's federal police force.  Then, is later kidnapped by the rebels. 

Sloan, an American trumpet player, and the only man Anita has ever loved, and Cardoso, one of the federal police officers seen murdering the American actor, but later fired from the force , team up to rescue Anita. 

This book should not be read by the faint at heart.  It is filled with corruption, torture and terrorism.  The characters are well thought out and portrayed by the author, whether they be tarnished American actors, American gangsters who control the casinos, poor Cuban peasants, corrupt members of the government, or idealists rebels.  Still a worthwhile read for those who with a strong heart.


The Killing of the Tinkers by Ken Bruen

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312339283

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

P.I. Jack Taylor, once a cop with the Irish Guard who had left in disgrace because of his penchant for drugs and alcohol, is back to his homeland after a bout in London where he was able to put his vices aside for a bit and live the clean life.  But now they’ve reared their ugly heads, and once again his mind is blurred and his reality fuzzy.  So when he’s approached by a gypsy to help find out who is killing young men of the clan, he must fight his demons with all he’s got, because things are about to turn personal.      

If you like your mysteries to follow the formula, ignore this one.  But if you like something different, something lyrical, evocative, and beautifully different, this is one you’ll want to sink your teeth into.  The entire book can be read in just a couple of hours, but the words and emotion will linger much longer.   The mystery itself is almost a side note, as Jack Taylor’s character is one of the most unique, destructive, and singularly fascinating guys to come along in awhile.  Highly recommended, especially for those willing to think outside the box, this won’t disappoint. 


An Unpardonable Crime by Andrew Taylor

Publisher: Theia  ISBN 1401329632

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

This is a book that does not belong in the murder mystery category.  Rather, it is a deeply-researched work of literature which contains mystery and murder.  It won the 2003 CWA Historical Dagger award.  It will reward the persevering reader with a fascinating tale, but it's not the sort of thing to pick up to while away an idle moment while waiting for a plane.

The narrator, Thomas Shield, is recovering from what we would now call shell-shock.  He has been fortunate enough to have come under the care of  a doctor who today might be termed a Freudian psychologist, and has found a post as a teacher in a boys' school.

One of the students is the young Edgar Allan, not yet known by the surname Poe.   He has made common cause with Charlie Frant, another youngster, against the mindless brutality of the older boys at the school.  The two boys resemble each other to a suspicious degree, which forms one thread of the many sub-plots of this complex tale.

The story is peopled with characters and situations that could have been extracted from one of Dickens' works: the drunken old soldier who may be what he seems, or something more sinister; a possibly untrustworthy lawyer or two; last-minute codicils to a rich man's will; several beautiful but unobtainable women; a full chorus of servants, without which no 19th century household could operate; a bank which may not be as sound as its reputation suggests; and mysterious half-heard conversations.  How all the threads come together makes for a challenging read, but it's well worth the effort.

This book will not suit every reader: it requires work and a mental rigor which is unusual in popular fiction.  The Author sprinkles in Latin tags for which he does not always supply the translations either directly or indirectly, and he writes in a modified 19th century style which does not allow for skimming.

This is a book for those looking for something different that will submerge them in another age and way of life, a book that will exercise the brain and which requires the reader's total involvement. 


Crossing the Line by Clinton McKinzie

Publisher: Dell ISBN: 0440240816

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

If you pick up this latest from McKinzie, you might want to consider getting something to strap you in at the same time.  Reading like a high-grade action movie, this stunning and absolutely breathtaking ride is gloriously addictive. 

This time out, Wyoming's special agent Antonio Burns is approached by the FBI to aid in bringing down the head of the Mexican drug cartel, and they also want to enlist Ant's brother, the infamous rock climber and drug addict, Roberto.  What follows is nothing short of non-stop thrills and adventure, plenty of pathos, and some heartbreaking scenes that will render the reader breathless.  McKinzie keeps getting better, deeper, and more intense with each outing.  We hope he doesn't put this character to rest, because Anton is finally coming into his own, and because he still has so far to go, we wouldn't miss a thing.