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Murder Passes the Buck by Deb Baker

Publisher: Midnight Ink   ISBN: 0738708720

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

What can you do if the local sheriff can't see that the death-by-hunting-accident is really murder?

If you're 66 year-old Gertie Johnson, first you argue with the sheriff--who happens to be your own son, Blaze--and then you mobilize the troops to solve the crime yourself.

In this case, the troops are as odd a collection of misfits as you'll find anywhere: 19 year old Little Donny, whose only skills are being able to drive and bring a lot bigger than his nickname suggests; man-mad friend and neighbor Cora Mae; and Kitty, a lady with a weight problem.  Gertie wonders how Kitty could possible function as a discreet investigator, given that she "is like a semi coming down a logging road with the logs flying off the back end."   But Kitty might come in handy--if Gertie catches the murderer, Kitty can sit on him until help arrives.

Gertie's attempt to prove that Chester Lampi was murdered starts to go off the rails when her son tries to have her declared legally incompetent, but she manages to sidestep that problem and continue with her investigation.  Blaze might have a point: who but an mentally incompetent person gets into a car with a killer?  To be fair to Gertie, she didn't know it at the time--her suspicions were focussed on her sort-of-boyfriend George.

This is an amusing and easy few hours' read.  If you're sick of slick, super-achieving, gorgeous heroines, you may take a fancy to Gertie and her gang.


The Color of the Law by Mark Gimenez

Publisher: Anchor ISBN: 0307275000

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Dallas lawyer A. Scott Fenney has always believed he's special, and his perfect life is surely the evidence of that fact.  Living in prestigious Highland Park, driving a Ferrari, married to the perfect trophy wife, raising a beautiful, precocious child, and pulling in almost a million a year, what more could a man ask for?  Soon enough, Scott will have to answer that very question when he's court-ordered to defend a black prostitute accused of killing a senator's son.  A senator who has his eye on the big white house, and a senator whose son was no saint, a man who liked his drugs and loved his prostitutes, and especially loved his sex rough, even if that meant he had to take what wasn't offered.    

This is one trial that Scott, nor his money-making firm, want him involved in, as getting an acquittal for the prostitute could lose them all some serious money and even more enemies in the world of big law and bigger politics.  So they hire the job out to Scott's old best friend Bobby, a lawyer working the other side of the tracks for all the right reasons, and though long estranged, Bobby gladly accepts the challenge.  But when the defendant refuses the change, Scott is now in the hot seat, and what his firm and the senator are asking of him may be just a little too much this time around.  But which will it be; truth and justice, or the final demise of Scott's perfect life?

Gimenez's stunning debut is easily one of the most provocative legal thrillers to come along in awhile.   His not so subtle illusions as to who the real prostitutes are when looking at the rich and greedy is wickedly sinful and oh so easy to digest.  The perfect surmising of this comes in the conversation between the client's young daughter and Scott's own as they innocently draw a parallel between the literal and the lawyer:

"Your mother's for sale?"

Pajamae nodded.  "By the hour."

"A. Scott Fenney sells himself by the hour, too.  He calls them billable hours.  He charges three hundred fifty dollars an hour."

"Mama makes almost that much and she didn't go to school."

In a read infused with many allusions towards the selling of one's soul and the stranglehold of money is only made better by its counteroffer of redemption and the alternate kind of wealth to be found on the other side of greed for those willing to give the rest up.  This is a must read, inspiring and delicious; we eagerly await Gimenez's next.   



Done Gone Wrong by Cathy Pickens

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312937474

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

While the first Picken's novel featuring South Carolina lawyer Avery Andrews may have been classified a "cozy", this second in the series would be hard pressed to find itself in the same category.  Avery, now in Charleston and teaming up with an old mentor, finds herself on the opposite side of the courtroom suing a big drug company after a man taking their anti-depressants shot up the factory where he worked.  But finding evidence that the drug was at fault for his break down is not easy, as most everyone involved feels the drug is the latest miracle on the market. 

And to complicate matters even more, Avery is contacted by an ex-boyfriend's brother who works in the same field and who seems to have some incriminating evidence relating to another drug trial, evidence she feels might somehow be related to her case.  But when the young man is killed in a suspicious car accident, and Avery soon finds her own life threatened, she discovers that the secrets hiding behind the big drug companies are not just a matter of the law, they're also a matter of life and death.

Pickens takes on the big drug companies, drug trials, and the sometimes vicious behavior surrounding these with aplomb and intelligence.  However, fans of her previous tale might be a tad disappointed as missing is her down home Southern shenanigans that made that read such a delight.  A much more serious outing, with a much stronger concentration in the courtroom, this latest can be a bit dry at times and the action a bit slow.  However, it is a worthy subject making for a compelling read that just might garner Pickens a whole new set of fans.               



Dead Dry by Sarah Andrews

Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks  ISBN: 0312937369

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Em Hansen, forensic geologist, has gotten herself in a world of trouble on investigations in the past, so she is making a concerted effort to avoid any new danger.  All is going well until Salt Lake City Police Detective Thomas “Ray” Raymond stops by to get Em so she can have a look at a corpse that is found in a nearby quarry.  The body is buried in gravel from the collapsed wall with only one leg sticking out.  Whoever killed him did a good job of trying to hide his identity because his fingers are missing and his face is battered beyond recognition.  The murderer does not know that there is a distinctive tattoo on the body and Em recognizes its.  The deceased is Dr. Afton McWain, a fellow geologist that Em knew when she lived in Colorado.  Em is quickly sucked into the investigation and flies to Colorado to meet with the ex-wife and finds out that there is a live-in girlfriend.  Prior to his murder McWain was battling a development group, that might have ties to organized crime, over adding a large number of new homes to an already drought ridden community.  The question is whether McWain’s environmentally friendly position is the reason for his demise.

Dead Dry is the 10th book in the mystery series featuring Em Hansen forensic geologist.  In this novel Em is involved in investigating the murder of a colleague while dealing with her biological clock and her uncertain relationship with Fritz Calder.  Andrews does a magnificent job of weaving very interesting scientific facts about the geological composition of the Midwest with a really good whodunit and then topping it all off with an adorably clumsy romance.  Dead Dry is a very fast-paced and entertaining read that I highly recommend.



The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies

Publisher: Three Rivers Press  ISBN1 40000 97347

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

Why does the wealthy adventurer Karl Anderson really want to find the sole surviving specimen of a humble brown bird--if it in fact has survived?

Taxidermist John Fitzgerald doesn't quite believe Anderson's story that he's been retained by an eccentric millionaire to find the Ulieta Bird so that its DNA can be preserved.  And he thinks it unlikely that the stuffed bird which went missing from Joseph's Bank's collection in the 18th century could have survived.

Maybe it's resentment of Anderson, who has taken up with his former love, Gabriella, that drives Fitzgerald to refuse the commission at first, but later to pursue the hunt for his own satisfaction.  Or maybe it's the memory of his grandfather, who wasted more than one life in pursuit of another rare bird, that keeps Fitz going despite one dead end after another.

Accompanied by his lodger, the sprightly Katya, Fitz follows clues all over England.  The final clue, an ancient pun, finally provides the answer to the bird's fate.

Throughout this well-written book, Davies interweaves real and imaginary historical threads from the life of Joseph Banks, Captain Cook's botanist and noted scientist of his day.  His alleged romance with Miss B  and her amazing skill as a botanical illustrator are brilliantly woven into a cloth of supposition so convincing that one would not be surprised to find this being quoted as fact in a few years' time.

Unusual for a mystery novel these days, there is no murder, no gore, no superfluous profanity and no graphic sex.  It's just a marvelously absorbing story which few readers will be able to put down.  (What a shame that death has broken up the Merchant Ivory team: they would be the ones to do justice to this as a film.)  Also unusual in modern books, great care has been taken with the choice of fonts, paper, chapter headers and binding.  It's worth every penny.

This reviewer is breaking the habit of four years reviewing for New Mystery Reader and giving "The Conjurer's Bird" full marks, not just for the writing, but for the total package.  Well done, Martin Davies.



Judgment of the Grave by Sarah Stewart Taylor

Publisher:  St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN:  0312940165

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader  

Mystery fans!  If you like a good whodunnit, this is a book for you. A couple of missing men and more than one possible murderer. This is a tale that will keep you reading.

Sweeney St. George, art historian, is studying funerary art and it brings her to the area around Concord to study Revolutionary War monuments and those of times before. In particular, she is interested in the work of Josiah Whiting, stonecutter.

A visit to a cemetery provides her with more than she expected. A new friend in the person of a twelve year old boy named Pres Whiting and a body dressed in a revolutionary war uniform.

Sweeney's life becomes somewhat chaotic when she learns Pres is very ill and runs into Tim Quinn, a detective she knew from a previous case, in addition to the confusion she is experiencing over the new man in her life. She winds up babysitting Quinn's baby daughter while he conducts an investigation that gets more and more involved with every question he asks.

Sweeney pokes into the investigation also as she is doing similar research to that of the missing husband.  Is the body she and Pres found, the missing man?  Why was he wearing the wrong uniform? Who would have reason to kill a professor researching early American patriots?

A complicated plot with many twists and turns, red herrings awaits the reader.  Talented Sarah Stewart Taylor writes a well constructed tale with realistic characters set in a well drawn background. You will feel like you've visited this area when you've finished the book.  Highly recommended as a story to keep you reading.  Enjoy.  I sure did.



When the Dead Cry Out by Hilary Bonner

Publisher: Leisure Books ISBN: 0843957581

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Bonner makes her American debut in this gripping novel set in the beautiful West Country of England and featuring DI Karen Meadows, a single woman in her forties who is about to come face to face with a startling event from her past. 

Twenty-eight years ago, Karen and her family lived next door to the Marshalls but, suddenly one day, the wife and two young girls mysteriously disappeared leaving the missing woman's husband Richard behind claiming they had simply left him.  Suspicion has since followed him, but with no bodies, bringing the case to trial was not an option -until now- a body has been found and soon is positively identified as the missing woman.  And as Karen is given the case, she now must face the secret she has kept hidden all these years as she attempts to finally bring justice to an event that has long haunted her. 

Karen, single, independent, headstrong, and delightfully imperfect makes a very likable heroine in this engrossing mystery, even in the midst of her making a few very bad decisions that will most likely continue to give her some grief in future outings.  Her facing these past events, including her highly dysfunctional family, and connecting it all to who she is now, adds some depth and texture to an already finely woven tale of how the past never really leaves one for good.  Finely drawn characters, racing suspense, and a devious but realistic plot all add up to a story that comes highly recommended.                



Dive by Lisa Teasley

 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA ISBN: 1582344744

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

The only mystery in this beautiful and lyrical novel of grace is perhaps the mystery that surrounds love.  Ray and Ruby, two fellow travelers, meet in Alaska, both on the run from tragic accidents in their past.  Ray had killed a man in vengeance of the rape of a friend, and Ruby had been first on the scene of a horrible murder at the house she once lived in.  Both are looking for peace and redemption, and once they meet, they feel that life has perhaps finally brought them to the place they’ve long sought.  But as they live and love, and what a love it is, tragedy strikes again.  And as the reader follows their beautiful and sorrowful and ultimately joyful journey through it all, they are treated to a unique and wonderfully poignant read.  There are no easy answers or pat denouements in this gripping story of love, but instead a slow and steady build to a simpler contentment that only love can bring.  Highly recommended, this distinctive novel will resonate long after it’s over.  


The Palace Tiger by Barbara Cleverly

Publisher:  Delta  ISBN:  0385340095

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A keeper!  Talented author Barbara Cleverly has written a tale that you will read more than once, a tale that sets you down in the heart of an Indian state during the Victorian days of empire.  The setting and characters come vividly to life as you read.

A tale on two levels, two types of tigers stalking their own particular victims is the situation Joe Sandilands finds himself thrust into. The questions are who is the palace tiger and will Joe survive the encounter.

Not sure to who to trust Joe must keep his own counsel as he tries to figure out who has killed an heir to the throne of Ranipur and for what reason. This is a time and place where death stalks the unwary amid the beauty of the palace and land and Joe finds himself enthralled by it all. 

The characters Joe encounters, from a boy who thrusts Joe's own gun into his face, to the royal physician, and many others, all add to a great tale of suspense. The tension mounts steadily, through a tiger hunt and continues to the last page. Look out for the red herrings and false trails laid to trap the unwary.

Highly recommended by a very satisfied fan, this is a tale any mystery fan or reader of historical tales will really enjoy.  Something different in many ways, this tale will make any reader feel as though they've actually been to the India of empire days.

Enjoy. I certainly did.


To The Bone by Mark Vann

Publisher:  Cool Hand Publishing ISBN:  0976968835

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you're looking for something different in a thriller, this is the book for you.  Or if you're looking for a story to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, this story will do just that.

Talented author Mark Vann takes us into the world of a female detective who's just trying to do her job, but finds herself hampered by the good ole boys club that all male detectives belong to, the boss included. They all resent her presence, seeing her as a sop given to the feminist movement.

Caught in the crossfire between media and her boss, Magda Peterson begins to wonder if the job is worth it, especially when she's given the lead on catching a serial killer. To top off her professional problems, Magda becomes a political pawn and is forced to take advice from a psychiatrist sent to join the investigation by the mayor. 

Complication follows complication and the murders continue until the killer makes one fatal mistake. The killer chooses the wrong victim. 

Plenty of action, under currents, and mystery to keep you reading. A well-drawn cast of characters who keeps things moving add to your reading pleasure.  I'm happy to recommend this book to any thriller fan who likes the unexpected.

Enjoy. I did.