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No Way Back by Michael Crow

Publisher: HarperCollins ISBN: 0060725834

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Michael Crow’s No Way Back is a competently written thriller. No extreme plot lines to make you suspend disbelief to the breaking point, everything is feasible. What it’s not is particularly thrilling.

Luther Ewing is a Baltimore narc with a background in Special Forces/black ops work. When some thinly-explained untraditional police work earns him a six-month suspension, he finds himself working for the CIA as a bodyguard for a Korean businessman who is making overtures toward the north. Why the CIA would be involved is well-explained and the mission, or as much as we know of it, is plausible.

Crow writes with enough authority that I’m willing to believe the CIA would spend months getting Ewing ready for a mission that shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks. The book still shouldn’t be half over by the time Ewing gets to leave the safe house. The detailed description of his language, bodyguard, and combat training is well done, but goes on too long.

The meat of the story is too thinly served to be tasty. No more than potential rationales are given for actions which are then left open for speculation. The violence is dispassionately described, almost antiseptic, trivialized as much through the nihilistic nonchalance of its description as it would be in a ultra-violent action movie. No one can be trusted, so no one mourns much when the accessorizing players start to meet their ends, even if their ends seem more intended to provide one more unexpected twist than to play out a feasible story line.

That’s what gives the book its “so what?” feeling at the end. Crow tries to distance Ewing from some of the manipulations, but he’s ultimately cut from the same cloth, so it’s hard to feel too bad, regardless of what happens to him. He’ll kill who he has to kill and maybe it will bother him. Crow tries to tell you it will, but Ewing is too quick on the trigger, proud of his work, and  detached in the descriptions for it to ring true.

Crow’s a good enough writer to keep you reading, no mean feat right there. A little more humanity in the characters could easily have bumped this up a notch. “Ah,” you are already saying, “but that’s the way these people are.” Maybe so. That doesn’t make them someone you’d want to spend this much time with if you knew them.

 

 

GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Kelly Lange

Publisher: Mysterious Press ISBN 0 89296 757 9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

Hanging around public toilets after dark in high heels and a pink suit wouldn't strike most of us as a good career move.  Nevertheless, it's what Maxi Poole finds herself doing after her boss, the irascible Pete Capra, moves her to the 'graveyard shift' at Channel Six in Los Angeles.

Maxi isn't sure if she's being punished, challenged or just mucked about by Pete.  As readers would know from Kelly Lange's previous two books in the series, Maxi isn't the sort to quit in a huff or give in gracefully: she grits her teeth and determines to make something big of this lousy job.  After all, she's a star reporter, not some back-woods stringer.  When the wife of a local councillor is bloodily murdered, and the son of his housekeeper is kidnapped, Maxi has something to get her teeth into.  She also has the sudden responsibility of the housekeeper, who moves into her guest room and spends her days in tears.  Maxi needs to solve the kidnapping if only to rid herself of this sodden lodger.

Maxi quickly makes a friend on her new beat, the handsome, mysterious Tom McCartney, who reports on the watches of the night by choice, and who takes her in hand and begins to provide her with the tools she will need to survive in the  dark side of the urban jungle.

Maxi files some light-weight stories about cats up trees and fires, but fairly soon begins to get some glimpses of Pete Capra's real reason for assigning her to the graveyard shift .  There's a big story here, Maxi can smell it even if she can't quite grasp the shape of it yet.   Unknown to Maxi, there's an even bigger story behind the Big Story, one which almost makes the term 'graveyard shift' a literal rather than figurative phrase.

The book is a good mix of suspense, local colour, real-life background from Lange's own experience as a newscaster, and enough humour to counterbalance the grim dark streets and their denizens.

 

Cat in a Hot Pink Pursuit by Carole Nelson Douglas

Publisher:  Tom Doherty Associates ISBN:  13:9780765313997

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

A great read!! This is a tale to enthrall any mystery reader who loves cats, adventure, exotic locales, complex plots and great characters who strut about the pages, daring you to deny their reality.

Homicide Lt. Molina's daughter has entered and won a place in a teen queen reality show and will be separated from her mother for two weeks in a mansion with a dark past. Molina drafts Temple Barr into accompanying her daughter, also giving a promise so dear to Temple's heart.

Temple, disguised as a street tough girl named Xoe Cloe, Lt. Molina's daughter Mariah, and Midnight Louie enter the house under the watchful eye of a combination of judges and coaches. Temple's job is to protect Mariah from danger, a danger that began when word of the reality show first came to town with the killing of two young girls.

While  Temple and Mariah must conform to the rules of the contest or be dismissed from the house, Louie and his three female cohorts do some investigating as things begin to happen, culminating in two more murders. 

A set of subplots are woven faultlessly into the fabric of this story that keep all the wonderful characters in focus while the story unfolds.  A page turner you'll enjoy every bit as much as I did. 

 

Last Call for Blackford Oakes by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Publisher: Harcourt Books. ISBN: 0-15-101085-4

Reviewed by Tim Davis for New Mystery Reader

Turn back the calendar to the late 1980s, and join Blackford Oakes in another breathtaking adventure. The 62 year old master spy—a veteran of more than three and a half decades in the CIA and covert government service—is called upon, once again, to travel to the Soviet Union at the end of 1987. According to the most recent and most reliable American intelligence, someone is once again plotting to kill Mikhail Gorbachev, the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Oakes—as he did in the previous plot against Gorbachev—needs to take action.

Posing as a publishing agent named Henry Doubleday, Oakes arrives in Moscow and begins maneuvering within the labyrinth of politically duplicitous Soviet society in an attempt to learn as much as he can as quickly as he can. Joining forces again in Moscow with Gus Windels—the fellow who had once posed as Oakes’ son in a previous case—Oakes knows that even in the Cold War era of Soviet glasnost and perestroika he must remain perceptive, wary, and skeptical in Moscow. You never know, after all, who you can really trust or who you can really believe. (By the way, there is an amazing collection of fictional and real characters in this novel; you will encounter political leaders like President Reagan and Pierre Trudeau, writers like Graham Greene and Carlos Fuentes, film stars like Gregory Peck, and dozens of other famous and infamous celebrities from the 1980s.) And, as Oakes knows too well, you never know exactly how you should interfere—or even if you should interfere at all—in the presumed plot against Gorbachev.

Oakes’ perceptions, wariness, and skepticism, however, are severely tested when he becomes acquainted with Dr. Ursina Chadinov. Soon the simple acquaintance between the American spy and the Russian physician evolves into something much more intimate and serious. But the surprisingly vulnerable Oakes soon finds out affairs of the heart can have disastrous consequences in the world of spies and assassination plots. Moreover, when Oakes crosses paths with one of his most dangerous adversaries and bitter enemies, the ruthless and infamous Cold War spy and notorious defector Andrei Fyodorovich Martins, a.k.a. Kim Philby, it becomes very clear very quickly that the tensions between Oakes and Philby will reach an unavoidable point of explosive confrontation from which one or the other—or perhaps both—will not walk away.

This is Mr. Buckley’s eleventh Blackford Oakes novel, and—for the perceptive reader who closely examines the title—it seems to be the last. So, if you haven’t read the others in the superb Blackford Oakes series of spy novels (beginning with Saving the Queen more than twenty years ago), here is a recommendation: I would think—if you understand what is implicit in this latest title—you may want to take a pass on Last Call for Blackford Oakes at least for the time being until you have enjoyed some of the earlier Oakes books. If you are already one of the many thousands of experienced and devoted fans of Buckley and Oakes, then you won’t want to miss what may be one of the finest stories in the series.

 

 

The Crime Trade by Simon Kernick

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312340591

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

The Crime Trade begins with a police drug sting gone bad, leaving four dead at the scene, including one copper. Two other homicides on the same day that may or may not be related lead to the unfolding of several related plots that are complex without becoming too complicated to follow. Everything falls together nicely in the end, where something less than a traditional happy ending meets the ultimate test of being unpredictable while seeming inevitable.

Kernick gives a Yank an enlightening look at British police procedures, even if some of the abbreviations of rank are a bit confusing at first. His writing owes a lot to Ed McBain in its no-nonsense descriptions and action sequences. Most Americans know English police don’t carry weapons. Kernick lets you in on the fear and frustration of facing down vicious criminals while hoping the armed police get there in time.

In some ways, Kernick doesn’t give himself enough credit. He lets his hair down for a scene in the middle of the book between undercover policeman Stegs Jenner and grass (snitch) Trevor Murk and demonstrates a spontaneous wit and flow that would do anyone proud. A little more of that would make this good book into an excellent one.

Kernick’s characters are well-drawn, believable, and don’t step outside themselves just to make a plot point. He keeps you wondering who did what to whom until the very end, but never lets you get so involved solving the puzzle you forget to enjoy the story. The early part takes a little getting used to, at least until the English terms and rhythms get into your head. After that, sit back and enjoy the ride.  

 

Detective At Death's Door by H. R. F. Keating

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books ISBN:  0312342063

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

A mystery to keep. You'll read it again to see what you missed the first time. This tale will hold your attention through twists and turns to the very satisfying end.

Harriet Martens aka The Hard Detective is the first victim of a killer, but she survives and once on her feet again, takes an interest in the case. She is forbidden to take an active part in the investigation because of her standing as a victim, but she still does some unofficial inquiring.

Other attacks follow and the police are hard pressed to identify the killer who is terrorizing the town.  Is it the old crone portrayed in a local paper? Some think so, but Harriet disagrees. Problem is, she has no other culprit to offer as a substitute.

A fun tale of false clues and mistaken identities to keep you riveted to your seat while the police desperately search for a killer. One of the best books I've read yet by the very talented author H. R. F. Keating.  A pleasure to highly recommend this book.  Enjoy.