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Straits of Fortune by Anthony Gagliano

Publisher:  William Morrow  ISBN:  978-0-06-087809-2

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

It’s summer in Miami and business is slow for New York detective turned personal trainer Jack Vaughn.  As he says, anyone who can afford to hire a personal trainer can also afford to leave town.  Nonetheless, when Colonel Patterson, a wealthy former client, makes Jack a business proposition—$100,000 in exchange for sinking a yacht—he refuses.  Jack knows he’s being manipulated when the Colonel reveals the involvement of his gorgeous daughter, Vivian, who also happens to be Jack’s former lover.

Despite his conviction that it’s a mistake, Jack allows himself to be convinced.  He carries out the task easily enough, but immediately afterward, someone on a jet-ski tries to kill him.  Jack evades his unknown assailant, only to be picked up by the Coast Guard and sent to jail.  At this point, the reader sees the irony in the book’s title and might be reminded of the Hee-Haw song, “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

Uncertain who he can trust and what he’s up against, Jack tries to extricate himself from the mess of trouble he’s in.  Despite her beauty and promiscuity, the attraction Vivian holds for him is inexplicable, but then the workings of the male mind are a far greater mystery than any whodunit.  Described as “sunshine noir,” Straits of Fortune does not quite live up to the praises of some of its other reviewers, but it’s still a good read and Jack is a likable, invincible new hero.



Shamus in the Green Room by Susan Kandel

Publisher: Avon  ISBN: 0061284874

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Cece Caruso is back and sassy as ever in her vintage clothing.  Her biography of Dashiell Hammett is being turned into a movie and she has been hired as an advisor to the actor who will be Dashiell, Rafe Simic.  She and Rafe travel to San Francisco to experience the environs where Dashiell lived and wrote his novels. Neither of them expected to be caught on film by the paparazzi nor a call from the Los Angeles coroner’s office asking Rafe to come back and identify a dead body because his business card was found in her personal belongings.  Rafe identifies the dead body; she is Maren Lavender, former girlfriend and sister of his best friend who is also his manager.  Although the police do not consider Rafe a suspect they are keeping an eye on him.  Police detective Peter Gambino, who is also Cece’s fiancé, warns her to keep her nose out of the investigation but she is attracted to a murder mystery just like bees to honey.  Her probing raises doubt that Maren committed suicide.  She meets Maren’s best friend Lisa, who could be her twin, and finds out more about the surfer gang that Maren hung around with along with Lisa’s confidence that Maren did not commit suicide.  Additionally, the more she talks to Rafe the more she believes that his stories about Maren, her brother and Lisa just don’t add up.  Needless to say her snooping gets her in trouble with Peter and puts her square in harm’s way.

Shamus in the Green Room is the third installment in the Cece Caruso series.  Cece’s passion for vintage clothing complements her interest in the lives of dead mystery writers.  Cece continues to struggle with her relationship with Peter, her daughter, son-in-law, mother and best friends Lael and Bridget all of whom are present in this installment and add to the humor and color of the plotline.  The whodunit takes a number of twists and turns as Cece unearths the truth about Maren Lavender.  Shamus in the Green Room is a funny, fast-paced, entertaining chick-lit mystery which is a delightful read.



Killer Instinct by Joseph Finder

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks ISBN: 0312347499

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Jason Steadman, a top salesman for Electron, a Boston based electronics firm, is just the kind of guy you'd expect to find selling plasma screens; charming, likable, ex-frat boy, honest for the most part, and a great salesman.  Add in the beautiful wife, decent house in the 'burbs, and great friends and you have the profile of a typical corporate drone.  But the lackadaisical simplicity that is Jason's life becomes just a memory after he meets Carl Semko, former Special Forces operative now a tow truck driver, and offers him a job at the firm after a friendly, innocent meeting. 

Semko will do anything to help a friend, with an unnatural loyalty that knows no bounds, and Jason is about to discover just how far his new friend will go to help.  And while at first Jason is thrilled to have a hand up climbing the corporate ladder, watching amazed as his competition internally and externally seem to choke at all the right times, their deals falling apart as Jason's come through, he all too soon discovers the price is much more than he's willing to pay.  But loyalty for some is a lifetime commitment, which if refused, will next demand a payment in blood.

Finder is the master at revealing the repulsive underbelly of the corporate world, having exposed the greed and power that essentially drives this unfeeling machine towards success in previous books.  But in his latest he turns the screws yet another creative notch by asking the question of those near the bottom; if you could succeed how blind would you be willing to become to make it happen?  

And in that lies the wonder of this book, just the right questions are asked and just the right buttons are pushed, familiar enough so that we all can see how easily one path might seem more enticing than the other, how easy it might be to forget the price of success, and how very dangerous "just this one last time" can be when confronted with choices of easy or honest.   Readers may find themselves taking contrasting perspectives from Finder's corporate thrillers, and someone else reading this very same title may take something completely different away from it, which is another wondrous thing. 

Either way, Finder doesn't need to knock us out with moral judgments and a preacher's rant, he only need tell the story of one man not unlike the rest of us, which makes the message that more clear.  Throw into the mix plenty of nonstop suspense, wonderfully drawn characters, and an ending worth what's come before, and you have one hell of a fast and stimulating read that'll keep you going long into the night.  



Nightlife by Thomas Perry

Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN: 0345496000

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In a nice twist to the regular fare we see in the suspense genre, Perry brings us the relatively rare breed of serial killer, a woman.  Tanya Starling, young and beautiful, has the ability to be the kind of woman the man of the moment wants her to be, and can have him wrapped around her finger in the blink of an eye.  Only problem is, once she tires of the game the man must die, and so leaving a trail of dead bodies in her wake, Tanya flits from man to man and city to city.  That is until Portland detective Catherine Hobbs joins in the race, one of the few who believes that all these brutal killings lately are done by one woman, one woman she will do anything to stop, including working with Joe Pitt, a private detective who is not only brilliant, but may be the one man who can end her self-induced solitary life.

This stimulating cat and mouse tale has just about all you'll need for a couple of days of great entertainment.  It's fascinating to watch a woman, whose exterior motives might just make a little TOO much sense to many of us females, rid herself of her unsuitable suitors with such assurance, even though it's really her interior motives that drive this frightening read.  Admittedly, she is one nasty piece of work and I wouldn't recommend this as a good break-up tool, but still it's one heck of a novel approach to the game-ridden dating scene.  However, such a tale might just make the men in the audience squirm just a tad and be grateful this is only fiction.  Filled with great characters, nonstop suspense, and an ending that ties it all up neatly, this is one electrifying ride that shouldn't be missed.           




Murder Unleashed by Elaine Viets

Publisher:  Signet  ISBN  0 451 221087

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you're looking for something different, and are tired of superwomen PIs and
tough guy cops, try Elaine Viets' series of "dead-end job" mysteries.

The latest offering has the heroine, Helen Hawthorn, working in a pampered pooch palace, surely the last place the police will be seeking her.  (Helen's on the run from St Louis, where she wrecked her cheating husband's SUV with a crowbar and would have done the same to him if she'd been able to get the coward out of the vehicle.)

Helen's assumption that a fancy shop for dog accessories is about the safest
place to be falls apart when two of the rich, spoiled female clients are
murdered.   Worse than that, Helen discovers one of them and then lies to the
police about it.  If they take her fingerprints, she's done for: prison in St
Louis awaits.

The main suspect is Jonathon, the celebrity dog groomer.  Jonathon is booked up for weeks ahead because of his supposed talent in making even plain dogs look beautiful.  Jonathon has a deep, dark secret, which Helen eventually learns, but promises to keep unless it has any bearing on the murders.

Aided by her landlady, the tough old Margery, and a rag-tag assortment of
friends, Helen sets out to solve the murders before the police take any further
interest in her.  Meanwhile her boyfriend Phil wants to know just exactly who
she is and what's in her past--he has done a background check and discovered that Helen doesn't officially exist.

This is a well-written book with interesting characters. ("The woman wore her
boredom like an expensive perfume.  Her clothes shrieked money.  Her skimpy
sundress cost more per square inch than waterfront real estate.") If you can
control your nausea when reading about the amount of money rich people spend on their dogs' clothes, cosmetics and parties, you'll enjoy it.  That fact that two of the nastier idle rich die early in the book may make you feel a bit  better.  Viets has an ability to invent loathsome women that amounts to minor genius.



The Darkest Place by Daniel Judson

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN: 0312355157

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When the first body of a young man is discovered in the water of the wealthy enclave of the Hamptons, the town is quick to call it a suicide, doing the same when the second body is found, but by the third it begins to come clear that there's something much more evil at work.  And it's within this grip of madness that we meet the cast of characters who will take the reader down the many trails that eventually lead to the gruesome truth. 

Deke Kane is the first to come under suspicion, a fallen author bent on self-destruction, caught up in alcohol and a married woman, he's never gotten over the drowning death of his own son, and now he's suffering memory lapses; is it the drink, or is there a deeper and darker truth?  

On the case is an odd trio of private detectives, including one young man with his own ugly past, and one who is determined to solve it all while in search of his own private redemption.  

Then there's the enigmatic and captivating young woman who also is hiding a nasty past, but seems to hold the key to the illusive truth that changes without warning.  

And as these characters' lives collide, each collision will bring change, some of it terrifying, some of it deadly, some with just enough hope to keep the search alive for the explosive truth that will transform them all.

The pace, tone, and plot of this multi-faceted book is so delectably absorbing that putting it down is like eating just one spoon of your favorite desert; impossible.  My advice; start it on a weekend, or plan to call in sick if on a weekday, you'll realize quickly why.  Judson manages to put together this collection of disparate characters with each one being not only vitally essential to what is stunning in its entirety, but with each being as enthralling as the last, a feat that usually fails in less gifted hands.  But Judson is capable of this and much more, infusing emotion and depth into almost everyone we meet in this heart stopping ride, and it's satisfying to end such a book conflicted in which one you'd like to see the most another time.  Let's hope Judson realizes that just about any of these characters are worthy of another visit, as we're left feeling their stories have only begun.            




The Wrong Man by John Katzenbach

Publisher: Ballantine Books ISBN: 0345464842

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Boston college student Ashley Freeman shares a one-night stand with bad boy Michael O'Connell one drunken evening, she has no idea the destruction that will befall her family as a result.  Her father, Scott Freeman, her mother Sally, and Sally's partner Hope, will all soon feel the wrath of this young man's anger at being denied the woman he believes now belongs to him.  And as Michael systematically sets out to destroy all their lives, they will find themselves at a crossroads, one in which will they will have to decide how far they are willing to go to protect their own. 

Katzenbach does a masterfully chilling job of instilling this insidious and slowly creeping menace into the civilized world of these characters caught unaware, with the extreme differences of these two disparate worlds, the stalker and the stalked, creating a realistic and stunningly frightening effect for the reader.  And while It's this very ordinariness of these character's lives that bring this threat home for the reader, it's their disconcerting and shocking reaction that sets this book above the ordinary. 

This is not your monster under the bed story, one that the reader can easily detach from for the night, instead this is one that the reader will most likely remember and ponder over for a while to come, especially when reminded by the evening news in yet another story of a woman shot dead by a lover scorned.   So while this is not light and easy reading material, it is fascinating and noteworthy, and one that deserves to be read for it's intelligent and convincing look at this threat that has become all too real for far too many.