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Beware False Profits by Emilie Richards

Publisher: Berkeley Crime  ISBN  978 0 425 21868 6

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

A good cosy genre mystery should be comfortable but not cloying, familiar but not trite.  You should feel as if you have lived in the town or neighbourhood and known the people from the very first chapter.  

Emerald Springs, Ohio, is one of those towns; it feels like home from page one, and the charming heroine, Agate (“Aggie”) Sloan-Wilcox seems like an old friend at once.  Aggie is the daughter of a flower child, the wife of a Unitarian-Universalist minister, the mother of two girls, and a vegetarian.  And she’s also a dab hand at solving mysteries, much to the chagrin of Lt Roussos, who grudgingly admits she has a gift, albeit sometimes a dangerous one.

When Maura Wagner phones and begs Aggie to use her famed puzzle-solving skills to find her missing husband Joe, it throws a serious crimp into one of Aggie’s very rare weekends away with her husband Ed.  However, Ed feels they have to help, as Joe’s a parishioner, and leading light of the Helping Hand food aid program.  And they are already in New York, so what could it hurt to sniff around a bit and see if they can find Joe?

The sniffing around turns up some very amazing information about what Joe has been doing on his monthly visits to New York.   It also turns up Joe’s phone in a most unlikely place, but doesn’t get them any nearer to finding the man himself.

Meanwhile, back in Emerald Spring, the annual parish Mayday event is coming, but there’s no Joe to help out as he always has done.  Aggie’s mother Junie steps in to act as fortune teller, and the event seems to be going well until the chocolate fountain explodes and a local busybody ends up dead.

In between sleuthing and parish activities and raising children, Aggie is working with her friend Lucy to rehab an old Victorian house for Junie to move into. Junie wants to open a quilting shop, but meanwhile is living with Ed and Aggie, not an ideal situation.  

Aggie collects information about what happened to Joe Wagner, how Helen Kefauver died, and what’s going on at Helping Hand, but she can’t quite bring all the pieces together.  Then, just like looking at one of her mother’s quilts, Aggie perceives the pattern, and the hand that’s behind it all.  Unfortunately,  that hand is presently holding a loaded syringe over Aggie’s flu-weakened body.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, nicely complicated without being incomprehensible, lots of people to like and a few to heartily loathe, and as full of surprises as a well-loaded blueberry muffin. 

 

 

 

Tapped Out by Natalie M. Roberts

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN-10: 0425218015

Reviewed by Harvey Lau and Geraldine Young, New Mystery Reader

When Utah dance teacher Jenny Partridge agrees to help out as a teacher at the Holllywood StarMakers Convention dance competition, little did she realize just how far someone would go to try to discourage her. First, a telephone call threat, then the bombing of her car, followed by another bomb set off in her dance studio, and then an attack by a snowplow in a dark parking lot.  

Things become more serious when she finds the body of a StarMakers Convention dance teacher in a dumpster. Jenny persists, however, as she needs the money that convention director, Bill Flanagan, has offered her to coach at the two-day dance event. Bill, an old flame and fellow dancer, is in a quandary as two of his teachers have disappeared without leaving any word of their whereabouts or intentions.

Jenny doesn't play sleuth in this second book in the dance mystery series. Events happen around her that leave her depending on a few of her dance moms and her current love interest, detective Tate Wilson. Her character and attempts at humor might seem familiar to those who have followed the mystery series featuring Stephanie Plum, who does play sleuth - the supposedly "ditsy" main character, her conservative parents who try to match her up with every single male available, a quirky grandmother, and reliance on her sometime boyfriend, the detective, to pull her out of sticky situations.

Subplots include a Samoan missionary who asks Jenny to help him leave the mission to become a dancer, "psycho dance moms" who hound her day and  night about their little dance darlings, and the development of a relationship with detective Tate.  

A mildly entertaining cozy novel, the mystery does give some insights about Utah and its missionaries, the world of dance competitions, and the obsessed parents of child dancers, otherwise known as the psycho dance moms. Yes, the mystery is eventually solved, and it does involve Jenny, but not through her own attempts at crime solving.

 

 

The Fright of the Iguana by Linda O. Johnston

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN-10: 0425218023

Reviewed by Harvey Lau and Geraldine Young, New Mystery Reader

Kendra Ballantyne's troubles in this latest Pet-Sitter Mystery novel began when her charges, a Sharpei dog and a three-foot iguana, disappeared from the home of their owner, a high profile  film producer.

Two members of the Pet Sitters Club of Southern California also had their clients' pets snatched. Not only that, but a founding member of the club was found murdered in the home of a customer usually visited by club president, Tracy Owens.

As a practicing lawyer and sometime sleuth, Kendra vows to find the perpetrator of the pet-nappings and also clear Tracy of the murder of  fellow pet-sitter, Nya Barston.

There are several possibilities. Was the pet-sitter club being targeted? Was the murder directly related to the pet-nappings? Who were the likely suspects - the clients and pet owners themselves, club members, or their significant others? An interesting plot, lively dialogue, and keen observations of people and situations keep you turning the pages. The fully developed characters in the novel are seen through Kendra's sharp and discerning eyes.

The novel includes information about the pet-sitting business, taking care of various kinds of animals, as well as legal conflict resolution. The vet Tom and the P.I. Jeff are important parts of the plot and both vie for Kendra's affections. At the end of the novel, she finally decides where her heart lies.

The Fright of the Iguana is a must for animal lovers, mystery buffs, and romance readers, and it would certainly be entertaining for anyone interested in how conflicts are resolved outside of a courtroom!

 

 

The Missing by Sarah Langan

Publisher:  Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0060872918

Reviewed by Glen Clooney - New Mystery Reader

In the tradition of Steven King's "The Stand", Sarah Langan has mixed environmental disaster with the purest evil and brought about the end of the world, successfully serving an old dish from a new recipe.  In her first novel, "The Keeper", Langan sets the stage for the horrors that unfold in "The Missing."  In Bedford, Maine, a paper mill exploded and the resulting fire released hydrogen sulfide gas into the air.  In the woods between Bedford and Corpus Christi, something lies dormant. When a nasty boy named James Walker goes missing after a field trip to those woods, pregnant teacher and small-town loser Lois Larkin tries desperately to find him.  What she discovers is a freshly dug hole where the soil is soaked with blood, and in her mind the first echoes of evil begin to stir.  Compelled to eat the soil, Lois becomes infected with the most horrific virus ever imagined.  After James Walker goes missing and Lois Larkin becomes confined to her bed, people all over Corpus Christi start disappearing or growing ill as the virus spreads.  Those who don't die become monsters whose hunger is never sated.

Sarah Langan has delivered a novel with great depth of character, and just enough environmental and physiological factoids to produce believable evil.  Her monsters are a convincing concoction of vampire and zombie with a hive mind that eventually elects Lois Larkin as its queen.  The small-town setting and the small cast of focal characters brings the reader deep into the psyche of the virus itself, making it a tangibly personal and skin-crawly experience.  I haven't read "The Keeper", but "The Missing" stands on its own as a well-crafted and expertly told story.

 

 

Paint it Black by Janet Fitch

Publisher: Back Bay Books ; ISBN 0 316067148

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

Oh, dear, not another runaway dropout story, I thought when I opened this book, prepared for lots of teen angst , and scruffy crash pads.

What a surprise!   Yes, there are a couple of young people smoking pot,  living in modest quarters and barely making ends meet, but there all similarity to any other books of the genre ends.

The story opens with Josie Tyrell wondering where her complicated, moody lover Michael has gone.  He said he had to get away, to work on a painting away from everything.  She expected he'd get over whatever was bothering him and come home.  When the phone rings, she is sure it's Michael--but it's the police, with the worst news imaginable.

For the next few days Josie's life limps along, punctuated by frightening assaults by Michael's mother Meredith, a famous musician--there are phone calls, and a scene at Michael's grave.  Meredith blames Josie for Michael's suicide, because you have to blame someone in such matters, and Meredith's ego is too huge for her to blame herself.

Then there's a total about-face, and Meredith swoops into Josie's life and carries her off from the humble home in Echo Park to a palatial mansion, redolent of Michael.  It isn't long before the reader feels Meredith is trying to suck Josie dry of her memories of Michael, steal little secret happinesses that stitched their lives together.

All the while, Josie wonders and wonders: why did Michael kill himself?  Was it something she did or did not do?  Is it something Meredith did, long before Michael wandered into Josie's world?  She jumps into her old rattle-trap and sets out for the seedy motel in 29 Palms where Michael ended his life.  There in the ratty room, and in bleak beauty of the desert beyond, alone with her thoughts, Josie gets to the bottom of the mystery of Michael's self-murder.  "Death lay coiled in the dark between the perception and the pain."

This is a shocking book in many ways: it's raw as a fresh wound in some spots and almost lyrical in others.  There's some wonderful writing here, as well as a rather surprising ending.

 

 

 

The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski

Publisher: St. Martins Griffin  ISBN 0-312-374594

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

You are gonna need sweat bands to read this book!

The Blonde swirls with violence, humor, politics and just plain craziness. Duane Swerve, uh, Swycz, oh hell, let's just call him Duane S., shall we? OK, so it's Swierczynski. We don't want to make him angry, after all, god knows he's capable of some serious revenge. Anyway, he has created an instant classic, a book that SCREAMS (literally and loudly) for Tarentino, Rodriguez, or even Frank Miller to adapt and film.

Swierczynski, at the book's outset, drops us square in the middle of a personal hell belonging to one Jack Eisley, a soon-to-be-divorced journalist from Chicago. You see, poor Jack, who also appears in Swierczynski's previous novel, The Wheelman, had the misfortune to be targeted by a particularly industrious blonde, currently named Kelly White, and she informs him, out of the blue, 1) she's poisoned his drink with a "luminous toxin"; 2) he has but hours to live; 3) he must accompany her for the foreseeable future in order to receive the antidote. If this reminds you of a certain classic noir film...good...you are in the right place.

Because then, Kelly takes Jack on a little tour of his hell, complete with nightmarish blood-borne surveillance devices and scenarios best described as Jim Thompson with a shot of Phil Dick.

If that's not enough (and believe us when we say it isn't), Swierczynski is also developing another narrative, that of Mike Kowalski, sniper/assassin/comedian of unknown affiliation. He might work for Homeland Security, or any other nameless and scary group of law-takers. Doesn't really matter, because, with all his demons, he is immensely likeable. Part of Swierczynski's genius is that he has made Kowalski the hero of the book. Somehow. And if you think this is all just crazy-mad style, get over yourself. He's crafted a serious story around all the outsized action, with an ending as satisfying as they come.

OK, so we have hot girls, self-replicating killer-spy nanomachines, journo-suckers, affable hit-men, double-secret government cadres; are we forgetting anything? OH YEAH, a severed head in a duffle bag!!

Whew!

So log off, put your jacket on, and get your ass down to the bookstore. March up to the front desk and say, loudly, I WANT THE BLONDE. Well, that might not be so smart, but you get the point, right?

 

 

The Widow by Carla Neggers

Publisher: Mira ISBN: 0778325164

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Boston police detective Abigail Browning has been a widow for seven years, her FBI husband shot during their honeymoon at his childhood home of Mount Desert Island, the killer never caught.  So when on what should have been their wedding anniversary, Abigail receives a mysterious call beckoning her back to the island, she returns to search for answers in her beloved's inexplicable death.

Search and rescue expert Owen Garrison is also back on the island for the summer, and so when Abigail's presence begins to make the residents jumpy and cautious, Owen begins to help her investigate.  And when Abigail is attacked and receives another menacing phone call, they know they are on the right track and begin pushing harder in an effort to save her life.

Neggers has done a great job of creating a plethora of characters that keep the reader guessing, with just about everyone on the entire island carrying one dark secret or another.  And as she slowly reveals what lies beneath this seemingly idyllic setting, the suspense only increases when trying to guess which of these seemingly innocent faces masks a killer.  Combined with a decent amount of romance and a unique setting, you have a mystery that easily entertains.

 

 

 

The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN: 0312357494

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It's a rainy and dreary Thanksgiving for the five students left behind at their college's gloomy campus, all other students having departed to spend the holidays with friends and family.  Each of these students left behind has their own reasons for not returning home, and when they discover an old Ouija board, these secrets will come out, along with the pain and loneliness that separates these lost souls from their peers.  But along with the secrets released will be another force, one that has been waiting a long time to be drawn from its evil hiding place, and one that wants nothing less than to take the lives of these remaining students.  But is it really an evil force, or merely a prank gone horribly awry?      

Sokoloff sets the scene for a top notch gripping ghost story from the first page, and from there slowly ratchets up the suspense, creating an almost excruciating sense of anticipation for what's to come next.  And not only is her pacing and plotting taut and multi-faceted, with its intelligent and inventive allusions towards psychological theories and considerations, but her sensitively and poignantly drawn characters also serve to stir the reader, drawing them even further into an already mesmerizing read.  By far the best tale I've read of this genre, it took all I had not to rush to the last page to see how it all turned out, and I'm glad I didn’t as the journey to get there made it well worth the wait. 

 

 

Murder on the Rebound by Jeffrey Miller

Publisher:  ECW Press  ISBN:  978-1-55022-793-2

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Do you like cats?  Do you like stories told by cats that have their own ideas about things?  If so, then you'll enjoy Murder on the Rebound as told by Amicus about the murder of a law student, a murder without apparent motive.

Talented author Jeffrey Miller takes us into the inner workings of justice in the English court system as we get a look at the proceedings in a case of murder.  Amicus' friend, Justice Mariner, with whom he resides between the justice's efforts to find him a permanent home, has been assigned to teach a law course and is preparing to do so when at a dinner party, a murder is committed.

The investigation into the student's death brings out secrets long hidden. Then the body is misplaced.  Does this mean there is no murder if there's no victim?  Justice Mariner must try to make sense of the twists and turns to a cleverly crafted, well told story.  This tale will bring to mind Rumpole of the Bailey tales and those readers who are fans of those tales, will also enjoy this book. 

A fun read I'm pleased to recommend to any English mystery fan or cat related mystery.  This is an evenly paced tale that builds a slow tension to keep you reading.  A story you'll be glad you read and you'll be looking for other books by this creative author.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

 

Sucker Punch by Marc Strange

Publisher:   Dundurn Group  ISBN:  978--1-55002-702-0

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

A fun read any mystery buff who likes to tag along with the sleuth will enjoy.  Join Joe Grundy as he tries to find the killer of a newly rich visitor to the Lord Douglas Hotel. 

The Lord Douglas is one of the last of its kind, a hotel with lots of secrets, including the whereabouts of the missing 13th floor.  Will it add one more secret to its collection, the identity of the murderer of the young man who was planning to give away his entire inheritance?  What other secrets are involved in his death?  Will Joe Grundy be able to unravel them with the help of his loyal friends and employees?

Talented author Marc Strange weaves an intriguing plot out of the motives and personal agendas of the well drawn characters that will draw you into their lives.  Some you'll love, some you'll love to hate, all the while wondering who killed the young man and why they did it in the hotel.  Shouldn't they have figured hotel security in the person of Joe Grundy would take on the challenge of identifying them? 

Several twists to the story, red herrings drawn across false trails, make this a story to be thoroughly enjoyed with characters you'll remember.  You'll be looking for other books from this creative author as I will.  Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

 

 

The Devil's Backbone by Kim Wozencraft

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN: 0312948336

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Sisters Kit and Jenny couldn't be more different; Jenny a Texas cop, has always followed in her father's footsteps, himself a Texas Ranger, whereas Kit, a college drop-out stripper with a slight drinking problem, has always been drawn to the darker side of life and away from her father's high expectations.  And while both live in Austin, their lives have only occasionally intersected, that is until a threatening string of events leading to the murder of one of them changes everything.  Now one sister will have to face all that she has been trying to hide from for years in order to uncover the ghastly truth behind the madness that has killed her sister and is now stalking her, a truth that will leave her with no one to trust, not even herself.

This amazing read comes with all that's required to keep readers entranced from beginning to end.  Most notable is Kit's character, a lost soul who spouts philosophy while taking her clothes off in a misguided effort at control over those she fears most; men caught in the grip of lascivious desires.  In addition to this, Wozencraft has turned out a tale of gripping suspense, one that leads the reader down a winding road of surprising twists and turns, all culminating in an explosive denouement that is perfectly rendered for what has come before.  Multi-faceted and driven, this is one hell of a book that deserves a follow up, and we only hope Wozencraft plans to provide it. 

 

 

Sisters on the Case ed. Sara Paretsky

Publisher:  Obsidian Mystery    ISBN 978 0 451 22239 8

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is a veritable tapas bar of literary tidbits: if you can’t find at least one story in this collection that shocks, baffles, amuses or touches you then you are very hard to please indeed.

The creator of V I Warshawski and founding mother of Sisters in Crime brings together a sampler that is the perfect book for a long boring plane ride.  I speak first hand: this was my companion volume on a recent endless flight from Dubai and it helped me ignore the large, sneezing, fidgeting person in the next seat for much of the journey.

The advantage of a collection of short mysteries over a full-length novel is that you can read in small servings, and complete one story at a sitting.  The drawback, in some collections, is that your attention isn’t fully engaged.  Paretsky has managed to overcome this negative by combining a selection of stories that are each complete and full of detail.  Their small worlds, like a well-made doll house, pull you in and involve you.  While not related, the stories still flow from one to the other and you are quickly immersed in the new drama.  This is in part due to the skill of the writers, who capture your interest from the start.

Who wouldn’t want to read on after this opening?  “I am grown old now and weary, and speak more often with Death, though we have yet to strike a bargain, she and I.”   What bargain?  Why is the narrator speaking with Death in the first place?   When did Death become female?   Sue Henry’s ‘Sister Death’ has the poetic lilt of the Celtic twilight, balanced with the tension of an overtightened harp string that you know must snap at any moment. 

For a lighter touch, try Kate Flora’s ‘Ninjettes’; a new take on how to deal with The Other Woman.  Two old adversaries meet on a park bench in “I Killed’, but only one walks away.  Dorothy Salisbury Davis shows that age has not withered nor custom staled with her Whartonesque look at the relationship between two sisters in ‘Dies Irae’.  

For the cost of a cheap lunch you can have all these and 16 more stories as well.  Highly recommended.