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Without a Word by Carol Lea Benjamin

Publisher: Avon ISBN: 006053902X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Benjamin's latest outing featuring NY Private Investigator Rachel Alexander and her delightful partner, her pit bull Dashiell, is even better than the previous.  It's obvious Alexander has found her perfect stride, and it's one that is both highly original and ultimately inspiring. 

This time out Rachel is contacted by Leon Spector to find his missing wife who simply vanished into thin air five years ago while taking the dog for a walk.  His urgency after five years doesn't make much sense until Rachel hears the rest of the heartbreaking story; Madison their 12 year old daughter is suspected of killing her doctor in a fit of rage.  And considering that Madison hasn't spoken a word since her mother left only makes the case that much more difficult, not in only in finding out more of the missing woman's character, but in proving Madison's possible innocence as well.   But Rachel finds out all too quickly that just about everybody involved is lying, and where the truth really lies will bring about even more death, as the secrets that are about to be revealed are of the most nefarious kind.

Benjamin's tale of mothers and daughters, secrets and obsessions, and truths and betrayals is as emotionally wrought as it is thoughtful and suspenseful.  The strength in Benjamin's writing easily lies within her wonderfully portrayed characters; Rachel, who is compassionate and exceedingly engaging, and Madison and Leon, both who are heartbreakingly real and worthy of our deepest empathy.  And it's around these sympathetic characters that Benjamin creates a tale of great poignancy and expectancy, and one that might just leave you with a tear or two on more than one occasion.   Don't miss one of the freshest voices to come along in awhile, this is one is well worth the cover price.         


Bookmarked To Die by Jo Dereske

Publisher: Avon ISBN: 0060790822

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

The very proper Miss Helma Zukas has always had complete control of her environment; her apartment, her job at the public library, and any social situation, but on her 42nd birthday she wakes up in a funk, and things only go downhill from there.  Running late for work she abruptly cuts off a phone call from her boyfriend.  Then she next discovers that the pretty, perky new employee who is trying to horn in on her latest project has taken her parking space. Not to mention the fact that her boss has insisted she attend five consecutive group counseling sessions to improve her attitude, and her old friend Ruth has shown up to stay and has lost somehow lost Helma's precious cat. 

So when two women attending the same counseling sessions as Helma wind up murdered, she itches to get involved, seeing a chance to escape her doldrums.  But her boyfriend, a policeman currently intent on avoiding her, tells her to mind her own business.  But, of course, she and her friend Ruth get involved anyway.

Dereske knows how to plot a thrilling novel that is also entertaining and gives you a few chuckles along the way.  She creates characters that are realistic and somehow familiar, like the people we know in our everyday lives with all their idiosyncrasies and flaws, which makes it easy to root for them throughout their many mishaps.  Misunderstandings and delightful shenanigans, combined with these appealing characters, all add up to one charming read. 


Immoral by Brian Freeman

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN: 0312939728

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In one of the more thrilling debuts to come along in awhile, Freeman takes the reader on a gloriously chilling ride through a world where nothing is as it seems. 

When Duluth detective Jonathan Stride and his young partner Maggie Bei are called in to investigate the disappearance of teenage femme fatale Rachel Stoner, they are quickly reminded of another young teen who had disappeared a little over a year ago.  Fearing that both young women have been taken by the same abductor and murdered, they feel they should be looking for bodies, not runaways, with evidence of violence in the disappearance of Rachel easily confirming their worst fears.  

Further investigation points to Rachel's stepfather, an arrogant and wealthy man who seems to have many secrets he'd rather keep quiet.  But with no body, and only circumstantial evidence, proving the case is another story altogether.  But what really happened that night?  Whatever it is you may think, you may want to think it again, because the truth is something you'd never imagine.

Simply stunning, this turbulent and mind blowing ride of ingenious head games is nothing short of electrifying.  And not only does the plot reel you in, but so do these wonderfully drawn characters, foibles and all.   This tale which quickly and easily builds to an exhilarating denouement ends it all with a bang that is worth every buck shelled out.  Kudos to Mr. Freeman, and here's to hoping his next is already in the works.    


The Iron Girl by Ellen Hart

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312317506

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

After returning home from a brief vacation with her new partner in love, restaurateur and amateur sleuth Jane Lawless thinks she is finally ready to put her past love, Christina, behind her.  And although Christina died almost 20 years ago, what remained of her life still lies within the boxes in one of Jane's spare rooms, but now Jane is ready to tackle the challenge of finally sending them off for good.  But going through them one last time she finds a gun, and the questions start pouring in.  Christina had been a real estate agent, and around the same time as her death, there had been a mass murder at the Simoneaus house she had been preparing for sale, naturally leading Jane to wonder what the connection might be between the gun and the deaths.  And the further she investigates, the more troubling the possible answers become.  And when a young woman crosses her path who bears a startling resemblance to her long lost love, things get even more complicated, putting Jane's new found love and her very own life in danger.

Hart always spins a great tale, and she once again lives up to her reputation as a distinctive and wonderful weaver of mystery.  Jane Lawless, as usual, is a compelling and sympathetic character, and one who is easy to root for as she digs for clues with her charming and eccentric sidekick, Cordelia.  Of special note in this latest is the hysterical and dysfunctional remaining members of the Simoneaus family, the sibling pair of Bernadette and Lauren, a couple of truly whacked out characters who bring more than one chuckle to the story.  A highly recommended tale full of charm, sincerity, and just the right amount of poignancy to make for a wonderfully entertaining read.          



The Perfect Paragon by M. C. Beaton

Publisher:  St. Martin's Paperbacks ISBN:  0312984790

Reviewed by Anne. K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

If you're looking for employment as a part time private eye, you might consider contacting Agatha Raisin who has a detective agency that always seems to need help due to a high turnover for various reasons.  She would probably put you to work on a divorce case even though she says she loathes them.  Just bring your spyglass and raincoat and join her in her latest case to get some experience.

In spite of the fact that she doesn't need money, Agatha Raisin has decided to keep her detective agency open to keep busy and because she loves the media spotlight that results when she solves a major case.  But lately things have been slow and dull and a lot of her employees have gone elsewhere. 

The vicar's wife convinces her to give an elderly retiree a try-out as her photographer and he, in turn, brings her a husband who thinks his wife is cheating on him.  Against her better judgment, Agatha takes the case and sets out to follow the wife with the new photographer in tow.

In the ensuing investigation she only learns that the wife is highly thought of and has done nothing to cause her husband to doubt her.  That is, until the case takes an unexpected turn.  And during this investigation, she has someone working on the case of a missing girl whose body Agatha literally stumbled over.

Will the two cases be connected? Will Agatha ever solve them?  Will the new photographer prove himself? These are some of the questions that need answers. And Agatha worries she will never find them.

Talented M. C. Beaton gives the reader plenty of surprises and lots of action as the story unfolds.  Recommended as a fun read that will keep you turning pages to the end.  Enjoy.



Twice by Lisa Miscione

 Publisher: Leisure Books  ISBN: 084395731X

Lydia Strong and Jeffrey Mark are back in Miscione’s  third outing featuring this vibrant NYC PI team.  Having finally admitted her love for Jeff while back, the two are still contentedly living in a loft in the city, and Lydia is in her first trimester of pregnancy.  Life should be glorious but, unfortunately, the savage serial killer who murdered Lydia’s mother is on the loose, and getting closer everyday to the loving couple.  They’ve also taken on a new case involving a woman accused of killing her husband, whose body was found hacked and mutilated in a similar fashion to her first husband’s body a few years previously.  As the two investigate, along with their Australian sidekick, they discover that the woman’s family has a string of dead husbands going back generations, and stories of curses and bad blood surround this family that seems to be full of madness and terror. 

The two stories, that of the couple’s current case, and the approaching threat of Jed McIntyre the serial killer, get equal billing in this enthralling and gritty thriller.  Sometimes it does seem a bit much, and some readers may find themselves wishing that Miscione would’ve stuck to one story or the other, as sometimes they distract instead of add to each other, especially as each one has enough depth and thrills to be a story in itself.  But there is still much of interest here; the subway tunnels and the underground life of NYC is revealed in all its sad and eerie terror, and the tender spotlight on the couple’s growing love is caringly rendered, creating a nice place of sweetness to offset the sometimes shocking and disturbing storyline.  Definitely a tale (or two) that will easily hold the reader’s interest, this comes highly recommended.    



Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger

Publisher: Pocket  ISBN: 0743445899

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Krueger amps up the excitement yet even another notch in his latest investigative outing featuring Aurora, Minnesota Sheriff Cork O'Connor, and what makes this one so electrifying is that this time the hunt for a killer is personal. 

It all begins when Cork and one of his officers are called to a cabin on the Ojibwe reservation to handle a domestic dispute.  Only thing is, the residents are missing and their dogs have been shot, and it's not too long after that someone takes aim at Cork and his officer, injuring the officer, and leaving Cork diving for his life. 

But the shooting must be put aside as Cork investigates the brutal killing of wealthy Chicagoan Eddie Jacoby whose body was found in the beautiful and isolated spot of Mercy Falls.  Discovering Jacoby's connections to the local casino on the reservation, Cork initially believes the killing was related to some shady business.  But when the attempts on his own life begin to increase, he begins to suspect that all these seemingly disparate events may just be related.

Aiding him in the investigation is lone-wolf private investigator Dina Willner, a beautiful and enigmatic detective hired by the Jacoby's family to track his killer, but it appears that she might just have some secrets she's not sharing.  And it also seems that Cork's own wife has some secrets of her own when it's discovered that the brother of the dead man is someone who Jo had shared a passionate past with, and someone who might be willing to do anything to resume their once torrid affair.

Where to begin to extol the virtues of this near perfect novel?   Each page seems infused with enough thrills that the next one seems unlikely to continue the pace, but indeed it does, page after gripping page.  And it's not just this unrelenting tension that makes this one a winner, but also the marital uncertainties caused by the beautiful investigator and Jo's ex-love, infusing just the right amount of personal angst and intimacy into the story, resulting in a perfect balance of the personal and the procedural.  Surrounding all this is Krueger's vivid and dramatic portrayal of the beauty that is the Minnesota Northwoods even further immersing the reader into this unbeatable story.  Once you've entered this realistic and vital world, you'll find that time has passed unnoticed, and coming back to reality can be a bit of a shock, so go forward warned and be prepared for one hell of a ride.     


No Man’s Land by G. M. Ford

Publisher: Avon ISBN: 0-06-0554843

Reviewed by Tim Davis for New Mystery Reader

Frank Corso—the dark and complicated protagonist seen in four of G. M. Ford’s previously published and widely praised novels—is back. The irascible and resourceful Corso has been keeping himself busy (and has been trying to remain secluded and unbothered by the outside world) on his boat in the Puget Sound waters near Port Orchard, Washington.

Corso’s idyllic isolation is suddenly compromised when a Coast Guard patrol boat approaches and orders Corso to pull alongside and prepare for boarding. Quicker than you can say “permission to come aboard,” Corso is persuaded by federal authorities to drop everything, to abandon his self-imposed exile, and to allow himself to be drawn into a very dangerous situation more than a thousand miles away in Arizona.

Meanwhile, in the Arizona desert, Timothy Driver, former U.S. Navy captain, former inmate in Washington’s prison system, and current inmate at Arizona’s privately operated maximum security facility Meza Azul, has succeeded in taking the leadership role in a full-scale prisoner take-over at what was previously believed to be an unassailable and inescapable prison. Now, in a move that surprises and baffles prison officials, Driver wants to speak face-to-face with Frank Corso or—in accordance with threats he has already begun to act upon—Driver and his fellow murderous outlaws will continue executing captured prison guards and officials.

Driver, the former highly decorated Trident submarine commander, as it turns out, had spoken at length and previously cooperated with Corso when the latter wrote a book about Driver and his felonious fall from prestigious hero to crazed criminal, Red as a Rose: A Story of Passion. Why, though, does Driver now want to see Corso again? What on earth are Driver’s plans? How will Corso fit into Driver’s plans?

Corso—uncertain of answers to those questions—travels, nevertheless, to Arizona and agrees to being airlifted by helicopter into the confines of Meza Azul where he will meet with the renegade Driver. Corso is quickly drawn into Driver’s outrageously creative prison escape plans, and soon Corso finds himself drawn inescapably into harm’s way—going abruptly and brutally into the harrowing and dangerous “no man’s land” of Timothy Driver’s relentless cross-country break out odyssey.

From the very first paragraphs, nonstop action takes off at breakneck speed in G. M. Ford’s exciting tale of mystery, mayhem, and murder. Fascinating and complex characters, a compelling plot with plenty of twists and turns, and provocative themes paradoxically make Ford’s latest Frank Corso adventure both an entertaining and a disturbing tale.



Still River by Harry Hunsicker

Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur. ISBN: 0-312-940904

Reviewed by Tim Davis for New Mystery Reader 

Meet Vera Drinkwater of Dallas, Texas. Vera’s step-brother Charlie Wesson—a fellow with a history of drug problems—is missing, and she needs a P.I. to find him.

Now meet Lee Henry Oswald III. Otherwise known as Hank to his friends, this tough and resourceful P.I. with the rather unfortunate name operates out of a converted 1920s house on Reiger Street which he shares with a lawyer and a real estate appraiser, both of whom—because “liquor is a cruel mistress”—are on the downside of no longer promising careers.

At any rate, Hank, after talking with Vera, reluctantly takes on what he assumes will be an easy-to-solve, run-of-the-mill missing person case. But Hank, otherwise perceptive and shrewd, is wrong about this case. He might even be dead wrong.

As soon as Hank begins making inquiries—talking, for example, with Charlie Wesson’s employers, the people at Callahan Real Estate—some people are obviously not happy about Hank’s intrusion into some things that they apparently want to keep secret. And those unhappy people waste no time trying to get Hank out of the way. Hank, though, not at all dissuaded by muscle-bound thugs who threaten simple battery and a few other unsavory sorts wielding AK-47s, digs deeper and begins to discover some horrible and frightening truths.

Hank’s “simple” missing person case turns quickly into a nightmarish case involving more than a few homicides, someone’s attempt to distribute 30 pounds of pure cocaine, and—most significantly perhaps—some people who do absolutely anything to pull off a 1½ billion dollar real estate deal involving property near the Trinity River.

Harry Hunsucker’s debut novel is filled with complex characters flawed by the present, scarred by the past, and uncertain of the future. Of course, the most complex and fascinating character is the tender hearted, tough-as-nails cynic, Hank Oswald. There is also plenty of fast-paced action in this tightly plotted noir tale of crimes and passions. Hunsucker proves in Still River that a modern private eye novel can still be dangerous, dark, and damned good. Readers should thoroughly enjoy Hank Oswald’s exploits, and—if they’re like me—they will look forward to Hunsucker’s next Lee Henry Oswald mystery.