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The Chase by Jan Neuharth

Publisher:  Paper Chase Farms Pub. ISBN:  10:09729503-2-X/13:978-0-9729503-2-9 

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Even though Zeb McGraw is in prison, he can still reach out and prove a danger to Doug Cummings and his family again. This time he has the help of his family and a new friend.

Set in horse country and involving horse people, talented Jan Neuharth weaves a tale of suspense and red herrings that will keep any mystery fan happily turning pages to find out what happens next and why. An accident involving Doug and his horse after a fox hunt will offer up lots of suspects and questions.

Will Doug live or die?  Who caused the accident or was it merely that?  What is it exactly that Zeb and his helpers want?  How serious is the threat and does it really extend to Doug's family? These are only a few of the questions that will be raised as you read.

You'll wonder about all newcomers in this tale, especially a fellow named Jake who is from Oklahoma.  Just why is he in the area and is the reason he gives, 'just passing through', the truth?  How does he just happen to be in the area when the rescue is launched for Doug?

A well-told tale with lively descriptions of a hunt and a frightening truck ride, as well as a cast of characters who will seem to step off the page. The Chase is a book I'm happy to recommend to any reader, especially the horsey set who will enjoy their own riding adventures all over again as the story recalls them to mind.  This is a story I'm sure you will enjoy.

 

 

 

Dead in Vineyard Sand by Philip R. Craig

Publisher:  Scribner  ISBN:  0-7432-7044-4

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

The summer season hasn't yet started on Martha's Vineyard, but already things are heating up between two warring factions concerning the island's future.  J. W. Jackson thinks himself a detached observer, until he has a confrontation with Henry Highsmith, a.k.a. "Captain Spandex," at the seafood market.

Henry's wife Abigail is run off the road by an SUV remarkably like J. W.'s, and a few days later J. W. discovers Henry's body in a sandtrap at Waterwoods golf course.  Many on the island are convinced of J. W.'s guilt, including, unfortunately, the state police.  Determined to prove his innocence, J. W. begins looking in to the murder.  Suddenly, what seemed to be a tragic, but completely accidental, drowning of a teenaged girl might be connected to the attacks on the Highsmiths.  Even cynical, jaded J. W. is shocked by the truths he discovers.

Filled with all the things we expect from Philip R. Craig—gorgeous setting, unique characters, and J. W.'s amusing banter, Dead in Vineyard Sand will be a sure hit with J. W.'s fan base; those who have never read the series should start.  Craig's return to more typical motives is a welcome reprieve from the past two terrorism-linked plots.

 

 

Street Legal by Bill Kent

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN: 0312328850

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When newspaper columnist Andrea Cosicki happens upon the scene of the body of a man who was trapped in his car while a load of sand was pumped into it, she's quick to see a possible story in the event.  And when it's discovered this dead lawyer's name is on a printed list of lawyers that people could definitely do without, she sees an even better story in the making. 

So when the newspaper's company lawyer, Marathon Mike Malone, who also happens to appear on the printed list of lawyers, takes a dive off of a high rise balcony, Andy begins an investigation with the help of her office mate, agoraphobic Skip Ladderback. 

This is a fast paced mystery filled with quips and quotes that will often leave you chuckling and other times scratching your head, but with the long term experience of Ladderback and the aggressive tenacity of Cosicki there is no way the crime will not be solved.  And although at times a bit uneven, this latest from Kent still provides a decent dose of entertainment.

 

 

Sleeping With Fear by Kay Hooper

Publisher: Bantam ISBN: 0553803182

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Riley Crane, a member of a unique team of federal investigators with paranormal powers, wakes up covered in blood in a small resort island off the Carolina coast, she is startled to realize that she has no memory of the past three weeks following her arrival.  But more discomforting is that not only is her memory shot, but so are her paranormal abilities, and so when a decapitated man is found dead in the woods, her logic may tell her it's probably his blood soaked into her skin, but why and how are questions she can't answer.         

With the help of an old close friend on the island and her supervisor, Noah Bishop, she begins to put the pieces together, discovering that she came to the island to investigate purported satanic activities.  And as shadowy memories slowly begin to take shape, she is further shocked to discover that somehow she has also formed a very close romantic bond with a man who is now once again a stranger.  Not knowing who to trust, but very sure that the danger in the air is somehow very personal, she herself the target from an unknown source, she must face the disconcerting truth that someone close to her is not a friend but instead an enemy bent on revenge.        

Not usually a huge fan of the paranormal type mystery, I still find myself again and again enjoying Hooper's tales involving such unexplained and undetermined concepts with a great deal of enthusiasm.  If anyone can have you at least consider such ideas, Hooper can, somehow weaving these expansive and alluring notions into her suspenseful tales with such ease and matter of factness, that somehow it all becomes plausible. And as usual, in this latest, there's plenty of suspense, likeable characters, and solid writing, so even if you can't completely swallow all that is offered, there's still enough to satisfy.     

 

 

The Skirt Man by Shelly Reuben

Publisher:  Harcourt, ISBN:  0151010781

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Why would a man wear a skirt?  That's the first question you'll ask. Then, you'll want to know more about him as you begin to read the story of Morgan Mason as told by a local reporter.

There is more than one mystery hidden in this well-told tale by talented author Shelly Reuben of the mysterious death of a harmless farmer who is known as eccentric. You'll really enjoy meeting the characters who move and breathe, each an original entity as seen by the lady reporter who views the world with humor and gentle sarcasm.

The Skirt Man had secrets to be ferreted out by the nosy reporter who pushes herself into the investigation into his death. Could the secrets be responsible for his death?  How?  Who had cause to commit murder in a small town? Could a hateful neighbor or conniving sister be responsible. Or the opponent for the office of Mayor? 

Join Mrs. Bly as she tags along with her husband and brother in their investigation of arson. Meet a pair of teen boys known as the Dillenbecks who bring a lightness of heart to the story to counter the darkness of death. The boys decide to conduct their own investigation into things, adding to the fun to a story of life and death in a small town.

Highly recommended as a tale you won't soon forget.  Enjoy.  I certainly did.

 

Ghosts of Saint-Michel by Jake Lamar

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312289251

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader 

There’s a lot of good stuff in Jake Lamar’s Ghosts of Saint-Michel. The plot’s twists and turns are aided by Lamar’s ability to tell the story out of sequence, allowing you to know both more and less than you should at any given time. The biggest potential weakness—amateurs engaged in a life and death struggle with professionals—works itself out by as believably as possible. On balance, it’s a well-told tale of intrigue and murky allegiances.

The soul food restaurant of American expatriate Marva Dobbs is the talk of Paris. Returning home early from her August vacation, Marva intends to break off her affair with Hassan, an Algerian in his late twenties. Instead she finds him on the run, accused of being a terrorist. When Marva signs herself out of the hospital after a serious car accident and leaves with Hassan, no one (including the reader) knows whether she is a hostage or an accomplice.

Marva’s daughter, Naima, hears of the accident and rushes to Paris from her home in New York, becoming unintentionally embroiled in the intrigue surrounding the disappearances. What she learns about her parents strains her loyalties and teaches her things about herself she might have preferred not to know.

Lamar wields his cosmopolitan cast with aplomb. Hassan lives in the gray area between guilty and framed until near the end. “Retired” American spy Harvey Oldcorn could be the stereotypical spook; Lamar provides Oldcorn with enough background to keep him believable. Naima’s father, Loïc, has both more and less to him than you’re led to believe. Cleavon Semple is still trying to play both ends against the middle at nearly eighty years old.

It’s neck and neck for a while, but Naima eventually wins the lead role in the story, if only because more is seen through her eyes. She and Marva are both strong women, capable of carrying the story on her own. Lamar is careful not to give them abilities civilians wouldn’t possess. They adapt to the situation as it evolves without fully understanding what is going on.

Paris is the perfect location, as the story relies on the city’s convoluted Cold War past: Communists who may or may not be supporting colonial independence fighters, struggling against Gaullists, who may (or may not) be with the Americans. This is history when out story takes place, but the contacts, allegiances, and techniques developed forty years earlier are resurrected as what is essentially a cast of over-the-hill conspirators have their last hurrah.

With all that going for it, Ghosts of Saint-Michel doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. Much of the fault is in the characters. As much Lamar wants you to like Marva and Naima, they’ll do whatever they have to do to get what they want. True, it’s all done for the greater good, righting injustice, yadda yadda yadda, but some minor characters are used badly. It’s not obvious at the time whether Lamar introduces them only as props for the bigger plan, but in retrospect it’s hard to see what else they do.

As well-written as the climactic scene is, coincidence plays a bigger part than it should. Saying too much would spoil it; suffice to say some serious aligning of planets takes place to get everyone where they need to be for the climax to work itself out. Lamar’s half-hearted attempt at an explanation only draws attention to it.

Another problem is that most American readers will be unaware of the Parisian Cold War intrigues that drive many of the characters’ motivations. Not an insurmountable obstacle, and Lamar brings everyone up to speed. Unfortunately,  he does it is through dialog worthy of a tour guide at the Spy Museum; at times the characters might as well turn away from each other and speak directly to the audience.

Ghosts of Saint-Michel has much to recommend it. Anyone interested in a taste of the black American community in France should get a charge out of it. Lamar’s fifteen years in France show between each line; his familiarity with his adopted city is shown by the ease with which he describes it. Paris is the most likable character in Ghosts of Saint-Michel, which may ultimately be its biggest flaw, though not enough to be a deal breaker.

 

 

Hollywood Stuff by Sharon Fiffer

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN:  0-312-34306-X

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

Jane Wheel, PPI (picker, private investigator) is a bit embarrassed when she gets carried away describing her murder solving, antique-collecting adventures on a Chicago talk show, until a Hollywood producer calls wanting to make a movie about her.  She demurs, but Wren Bixby, of Bix Pix Flix, calls Jane's friend and fellow picker, Tim Lowry, and the next thing she knows, Jane is on a plane headed to L. A. 

With Jane's husband and son both on an archeological dig, she believes it will just be a lark, but on her first day there, while lunching with her old college flame, he receives a phone call from someone claiming that Bix has just been murdered. 

It turns out that the rumors of Bix's death are exaggerated, though she has been the victim of an accident, one of a series that have plagued Bix, Jeb, and other members of the "B Room."   Soon, Jane and Tim are caught up in the drama surrounding this clique of writers and producers. 

Filled with Hollywood flavor, tidbits about collectibles, and glib exchanges between Jane and Tim, Hollywood Stuff is a fun read, perfect for poolside or beach reading, even if the mystery is less riveting than the interaction between the characters.