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Double Cross Blind by Joel Ross

Publisher: Doubleday. ISBN: 0-385-51388-7

Reviewed by Tim Davis for New Mystery Reader

Travel back in time to the very first days of December in 1941. Tom Wall, a combat wounded American citizen who had been serving with the Canadian forces in Greece and Crete, is now recovering in a hospital in London. Tom, without understanding why, is suddenly approached by someone from Britain’s MI6, the agency responsible for the United Kingdom’s espionage activities overseas.

MI6 has a job for Wall. Agents promise Wall that the first part of his job will be, as they see it, rather easy. Wall, for reasons he cannot yet imagine, must simply pretend to be his brother Earl Wall, and then he must meet with the ruthless Nazi agent named Dietrich Sondegger, a German defector who has recently arrived in London and who is now in British custody.

The second part of the job, according to MI6 officials, is also not too difficult: Wall, by successfully and persuasively posing as Earl, must obtain some very important information from Sondegger, a fascinating and frightening man who will only talk to Earl Wall. And—if Sondegger’s promised information is reliable—MI6, with Tom Wall’s assistance, may finally be able to mitigate Britain’s lonely and desperate wartime struggles against the overpowering forces of Germany.

MI6, in an attempt to keep the pressure on Wall, also tells their somewhat unwilling espionage apprentice of the downside to his mission: If he fails to obtain the information accurately from Sondegger or even if he fails to obtain the information in a timely manner, dozens of espionage agents will lose their lives in Europe, and—perhaps more significantly—thousands of other unsuspecting people will, in several days, lose their lives on a small island in the Pacific Ocean.

So young Tom Walls, a very reluctant recruit in the high-stakes world of international spying, meets with the repulsively self-centered Sondegger. And soon, because of Walls’ involvement, the first week in December promises to become perhaps one of the most important weeks in modern history.

First-time novelist Joel Ross, in creating Double Cross Blind, has given hardcore fans of spy novels a fascinating and complicated tale of patriots and traitors, truth and deception, and honor and villainy. Filled with complex characterizations, teeming with fast-paced action, and overflowing with spell-binding surprises, Double Cross Blind is one of those powerful, hard-to-put-down spy novels of intense believability and continuing relevance that readers will favorably compare to the canonical espionage adventures written by masters like Graham Greene and John LeCarre.



Blood Ties  by Ralph McInerny

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN:  031233690X

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

The past can overshadow the future if one isn't careful.  So the characters in Blood Ties find out as Martha Lynch decides to search out her birth mother. At the same time her natural father turns up.

Martha only wants to know about her heritage for the sake of her coming marriage while others fear her discovery as they have much to lose. Her adopted mother resents Martha's decision, her real mother fears losing her family for the secret she has kept all these years, Martha's real father wants to see her and her adopted father is caught between supporting his wife and loving his adopted daughter.

No one wants to talk about it but Martha. Because of this a meddling old man, an unscrupulous lawyer, a woman wearing the two faces of friendship/not-your-friend, plus an old family retainer and Father Dowling are drawn into the drama that turns into murder.  The situation quickly deteriorates and the police are brought into it.

Talented author Ralph McInerny weaves a great story that is as complex as the people living it and as interesting as they are well drawn.  Set in backgrounds you can see, they will take you by the hand and pull you on as their parts in the story unfold.  The reader becomes one of them, sharing their emotions and wondering who would commit murder to keep the secret of Martha's adoption. 

Highly recommended as a mystery you won't want to miss.  Enjoy.  I certainly did.


Pain Killer by Will Staeger

Publisher: William Morrow/HarperCollins. ISBN: 0-06-076586-0

Reviewed by Tim Davis, New Mystery Reader

Life is good in the Virgin Islands. So thinks Cooper, a cynical and haunted man who retains tenuous freelance connections with the CIA even during his so-called retirement. Then, as a direct threat to Cooper’s somewhat idyllic if also somewhat dissolute lifestyle, an unidentified and curiously damaged body washes up on the pristine beach in Cooper’s neighborhood. Cooper suddenly finds himself drawn into a perverse little mystery when local authorities impose upon Cooper’s hard core resourcefulness by asking him to make the body simply “go away” with no questions and no explanations. Cooper reluctantly takes on the challenge and soon becomes enmeshed in something far more complicated and dangerous than he first imagines.

In the meantime, in separate and apparently unrelated activities, CIA analysts are hard at work at Washington D.C. within the labyrinth international politics, intelligence operations, and military secrecy. One junior analyst at the CIA believes she has stumbled onto something remarkable: China—perhaps in league with other power-hungry and ruthless entities—is planning something very big and very dangerous, and the implications for international destabilization are mind-boggling. Few people at the decision and policy making levels of CIA management—and few people in positions of political and military power within the American government—are willing to take seriously the junior analyst’s discoveries.

And another separate and apparently unrelated incident has occurred decades earlier. An Ohio-class nuclear attack submarine disappeared in 1984 without a trace during routine operations in the Caribbean. Moments before the submarine’s disappearance, the commanding officer, having earlier been reading Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October—how is that for heavy-handed, over-the-top irony—and knowing that the American warship is in imminent danger, had the radiomen send desperate distress messages to serve as an alert to what seemed to be a fishing trawler only seven miles away. Perhaps the crew of the trawler could rescue the imperiled crew of the submarine. Neither the commanding officer nor any one of the 154 doomed sailors would ever know that the message was, in fact, received by an unlikely Cold War enemy.

So, how do the three foregoing elements combine to become a quite readable and rather exciting novel? Will Staeger, proving himself in this his debut novel to already be a writer who enjoys intricate plotting and fascinating characterizations, has created a mind-boggling adventure following in the footsteps of Tom Clancy and Dale Brown. Readers, however, may have to pay close attention to Staeger’s generally deft (although occasionally arbitrary) manipulation of the plot and character, otherwise readers may find themselves turning back to earlier pages to become clear about antecedents, motivations, and relationships. (Here, however, I must also offer a caveat emptor to dedicated readers of mysteries and detective fiction, readers who insist upon correctness and precision of details: Staeger now and then stumbles a bit with his details; one example, chosen at random from a dozen or so others, is Staeger’s designation of a young U. S. Navy man’s rank as private rather than seaman or petty officer; Staeger and his editors should know that a private is an Army or Marine Corps designation, not a Navy designation.) Nevertheless, readers who like “techno-thrillers” and espionage adventures should enjoy this somewhat frightening speculative view of what might happen to the world under certain conditions.