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Bloodline by Fiona Mountain

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312323255

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Genealogist Natasha Blake is hired by octogenarian Charles Seagrave to dig into the family roots of his prospective grandson-in-law. Once she delivers the report she starts feeling guilty about researching John Hellier's roots without his knowledge.  When she goes to tell Seagrave, she finds him in his garden brutally murdered.  When Richard Seagrave asks her to further research the Seagrave roots to determine if there is a connection that could result in murder, she has no idea her research will take her into Nazi Germany, and a bitter trail of hatred and betrayal.

Mountain has produced a novel that weaves genealogical information throughout the plot with details that will fascinate.  Step by step the story line uncovers the Nazi program to breed SS officers to young ladies from Good German families to produce the next generation of Germans.  This is absolutely enthralling reading that no one should miss.

 

 

North by Northanger by Carrie Bebris

Publisher:  Forge Books ISBN:  076531410X

Reviewed by  Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you remember Jane Austen's tales where a snobbish young Darch meets a willful Elizabeth, one of a bevy of marriageable daughters, and proposes after a disastrous start to their romance, you will enjoy reacquainting yourself with them and other characters of those stories in the series of mysteries where the now married couple solve problems while dealing with family troubles also.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy's domineering and unpleasant aunt, seems determined to make expectant mother, Elizabeth, miserable with horrid tales and arrogant advice. She seems to turn up in places the couple hadn't expected her such as in Bath.

While in Bath, they receive an invitation to visit Northanger Abbey.  On their arrival the Darcys learn their host is unable to see them and are shown to their rooms which are damp and unpleasant.  There is nothing welcoming about the Abbey, even the staff and food is poor.  Their own servants have disappeared much to their dismay.

The visit ends in disaster with Darcy accused of stealing valuable jewels belonging to the Tilneys of the Abbey.  How can this have happened? Who is their mysterious host? 

Subplots add flavor and mystery to the already suspenseful story as a reference to a missing treasure in a letter from Darcy's mother to Elizabeth.  The problem is that Darcy's mother died when he was a child so how could she write to his wife? What was her relationship with her sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh?

A well told tale by talented author Carrie Bebris that will satisfy the romantic and mystery lover. You will feel as if you've visited the time and place so well done is the characterization and settings.  This book will have you looking for others by this author.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

 

Nicotine Kiss:  An Amos Walker Novel  by Loren D. Estleman

Publisher:  Forge/A Tom Doherty Associates Book  ISBN:  0-765-31223-9

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

One November evening, Jeff Starzek saves private investigator Amos Walker's life, so when Starzek goes missing a month later, Amos, still recovering from a devastating shotgun would to his leg, feels duty-bound to take on the case.

He is hired by red-faced Oral Canon, whose wife is Starzek's sister.  Or so she claims.  The first thing Amos discovers is that Jeff has no sisters, only a brother who turns up dead a short time later.  And Homeland Security agent Herbert Clemson suggests that Jeff had started smuggling more than cigarettes before his disappearance.

Amos's search for Jeff takes him all over the state of Michigan, frozen solid this month of January.  Motel proprietress Miss Maebelle takes him on a chase he will never forget—he in a hundred thousand dollar truck, she on a snowmobile. 

Amos Walker is an old-fashioned hardboiled detective—he smokes, he drinks, he fights, and he doesn't always play nice.  But he is loyal to those who deserve it.  Loren D. Estleman's January Michigan setting is so perfectly drawn it made me long for my own rust belt hometown.  Irrelevant complications don't creep into the story; Amos Walker is a true lone ranger.  Estleman truly is a master.

 

Days of Rage by Kris Nelscott

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312325290

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Novels are excellent vehicles for social commentary. A potential tirade is far more effective with its morality inserted between the lines to guide the reader toward the desired conclusion. To re-purpose an oft-used quote about description, it is the author’s task not to describe a rainstorm, but to evoke in the reader the sensation of being rained upon.

Kris Nelscott’s newest Smokey Dalton novel, Days of Rage, is not content to risk evocation. It’s purpose is to report how poorly blacks have been treated in this country, and how that mistreatment is interknit with Chicago’s long and distinguished history of corruption. Telling (even telling off) is far more prevalent than showing. The end result is a dry and unsatisfying read, full of sound and fury, signifying little but Nelscott’s view of Twentieth Century race relations.

It’s 1969. The Amazin’ Mets are winning the World Series and the Chicago Eight are on trial. Smokey Dalton has moved to Chicago and assumed a new identity to protect his foster son, who witnessed the real shooter of Martin Luther King. Smokey makes ends meet by helping people with whatever they need help with, including investigations when necessary.

Smokey had a romantic encounter in the past with a rich white woman, whose late father earned his money through an illicit real estate empire. When the manager of a property that was vacant except for him is found dead after a week of ripening, Smokey is asked to inspect the house to see how much fix-up work it needs. Finding three skeletons in the basement requires more fixing up than anyone anticipated.

The story’s context is central to Nelscott’s message and no effort is spared. Using historical backdrops and interlocking fact and fiction is a proven and effective technique, but it implies a contract with the reader to get everything right. Nelscott focuses quite a bit of energy on Smokey’s efforts to make time to watch the World Series with his son, yet doesn’t know the Series isn’t best three-of-five, or that the home team never bats in the bottom of the ninth when they hold the lead.

The plot holes and conveniences are also troubling. The dead man rots in his bedroom for over a week, ostensibly found by the mailman delivering a letter. Smokey deduces this is a put up story, since the bedroom can’t be seen from outside the house. Nowhere does anyone wonder about the eight days of mail piling up outside. Finding the right mailman for Smokey to question is easy: no one else has delivered mail on that route for six months. Not only did the dead man get no junk mail, but his poor letter carrier never got a day off.

Nelscott also relies on the old “Huggy Bear” case-solving technique. Remember how Starsky and Hutch would drive around and act hip for forty-five minutes, then go to their snitch, Huggy Bear, for all the info they needed? After making little headway for almost three hundred pages, Smokey is directed to the one man who can not only fill him in on what might have happened in the old house, but was also involved in the plot. It’s a notch above the shoeshine guy routine in the old “Police Squad” show. Not a step, a notch.

Nelscott makes up for her plot holes with a dry prose that is probably supposed to seem noir but only succeeds in being light gray. Her characters are the most grammatically correct group of working class folk you’ve ever seen, except when the occasional “they was” is thrown in, as though she remembered at the last minute this is supposed to sound real. Even that pretense is abandoned when a historical fact is presented. Professional tour guides don’t have spiels as well put together as Nelscott’s characters’ spontaneous explanations.

Nelscott deserves credit for her effort bring attention to episodes that have been largely forgotten except by those affected. The issue isn’t her intentions. Tom Cruise has good intentions, if anyone can bear to listen to him. Her heavy-handed efforts ultimately fail, detracting from the story and trivializing the characters and emotions. She’s a literary Michael Moore, going so far to make her point you just wish it would be over, already.

Mysteries can provide excellent fodder for a racially-tinged book. Mitchell Bartoy’s The Devil’s Own Rag Doll is a good example; even better is Jeff Stetson’s Blood on the Leaves. Both know when to push you with information, and when to let you think a little. There’s a lot of potential in Smokey Dalton and Chicago of the late Sixties, if only the author trusted her readers enough to let it happen, instead of forcing it.

 

 

The Dramatist by Ken Bruen

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 031231647X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Readers new to the Ken Bruen experience may experience a bit of discombobulation when reading one of his titles.  This one, like many before, really doesn't follow the formula of crime committed, crime investigated, crime solved, it's more of a freeform thought fest in which Bruen writes what comes to mind- void of rules.  If you read the book jacket, this book is allegedly about the murder of the sister of Jack's ex-drug dealer, a guy now doing time in prison, who wants Jack to investigate her death.  But, really, you'll find little here that relates to that; months go by, sobriety is sorely tested, personal trauma strikes unceasingly, other cases arise and, well, it becomes blatantly clear that Jack Taylor isn't much of a detective.

Ah, but that doesn't matter in the least.  Put aside the formulaic mystery for a day and immerse yourself in this affecting treat of the strange days of Jack Taylor….details that come from a wry and weary Irishman.  Americans might view the glimpse he offers of the Irish with a bit of skeptical curiosity, yet it's one that's so immediate and real it's impossible to discount.  So if you find yourself asking, "But what about the case?", then perhaps this isn't for you.  But if you find yourself forgetting until the final pages that there even was a case, then you've successfully lived through the Bruen experience, one that's always filled with wit, heartache, and a provocative intelligence that never fails to mesmerize.