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The Devil's Game by David Holland

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Book/St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN:  0-312-34077-X

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

In 1834 England, the unexpected death of Simon Curdle provides Lord Granby with a welcome opportunity to choose a local Tory to run for his seat in Parliament.  Although Granby decides immediately whom he will select, he tests the loyalty of Bellminster's political leader by keeping his decision secret.

Reverend Tuckworth, dean of the Bellminster Cathedral, quickly surmises which gentleman his friend will appoint; when he encounters doltish mayor Winston Padgett prematurely celebrating his new position, Tuckworth tries to spare him public embarrassment by warning him that he may not be the party's candidate.  Thus, Tuckworth unwittingly sets into motion a chain of events that will have a huge impact on Bellminster.

The Whig party sends Jo Smalley, a dwarfish political organizer, to rally opposition to the Tory candidate.  A skilled manipulator, Smalley acts as a catalyst to ignite the smoldering discontent in the town, resulting in two deaths.

Author David Holland's meticulously researched third book in the Reverend Tuckworth series evokes early industrial England.  Not only is it evocative of the setting, but the book is also reminiscent of nineteenth century novels in its pacing and emphasis on matters of manner and class.  Anglophiles will love this book; others may find it slow moving.

 

 

Wiley's Refrain by Lono Waiwaiole

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312349092

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Wiley makes his living as a poker player. We never see him actually play cards in Lono Waiwaiole’s Wiley’s Refrain, but he has a knack of spotting tells, and the only people with a good idea of what he’s up to are the people he trusts. Those are valuable traits in a poker player, and indispensable for Wiley. Trouble finds him the way Britney Spears seeks out publicity: relentlessly and with bad intent. Given Wiley’s preoccupation with death, he has to be both lucky and good. Waiwaiole has him pull off both without straining credulity too much.

Wiley’s perfectly content to attend the annual blues festival as a spectator until a friend’s gifted young bass player misses the gig that might put them both on the map. Ronnie’s not the kind of kid to miss a gig, and when the story to explain his absence doesn’t hold water, Wiley’s not the kind to leave a friend in the breeze. Things gain speed when Wiley’s ex is ambushed and raped at gunpoint by two men, after which he and his friend (and all-around badass), Leon, start working their way methodically toward making sure those responsible are held to account.

Wiley’s not the most likable protagonist, and his life is a certifiable mess. He’s sort of a 21st Century Travis McGee without McGee’s financial motivation, or the humanizing influence of Meyer. Not a cop or a detective, Wiley is driven to protect and defend those he is close to, already haunted by too many perceived failures. His ex, the woman he loves, and the woman who loves him are all friends, and know the score between Wiley and each of them. The woman Wiley loves is the mother of Leon’s children, and Wiley’s daughter died when she was just two. Mix in a steady stream of Portland women who would love a taste of Wiley’s Hawaiian magic, season with the mysterious, scarred, Hawaiian woman, and Wiley’s Refrain could easily have turned into a cross-genre mystery/soap opera/romance/porn story.

Waiwaiole keeps things moving at a breakneck pace with a classic noir style. No scene painting while waxing poetic here. Waiwaiole’s writing has an elemental fury, the prose wound tight as Wiley himself, events crowding into each other without becoming confusing.

Wiley’s Refrain has a few holes. Allegiances shift conveniently a couple of times. One holds up well, as it is transitory and falls under the category of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The other is less satisfying. Waiwaiole also leaves the reader to figure out how certain people came to be where they are, and why they’re willing to help Wiley so completely, when the last time we saw them they were casual acquaintances, if that.

That’s not a deal breaker. Wiley’s Refrain is well worth reading, and will probably leave you looking up Waiwaiole’s two previous Wiley adventures. Add a bolt to the rating if you’re a hard-core devotee of the blunt force school of writing. The book jacket says Waiwaiole is “reminiscent of the classic noir masters, but with a modern twist all his own.” For a change, that’s not just hype.

 

A Dark and Deadly Deception by Eleanor Taylor Bland

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 031232667X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader  

Sharing their talents with both the Cold Case Squad and the Northern Regional Illinois Task Force, detectives Marti MacAlister and Vik are kept busy when they're given both the case of a female found floating in the river, and a decades old pile of bones found in an old building.  The woman, an actress filming on location, had been murdered with the only clue being some missing jewelry, yet simple robbery doesn't appear to be the only motive.  But the real surprise will come when their cases start to converge as more and more clues point to a connection that stretches back over time all the way to WWII.  Meanwhile, the pair must deal with family pressures and heavy tension at work from a boss who wants nothing more than to see them fired.     

While this is an occasionally fascinating and worthwhile mystery, some of the connections between the cases seem to be a bit of a stretch with maybe one too many coincidences for complete believability.   But putting this aside, Bland does provide some great characters, interesting procedural detail, and enough family difficulties to make for a quick and appealing read.       

 

A Venture into Murder by Henry Kisor

Publisher: Forge Books ISBN: 076531228X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Porcupine County's Lakota deputy Steve Martinez returns in his second exciting outing taking place in the beautiful regions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.   It's summertime, and though the flying insects are out in force, Steve and his lover Ginny are enjoying the slow pace of life and crime like never before.  But when a body washes on shore of Lake Superior, and then a hiker stumbles upon a body soon identified as a man who has been missing for nearly a year, soon to be followed by the discovery of yet another body, this one decades old, crime once again takes a front seat in Steve's life.  And once he discovers the connections between the bodies, he soon finds himself in danger once again as he battles an evil much more insidious than he ever suspected.

Many authors can put out a good mystery, but few can eloquently describe the vibrant and unique way of small-town life in this distinctive region as does Henry Kisor.  Infused with humorous and sinuous detail, Kisor effortlessly shares his respect and admiration for this untamed area in all its glory.  And, of course, there's also great suspense to provide plenty of thrills, along with characters that charm and delight, both making for one stimulating and clever read.  If you haven't caught on to this great new series, let this be your motivation to give it a try, it's definitely worth it.    

 

Last to Leave by Clare Curzon

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312318766

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

The Dellars and their significant others have gathered at the family home to celebrate the 80th birthday of Carlton Dellar when later that night a horrendous fire breaks out.  All escape uninjured except for one, young Eddie who lies in the hospital now seriously injured.  But far worse is the unknown fate of his missing twin sister, and when a body is discovered greatly burned; all fears might be realized that she perished in the fire.  But there is much more going on here than meets the eye, and it will take some serious digging for investigators to put together this puzzle of epic proportions as it seems that everyone in the family is hiding something, and one of those secrets just might the deadly key that will reveal all.

Dark family secrets and buried hatred mark this very British mystery that's filled with vengeful motives and hidden agendas.  And while a decent and quick paced plot, unfortunately there are a bit too many characters for any real depth or emotional involvement.  Still, fans of the British mystery will most likely enjoy this entertaining outing.   

 

 

Dear Departed by Cynthia Harrod Eagles

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312347685 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Inspector Bill Slider and his London crew of fellow investigators return for another smooth and entertaining police procedural.  This time out they're called to investigate when a beautiful young woman is found dead in the shrubbery of a popular park in Sheppard's Bush, one that at first glance looks to be at the hands of the latest serial killer known as the Park Killer.  But further investigation reveals that she was poisoned before being stabbed, and with the killing now appearing a lot more personal and slightly different than those of the serial killer, they're forced to consider other suspects.  But everyone they interview seems to have loved the victim, speaking highly of her beauty, generosity, and intelligence.  And so with nary a lead, this may just be one of the most baffling cases of their careers.   

Solid throughout, this procedural has the fine detail that this author consistently infuses her writing with, detail that in other hands might turn a tad tedious.  No worries here on that score, as the interest is kept high as the police slowly but surely introduce and eliminate motives and suspects.  A fine and clever read that will have fans clamoring for more, don't miss this latest from an author who knows her stuff.