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The Burning by Thomas Legendre

Publisher: Little, Brown  ISBN  0 316 15380 X

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Life is a gamble, we're told--more so if you go to the heartland of gambling, Las Vegas.  What was to be a weekend break after months of grueling effort to earn his Ph. D. turns into a whole new life for Logan Smith.

Blackjack dealer Dallas Cole hijacks Logan's quiet life, they marry, they settle down, and everything is 'normal'--until Logan finds a 30-year old book by a long-forgotten economist, Nicholas Georgescu.

As Logan becomes consumed with his ideas for a new economic methodology, Dallas gets sucked into a black hole of debt.  Of all people, a Las Vegas dealer ought to know a mug's game when she sees it--but that doesn't stop her pulling fifty dollar bills out of the ATM to feed the poker machines.  Eventually she turns to lying, cheating and worse to cover her tracks.

While Dallas is drowning in debt, Logan is sailing along unaware, encouraged and helped in his new project by Keris, an astrophysicist--a woman with mental powers to match his own.

There's something almost suicidal about Logan's consuming interest in his new economic theory--it will almost certainly destroy his university teaching career and his marriage, but he keeps at it. 

The various threads of the story come together in one explosive week, involving theft, lust, betrayal, and--when least expected--luck.

You'll get a crash course in economics as well as an involving plotline in this book.   The crime is very much secondary to the other themes; rather, the author focuses on the criminal and the motivation for the crime--and it could be argued, there is more than one criminal in this story.

Not a traditional crime novel, this book will repay careful reading.

 

The Crimes of Jordan Wise by Bill Pronzini

Publisher: Walker & Company ISBN: 0802714935

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Bill Pronzini has been around forever, and deservedly well-received. (The two tend to go together.) His writing is crisp, the words well-chosen, and few write characters as believable. His most recent effort, The Crimes of Jordan Wise, shows these virtues to great advantage.

Jordan Wise is an accountant living a predictably accountant-like life in San Francisco in the late Seventies. Jordan has few expectations, so heís not disappointed. He also has few hopes, so not even he feels thereís much to look forward to. One day he meets Annalise Bonner, a beautiful, ambitious, greedy woman who dates Jordan for a few months before dumping him because heíll never be able to support her in the style to which sheíd like to become accustomed, which is substantial.

Having finally found something that makes him look forward to getting through the day, Jordan doesnít just give up. Heís an accountant, not a stalker, so instead of harassing Annalise, he brings her a business proposition: an embezzlement scheme worth at least half a million dollars, on which they can live in the tropics forever. Might Annalise consider him as a long-term interest then?

Damn right she will, and so begins not just the action, but the complications. The scheme is relatively simple, although complicated to pull off. The plan to make Jordan disappear into thin air is clever and painstakingly thorough, and a couple of subsequent crimes are carried out just as well.

In Jordan and Annalise, Pronzini has created two characters who are well-conceived and well-executed. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and are presented non-judgmentally, allowing the reader to decide what might cause trouble down the road. Jordanís disappearing act is probably unnecessarily complex, but heís an accountant. He unapologetically deals with every problem in mathematical terms, methodically wringing out every scintilla of doubt. If Jordan Wise worked for NASA, space shuttles would be flying passengers to Space Station Marriot by now so they could sun themselves by the greenhouse-enclosed pool.

Jordanís friend, Bone, is a wonderful supporting character; sympathetic, not sappy. His role as foil for Jordanís conscience in no way reduces the humanity of his character. Boneís worthy of another appearance, even though Jordan Wise isnít part of a series.

There are a few less than sterling aspects. Thereís no conflict to speak of for half the book, as the reader watches Jordanís plan unfold swimmingly. Only after he seems to have gotten away with it does anything like trouble become evident. To his credit, Pronzini does not succumb to creating pitfalls and cliffhangers with mind-numbing frequency. The scheme goes well because Jordan is so smart and meticulous. Jordanís subsequent problems are anticipated only because of the people involved, and the way in which they come at him is not obvious; the constant shadow of apprehension makes the book work.

Too much time spent on mundane aspects of Jordanís life on St. Thomas. Sailing is important to the story, and itís the bond that holds Jordan and Bone together, but way too much time is spent its description and technical terms. It builds atmosphere and reinforces in the reader the idea that Jordan will do whatís necessary to maintain his new lifestyle, but something more entertaining could have been worked into these scenes to keep things moving.

Those are bumps in the road, not sink holes. The Crimes of Jordan Wise could have been streamlined, but Pronzini writes so well youíll keep turning pages even when not much is going on. The story is a clever variation on the classic noir femme-fatale, the twist being that Annalise doesnít manipulate Jordan into his life of crime; he has to talk her into it. The book is full of new angles and approaches to hoary conventions to make you want to keep reading, then be glad you did.

 

 

 

 

Second Burial for a Black Prince by Andrew Nugent

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN:  0-312-32761-7

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

The murder of African immigrant Shad is as bizarre as it is grisly:  he bled to death after his leg was amputated below the knee.  Stranger still, the surgery was done competently, although the anesthesiology was amateurish.

Dublin police officers Molly Power and Jim Quilligan first investigate it as a hate crime, but have little success.  At the same time, Shad's younger brother, Jude, struggles to keep his brother's restaurant afloat while he looks for the murderer.  Unbeknownst to everyone, Pita, a young African orphan, followed Shad the night of his murder and is also searching for the man he saw him with.

Canny readers will identify the murderer pretty quickly, but the motive remains a mystery.  Power and Quilligan's inquiry takes them off on tangents (Quilligan travels to Africa seeking answers) while Jude and Pita are more successful than the professionals.

Andrew Nugent's dry humor enlivens his prose, and he creates very sympathetic characters in Shad, Jude, and Pita, whom he endows with a childlike grace that could be seen as paternalistic.  Power and Quilligan take a definite backseat in the solution of the mystery.  A bit slow at times, Second Burial is worth the effort.

 

 

The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books  ISBN:  0312347529

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you plan to become a private eye, you would do well to read this tale of Teddy Ruzak and learn what can happen to a guy with a dream, money, and not the faintest idea what to do once he has his name on the door and a good-looking secretary.

Teddy's first case is to catch the person who hit-and-run a flock of goslings by a client who says the geese were murdered. From this case, one thing leads to another and Teddy is being followed by a mysterious black SUV. 

The fun cast of characters will mostly make you smile as Teddy tries to figure out the clues he gets. Meet the little old lady who confesses too much, a deputy sheriff who is working with Teddy and can't seem to connect Teddy's clue to anyone, and the girl who is concerned about her missing stepmother.

This is a fun read by talented author Richard Yancey who cleverly mixes humor with murder and comes out with a winner.  I'm pleased to recommend this book to any mystery fan.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

Parting Shot by Jonathan Stone

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN:  0-312-35410-X

Reviewed by Malcolm Cottom, New Mystery Reader

Parting Shot contains many plot twists but the main theme of the book is the power of a father's love and how that love can become distorted.  It begins with Sam Stevens, a local TV anchor man, covering a story on a serial sniper killer.   Sam works hard to maintain ratings while struggling to preserve the civility of his family life.  His marriage has failed and morphed into a life of malicious coexistence born of mutual convenience.   One of the most innocent victims is their son Matt, caught in his parents' crossfire.  Sam's love for Matt, as well as his own greed, brings about the first twist.

While covering the story in a sensationalist approach, Sam Stevens ceases to be an observer and becomes part of the story.  Sam's life becomes entwined with that of Billy Wyatt, the Webster County Sheriff.  Although Billy is a competent local sheriff, he is in over his head on the sniper case.  Billy does his best to appease the public and media while attempting to maintain focus on the manhunt.   Billy also feels the heat of the federal agents looking over his shoulder, waiting for the opportunity to take control of the investigation.

Parting Shot is a well-written thriller that will keep the reader captivated as the pages turn with its many surprising and interesting plot twists.  A well-crafted story, and one that's bit off the beaten path, this one will definitely enthrall until the very end.    

 

 

Sailing to Capri by Elizabeth Adler

Publisher:  St. Martin's Press  ISBN:  0-312-33965-8

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Sir Robert Waldo Hardwick's death in a car accident seems to be just thatóa tragic accident.  Saddened by the death of her boss and best friend, Daisy Keane initially distrusts Harry Montana, the private investigator who shows up at Hardwick's funeral, claiming that Bob was murdered.  But when Montana gives her letters that Bob wrote shortly before his death, mentioning the threatening e-mails he'd received, she starts to listen.

In the event of his death (and possible murder), Bob made arrangements for a Mediterranean cruise/wake aboard a private yacht, to which individuals he believed held a grudge against him would be invited, along with six "red herrings."  He charges Harry and Daisy with the tasks of playing host and unveiling his murderer.  To sweeten the pot, all invitees will receive $100,000 and be present for the reading of his will.

Daisy understandably dreads the task, and Harry fears her life may be in danger.  As the cruise visits beautiful attractions, things on board get increasingly ugly as secrets about the guests are revealed.  Meanwhile, Daisy's feelings for Harry oscillate between attraction and distrust.

Sailing to Capri is vaguely reminiscent of Victoria Holt's and Philippa Carr's work from years pastóupdated Gothic with a chick lit twist.  Purely escapist, the story line is totally unrealistic, but it's an enjoyable 400 page fantasy.

 

 

The Hard Way by Lee Child

Publisher: Dell   ISBN: 0440241030

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

The recent furor over The Da Vinci Code makes it easy to forget the long and distinguished dominion thrillers have established for providing edge-of-the-seat entertainment without violating the limits of nature, or credulity. A land most famously populated by Alfred Hitchcock and Alistair MacLean, where suspense is built (not manufactured) through plot twists that are organic instead of fabricated. The reader remains engrossed in the plot, trying to think ahead with the hero, instead of focusing solely on the action, the better to avoid seeing plot holes big enough to accommodate a bullet-proof Hummer.

If a true thriller is more your cup of tea, fear not: the cardboard characters and stifling dialog that fill the swamp on which Dan Brown builds his castle need not be your only outlet. Lee Child is alive and well, carrying on the tradition of Hitchcock and MacLean in The Hard Way, the tenth Jack Reacher novel.

We begin with Reacher sitting outside a small cafť, drinking coffee good enough to bring him back two nights in a row. During the second visit heís approached by a chap with an obvious military background who is impressed by Reacherís size, self-confidence, and ability to notice and remember small details. From there itís a short trip to the home and office of ďsecurity consultantĒ Edward Lane, whose wife and stepdaughter have been kidnapped for ransom. The crime is eerily similar to how he lost his first wife several years earlier. Lane thinks the police got Wife One killed; Reacher was a bona fide stud hoss investigator willing to do whatís necessary. Itís a marriage made in tough guy heaven.

Or is it? The Hard Way has enough doubt, deceit, treachery, and duplicity for three books. Credit Child for his ability to prepare each plot twist without giving it away. Allowing Reacher to be as superhuman as he first appears (a la Brad Thorís Scot Harvath) would kill the suspense Child creates so seamlessly. Missing is the car chase, high body count, hear the explosions from the adjacent theater action that most thrillers depend on today. Child appreciates that suspense is built by waiting for something to happen; watching it happen is the release. Thereís never a surprise decaled onto the story just because nothing weird has happened for ten pages.

Donít infer there are any dull moments in The Hard Way; the constantly evolving plot and succinct dialog keep everything moving with a speed sustainable through three hundred-plus pages. Child also knows not to milk a climax; things happen in real time, and Reacher is rational enough to pare the odds to his favor before assuming heíll get away with something rash.

Reacher is the almost perfect vehicle through which everything flows. A hard man, he never becomes a caricature, thanks to Childís willingness to poke a little fun at his occasional stiffness. Reacher couldnít do what he does without a laser-narrow sense of purpose; Child understands this alone does not create a well-rounded person. Reacher makes mistakes, and theyíre all reasonable when he makes them. The resulting increase in suspense is that much more rewarding because it wasnít dropped in just to explain a plot twist. Reacher isnít lovable, but itís easy to see the respect he earns is based on more than fear.

This summer you donít have to choose between watching a stultifying movie in air-conditioned splendor, or sitting directly under a hole in the ozone layer reading a potboiler better suited to be a graphic novel. (For those over thirth, that means ďpretentious comic book.Ē) Find a cool, quiet spot in the shade of a tree and stretch out with The Hard Way. Lee Child and Jack Reacher will keep things more than hot enough for you.