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Blue Justice by Illona Haus

Publisher: Pocket Star  ISBN-10: 0743458109

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When it's discovered that one of Baltimore's finest has been abducted, detective Kay Delaney is one of the first to suspect she's been taken by a sadistic madman who has done this before.  Paired up with her ex-lover Danny Finnerty, the two begin their search to find her, knowing the clock is ticking down and the chances of finding the young wife and mother alive are growing slimmer and slimmer with each minute that goes by.  And as the two get closer to discovering where she's being held, not only will they be confronted with deadly secrets being held by some of their own, but also the secrets they've kept from each other.

In this explosive tale of madness, secrets, and violence, Haus deftly combines one woman's struggle to stay alive against all odds, a nasty villain of the highest order, and some deadly secrets and betrayals together in one hell of a battle between good and evil.  And while some might find her graphically detailed look at the acts of a vicious killer to be a bit off the charts, making this one at times a bit hard to handle, those who make it through these rough spots will find it ultimately a compelling and gripping read that's worth it.

 

Who's Kitten Who by Cynthia Baxter

Publisher: Bantam ISBN-10: 0553590340

Reviewed by Harvey Lau and Geraldine Young, New Mystery Reader

Long Island veterinarian Jessica Popper is more than busy. Not only is she visiting clients in her mobile clinic, which she refers to as her "clinic-on-wheels," and hosting a segment of Pet People on local TV, but she has to fit in the plans of several other people.

Her friend and landlady, Betty Vandervoort, insists that Jessica try to solve the murder of actor and playwright Simon Wainwright, who is a member of an amateur theater group that Betty has joined, and whose body was found stuffed in a trunk in a dressing room in the theater. When one of the actors decides to leave the play after the murder, Jessica is offered a small part. As a member of the group, she is now in a position to observe and interview all the cast members, the prime suspects in the murder.

Jessica has other things to worry about as well. She is to be the maid of honor at Betty's wedding and also has to prepare for the visit of her fiance's parents. Nick's parents bring their pampered little dog Mitzi and stay with Jessica and Nick in their tiny cottage, already filled with Jessica's pets - two dogs, two cats, a talkative parrot, plus a Jackson's chameleon.

To make matters worse for Jessica, Nick objects to her detecting and her other activities, which he says take too much time away from him. Newsday reporter Forrester Sloan tries to step into Nick's shoes and into Jessica's love life while helping her in her detecting. Police lieutenant Anthony Falcone tries to discourage Jessica at every turn from interfering in the murder investigation.

In the end, after several scary moments and at least one attempt on her life, Jessica does find the killer and manages to also smooth out her personal life.

We learn a lot about theater production as well, as we follow Jessica through her rehearsals, her costume and make up sessions, and her observations on how complex lighting and scenery add to the success of a play.

Witty dialogue and interesting sub-plots make this an enjoyable, "cozy" read. This is the sixth book in the Reigning Cats and Dogs Mystery series.

 

 

Master of Souls by Peter Tremayne

Publisher:  St Martins Griffin  ISBN:  10: 0312374674

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Murder and kidnappings in ancient Ireland bring the Lady Fidelma and her life mate Brother Eadulf into the land of the Ui Fidgente to get to the root of matters.  Why is an abbess and an elderly church scholar murdered in cold blood?  Are their deaths related.  Who is behind the kidnapping of 6 religious sisters from Ard Fhearta.

Danger follows them in spite of the well-armed guards who accompany them.  Fidelma runs into arrogance and refusal to answer questions on the part of members of the abbey household.  Do they know more than they are telling?  Are vague insinuations and accusations pointing to the cause of murder?

Talented author Peter Tremayne guides us back to a time when stepping outside your door was dangerous, when death could strike for no reason. This is a skillfully woven tale made up of several subplots guaranteed to hold your interest.

Lifelike characters lay false clues and scatter red herrings across the trails by omission and lies.  You'll be hard pressed to decide who to believe.  A well written tale I'm pleased to recommend to anyone who enjoys a really well researched historical story with intrigue and mystery.

 

 

American Skin by Ken Bruen

Publisher: Justin Charles & Co ISBN 978 1 932112 49 8

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I usually avoid reading any other reviewer’s comments in order to open a book without prejudice, but I couldn’t help see the phrases ‘darkest noir’ and ‘ultra-violent’ and ‘Tarantino-esque on the back of this book.  Not really my scene, but I tried to put that thought aside and read the book with an open mind.

From the start; you can’t find many chapters in this book where people are drinking tea and eating fairy cakes.  None, actually.  There’s a lot of brutality and violence, but rather like Billy Connolly’s frequent use of the fine old Anglo-Saxon expletive, the brutality and violence is part of the story, somehow it fits: these people just don’t know how to live their lives without it.

Stephen Blake, who might have liked to have been ‘a gentle Irishman’, but isn’t’, gets drawn into an armed robbery by his best friend Tommy, who is trapped in a situation he can’t get out of.  He’s promised Stapleton, the archetypal hard man, that Stephen will help them, and Stephen does, to save Tommy from Stapleton’s wrath. 

The robbery is brilliantly planned but for that wild card that is luck: the trio gets the money, but Tommy gets shot, and Stapleton later puts him down as you would an old dog.  As he swings the gun on Stephen, Stephen hits back with a rifle butt, and Stapleton goes over the cliff.  Stephen is left with bags of money, and a girlfriend who works in a bank.  Siobahn would do anything for Stephen, laundering millions is nothing—anyway, she desperately wants to leave Ireland and live somewhere warm: Tucson for choice.

Stephen goes to the United States, renews acquaintances with old friends, and awaits Siobahn’s arrival.  Once again the Luck of the Irish proves to be not something to wish on a friend; complications of all sorts intrude and Stephen wonders if he will ever see Siobahn again.  At this point, a loose thread he should have secured back in Ireland begins to unravel the whole fabric of the future Stephen hoped for, but knew in his dark heart wasn’t for him.

To say more would spoil things for you; pick up the book for yourself’ at $12.95 it’s a bargain.  You may find the book a bit confusing due to the flashbacks, but persevere, it’s a good—if disquieting—read.

 

 

The Hidden Assassins By Robert Wilson

Publisher: Harvest  ISBN: 0156032562

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Every so often I read a book that makes me want to write a review that does it justice. Robert Wilson’s The Hidden Assassins is such a book.

Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón has his work cut out for him when a body is found in a Seville landfill with its hands amputated, face burned off, and scalped. The last thing he needs is a terrorist explosion that destroys an apartment building, mosque, and day care center.

Falcon must cooperate with Spanish intelligence and counterterrorism teams; areas of responsibility are nebulous, and Spanish intelligence types don’t play with others any better than American intelligence types. Seville has few murders; is finding a dismembered corpse right before the bombing a coincidence? What about the building inspector and electricians no one can account for? The devout Catholic intelligence officer who commits suicide a couple of days later?

Spanish politics, interagency rivalries, thwarted romance, domestic abuse; all are integral to Falcón’s complicated and messy world. The intricacies of the investigation are difficult to keep track of, even without sub-plots percolating just beneath the surface. Wilson keeps everything moving with pacing and narrative so riveting you have no choice but to pay attention. Things aren’t merely complicated; they’re interesting.

Falcón is a Spanish Inspector Maigret for the Twenty-First Century. No American movie studio would touch Falcón’s character: his humanity is too three-dimensional. Compassionate, not sappy. Tough, not hard. Loyal, not blind. His understated portrayal holds all the disparate plot lines and characters together like handfuls of sand, when squeezing too tightly would let too much through the fingers.

The Hidden Assassins takes last year’s The Vanished Hands to another level. Wilson writes more than a mystery here. His cast rings so true their involvement makes this extraordinary series of events seem not just plausible, but likely. Emotions and empathy are elicited, not provoked, their impact enhanced by understatement to allow the reader to feel them before becoming fully aware of thinking of them.

Dorothy Sayer once said mysteries as a genre could not “attain the highest level of literary achievement.” To paraphrase Raymond Chandler’s rebuttal, no one knows what the highest level of literary achievement is. Any genre capable of producing The Hidden Assassins is more than good enough.

I know what you’re thinking. “After all that, why not five bolts?” There are times when the dialog is dry as the Andalusian summer. Characters that are charming, clever, and occasionally even funny will sometimes make speeches at each other, obviously for the benefit of the reader. Sometimes it’s to make sure a plot point is understood; sometimes Wilson is making a personal observation. Either way, the fictional dream is damaged.

Fear not. Wilson’s too good a writer to allow the dream to be broken. The Hidden Assassins is a novel for its time. Complicated, messy, and not everything gets as resolved as it might. The ending is still satisfying, with an aura of truth, not the patina of fabrication. This one’s a keeper.

As reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

How does the trail of murder lead from a faceless body found in a Seville garbage dump lead to an explosion in a suburban apartment building where a mosque was located in the basement?  With no apparent connection, Inspector Falcom sets out to investigate two separate cases. 

How do the personal lives of the characters in this tale connect with the cases under investigation?  What thread connects Falcon to Judge Calderon who is charged with heading up the investigation?

Talented author Robert Wilson weaves a complicated tale of several subplots that gradually merge into a tale with unexpected twists.  Red herrings are drawn across the trail and the reader will happily go following after them, only to find what they thought was so, isn't. 

A complex tale of religious fanaticism, politics, personal agendas and dogged legwork by the investigators offers a very satisfying read.  Enjoy.

 

 

The Gardens of the Dead by William Brodrick

Publisher: Penguin ISBN 978 0 14 311240 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

"Walter was a jealous man, even of the dead.  It was pitiful that a boy so small could pose a threat to a man so big."  That paragraph comes almost at the end of this amazing book, and it is the hard, dark seed from which a huge poisonous tree grew.

Father Anselm's quiet days at Larkwood Abbey are suddenly disturbed by a letter from a dead woman,Elizabeth Glendinning,  his colleague when he was a barrister.  Elizabeth leaves him a cryptic commission, to bring a villain to justice.  It is at once a simple and a complex task: the more Anselm delves into it, the more layers and mysteries he uncovers.

It looks straightforward on the surface: find the evidence to give to the police to convict the man Riley, who was guilty of murder but who got off due to a combination of Elizabeth and Anselm's skill, and something else, something Anselm didn't understand at the time, but which is at the heart of the mystery Elizabeth has left.

There is a wide cast of characters in this book, all  very different, but each being like a piece of a disassembled mosaic.   There is Elizabeth's son, who learns he  was being protected from his own history; Wyecliffe the lawyer who comes straight out of a Dickens novel; the Prior at Larkwood, in whom Elizabeth confided; Blind George, who sees more than most but cannot remember; and a host of other complex and convoluted people.  Bit by bit Anselm puts the pieces together and starts to see the picture, and it's a very different one to what he expected.

This is a challenging, involving, lyrical and thought-provoking book; it is not for the faint-hearted, for it requires your close attention in order not to get lost in the various layers of past and present. It deals with the great themes: the nature of love, truth, and the possibility of redemption.  Highly recommended to those who like a book to be more than a passing amusement.

 

 

The Concrete Maze by Steven Torres

Publisher: Leisure  ISBN-10: 084395969X

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Ex Vietnam veteran Luis Ramos is on a rampage.  His 13 year old daughter Jasmine has disappeared from the neighborhood skating rink and no one knows a thing about it.  NYPD is not the least bit concerned, believing she has run away from home.  Luis and his nephew begin to plow their way through the drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes of the city.  When Jasmine's body parts start showing up throughout the city, Luis and his nephew are determined to find the killer in spite of the fact thtat they are being harassed by the police.

Torres is an absolute master at building a tight plot filled with enough action to keep you turning pages.  He creates characters with loving hearts who will do anything and take every risk for someone they love. He has written a superb novel filled with all the low life characters you might find in a big city.  For good, tight, well maintained action, this book is a MUST READ.

 

 

Hundred-Dollar Baby by Robert B. Parker

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN 0-425217558

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Within the first few pages of this new Spenser novel, he is reunited with an old client, has a new case and is bitch-slapping thugs in a tony Boston mansion. Red meat for the fans, to be sure.

That old client is April Kyle, whose life Spenser salvaged some twenty years ago in Ceremony. Back then, she was a low-rent hooker that Spenser ended up delivering to a high-class madam in a near-Faustian bargain. Well now, April is all grown up, with a top-ticket brothel of her own, which, she tells Our Hero, is being shaken down. Hence the first in a series of confrontations between Spenser, his pals, and the thugs of one Ollie DeMars, resulting in the afore-mentioned slapdown.

Parker has mixed up the formula some with Hundred-Dollar Baby, and added a darkness to the proceedings that it both rare and welcome.

Spenser brings in Hawk, and occasional hired gun Teddy Sapp, to help stabilize the situation while he pokes around. The interplay between the intense, deadly Hawk and the more, well, "carefree" Teddy Sapp is highly entertaining. We've said it before, and it bears repeating. No one writes dialogue between dangerous men better than Parker, it's that simple.

As Spenser digs, he finds that things are not exactly as April has presented. Shocking, yes, but true. Parker sends him off to New York and to a couple of amusing moments with Detective Corsetti. It's there we meet Lionel Farnsworth, womanizer/swindler, and things start to get murky.

Of course, dealing with the various hard-wired traumas forming the emotional skill-set of April Kyle brings lots of opportunities for Spenser and Susan Silverman to discuss the case, and those discussions are as you would expect....intelligent veering on salacious. You love these moments or hate them, but the series can't live without them.

And this book, particularly, feeds on them, as the motivations of April Kyle are driving this bus, and it becomes clear that a wreck is fast approaching.

Hundred-Dollar Baby ends, as it begins, with Spenser and April. Parker plays to our dependence on Spenser as White Knight, with a result both inevitable and shocking, making for the best Spenser novel in many years.

 

 

Keeper of the Keys by Perri O'Shaughnessy

Publisher: Dell  ISBN: 0440241839

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In this latest, the O'Shaughnessy sisters put aside their Nino Reilly series for a stand-alone suspense title that will not leave fans disappointed. 

In the weeks before Ray Jackson's wife Leigh went missing, Ray had been acting odd to all who knew him, growingly increasingly obsessed with his secretive childhood in which seemed to lurk some mysterious violent secrets.  And so when Ray appears to be disengaged and unconcerned by Leigh's sudden disappearance, alarm bells go off and the police begin to suspect foul play. 

Meanwhile, Leigh's estranged best friend Kat has decided it's time to make amends with Leigh, and so she too becomes suspicious when Ray seems to have no answers regarding his wife's whereabouts, setting Kat off on a search for her best friend with whom she has shared a tragic past.

And as these two face Leigh's disappearance, and its possible connection to deadly secrets from long-ago, Ray will continue his slow unraveling while Kat faces her own unresolved issues, and where it all ends is with answers that will shock and stun and forever change the lives of all involved.    

This latest from the O'Shaughnessy sisters is simply suspense at its best.  Twisting trails of secrets that seem to lead one place, take unexpected shocking turns, leaving the reader guessing until the final astonishing denouement.  Not a story that will soon be forgotten,  this journey into the painful and mysterious pasts of these characters serves as a poignant reminder that the past is always with us, often still defining our present.  Almost impossible to put down once started, readers will find themselves not only easily forgiving the authors for taking a breather from their popular series, but rejoicing in what has come in its stead as well.        

 

 

Red Chrysanthemum by Laura Joh Rowland

Publisher:  St. Martin's Paperbacks,  ISBN:  0312948379

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A tale for any reader who enjoys tales of Japan, historical mysteries and fine-tuned suspense. A well-told tale about court intrigue and the constant seeking after influence with the shogun for those who wished to bring about the downfall of Sano Ichiro, an advisor to the shogun.

By involving Sano's wife, Reiko, in the murder of Lord Mori who had a hunger for boys he often killed, had Sano's enemies succeeded? Or were they not even responsible for the murder? The killers hadn't counted on Sano's ability as a sleuth and thought they were safe.

A story woven from several sub plots, any of which would keep you reading, this book is sure to hold your attention. The setting of this story as been researched so thoroughly that it brings the day of the samurai alive and you'll come away with an added interest in reading more about the culture that spawned them.

I'm pleased to recommend this book to mystery readers who enjoy the added perks of unusual background, danger with a different flavor, and characters whose motives for what they do will move you to different emotions. Some you'll like, some you'll dislike, some you'll pity, and in the end you'll find them all very human.

Enjoy.  I sure did.

 


 

California Life and Fire by Don Winslow

Publisher: Vintage Books  ISBN 978 0 307 27985 9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Arson Squad detective Jack Wade let his sense of outrage get the better of his common sense when he beat up low-life Teddy Kuhl to force a confession of arson for hire.  That ended his police career and his one great romance, and set him on a new path, fire claims investigator for a major insurance company in California.

Twelve years later, Jack's investigating a major fire in which a woman died. The lazy cop on the case wants to write it off as death-by-accident while smoking and drinking in bed, but Jack finds forensic evidence to the contrary.

You'd think he'd know that rocking the boat won't get him anywhere, but Jack's a stubborn man, and his heart's been touched by the two motherless children who will be condemned to life with a cold-hearted grandmother and a father who's involved with the Russian Mafia and Vietnamese gangs. 

Things get much more complicated when Jack finds out the children's aunt is his former love, Letty.  Jack discovers a storage building stuffed full of the antique furniture that supposedly burnt up with the late Mrs Vale, but he is almost burnt up with the evidence before he can tell anyone about his find.

He survives by the skin of his teeth, but then makes a big mistake in his choice of confidantes, which leads to a whole lot more trouble and pain, not just for him, but for all the innocent people who have some knowledge of the case.  Several of them disappear, and one comes down with amnesia.

How is Jack going to rescue those little kids and ensure them some chance at a decent life, and at the same time bring the criminal activity out into the open?  How much of this scary book is based on inside knowledge of organised crime and big business?  Want some insight into why your insurance premiums are so high?  Buy the book.