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Detective Carella of the 87th Precinct is called to a murder scene where he finds a young blonde beauty whose body has been repeatedly slashed with a paring knife.  Finding a box full of erotic letters leads him to the woman's married love, but that lead soon crashes when the lover is gunned down in front of his apartment building, meaning there are now two homicides to solve.  And when Carella's own father is murdered in a robbery gone bad, he has to trust that another precinct will solve the case while he continues to pursue the string of sordid murders in his own.

McBain has masterfully woven a double plot into one cliffhanging novel.  While swimming in a sea of sexual greed and perversion in his own case, he keeps tabs on the senseless drug related case of his father.  Also woven into the novel is the is the chilling expertise of police negotiators.  This novel has so much going on the reader has to constantly pay attention to the action, not wanting to miss anything.  Another winner in this enticing series of the 87th Precinct.

Over His Dead Body by Leslie Glass

Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN: 0345448022

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Cassie, a Long Island housewife of a rich and successful businessman spends her time tending her garden and mediocre home.  While her husband’s away for business, she decides to have a face-lift, hoping to pump some romance back into her dead marriage.  But when her husband comes home unexpectedly and sees her tattered and not quite healed face, he has a stroke and ends up in a coma.  Cassie soon discovers some horrible secrets; he was planning to divorce her and make sure she was left with not a dime, he was being investigated by the IRS, and he and his mistress had been using her identity to further ruin her.  What follows is an amusing romp of the rich and deceitful and a possible second chance for love.      

This sly and wily mystery just begs the reader to do some casting for the possible movie.  (Goldie Hawn is a sure bet for Cassie.)  And the intentional drawing of the characters into despicable and loathsome people is darkly humorous, adding greatly to this plot involving the rich, and their not as subtle as they’d like to think, lack of grace and depth.  (At least that’s what we like to tell ourselves.)  It’s a great put-down of those we love to hate, and Glass is quite successful at making us despise them even more.  A fun and amusing addition to Glass’s repertoire of suspenseful mystery fiction, this one is sure to bring a smile.

 

Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard

Publisher: Perennial ISBN: 0060534222

Mr. Timothy be Louis Bayard: Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is a dark sequel to Dickens' "Christmas Carol" which will disturb many for its look into the slimy underbelly of Victorian London.  The author takes the reader through many strata of society, from the silk-hatted toffs to the maimed, homeless but somehow not entirely hopeless bottom layer of petty criminals, child prostitutes and the working poor. 

The premise is a strange one: it is that Timothy Cratchit did not die of his childhood affliction, but lived to grow up under the oppressive but well-meant wing of Ebenezer Scrooge; and that in an effort to find a life of his own, he takes up the post of reading tutor to the madam of a prosperous brothel. 

Tim becomes obsessive about discovering who caused the deaths of several young girls whose bodies have been dredged up by his friend Captain Gully.  The compulsion increases when Tim rescues a living victim and begins to discern the full extent of the vile trade from which Philomela has escaped.  Tim's investigation, aided by the well-named "Colin the Melodious" lead to some noble houses wherein base things happen. 

In the midst of his detecting, Mr. Timothy must still provide tutelage to the blowsy Mrs. Sharpe, who wants to make up for the deficiencies of her youth by learning to read and write.  This desire brings unforseen complications, as well as conflict with the brothel's butler George, who has been keeping the accounts without help for years, and doesn't thank Tim for educating his employer at this late stage. 

While his strange life is following its convoluted path in the present, Tim's former life haunts him.  He sees his father's ghost everywhere, and composes long, tortured letters to the man in his head.  Hamlet and he could well have struck up a friendship. 

Louis Bayard has offered an interesting sequel to the Dickens' seasonal favorite, which has little of the high glycemic index that marked the original.  Unlike other writers who have attempted sequels, Bayard has made no effort to make a seamless match between the end of the first book and the start of his own.  It is indeed all his own work, and a strange and compelling one it is.  This will not be to everyone's taste, but it is unlikely that was Bayard's intent.

 

Night Visions by Thomas Fahy

Night Visions by Thomas Fahy: Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Publisher: Perennial Dark Alley ISBN: 0060594624

Night Visions, by Thomas Fahy, is a suspenseful novel that may keep you up at night.  Fahy interweaves an intriguing historical tale surrounding a collection of classical music with a series of violent murders. 

Samantha Ranvali is having trouble sleeping because when she goes to sleep she is haunted by violent nightmares.  She seeks help for her severe insomnia by undergoing experimental medical treatment at a sleep disorder treatment center.  She is not the only patient undergoing the medical treatment and the group is called the “Endymion’s Circle.”  These are all people who consider this experiment a last resort for treating their insomnia.  While undergoing this treatment, Samantha continues to have nightmares about violent attacks but she soon finds out that these are not just dreams but are also real acts of violence that are happening to the other patients in the experimental group.   

Frank Bennett, who works for the Palici Corporation, which is a private investigative firm, has been assigned to a missing person case.  The case leads him to San Francisco and he seeks the help of his former lover, Samantha.  Samantha and Frank find out that there are ties between the patients and the missing person when they are called to the first murder scene.  The victim is found in an upside-down crucified position and there is classical music playing in the background.  The music is Bach’s Goldberg Variations and the piece is steeped in its own mystery as well.  According to tradition, Johann Sebastian Bach was commissioned by Count Keyserlingk to write pieces for his court musician, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, to play to help the Count get to sleep since he was suffering from severe insomnia. 

As a result of the missing person case and the nightmares, Samantha and Frank find more dead bodies like the first one and it becomes clear that there is a serial killer that is preying on insomniacs and that the murderer uses the Goldberg Variations as a signature.  The tension and the suspense increase with the number of dead bodies and Samantha starts to believe that she is personally tied to the serial killings.  The author interlaces flashbacks to the time when the Goldberg Variations were written for the Count with the storyline of the current serial killings to produce an elegant thread across the centuries.

Thomas Fahy has masterfully woven his personal passions for classical music and literature into his debut novel, Night Visions. The novel is well-written and downright spine-chilling even though the final chapter seems to leave the storyline unresolved rather than providing closure for the reader. It is possible that the author plans to develop a series based on the characters developed in this novel.  I recommend this book and look forward to future offerings from this author.

                                     

Season’s Revenge by Henry Kisor

 Publisher: Forge; 1st edition ISBN: 0765345870

Season's Revenge by Henry Kisor: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s almost Christmas in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when a prominent citizen is found dead in the woods, the victim of a bear mauling.  Deputy Steve Martinez, however, feels that it might just be murder, murder-by-bear, and unfortunately he’s the only one.  Following clues, and falling in love with the town’s historian, Ginny Fitzgerald, is keeping this Lakota Indian more than busy.   And when yet another murder occurs, his hidden investigation is taken to a higher level of danger where every citizen in this small town of secrets is a suspect. 

This first novel from Kisor is charming, touching, and altogether a great read.  Martinez, Lakota by birth, but raised in the Anglo world is a man torn between two cultures.  Kisor makes the most of this in a sincere and honest way, adding depth and appeal to this already suspenseful and compelling tale.  The environs of the Upper Peninsula also add much to this atmospheric read, as well as the interesting asides of some fascinating bear trivia.  This first from Kisor shows extreme promise, and we hope there’s more on the way.     

 

 

Winter’s End by John Rickards

 Publisher: Leisure Books ISBN: 0843954477

Winter's End by John Rickards: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Boston detective Alex Rourke is called to Winter’s End, Maine, the town of his boyhood, to help assist his old friend, the sheriff, with an intriguing new case.  A young man has been found leaning over the murdered body of a middle-aged woman, and refuses to say who he is, or how he came to be in this position.  Alex, a former FBI agent, has the skills to get the answers, but the more he learns, the more he wishes he would have never come back home.  Soon other bodies are found, all with ties to Alex’s youth, leading Alex to believe that this may personal, and leading Alex to answers that he is not prepared for, and that just may cost him his life. 

The first mystery from Richards manages to both thrill and engross.  A puzzle that reaches deep into the past provides just the right combination of exciting suspense and eerie ambiance.  Alex is a likable and engagingly human character, with just the right amount of vices to keep him real, and with his tragic past adding greatly to his depth of character.  There’s even a bit of romance to soften up this disturbing tale, rounding out the sharp corners just right.  We’d welcome a second addition in what we hope is to become a series.       

 

Darker Than Night by John Lutz

Publisher: Pinnacle Books ISBN: 0786016337 

Darker Than Night by John Lutz: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Fans of super-suspenseful police procedurals should be more than satisfied with Lutz's latest.  He has gathered together a group of characters that are refreshingly down to earth and realistically imperfect to solve the case of the Night Prowler, a sadistic killer who preys on happily married couples. 

Frank Quinn used to be a cop with the NYPD, but that all came crashing down when he got too close to an internal investigation involving his peers and higher-ups, and so after being implicated in the rape of a young girl by those he's accused, he's been biding his time waiting for the truth come out.  And when he's selected to consult on this latest serial killer case, he jumps at the chance to prove himself.  Along for the ride are Pearl and Fedderman, a couple of cops whose pasts aren't much better than Frank's.  But together, this motley crew may just break the case and save the next victims from a terrible fate.

This hard to put down thriller has much going for it with plenty of red-herrings and some wild twists that will keep you reading at a furious pace.  And while some of the premises are a bit hard to swallow, such as why Quinn would be called in to consult in the first place with a possible rape hanging over his head, they're easily overlooked.  Definitely a must-read, this one has all the ingredients for a late night into terror.  

 

The Murder Room by P.D. James

 Publisher:  Vintage ISBN: 1400076099

The Murder Room by P. D. James: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

London’s detective Adam Dalgliesh is back, this time to investigate the case of a murder which has taken place at the Dupayne museum.  A small museum devoted to the inner-war years, it is family owned and operated, and includes a room of exhibits called The Murder Room, a room devoted to a few infamous murders of the time.  When another body turns up, and once again reflects a murder such of that in the exhibit, Dalgliesh and his team realize that someone is copying these murders in an attempt to either destroy or enliven the museum, which may be on the brink of closing due to a disagreement within the family.  Everyone connected with the museum has a great interest in keeping it open, but for the one man who is dead, so the suspects are many, the clues are few, and the tension is high.           

Believe it or not, this was my first P.D. James novel.  Needless to say, I was greatly impressed.  Not only does James write with a great literary flair, but her plot, characterization, and level of suspense are all maintained at the highest levels throughout this enchanting and captivating read.  This is one book you can sink your teeth into, and it will take great will to put it down until the last page has been turned.  This is one writer that I will turn to again, and look forward to reading more of.    

 

THE CON MAN'S DAUGHTER  by  Ed Dee

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN: 0446614408

The Con Man's Daughter by Ed Dee: Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

There's always an extra dimension to a book written by an insider.  Ed Dee (c'mon, that's gotta be a nom de plume!) spent twenty years with the NYPD organized crime unit, and it shows from the very first page of this nail biter.  You just know some of what's in this book isn't fiction--which makes the story even scarier. 

Eddie Dunne, former cop, former courier for the Russian mob, and current day busy grandfather, is drawn back into the seamy and violent world of his several past lives when his daughter is kidnapped. 

It's difficult for Eddie to know where to start, since there are so many people out there who might want to get back at him by snatching Kate.  It could be connected to any one of a number of things Eddie and his former partner were involved in; or it could be tied up with the new generation Russian mafia and their attempts to cut out the old guard, represented by Eddie's former boss Anatoly Lukin.   

Eddie puts the word out that he's willing to pay a hefty ransom.  (He has a private bank in his ceiling).  This doesn't find any takers, which rules out petty thugs as the kidnappers.   

Into Eddie's life comes Babsie Panko, a policewoman and friend of the family.  Babsie tries to help, but Eddie needs to get information from some dark and nasty places that even the police don't know about.  This leads to some near death experiences for Eddie, but eventually he begins to get a grip on the real motivation behind Kate's kidnapping, and it's not at all what he had expected. 

The Conman's Daughter has as fine a cast list of villains as you're likely to find in this season's crop of books.  Corrupt cops; petty crims; old and new Russian Mafiosi; an officious government agent; several beautiful but sinister women--you won't feel short-changed when it comes to the guys in the black hats.

This debut is sure to be just the first in a long series of adventures for Eddie Dunne.  Put it on your Christmas list for sure. 

 

Extreme Indifference by Stephanie Kane

Publisher: Pocket Star ISBN: 0743466810

Extreme Indifference by Stephanie Kane: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Jackie Flowers, a criminal defense lawyer living in Denver, is asked by Judge Ballard to represent him in a murder case, she is wary and hesitant.  The judge has been accused of murdering a young and beautiful co-ed, and with a video as evidence of the crime, Flowers has her doubts as to his innocence.  That’s only one of the reasons, however, the other is that the judge, a professor during her law school days, had given her a failing grade in the class he taught, his disdain and indifference nearly crushing her hopes for a future. To make matters even worse, the prosecutor and Flowers share a dubious history going back five years in which Jackie was accused of leaking sensitive information to the press.  With all this against her, Jackie nevertheless decides to take the case and soon begins to suspect the judge may have been framed, and so putting aside her antipathy towards this highly unlikable man, she gives it everything she has.  But what is the truth, and how far will the guilty go to hide it?

Jackie Flowers in her latest outing is as likable as ever.  A heroine that’s far from perfect, she makes it all work by being intelligent, resourceful, and compassionate to those deserving.  Her realistic battles with her dyslexia adds an even more appealing characteristic to this already engaging lawyer, whose sincerity and determination, mixed with her confidence and vulnerability, more than make up for what she lacks.  This gripping thriller, with its numerable shocks and surprises, is a more than welcomed addition to the genre, and will easily strike just the right chord with legal thriller aficionados.   

 

THE QUEENE’S CHRISTMAS    Karen Harper

St Martin’s Minotaur ISBN 0312994729


The Queene's Christmas by Karen Harper: Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader


“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” might be the subtitle of this 6th book in Harper’s Elizabethan series.

The book opens with Queen Elizabeth’s  innocent wish to bring pleasure to her elderly governess, Kat Ashley, by having a real old-fashioned Christmas at court.   The Queen rapidly becomes embroiled in a  nasty series of events which initially look like holiday japery gone wrong, but soon prove to be pieces of a dark and devious plot against Her Majesty.

The Queen convenes her secret council of friends, which has solved many past mysteries, to investigate the strange happenings.  Ever-reliable Lord Cecil is there, but the doughty Ned Topside must soon be excluded due to suspicion having fallen on him.  That’s the worst of  the plot: it robs Elizabeth one by one of those few supporters  she has always been able to trust.

First the Queen’s food dresser, Hodge Thatcher is found dead in bizarre circumstances.  In short order, something goes wrong on almost all the Twelve Days of Christmas: a fox’s gory head replaces the roast boar’s head  at dinner; rude dolls mocking the Queen and her would-be lover appear out of nowhere; a box of stones hewn from the very foundation of the palace arrives as a gift--where will it all end?

Complicating the main plot is the presence of the embittered Lady
Margaret Lennox  and her useless son,  Lord Darnley, at Court.  They have reason to wish Elizabeth dead, as does the visiting ambassador from the court of Scotland,  where Elizabeth’s cousin  Mary sits on the throne, a breath away from the crown of England.

Flitting through the first half off the book like a crow at at a
christening is the well-named Vicar  Bane, a dour churchman who
disapproves of the Christmas festivities, and loses no chance to make his opinions known.   Fanatics have been known to plot murder before this: could Bane be behind the lethal jokes?    Or could it be Lord Sussex, the tongue-tied nobleman who protests his loyalty, yet loathes the Queen’s favorite?

This is a well-written book, with just enough Elizabethan turn of
phrase to set and maintain the atmosphere, without falling into the error of too many ‘forsooths and gadzooks”.  Starting each chapter is a Tudor Christmas recipe, some of which might be fun to attempt if you’re an adventurous cook.

Highly recommended.