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The Fourth Victim by Tony Spinoza

Publisher: Bleak House Books  ISBN: 978-1-60648-10-6

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

On a cold and rainy night Rusty Monaco is making deliveries of home heating oil on Long Island. When he comes to a dead end and a deserted house, he is killed.

Like many a service person, the delivery drivers of the heating oil companies go unnoticed by their customers until someone kills five carrying cash from COD deliveries.

Unfortunately for the killers, Monaco was an ex NYPD detective as is Joe Serpe who now owns a heating oil company. Monaco saved Joe’s life on the job, so with the help of his partner at Mayday Oil – Bob Healy, a retired NYPD detective from Internal Affairs – they start to solve the killings.

On the way, Gigi – Monaco’s sister – enters Joe’s life. When a lawyer gives Gigi a bag full of money from her dead brother, she asks for Joe’s help. Monaco appears to have had more money than a detective’s salary would have provided. Joe then finds the lawyer murdered.

Meantime, Healy teams with a NYPD Internal Affairs detective Raiza Hines to see if Monaco’s death was connected with his police career. Hines is female, African-American and young. Healy and Hines fight the mutual attraction they feel with limited success.

Spinoza does a fine job of weaving an intriguing mystery tale. His characters are well developed and while not always likable, they are very human. The loyalty Joe feels for Monaco is a good secondary theme especially given the type of person Monaco was. A moral seems to be that the good are not always rewarded and bad punished – at least initially. The violence and language fits the setting, which means that both are graphic.




Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN-10: 0425221776

Reviewed by Tracey Jipson, New Mystery Reader

Espresso Shot is the seventh installment in Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse series, and is as much a romance as a mystery.   Clare Cosi is the manager of the Village Blend, an independent coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, and has been hired by her ex-husband Matteo Allegro to create a coffee and dessert bar for his upcoming wedding.  Though she is convinced that these upcoming nuptials are a mistake, Clare agrees to his proposition, especially because she believes the upscale wedding will help bring attention to her coffeeshop. 

Clare insists that she no longer has romantic feelings for Matteo, but she remains protective of him and refuses to let him attend his bachelor party alone.  A stripper, hired by Matteo’s friends because she looks just like his fiancée Bree, is shot down on the street following the party.  Then Matteo tells Clare that Bree was recently a near-victim of a hit and run incident, and asks Clare to find out if someone really wants Bree dead. 

Clare is no fan of her ex-husband’s fiancée, but she agrees to look into the matter.  After spending some time with the thoroughly unpleasant Bree, there are many people on Clare’s suspect list—Bree the bridezilla seems to have few friends, and has made many enemies over the years.  Attempts on her own life, managing the Blend, and fulfilling her desire to design the perfect coffee bar for her ex-husband’s wedding certainly keep Clare busy, but her sleuthing also allows her to spend time with Mike, her police detective boyfriend.   

Strong personalities abound in this sophisticated novel, which is part whodunit and part romance.  Clare and Matteo are engaging if somewhat flat characters, and Mike, Bree, the Village Blend staff, old friends, police officers and even New York City itself all combine to weave an interesting backdrop for murder.  The author includes coffee trivia even recipes.  And yet, I had a tough time staying interested in this book.   There seemed to be little actual sexual tension between Clare and either of her past or present men.  And as a newcomer to the series I’m not sure where to direct my loyalty—should Clare be with Matteo or with Mike?  And if Bree is such an unpleasant person to be around, why is Matteo marrying her?    While this book did make me want to brew up a good cup of coffee and try to identify the killer, I found the relationships that exist at the core of the story a little bitter and hard to swallow.








Stealing Trinity by Ward Larsen

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing  ISBN 978 1 933515 17 5

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It’s the last days of the Third Reich and a handful of forward-looking individuals are considering their next moves.  Some are trying to save something from the wreckage for a future Reich and some are looking to fund their own retirement in warmer climes. 

The story opens with a few senior Nazis plotting how to get some very valuable and very secret information from a double agent in the USA.  They need someone who can pass as American, and they choose Captain Alexander Braun, a man who was raised in the USA and has proved his devotion to the Fatherland over and over.

Braun is dropped off the coast of Long Island by a submarine and begins a dangerous trip to Los Alamos New Mexico where his contact, “The Wasp”, is to hand over a briefcase of top secret plans for the Manhattan Project.  Playing on his pre-war romance with the now married Lydia Murray, Braun rapidly fits into the local society and makes plans to head west at a suitable time.  For reasons that are somewhat unclear, Braun commits a murder which passes for an accident initially, until a British Agent shows up and upsets everything.  Braun goes on the run, leaving behind a guilty and grieving Lydia.

Lydia finds courage and strength she didn’t know she had and sets out on the trail of Braun, independently of the British agent, Michael Thatcher.  Their paths cross later in the story as they track Braun, until in a plane far over the Pacific the main characters are gathered in a situation that can only be survived if they work together.  Can they trust each other?  Do they have a choice?

Larsen has woven real history and real people into his fictional story.  There really was a spy at Los Alamos and the USS Indianapolis was really sunk after delivering her precious cargo to Guam, one of the great maritime tragedies that went almost unnoticed due to the overwhelming events of that final month of the Pacific war.  (For a fascinating and minutely detailed record of that period, read Stephen Walker’s “Shockwave”, highly recommended and eminently readable.)  





The Other Side of Silence by Bill Pronzini

Publisher: Walker & Company  ISBN-10: 0802717136

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Shortly after his divorce is finalized, security expert Rick Fallon heads for the desert of Death Valley, one of the few places he feels at home with its stark beauty and all-encompassing silence being a salve for his soul.  But his search for solitude and peace is quickly extinguished when he comes upon a woman near dead in the middle of the lonely miles of nothing.  Feeling a sense of connection and debt to the place he calls home, he brings her back out alive.  And when he finds that she was trying to die after the kidnapping of her son by her vicious ex-husband, Rick can’t help but get further involved - his only goal to find her missing child.  But the further he searches, the more he discovers that nothing or nobody is what they seem, and the more he becomes involved the closer he comes to losing what little he has left.

Pronzini’s writing, like the desert he writes of, is stark and deceptively simple in its beauty.  And although this is a read that’s all too short, it’s still easy to become entranced in Rick’s journey from loss and despair back to compassion and the living.  This is essentially a forlornly feeling read, but one that’s so full of vivid images and soulful regrets, that the yearnings are almost palatable. A kind of book that will mean something different to each reader, and that’s kind of magical, don’t you think?




Payback by Clare Curzon

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 031237531X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

This latest Curzon British mystery will seem very familiar in many ways to those who have read any one of her titles featuring Superintendent Mike Yeadings and his crew of investigators.  This time out, however, it’s a rather unique and super farcical series of events that pits the cast in not one, but several, mysteries that might or might not be connected.  The first mystery involves the hit and run of a man who the investigators think is a lowly auction house employee.  But what they don’t know is that the man they think was hit, and who is now lying in a coma, is really instead his wealthy half-brother, a fact that will leave them far from connecting the clues to who done it. 

Meanwhile, the brother who they think was the victim, but who instead was a witness and who believes the car was meant for him, takes over his comatose brother’s life; a choice that lands him in bed with a strange young woman who then takes him to an artist retreat in a nearby castle.  Confused yet?  If so, you might want to hold off, because it only gets more complicated as at this point the farce has only just started, getting more strange by the day when the other brother takes over the other brother’s identity when he wakes from his coma.  And this is still only the beginning.

Okay, wild coincidences and an impossible confluence of bad judgment aside, this is a really fun and sweet mystery.  Most readers will find themselves not really caring about the logic that led to these crazy who-done-its, and there is more than one, because it’s much too fun just riding this ride.  Enjoy it, and don’t look too deep, you’re not meant to. If you can take this at face-value, it’s guaranteed you’ll enjoy it.  






Clean Cut by Lynda La Plante

Publisher: Touchstone, ISBN-10: 1416586679

Reviewed by R. Don Copeland for the New Mystery Reader

Set in the United Kingdom, Lynda La Plante’s Clean Cut begins with DI (Detective Inspector) Anna Travis making a Ben Franklin plus-minus list of whether or not to stay with her boyfriend DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) James Langton.  James also happens to be Anna’s direct superior.  Anna’s focus is less on her professional relationship with James, and more on her personal life with him.  It seems James is an inconsiderate and unromantic slob.  Anna’s list seems overwhelmingly against staying with James until La Plante reveals, almost as an aside, that James is keeping Anna well-sexed.  Even so, it appears that Anna is on the verge of leaving James.

Fate has an otherwise in mind.  While investigating a homicide, James Langton is viciously attacked by the suspect with a machete, no less.  Anna finds out via the dreaded late night knock and is soon doing the hospital vigil.  Against all odds, James survives.  It appears the physical carnage of the machete attack will leave James Langton an invalid for Life.  Anna Travis is not the type to leave her man when the chips are down, and does an angelic turn in putting up with James- who’s an extremely uncooperative hospital patient- during his slow recovery.

Soon after James Langton’s injury, Anna is reassigned to DCI John Sheldon.  It’s not long before Anna finds she does not at all care for DCI Sheldon.  Anna’s new boss is after all, no James Langton.  Anna’s finds herself on a case involving a thirty-nine year old librarian who has been brutally raped, sodomized and slain.  The librarian’s butchered corpse is discovered by her twelve-year old daughter.  The killer Arthur George Murphy is soon apprehended and confesses matter-of-factly to the brutal murder.   After murdering his victim, Murphy stopped to make himself a nice little sandwich in her kitchen.  Murphy casually informs the detectives he would have ‘done’ the daughter too, had she been around.  We discover that Murphy is a repeat violent offender who should never have been out of prison in the first place.  From about this point, the opinions of author La Plante begin to strongly impress themselves on us.  As readers, we are given innumerable opportunities to see just how flawed and inadequate the criminal justice system is.

I’m not particularly fond of police procedurals that make the criminal justice system itself a sort of antagonist.  And that’s what happens here in Clean Cut.  But call it a quibble in a novel that is otherwise jam-packed with illuminating procedural detail that gives an insider’s view into fighting crime in the real world.  For all of La Plante’s authorial railing, her portrayal of a seriously flawed criminal justice system at least seems to fit the world we live in.  La Plante also makes her position on contemporary immigration law in the U.K. quite clear.  This puts La Plante on a slippery slope, as some readers will find her views wonderfully clear-headed and pragmatic, while other readers will view La Plante as isolationist, if not actively xenophobic.

There is a bit too much storytelling that goes nowhere within the pages of Clean Cut.  Anna Travis is portrayed as a brilliant and intuitive detective working in a team of the decidedly less talented.  Keeping in mind that Anna is part of a detective team, it strains belief a bit when Anna always seems to have a better grasp of what’s going on than the career professionals she works with.  Even when Anna’s teammates are actively investigating something she’s barely acquainted with, Anna will somehow have the more comprehensive take.

There’s a good and strong story here within the pages of Clean Cut, and La Plante’s hard feelings about the criminal justice system are endurable for what is otherwise a top police procedural.  Flawed, but strong in many respects, I recommend Clean Cut with a caveat- be prepared to wince or sigh a bit over the philosophical undertones. Fans of Lynda La Plante’s two other Anna Travis police procedurals certainly should buy Clean Cut to round out the series.




Hell Bent by William G. Tapply

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 031235830X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

While Boston family lawyer Brady Coyne might be missing his departed lover’s attention since she left a few months back to be with her dying father, he’s still able to enjoy New England’s beautiful fall colors.  It’s a quiet life, and if not a totally contended one, at least his latest cases seem to be minus the gunfire and danger that usually accompany them. 

But in Coyne’s life the quiet and solitude rarely last for long, and this latest spell too is all too abruptly ended when an old lover Alex Shaw calls asking Coyne to represent her brother Gus in his upcoming divorce.  Seems like a simple request, but as Coyne will soon find out, this case like many previous ones, will soon turn dark and dangerous when he and Alex find Gus, a photojournalist just returned from Iraq and suffering from PTSD, dead in his apartment from an apparent suicide.  But while investigators might be willing to close the case, Alex is far from convinced, a notion that Coyne begins to believe in too when he discovers that there are far more questions than answers surrounding Gus’s death.

Fans of the Brady Coyne series will no doubt enjoy this recent return of the indomitable lawyer.   And like the many titles before, this latest entry does indeed have much to offer in the way of a solidly written mystery.  Additionally, Tapply cautiously and adroitly addresses some of the more serious and traumatic consequences that can result from the rages of war, including not only the wounds that are visible to the naked eye, but those that lie deep underneath the surface that are just as devastating.  However, that being said, some readers might also question Coyne’s all too factual approach towards emotional entanglements, his logical and almost mulish methods coming off as cold-hearted and removed, especially when it comes to romance.  But all in all, this is another above average addition to the genre and one that comes recommended.




A Song For You by Betsy Thornton

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312380623

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When a body is churned up next to a retaining wall during one of Dudley, Arizona’s summer monsoons, it isn’t long until it’s identified as the body of one of the members of a local popular band who went missing nearly 20 years before.  And considering that back then it was thought that the bass player had just drifted off after too much weed and his distress over the band’s lead singers brutal murder at the time, the beautiful temptress Annie, it’s more than a shocking discovery. 

And so when PI Brian Flynn and his new associate investigator Chloe Newcombe are hired by the dead lead singer’s daughter to look into the possible connections between the deaths then and now, old friends and dark memories will gather once again to the place where it all started and where it all ended, and where it will now once again threaten those who have returned.

It’s been way too long since Thornton, one of my personal favorite authors, has written.  And so her return is not only welcomed, but made all that more glorious for her ability to not only resume her wonderfully drawn characters of old with the same poignancy, but also with her addition of a few more who are just as vividly drawn. The young Rachel - bereft daughter left as an orphan after her free-spirited mother’s death - alone makes this read more than worth every penny, her slow release of the carefully built façade as an upper-middle class woman into who she might have been had it not been for her mother’s death is beautifully and movingly rendered.  Combined with all this is Thornton’s ability to now and again write one single sentence that captures a world of thought; sentences you’ll find yourself reading over and over trying to discover how she managed to combine so much feeling in just five or more words.  Needless to say, if you have yet to read this author, now is your chance, she’s one of the best and one who deserves your attention.