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The Devil's Only Friend by Mitchell Bartoy

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312340893

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader 

Mitchell Bartoy’s debut novel, The Devil’s Own Rag Doll, was a refreshing anachronism: noir set in 1943 Detroit, using wartime conventions and language. It made its point and remained entertaining by displaying Pete Caudill’s emotions instead of describing them, trusting the reader to draw appropriate conclusions. If only Bartoy’s sophomore effort, The Devil’s Only Friend, did the same.

Caudill is back, no longer a cop, even darker and more troubled than before. When Walker, a black ex-cop introduced in Rag Doll, asks him to look into the murder of Walker’s sister, Caudill is torn between making a half-hearted effort and no effort at all.

Events drag him deeper into the plot, which again includes Jasper Lloyd, the aged and dying founder and patriarch of Lloyd Motors. Caudill’s situation deteriorates as more is exposed to him. To say he uncovers more would give him too much credit. Mostly he makes himself available for other characters to tell him important information they often have no reason to think he’d want to know.

In Rag Doll, Caudill acknowledged his demons while trying to push through them. He often failed, but his struggle propelled the book through his peripheral involvement in events larger than himself. Too much of The Devil’s Only Friend is spent listening to Caudill whine about his situation and failures of character when compared to his father and dead brother. His wonders whether to eat a bullet – or do something guaranteed to make someone else kill him – so often the reader may be tempted to ask Caudill to get on with it and let someone else finish telling the story.

Or not. The murders Caudill investigates are too tenuously connected to any practical or logical aspect of the plot to worry about much. Reading The Devil’s Only Friend gives the impression that Bartoy’s initial success caught everyone somewhat by surprise. Maybe the publisher wanted another book just like Rag Doll, and a franchise existed before the author had a fully conceived idea for the next book.

Bartoy’s a fine writer, and toned down much of the purpleness that sometimes plagued Rag Doll. A third Pete Caudill story is implied at the end of The Devil’s Only Friend. Let’s hope Volume Three leans more toward Bartoy’s earlier work, with a few of the refinements he added in Friend. That would definitely be a book worth reading.  

 

Cruel Sister by Deborah Grabien

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books  ISBN:  0312357575

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Talented author Deborah Grabien gives the paranormal mystery fan another unput-downable tale.  It's one of those rare stories any mystery or paranormal fan will want to read in one sitting.

Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes and Ringan Laine are drawn into a mystery involving more than one ghost when Penny's brother and his new wife decide to build an Elizabethan style house on the Isle of Dogs.  Ringan who does not consider himself sensitive to such things seems to be the main focus of the hauntings in this tantalizingly complex story.

The steps back into the days of Henry VIII, the descriptions of the attire, the actions seen through Ringan's eyes recreate a world we only know from books, an exciting and eventful time when danger and death can happen at any moment for any reason.

A murder is revealed, the identification of the victim and killer and the motives and Ringan's struggle to retain his own identity create a gripping story from start to finish.  The blending of real history with fictional history is seamless and seems very real.

This is a book I am more than happy to recommend to any reader.  An adventure into the past that will long be remembered and have readers looking for other books by this imaginative author. 

Enjoy.  I certainly did.

 

 

 

Missing in Precinct Puerto Rico by Steven Torres

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books  ISBN:  0312321112

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico and wandered in its near tropical countryside where small towns hide away?  If so, you'll feel right at home in the setting of this well told tale and if not, you will enjoy the visit and come away feeling as if you really did travel there.

Missing children bring out the best in the sheriff of Augustias, Luis Gonzalo, as he sets out to find where a little boy and teenage girl have disappeared.  Terrorists are blamed and he learns other children have also gone missing. 

You'll wonder how a newlywed groom can abandon his wife and how it ties in with missing children. You'll wonder about the activities of other teenagers and a murder that is uncovered as the search goes on.

What Gonzalo and other local lawmen uncover is a tale that could be found in any newspaper any day of the week.  This is a great opportunity to join a sheriff in a small town and follow him and his deputies as they conduct a desperate hunt for the missing children.

A cast of well drawn characters will conduct you through the maze of mystery and motives and cross purposes in a fresh look at an old problem.

I'm pleased to recommend this story by talented author Steven Torres as well worth the time to read. You'll want to read his other books as well. Enjoy.  I really did.

 

 

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312340710

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Icelandic mysteries are rare. This must be due to the small size of the country, if Arnaldur Indridason’s Silence of the Grave is any example of their caliber.

The story begins with an indifferent medical student watching an infant gnaw on a toy. Its unusual shape gives him something to think about, until he recognizes a human rib.

The police track the rib to a construction site, where a little digging reveals a full skeleton, near a long since departed chalet. Initial estimates place the bones at between sixty and seventy years old. More precise information has to wait for the regular pathologist to return from vacation, and for the world’s most methodical archeology team to actually extract the skeleton.

Indridason weaves together two stories to provide a well unified whole. Without spoiling too much, what originally appear to be two parallel plots merge so gradually at first as to be unnoticeable. The reader’s anticipation increases as the book progresses and the relationship becomes more clear, and tighter.

The book’s main focus is what is euphemistically referred to in the civilized Twenty-First Century as “domestic violence.” Indridason makes it clear such activity would be considered assault verging on attempted murder if performed on a person other than the perpetrator’s “loved ones.” Full marks for his handling of society’s most shameful aspect. That doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to read.

The characters move the story along without evoking much interest in them as people. Erlandur, the lead detective, has been estranged from his family since his children were small, and must deal with a near-fatal complication of his pregnant, drug addict, daughter. Sigurder Oli is a younger, more impatient cop, driven to distraction by his girlfriend’s recent nymphomaniac tendencies. (This makes him the first fictional detective of any nationality to be upset by too much sex.) Erlandur’s story affects his perspective on the case somewhat. Sigurdur Oli’s could have been left out altogether.

Indridason uses his Icelandic venue to maximum benefit. His local readers probably feel a sense of place by his frequent reminders of where everything occurs. Foreign readers will be impressed with the exotic nature of the names and physical characteristics of the settings. Indridason also knows not to make too much of this. A less confident hand would set a mystery in the near constant night of the Icelandic winter. Indridason chooses spring, bringing a different kind of darkness to his events.

The English translation does the exotic locale no favors. Bernard Scudder uses current British colloquialisms for what were probably Icelandic vernacular. All well and good if trying to make the story more comfortable for an English audience, it sometimes spoils the effect to have the land of Sigurdur Oli, Snaefellsjokull Glacier and the town of Grafarvogur populated with wankers, arseholes, and grasses. Maybe that’s what a literal translation would imply; they still seem jarring when they occur.

Silence of the Grave is economically wrapped, the plot moves along, and visiting such a rarely seen location (even in fiction) is refreshing. The somewhat dry characters and dialog keep it from getting full marks, but it’s still well worth anyone’s time.