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Four Kinds of Rain by Robert Ward

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312374686

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Recently divorced Baltimore psychologist Bob Wells has seen better days; with his wife having left him for a more successful man and his practice barely holding on, he spends most evenings at the local pub, now and again playing some guitar with his aging rock band.  But lately even the band seems to be falling apart, at least until the fateful day a beautiful woman with the voice of an angel walks through the door and Bob finds himself suddenly falling deeply in love.

But to keep this woman, a woman who never wants to live in poverty again, Bob will be forced to enter the world of crime, concocting a plan to rob one of his patients of a valuable artifact that, if successful, will put him on easy street forever.  But when the plan goes horribly awry, and people die, the steps Bob will take to ensure his future with the woman he loves will only get more violent, the secrets more deadly, and the price higher than he ever expected to pay.

Readers may initially find this intricate tale simply too obscure to be even slightly credible, which when taken at face value, indeed it is.  However, further reading will eventually substantiate Ward's elaborate measures, soon revealing what lies beneath- an evocative and demoralizing allegory of our times that is disturbingly illuminating.  Pulling no punches, Ward gives the reader a dark and alternate view of what may lie beneath the surface of those idealists who have spent a lifetime giving, with little reward in return, and what can happen when the fragile thread holding it all together finally snaps.  This is a difficult novel to get through, and an even more difficult one to ponder once finished, but it is also one that is clever and provocative and, ultimately, worth the time spent.

 

 

Fatal Remedies by Donna Leon

Publisher:  Penguin   ISBN 978 0 14 311242 6

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

The subtitle of this book could well be 'taken from today's depressing headlines'.  In this cleverly titled story in the Commissario Brunetti series, Donna Leon once again picks up on some of the grimmer news stories of our time and makes them personal.

How personal?  The story opens with a woman sitting in the dark staring at a plate glass window on a street in Venice.  Suddenly she takes a rock from her bag--strangely, a souvenir of a trip to Maine--and with malice aforethought, heaves it through the window.   As soon as the window is replaced, she returns to the scene and again breaks the window.  She makes no attempt to avoid arrest.

This isn't just a wandering madwoman: this is Paola Brunetti, university professor, daughter of a nobleman, and wife to a senior police officer.

What motivates her is the knowledge that the window she broke belongs to a travel agency that books perverts on sex tours to southeast Asia.  Her moral outrage has reached the boiling point, and she's decided to do the only thing she can to bring attention to the problem.  If every woman broke a window in these places, the cost of doing this sort of business would soon become too high, she reasons. 

Brunetti is initially angry but comes to see that her actions, while illegal, have a moral integrity that is often lacking in the venal world of 21st century Venice.  When the owner of the travel agency is found murdered, Paola is conscience-stricken : suppose her actions led to this?   Brunetti needs to solve the murder to set her mind at ease, as well as to bring justice for the dead man's bewildered widow.

As he digs into the murky world of sex tourism, Brunetti finds connections to other, even worse things if you can believe that.  Huge amounts of money are being made and hidden in a business that looks normal but deals in mass murder.

This is the latest in an involving and evolving series, and an excellent read for those who want more than just a simple whodunnit.

 

 

Dying to be Thin by Kathryn Lilley

Publisher:  Obsidian Mystery  ISBN  978 0 451 22240 4

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It was probably poetic justice that someone stabbed diet clinic doctor Victor Hoffman through the eyes with a pair of fondue forks.  He taunted and teased his hapless clients, plus he had some interesting apparatus in his private games room; lots of room for motive here.

Reporter Kate Gallagher's low-key 'watch me lose weight' series turns big time: when she finds the body, and seems to be on the inside track to pick up clues to the murderer.

Despite hating the fruit-and-gruel diet she has just begun, Kate experiences a sort of Schadenfreude in her fat farm experience: at fifty pounds overweight, she's practically anorexic compared to most of her fellow fat-fighters.  Kate's body might be a tad out of condition, but her brain is lean and mean: this murder could be her ticket back to big time news reporting.

Like so many amateur detectives, Kate overlooks the fact that anyone who has killed once will certainly not hesitate to kill again.    Her investigative reporting very nearly moves her from front page to obit page. 

This is a (mostly) light-hearted treatment of crime and weight loss clinics, with a darker vein of real-life experience running through it that shows some of the problems associated with the new bane of Western Civilisation, severe obesity.  Fat people aren't always jolly, and they have good reason not to be, even without murderers on the loose. 

You'll like Kate Gallagher and her friend Brian, and some of the people at the Hoffman Clinic.

 

 

A Tisket, a Tasket, a Fancy Stolen Casket Fran Rizer

Publisher:  Berkley Crime ISBN 978 0 425 218006

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Not everyone would care to be a mortuary cosmetologist, but after several years of teaching young kids, Callie Parrish jumped at the chance.  She's been happily combing, buffing and powdering dead people for the Middleton twins' funeral parlour for a while when one day Bobby Saxon's body is brought in.  Bobby was a friend of Callie's oldest brother, and she had a sort of a thing for him from a distance when she was a teenager.  Now he's just another client--until, while she's spraying him with life-like makeup, Callie finds a broken off hypodermic needle in his neck.

This is the start of a scary adventure for Callie, who, despite admonitions from her family and friends, can't help but play detective.  It's a sort of a character flaw she has, what you might call an itch to find out things.  Maybe the detective urge is compensation for, or a reaction against, her given name.  Her father named her Calamine Lotion when  told of her arrival--it was all he could think of that was pink whilst in an alcoholic haze.  Whatever the cause, Callie just has to find things out, and the more she hears about Bobby Saxon's activities, the keener she is to get to the bottom of his murder.  The Sheriff has pounced on the first likely suspect, Wilbert Peavy, a miniature rhinestone cowboy who sells cars, and who hated Bobby for taking over as top gun salesman.

A lot of things go wrong one after another: Bobby's widow lays on the fanciest funeral Middleton Brothers have to offer, then the empty coffin is stolen  and Callie is coshed by the thief; then another widow turns up and raises the devil, then Callie dates the doctor who patched her up but discovers he's a serial dater with a well-worn line--and then all her teenaged dreams come true when she gets asked out by The Man of Her Dreams, who finally notices she's alive.  Unhappily for Callie, he doesn't seem to want her to remain that way.

This is a fun read for a day when you aren't in the mood for something heavy.  You will perhaps learn more than you wanted to about how dead people are prepared for "Visitation "(Southern talk for 'wake') and  you may well wonder if any real person could eat as much barbecue food as Odell Middleton and still walk, but that is all part of the fun.  Enjoy Callie's adventures in the knowledge you won't wake at 3 am with morbid dreams--not unless you are a necrophobe.

 

 

Some Like it Hot Buttered by Jeffrey Cohen

Publisher: Berkley Crime ISBN  978 0 425 21799 3

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

Theatre owner Elliott's bad day stared when he noticed a patron not laughing at the blind man scene in "Young Frankenstein".  It improved a bit when the first cop on the scene was blonde, female, and familiar with the work of Mel Brooks.  But then it went downhill again when her boss showed up and shut down the theatre because the death wasn't quite what it seemed. 

Elliott's business balances on a knife edge of almost-solvency, so of course he can't just sit around and wait for the professionals to solve the crime, of course not.  Aided--sort of--by his ex-wife, Elliott sets about finding the villain of the piece.

It isn't long before one of Elliott's junior staff vanishes, leaving behind a basement room filled with bootleg DVDs,  and then someone breaks into his house and leaves a dramatic and unfriendly statement in his kitchen, and then someone tries to run him down--life isn't looking very good, and it just gets worse when the gorgeous blonde cop announces she thinks Elliott has unresolved issues with the ex-wife and they'd better cool their developing relationship.

Really, there's nothing left for Elliott to do except solve the murder and try to get some of his life back on track.

This is a very amusing book, all the more so if you're a fan of the great old classic comedies like Duck Soup and Young Frankenstein and (my favourite) Blazing Saddles.  For a nice change of pace, get the book and relax into a world with no super-villains or chain saw murders, just a very entertaining read.

 

 

Deadly Laws by Jim Michael Hansen

Publisher:  Dark Sky Publishing  ISBN:  10: 0976924331

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

How would you react if you received a phone call and the caller said if you didn't do what you were told a woman would die and it would be your fault? Would you hang up and forget it as a prank or take it seriously?

Law student Kayla Beck feels coerced to take on the task of rescuing the woman and goes armed.  She finds the woman wearing a locked steel collar chained to the floor of a boxcar and things get ugly from there.

At the same time this rescue is taking place, plans are made for the kidnapping of another woman for other purposes. Here, the question arises if these two things could be connected?  How?  The crimes aren't the same.

Detective Bryson Coventry is drawn into chasing a murderer and kidnapper when a body is discovered in a boxcar.  He's wondering who had worn that collar and if the dead man was killed by the kidnapper because he raped the captive.

Talented author Jim Michael Hansen keeps the many subplots and characters moving in a delicate balancing act that tightens the noose around a serial killer as victims, killer and Bryson Coventry cross paths, often missing each other.  This is a thriller that will have you looking in one direction while the killer is doing something else. A tale that for readers provides something different. 

I'm pleased to recommend this tale to any thriller or mystery fan. The imaginative departure from the time-tried plotlines will satisfy and have readers looking for other books by this author. 

 

 

Stone Butterfly by James D. Doss

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN: 0312936656

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Having lost her parents years before in a car crash, 14 year old Ute-Papago Sarah Frank has spent the last few dismal years living in a trailer with her cousin, all the while yearning to live in southern Colorado with Ute rancher Charlie Moon and his ornery Aunt Daisy.   And so when she's discovered standing over a dead man with a bloody baseball bat in her hand, she flees for Colorado, setting into motion a string of events that will forever change the lives of everyone involved. 

It's curious that a murder mystery can so delightfully warm the heart, tickle the mind, and prompt the soul to ponder its more mystical aspirations but, with his latest, Doss accomplishes all this and much more.  With his naturally fluid approach to spinning a tale, his hilarious down-home style of both inner and spoken dialogue, and his beautifully detailed depictions of both the land and the souls therein, he creates not just a story, but an authentic world that feels vitally alive.  This is not just a book written merely to be read with the eyes only, but rather one to be consumed with all senses engaged, and that is the greatest gift an author can provide, and one that Doss effortlessly provides.   

 

 

Still As Death by Sarah Stewart Taylor

Publisher:  St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN:  0-312-948352

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Her exhibit on funerary objects nearly complete, art historian Sweeney St. Todd decides at the last minute to add an Egyptian collar, but curators at Boston's Hapner Museum cannot locate it.

Sweeney's interest is piqued when she learns that the last person to handle it was an intern named Karen Philips, who committed suicide a few months after the Hapner was burglarized in 1979.

Tim Quinn, the attractive Cambridge detective with whom Sweeney has some history, refuses to reopen the case…until a cleaning woman is murdered at the opening of Sweeney's exhibition.  It appears that Olga interrupted the attempted theft of a canopic chest, recently donated and very valuable.

As Quinn and his new partner, Ellie, look into Olga's murder, another body is found.  Everyone at the museum is behaving strangely, and some important revelations about the 1979 burglary come to light.  Sweeney's suspicions suddenly don't seem so ridiculous.

While Sweeney conducts her own investigation into Karen's suicide, she also deals with her troubling relationship with the too-perfect Ian, her growing attraction to Tim, and her increasing reliance on alcohol to smooth out life's rough edges.

Sarah Stewart Taylor expertly and realistically portrays complex and nuanced interpersonal relationships.  Museums seem such a nice place to work, but Taylor's spot-on characterization of the overblown, back-stabbing egotists who often inhabit museums (and academia) suggest she has some personal experience in these institutions.  Filled with surprises, Still As Death will keep readers enthralled until the very last page.

 

 

Find Me by Carol O'Connell

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN-10: 0425217876

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Those who have been following O'Connell's series featuring the inscrutable NY detective Kathy Mallory will want to read this latest in which Mallory uses her skills to reveal the secrets surrounding her own past and the father she never knew.  With nothing to go on but a bundle of letters written by him while on a road trip down Route 66 decades ago, Mallory hits the highway to follow his every step in the hope of discovering who he was and where he ended up. 

But all too soon she realizes that she is not alone on her trek for answers down the historic highway.  Recent discoveries of corpses - some decades old, some only hours, some of them children, others adults - has turned the long, winding highway into a desolate and forbidding crime scene, and Mallory can't help but get get involved.   And when she realizes that not only is the road being traveled by a serial killer, but also by a caravan of parents looking for their lost children who are hoping each body discovered is not one of their own, she'll find herself serving as protector as well. 

While at times this latest novel from O'Connell borders on indecipherable, with the details regarding the past, the present, where, how, who, and why all too easily getting tangled in the reader's mind, it still manages to be an amazingly good read.  Mallory, who at her best, is not an easy character to like, shows some alluring cracks in her previously impenetrable armor, evocative of the uneasy empathy induced in the first few books in the series.  In addition, the trip down Route 66 is absorbing in its detail, igniting the imagination with thoughts of days long gone, leaving even the uninitiated entranced by the history surrounding this glorious trail.  All in all, fans will definitely want to read this one- if only for what's at last revealed about Mallory's own past, with some of the more shocking revelations being not only illuminating and stirring but, ultimately, well worth the wait as well.             

 

 

Deceit by James Siegel

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  ISBN: 0446619094

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Reporter Tom Valle, once the wunderkind of the newspaper world, two years ago fell from grace when it was discovered that he had fabricated a good many of the stories that had bought him fame.  Leaving New York shamed and disgraced, he lands in Littleton, CA., somehow managing to snare a job with the local paper, covering mall openings and little league games.  And so when he's assigned to cover a fatal car accident, it initially appears to be just another small town story, one he can write on autopilot.  But all too soon he begins to notice that things simply don't add up, the dead man isn't really the man whose license is found in the car, and the survivor is not who he claims to be either. 

Following this wispy trail of mistaken identities seems innocuous at first, but soon turns into what just might be his saving grace when he uncovers a conspiracy reaching back decades, a conspiracy that reaches straight to the top.  Only thing is, who's going to believe him?  And is that why he's been assigned the story, to play the pawn in the final gambit in a deadly game of lies, cover-ups, and murder?

Siegel, a master of suspense, once again displays his talent for drawing the reader in and holding them in a grip of breathless expectancy until all is revealed.  You can't help but root for Tom, his remorseful acknowledgement of his mistakes and his despairing insights into why make him all too human and deserving of the redemption he just might find.  And, okay, so the story itself is a little out there at times, but with a telling that's so remarkable and energizing, there's enough juice to make one at lease consider the possibilities.  Another great read and one most likely headed for the big screen someday soon.