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Night Work by Steve Hamilton

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312353618

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It was just days before his wedding when Joe Trumball's life came crashing down, his fiancťe found brutally murdered by an unknown attacker, leaving Joe heartbroken and grieving.  But after battling the loneliness and despair for two long years, with only his job as a juvenile probation officer and his love of jazz and boxing to sustain him, he's finally ready to date again.  A decision he's soon to regret when she too is found murdered shortly after their first date.  And when yet another woman Joe has ties to is found strangled as well, not only will Joe become a suspect, but he'll also be forced to realize that he's the sole reason these woman have been targeted by a killer bent on seeking the ultimate revenge.

Eager fans who have been waiting for the next outing in Hamilton's successful Alex McKnight series might initially be disappointed that he's chosen to go in a new direction with this latest.  However, it's a sure bet that the disappointment will turn into extreme enthusiasm within the first couple of pages, an enthusiasm that is easily sustained throughout this intensely thrilling and satisfying read.  By combining a noir type atmosphere - including the wailing sax in the background, the lonely apartment above the gritty boxing gym, and the blue collar neighborhoods of mid-state New York - with the haunting portrayal of an everyday nice guy drowning in grief but still hopeful of life, Hamilton has created a read that you can almost see, smell, and taste; it's that alive.  Highly recommended, Hamilton proves he's got what it takes to enchant and satisfy the reader, and he doesn't need to rely and the safe and familiar to do it.        

 

 

The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Publisher: Harcourt  ISBN-10: 0151015422

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Advance warning: Andromeda Romano-Laxís novel, The Spanish Bow, is not a mystery. Those who are only interested in mysteries and care not a jot about the rest of the literary world may stop reading and go on to more bloodthirsty endeavors. Youíre welcome.

Not that The Spanish Bow lacks gore. Bullfights, Spainís Moroccan war, the Spanish Civil War, and parts of World War II provide ample carnage as Romano-Lax follows world-renowned cellist Feliu Delargo through his life of musical peaks and personal valleys.

Delargo is born in a small Catalan village in 1892, his hip malformed due to a birthing mishap that left him presumed dead. His father, a government functionary stationed in Cuba, is killed in the Spanish-American War. A small trunk of gifts is all that returns to Spain. Given his choice, Feliu chooses a cello bow, even though heís not sure what it is.

He eventually learns to play and proceeds to move from studying with a former master cellist to the royal court, where he catches the eye of Spainís master pianist, Justo Al-Cerraz. The rest of the book explores Feliuís life, as told by himself to a journalist as his end approaches.

Romano-Lax was inspired to write the book by research she did for a non-fiction book on the great Spanish cellist and Republican champion, Pablo Casals. The depth of her knowledge of Spain flows through every chapter. Famous characters abound: King Alfonso and Queen Ena of Spain, Francisco Franco, Adolph Hitler, the ďAmerican SchindlerĒ Varian Fry, Picasso, and composers Edward Elgar and Manuel de Falla all appear in Romano-Laxís historical tapestry, woven around the life of a cellist who is welcomed everywhere in the world. Except Spain, once his political views become clear. Banished from the court for embarrassing the king in protest over the Moroccan disaster, Feliu has even less time for Franco, and spends most of his adult life in Paris.

Feliuís principled stands are honorable and his refusal to deviate from his heartfelt principles are admirable. Unfortunately, theyíre not all that interesting. He lives in the periphery of history, moving from the shadow of one great event to another like a bow-wielding Zelig, never affecting anything much, except for frustrating himself over his perceive inability to do what needs to be done.

As usual, the more flawed characters are more interesting. Al-Cerraz, musical genius, charlatan, rake, and hedonist, steals all his scenes, reducing Feliu to playing Dr. Watson to his Sherlock Holmes. Feliuís Jewish love, Aviva, and her restless quest to find the child she had to give up for adoption in Germany, provokes more interest, even though she doesnít show up until well past the halfway point.

Any book that covers almost eighty years makes some skips. Romano-Lax chooses to leave many pivotal events occur off stage. Feliu loses his royal indulgences at the end of one chapter; the beginning of the next is eight years later, and heís a European sensation invited to play at the White House for Herbert Hoover.

Everything is told in Feliuís words and seen through his eyes, yet it all seems glossed over, held at armís length so the reader never fully embraces the pain Feliu must have gone through. Some comes out in the touching ending (which Iíll not spoil), but by then itís too late to ratchet up the interest in how we got there.

Romano-Lax is an amateur cellist with a good understanding musicians, although how she can write a book about a cellist, make as many Don Quixote references as she does, allude to Richard Strauss, and fail to even mention his great work of that name for orchestra and cello is beyond me.

The Spanish Bow is an informative look at Spanish and European history that will be an eye-opener to many Americans, with our often parochial view of the world. The characters are well-drawn and believable, though the supporting players seem more real than the narrator. For those with a literary interest in music and history, itís a worthwhile read.

 

 

 

 

Flawless by Joshua Spanogle

Publisher: Delacorte Press  ISBN-10: 0385338546

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

After his last nearly lethal case working for Atlanta's Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Nate McCormick decides it's time for a change, and so heads out to San Francisco to see if he can make a go of it with his lover, Dr. Brooke Michaels.  And while his first couple of months are more quiet than he's used to, things quickly change when he's contacted by his ex-best friend from med school, Dr. Paul Murphy, now a research doctor with a successful company.

And even though the two haven't spoken since Nate's shameful exit from college for cheating ten years previous, now Murphy needs Nate's help; something strange is going on at his company, and people are dying as a result of an underground new beauty treatment.  But before Nate can get the full story, Murphy and his family are brutally slaughtered, and so Nate, not being able to let the matter drop, will be forced to investigate the few ambiguous clues he has on his own.  And in his dangerous search for the truth in which nothing or nobody is what they seem, Nate will all too soon discover just how deadly the true price of beauty can be.

Fans of medical thrillers will no doubt find this latest from Spanogle just as good, or better, than anything Cook or Crichton have put out lately.  It seems like it would be all too easy for knowledgeable authors to either talk either above or below their readers' intelligence level and, fortunately, Spanogle adeptly avoids both, striking an even balance throughout that makes it easy to understand the science behind the mystery.  This is not only a fascinating and timely tale of just how powerful the allure of beauty can be, but also an exciting and fast moving story full of realistic characters and gripping twists and turns, and one that will keep the reader thinking long after its over.