September Mystery 2006


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Missing Member by Jo-Ann Power

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN:  0-312-35799-0

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Discovering the corpse of Alistair Dunhill in her desk chair would have been grisly enough for Carly Wagner, even if he hadn’t been holding his severed penis in his lifeless hand.  The press latches on to that lurid detail, much to Carly’s consternation; the fifth term congresswoman is up for reelection and being a suspect in the murder of the minority whip isn’t going to provide the kind of publicity she needs.

After someone breaks into her Georgetown home, Carly is provided with police protection, along with a bodyguard/private investigator hired by persons unknown.  The sexy Mr. Jones is dangerous—not just to Carly’s unknown assailant, but to her own self-imposed celibacy.

Looking into the murder of Alistair, Carly makes disturbing discoveries, not only about Alistair, but other fellow politicians.

Texan Carly Wagner is a feisty, fun and intelligent new amateur sleuth.  On the other hand, Jones is uncannily similar to Janet Evanovich’s Ranger, but with far less charisma.  The most intriguing character is the Pamela Harriman-like Patricia Tipton, who makes only one appearance, but is certain to show up in future, eagerly-anticipated installments in this great new series.



Borderline by Mark Schorr

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN:  0-312-35915-2

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

When his client Tammy LaFleur doesn’t show up for her counseling, therapist Brian Hanson is irritated, but not surprised…until he learns her reason for not keeping the appointment.  She’s dead.

The police are eager to rule Tammy’s death a suicide, but Brian doesn’t believe she killed herself.  A little digging reveals her close ties to local law enforcement; more digging turns up more questions than answers.

Although warned against pursuing the matter, Brian continues his investigation, forcing himself to confront his own demons brought back from Vietnam:  battle scars and substance addiction.  His distraction proves disastrous to his already crumbling marriage as his power and money-hungry wife embarks on an affair, screwing him over in more ways than one.

Brian takes the reader on a tour of the seedy side of Portland, Oregon, and as he forges his own version of justice, his journey becomes painful to watch, although he gets the almost-happy ending he deserves.  Borderline is not always pleasant, but it is always surprising.


Max Unlocks the Universe by Mark Bouton

Publishers: Five Star  ISBN: 1594144885

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

After conquering the Cosmos, Max Austin has now decided to conquer the universe, and the second Max Austin thriller is a perfect continuation of the earlier novel, MAX CONQUERS THE COSMOS.

The novel starts with a bang- both literally and figuratively. Two hitmen- Carl and Bones are pouncing on their target, and they kill him with a bang, well, rather by fire of a dart. It seems that the dart was poisoned and the coroner rules the death as one of poison. Now the action shifts to another murder- this time of the death of one young man, a computer programmer who worked in a top commercial computer firm specializing in security programs, Securegard.  And when two more deaths happen, it seems that someone is going to great lengths to keep something secret, so now enters Max Austin, ex- FBI Agent turned private investigator. Austin’s investigation takes him through the world of computer geeks, as well as behind the scenes of computer programming, including large-scale computer frauds.

With twists, double twists, triple twists, and even quadruple twists the novel culminates in a finish that can, without mincing words, be described as breathtaking.

A great read that will leave readers pondering over what will come next for Max Austin, and one that readers will eagerly await.


Piece of Work by Laura Zigman

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN 10 978 0 446 57838

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Julia Einstein has to face a common modern problem: going back to work after a baby's birth, not because she wants to , but because she has to.  Leaving her unemployed husband home with her toddler son, Julia grabs the first job that will pay the rent and almost at once regrets it. (There's no murder in this book, and the major mystery is why someone hasn't yet killed Julia's boss, the odious Jack.)  However, she hasn't got much choice, having been out of a fast-moving field for nearly four years.

Who in her right mind would sign on with a no-hoper PR firm to push a lousy perfume onto an unsuspecting public?  Especially when the 'name' behind the perfume is the bad-tempered Mary Ford, former Great Star, now doing voice-overs for cat food commercials.

Just about the time Julia is thinking she's getting on top of this new phase of her career, the promotions tour for "Legend" turns into the trip from (or maybe to) Hell.  Somebody is sabotaging the campaign, and it doesn't take the real Einstein to figure out who.

Mary Ford weathers the pickets, the declining class of hotels, the falling sales of the awful perfume--but throws in the towel when her estranged daughter's tell-all book starts getting attention.

To her own amazement,  Julia finds that her enthusiasm for the hated job is suddenly engaged. She's developed a sneaking fondness for the prickly diva, and besides, her own good name is now on the line.  In a flash of intuitive creativity, Julia comes up with a crazy ploy--but one which might just work, if only she can convince Mary.

This is a genuine 'feel good' book; a wonderful break from the gloom and drudgery of the daily grind.  Go out and buy it right now, you'll thank me for it.



The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell

Publisher: New Press ISBN: 1565849930

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Swedish investigator Kurt Wallander has spent the last year living in remorseful isolation after having had to kill a man during his last case, and so when an old friend who needs help investigating his father's "suicide" contacts him, he has little interest.  But when his friend is next to die a suspicious death, Wallander ends his lonely sabbatical and rejoins the force, hoping to assuage his guilt for all that has come before.  And with the help of the first female on the force, Wallander will soon link the deaths to a wealthy and powerful man, a man who kills just as easily as he smiles. 

This highly detailed police procedural, though intelligently written, at times can seem a bit plodding and dry, with the overabundance of such detail along with the stiffly written dialogue occasionally bleeding some of the more potentially emotional aspects out of the story.  However, Wallander's assessment of the changes Sweden is confronting in its politics, its crime, and its police force provide those of us unfamiliar with the country a fascinating and intelligent look through an astute insider's view.  All in all, a read that shows Wallander's growing acceptance of woman's increasingly important role in this country in flux, and one that provides some keen insight into how very much alike murder is no matter where you are.        



The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

Publishers: Warner Books ISBN: 0446530999

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

Having read all the brad Meltzer works as of date- I can definitely say- this is sure going to be the masterpiece Meltzer work- the work with which Meltzer is going to be identified for a long, long time.  Most definitely, it is going to be The Da Vinci Code among the Meltzer works.

My comparison with Da Vinci Code is two fold- one in the sense of the popularity The Book of Fate is going to achieve, and secondly with codes, age-old mysteries and secrets- surrounding the Free Mason society- the plot setting is de facto in the Dan Brown territory.

Wes Holloway is on a high ride of his life. A presidential aide at an age where his colleagues and compatriots are slogging way at some 9 to 5 job, Holloway is a man fully made. But all that changed one day. The day was the 4th of July and Holloway and his best friend Ron Boyle enter the President’s car. On that fateful day there is an assassination attempt on the president, which leaves Boyle dead and Holloway permanently disfigured.  The young, ambitious, maverick person that Holloway was totally becomes a complete shadow of his former self. Gone is the wise-ass maverick and the cockiness.

Now the book shifts its action 8 years forward. We suddenly come to know that Boyle is not dead but is alive in another corner of the world. Intrigued, Holloway decides to find out what really happened on that fateful 4th of July. Holloway’s investigation takes him straight into Robert Langdon territory and he discovers a two century old secret that involves President Thomas Jefferson himself and the Free Mason Society.

A great, great read, The Book of Fate is simply one of the best of its genre.


Unseen by Mari Jungstedt

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312351577

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Just released in the US, this is the first of Jungstedt's mystery series that take place in the island of Gotland, Sweden, and one that US readers will most likely welcome as a great new addition onto the mystery genre.  Summertime is slowly approaching this lovely island when a woman's brutally murdered body is discovered on the beach, and although the police first suspect her boyfriend with whom she had been quarrelling, the discovery of a second woman's gruesomely murdered body is quick to put that theory to rest.  When a third woman's body is found, the police are certain that they have a serial killer on their hands, but finding the connection between the women proves difficult, and with a killer who has yet to complete his diabolical plot of revenge, the police will have to find that connection if they are to save the next victim from the same gruesome fate.                 

Jungstedt's story, switching between journalist Johan Burg's investigation into the cases, and the police investigation led by inspector Knutas, provides the reader with a solid police procedural, along with a dash of illicit romance as Burg falls for one of the victim's best friends.  An interesting read that while not overly remarkable in any sense, still offers a stimulating look into a rather unique local, along with a mild dose of suspense.  Readers who like solid, straightforward writing with plenty of procedural detail will most likely welcome this Swedish writer who already has 2 others published in the series and is at work on the fourth.  Nothing to hold your breath over, but certainly good for some effortless entertainment.      


Primary Storm by Brendan DuBois

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312327331

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It's a cold icy winter in the small beach town of Tyler, New Hampshire, but that doesn't keep away the candidates and the media that seem to be arriving by the truckload for state's primary election event that hits like a meteor every four years.  Lewis Cole, magazine writer and ex-operative for the government, is doing his best to stay out of trouble for once, keeping warm in his bungalow and watching from the sidelines as his new amour, Annie Wynn,  spends her time volunteering for State Senator Hale's lively and promising bid for the presidency.   

But his peaceful days are about to come to an end when he attends a rally with Annie and there is an assassination attempt on the Senator, an attempt made with none other than Cole's own gun.  And although the facts quickly show his innocence, Cole still wonders who might be trying to set him up, with the dead body that appears on his door step a few days later doing nothing to help clear things up.  And to complicate matters even further is the fact that the Senator's wife is an older lover of Cole's from college, a woman who broke his heart and who now wants his help in getting some answers of her own.  And as events grow increasingly threatening, to the candidate and to Cole, he will be faced with some very ugly truths that just might get him killed. 

Surprisingly, and thankfully, this is not your ordinary political thriller, nor is it solely the wham bam shoot 'em up tough guy kind of tale that one might expect with such a character as Lewis Cole.   Yes, it does have a bit of both these elements, but for the most part it's an absorbing and exciting read with plenty of surprising twists, some neat inside looks at the New Hampshire presidential primary, a very charming and slightly damaged "hero", and a just as likable cast of secondary characters.  With lines such as "Friends will help you move, true friends will help you move bodies," it's easy to see where some of the noir seeps in, but it's never too heavy handed, and it's always followed up by the sweeter side of the guys speaking such lines.  DuBois provides a very good balance here of tough guy with charm, making for one very entertaining read, and leaving us looking forward to the next.


Gunpowder Plot by Carola Dunn

Publisher:  St. Martins Minotaur ISBN:  0312349890

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Fireworks, anyone?  If you enjoy the loud noise and brilliant light display against a night sky, or the noisy temper of a man set on having his own way, this is a book for you.  Lots of explosions that lead to murder.

A very pregnant Daisy Dalrymple is visiting the home of an old friend with the intent of writing an article on their Guy Fawkes celebration when she is drawn into the murder of the viscount, her friend's father. She guides the family through the tragedy until her husband, a Scotland Yard detective chief inspector can arrive and take over.

A complex plot with plenty of clues and motives will have readers trying to solve the case, but each time a resolution seems near, talented author Carola Dunn cleverly gives the plot a twist that sends it off in a new direction. 

The puzzle of why a strange woman was killed with the viscount will keep you guessing.  She and her husband were invited to see the fireworks, but her death sets people to wondering just how much a stranger she was.  Did the dead man know her or not?  Why did they die together?

Lots of questions and lots of action as lived by an intriguing cast of characters who welcome you to their world.  A well-told tale that would do Agatha Christie proud.  I'm pleased to highly recommend this mystery to any mystery fan.  Enjoy.  I sure did.


Liberation Movements by Olen Steinhauer

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN:  03122332041

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Talented author Olen Steinhauer does it again!  He opens the door to life behind the Iron Curtain, even though it is a fictitious country.  You'll identify with the people who seek freedom from the oppressive police state.

Turning captured escapees into spies for the state as a measure of controlling the population is a usual police tactic as practiced by Brano Sev. Such a spy develops his own plan and sets himself apart from Sev with the blessing of their boss. 

This leads to his involvement into the investigation of a plane that exploded after terrorists hijacked it. This has Brano Sev and his assistant Gavra Noukas wondering why he's taking an interest in their investigation.

A tightly woven plot including several subplots create a cleverly crafted story to keep you reading. The characters leave lasting impressions on the reader and you'll be looking for their other adventures.

A story that could come from the headlines with twists and turns to match the devious mind of some of the characters. You'll be looking for other work by this talented author.  Enjoy.  I sure did.