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Discretion by Allison Leotta
Publisher: Touchstone Books
Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader
The highest-paid escort in DC plunges to her death from a balcony that adjoins the private office of Emmett Lionel, the much respected District’s Delegate to Congress. Anna Curtis, who is assigned to the Sex Crimes and Domestic Violence unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, gets the call to cover the case, only to find that Jack Bailey, who is Chief of the Homicide section has gotten the same call. He and Anna arrive at the crime scene at same time. Anna and Jack share more than their employer; they are lovers but at Anna’s request they are trying to keep their relationship secret. Jack is part of the senior leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office but he needs Anna’s sex offense expertise and requests that she be assigned to the investigation. Anna is hesitant because she fears that it will be impossible to hide their relationship; on the other hand she also realizes that this is a career making case and she agrees to work with Jack.
Caroline McBride’s tragic death could not come at a worse time for Emmett Lionel. He is up for re-election and has serious competition, his wife is about to file for divorce, and Lionel knows that Jack is being considered for a promotion by his opponent. Lionel questions Jack’s ability to lead an unbiased investigation.
Caroline’s tragic death is a shock to the escort service community. Her roommate is wracked with guilt, leading the reader to wonder what she knows about the appointment that led to Caroline’s death and who was she scheduled to meet.
Although Discretion is the second book in the series, I did not feel that I was missing anything because I had not read the first book. Allison Leotta clearly draws from her experience as a D.C. federal prosecutor specializing in sex crimes and domestic violence to immerse the reader into the legal process without bogging down the plotline with excessive legal jargon. In Discretion, Leotta leads the reader through that hallowed halls of elected office where politicians rub elbows with the rich and powerful in secret social clubs that hide much more than political deals. The reader is also exposed to the mean streets of D.C. where sex and drugs are freely traded. Leotta tastefully interweaves a romantic thread into her powerful legal thriller plotline and accurately captures the damaging impact that the stresses of a professional life can have on a relationship.
I highly recommend reading Discretion because it is so much more than a well-written legal thriller. It includes aspects of a police procedural, political suspense along with a tasteful dose of romantic tension.
The Messenger by Stephen Miller
Publisher: Random House
Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader
The most frightening part of the terrific new terrorist thriller by Stephen Miller is not the deadly premise he has created but the very ‘real’ information included in the Sources and Acknowledgements at the back of the book:
“THE MESSENGER is fiction but is not fantasy. Bioterror is not only possible, it is cheap, technologically feasible, and, in its opening stages, almost undetectable. That a large-scale bioterror attack has not yet occurred in North America is simply good luck.”
Wow! If I had read only that I would have been hooked. Thankfully, Stephen Miller has much more up his sleeve with this non-stop work of sheer terror that grabs you by the throat on the opening pages and never lets you up for air.
A young Italian national named Daria is selected for a deadly mission. Raised in a refugee camp and bounced around by a terrorist organization with full intent on making her a martyr, Daria has no idea what she is about to do. All she knows is that she has been injected with an untraceable and nearly indestructible form of small-pox and put on a flight to NYC. Using false passports and documentation claiming her to be a reporter for a European teen magazine named Klic!, Daria receives carte blanche and is welcomed to the U.S. with open arms.
Opposing her is a gristled scientist who had a major falling out with the U.S. Government --- the same Government personnel that are not begging him to assist in stopping what appears to be the most massive bioterrorism attack on U.S. soil ever perpetrated. The terrorists recognize that bombs and rogue airplanes crashing into buildings will send a message. However, sending in a human being brimming with a deadly virus produces a ticking time bomb that can do far worse damage.
The scientist in question, Dr. Sam Watterman, reluctantly agrees to help only because the results of early bioterror attacks have piqued his interest. Even though he was disgraced in the post 9/11 anthrax scares he is willing to put his pride aside to save his country and maybe the entire western world.
Daria meanwhile is unsure of her mission and growing sicker by the minute from the toxic smallpox pulsing through her body. All she knows is that she is to interact with as many people as possible --- spreading infection along the way. She treks from NYC to different parts of the country and even makes friends during her mission. This puts her at a moral cross-roads but one that she has no power to turn back from. As a member of what has been called the Berlin Plague, she and her fellow bioterror subjects are on the top of the FEMA and Homeland Security hit list. It is only a showdown in a desolate part of the southwestern desert with Dr. Sam Watterman that Daria faces her own mortality and any opportunity for salvation may be lost forever.
Stephen Miller, a successful novelist and part-time actor, has created a uniquely terrifying novel that will shake the foundation of anyone living in the ‘free world’. THE MESSENGER delivers!
The Caller by Karin Fossum
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
Inspector Sejer’s district has been besieged by pranks that seemed designed to eradicate each victim’s sense of security. In the first occurrence, little baby Margrete’s inattentive parents lose their sense of the world when they carelessly leave the baby sleeping in a pram placed under a tree while enjoying themselves indoors. When their attention returns to Margrete, the child is drenched in blood, horrifying them and irrevocably changing their relationship.
While the first act truly breeds terror in their family and others, later events seem almost minor in comparison even though each has been carefully thought out to encourage unease at a minimum. In one instance, a terminally ill man encapsulated by both his illness and bitterness meets someone important to his final destination, threatening what is left of his fragile emotional state. In another case, a brash young woman loses something personal while still showing her attacker and family something more important. Sejer knows that he must catch the culprit quickly, etching out a profile of an unhappy person nearly impossible to find amongst the well-populated community.
Quietly and deftly rendered, these vignettes describe the order, peace and love permeating the lives of ordinary people whose worlds are later shattered by these “pranks,” building to a predictable yet no less disturbing climax guaranteed to shake Sejer’s district through its grisly and unnecessary horror.
Norwegian writer Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer remains thoughtful and intelligent, personifying an ideal detective in a well-mannered world. The suspense-building strategy has been ably translated into English by K. E. Semmel, resulting in a mystery as sleek and solid as Danish Modern furniture and ideal for fans of Swedish author Camilla Lackberg.
Valley of Ashes by Cornelia Read
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
When Madeline Dare moves from NYC to Boulder she finds life to be very different, not only because of the cities themselves, but the fact that she now has a set of one year old twins. Top that off with a husband who seems to be growing increasingly distant, and it’s painfully obvious that Madeline’s transition from reporter to stay at home mom is more challenging than she’d once thought it would be. But when she’s finally hired by a small local weekly, she feels that maybe things might finally begin to feel more balanced. But Madeline can’t seem to stay out of trouble no matter how hard she tries, and soon finds herself investigating a string of arsons. And when one of those arsons strikes close to home, the truth Madeline finally uncovers will change everything.
Less of a mystery, Read’s much anticipated addition to her series reads more as a humorous, heartbreaking, and irreverent expose of young motherhood and a crumbling marriage, with the mystery playing distantly in the background. Not that this is a bad thing, this new title from Read still soars above the crowd with her quick-witted lead who always has something interesting to say in her charmingly hipster manner. But all is not breezy and light here, there’s plenty of darkness in the shadows and plenty of tragedy with hints of more to come. If you love an intelligent and well-written read, this one does the trick.
The Exceptions by David Cristofano
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Now and then you read a book that leaves you wondering “what happened next?” If the lead characters died at the end of the book, you have no choice but to accept the author’s ending, but if the main characters are still alive, there’s always a chance for another chapter in their shared lives.
At the end of The Girl She Used to Be, I put the book, down with a feeling of loss. Great sacrifices had been made by both Melody and Jonathan, and somehow I felt cheated out of a happy ending. They deserved one, dammit!
In The Exceptions, author Cristofano reprises the events that led to Melody’s life on the run and the uncertainties of the witness protection program, then picks up the story of Jonathan’s life, showing the reader how he became what he was, and just how very difficult it was for a man like that to become the man he was by the end of the previous book. Raised as a little prince in an important mafia family, Jonathan has done something that has estranged him from his past and blighted his future.
The dangerous warmth of the family makes it a wrench for anyone to leave it, and some of them do so in violent and permanent ways. When Jonathan confronts his relatives in a shocking counter-move, he almost pulls it off; it’s only when that fails that he takes the path that leads to his own life on the run.
He has to learn how to live his own life on a very humble level, all the while longing for Melody, whom the world supposes to be dead. As far as Jonathan knows, she is: she’s once again been whisked away by the Federal Marshalls into a new life—or has she? Not all the people in this story are who they seem to be—there are the exceptions, of which Jonathan is only one.
This is a complex and involving book; the early chapters about the Bovaro family will call The Godfather to mind. Whether you can accept that a man would be so motivated by love as to do what Jonathan has done—well, that’s why they call it fiction.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader
Award-winning author, Gillian Flynn, has already had tremendous success with her current best-selling novel titled GONE GIRL. This time around she takes what appears to be a familiar subject --- the break-down and apparently tragic ending of a marriage --- and turns the premise on its ear.
On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Elliott Dunne goes missing. The obvious suspect is her husband Nick. Nick is portrayed as distant and uncaring. He shows all the ear marks of a spouse who is floundering in his marriage and looking for a way out. Amy, on the other hand, is portrayed as a creative and lively free spirit who will do anything to rekindle the romantic flames of her faltering relationship with Nick.
Or so we thought.
What Gillian Flynn does best is toy with the reader’s emotions and pushes them deftly into an area of prejudgment when it comes to making their minds up about Nick and Amy. GONE GIRL is written in a unique style whereby the chapters trade off between Amy and Nick’s perspectives. Amy’s part of the narrative starts prior to their marriage and shows a spirited young woman in love. Nick’s portion of the tale begins on the day of Amy’s disappearance. The juxtaposition of these two very differing narratives creates purposeful confusion in the mind of the reader and it is easy to go where Gillian Flynn wants you to.
However, GONE GIRL is really two completely different novels. The first half clearly paints a picture of Nick Dunne as the villain. His inner monologue refers to several lies he has told everyone around him about Amy’s disappearance --- including the police detectives working the case. You also uncover an affair Nick has been having with a student of his that has been going on for over a year. Amy loved treasure hunts and would typically leave clues around the house for Nick to actively search for gifts or special events. As the clues for their fifth anniversary plans are uncovered --- it reveals Nick in an unflattering light as the location of each clue could also be a potentially damaging piece of evidence to convict him of Amy’s abduction and/or murder.
That is the first half of the novel. Part two opens up with the revelation that Amy is not only alive but has been playing Nick for months. She has set up a meticulous scheme to make it look like he was involved in foul play with her disappearance. She knows seemingly all --- Nick’s affair, the clues that the police will discover --- and she is always several steps ahead of him. Could the once romantic and lovable Amy actually be a diabolical sociopath with a dark history of manipulating people like puppets in a Punch and Judy Show (a nice metaphor that is used throughout the novel)?
To give away any more particulars would spoil the experience. Leave it said that GONE GIRL will test your opinions and sensibilities and teach you not to jump to conclusions until you know all the facts. A brilliant, labyrinthine web of a psychological thriller and sure to be one of the most talked about novels of the year.
Suzy’s Case by Andy Siegel
Reviewed by Jacqueline Corcoran, New Mystery Reader
In Suzy’s Case, personal injury lawyer Tug Wyler is referred the case of an African-American child with sickle cell anemia, Suzy Williams, who has brain damage. Tug’s job is to set out that medical malpractice occurred rather than just complications of sickle cell anemia. On the way to trying to win this case, Tug falls in lust with the child’s mother, June Williams.
The injury that is the basis for the case occurs in third-person viewpoint, but then the rest of the book is written in first-person present tense. The main problem with this switch of viewpoint is that the reader forms one opinion of the mother and then this has to be revised when we find out that the main character has such a crush on her.
The child’s mother is painted as a very strong lady, and I wondered what the purpose was of the main character aside from the procedural details of personal injury law, the most interesting aspect of Suzy’s Case. Why wasn’t June able to make more inroads herself? She had the evidence and the expert on her side, as well as the muscle. The main character loves being kicked around by the women in his life, and admits to having the maturity of a fourth grader, so it’s hard to like him. (He also seems to be overly obsessed with his testicles. )
I was already dismayed at the fact Suzy’s Case had no murder to solve, so I was hoping for some twists and turns to justify this. Unfortunately, there were no big surprises, which made for a disappointing read.