2012 Reviews
January 1, 2012

Paganini’s GhostPaul Adam
Paganini’s Ghost (Minotaur 2010) finds Gianni Castiglione, an aging luthier (violin maker) in Cremona, Italy, in the process of examining an Italian national treasure, Nicoló Paganini’s priceless violin named il Cannone for its deep rich tone. Yevgeney Ivanov, the winner of the biannual Premio Paganini prize, noticed a buzzing in il Cannone while rehearsing for the evening concert in the Cremora cathedral. Gianni repairs the bridge, and accepts an invitation to a party following the concert from the grateful young violinist. At the party Gianni meets François Villeneuve, a business associate of Vincenzo Serafin, a shady dealer in valuable instruments and rescues the socially inept Yevgeney from a pushy music professor. When Yevgeney disappears, his over-bearing mother is sure he is kidnapped, but Gianni suspects the young man has simply snatched a bit of freedom for himself before returning to his grueling practice and concert schedule. Then Villeneuve is found dead in his hotel room, and police detective Antonio Guastafeste asks Gianni to identify a fragment of sheet music found in the dead man’s pocket. Gianni recognizes the opening notes of Paganini’s “The Moses Fantasy” and Guastafeste shows him an antique gold box engraved with Moses on Mount Sinai that Villeneuve had stored in the hotel safe. Together, Gianni and Guastafeste set off on a hunt through time and across Europe to trace the history of the box, perhaps owned by Paganini, and to search for the mysterious violin-shaped object which left an impression in the velvet lining. Fascinating musical and historical details embellish this clever and stylish mystery.

Keeper of Lost CausesJussi Adler-Olsen
The Keeper of Lost Causes [Dutton 2011, Denmark 2007] introduces Carl Mørck, an experienced homicide detective in Copenhagen, Denmark, recovering from a shooting that left one partner dead and another paralyzed. Since Carl is obviously not ready to resume full time duties, his boss makes him the head of the new one-man Department Q, responsible for cold cases deserving special scrutiny. Banished to the windowless basement, Carl mopes and snoozes until Hafez-el-Assad, his new assistant, pesters him into taking an interest in the case of Metete Lynggaard, the vice-chairperson of the Social Democratic party who disappeared from the Rødby-Puttgarden ferry five years earlier. Though hired as a combination janitor/secretary, Assad demonstrates a flair for detection, a talent for weaseling information out of uncooperative bureaucrats, and precisely the ingenious enthusiasm necessary to prod the traumatized and cynical Carl back to a semblance of his old investigative brilliance. The crime at the center of this book is chilling, but the book is not at all bleak. Instead, a sly humor permeates this highly recommended debut police procedural.

Free ReignRosemary Aubert
Free Reign (1997) introduces Ellis Portal, a homeless former judge convicted of a crime of violence. Released from his sentence in a mental institution, Ellis now lives in a shack in the middle of a wilderness preserve running through the city of Toronto. Ellis has mostly come to terms with his changed circumstances, and enjoys the isolation that keeps his violent streak in check. While digging up his garden, he discovers a severed hand wearing a unique ring. Ellis knows there are only five of those signet rings in existence, created as a special symbol commemorating the close connection of five law school colleagues. Hiding the ring in a secret spot with his own ring, Ellis heads off to the city to check on the rest of the group. During his search, Ellis is asked by another street person to check on her daughter Moonstar, who is also living on the street. Moonstar declares that she is fine under the protection of her pimp, but tells Ellis that pregnant girls have been vanishing from the Second Chance Hostel for Women. Ellis’s quest for the truth leads him to an uneasy partnership with a young journalist who wrote sympathetically about his fall from grace, and the two uncover some unpleasant secrets of Toronto’s rich and powerful. The investigation forces Ellis to question his life as a hermit as the human connections reawaken his need for companionship. This debut novel was a finalist for the 1998 Barry and Arthur Ellis Awards for Best First Novel.

Dire ThreadsJanet Bolin
Dire Threads (Berkley Prime Crime 2011) introduces Willow Vanderling, who left a corporate job to open a machine embroidery shop in Elderberry Bay, Pennsylvania, known as “Threadville” because of the many textile arts shops in the village. Willow’s best friend Kaylee and three others have already opened textile boutiques in Threadville, to the dismay of some of the locals, who are concerned that women will soon vastly outnumber the men. Worried about making ends meet in her new endeavor, Willow applies for a building permit to renovate the tiny cottage at the back of her property next to the creek. Willow hopes to rent the renovated cottage during the summer season, but Zoning Commissioner Mike Krawbach is determined to condemn the cottage, which he claims has slid onto town land, and build an ATV track where it stands. When someone releases Willow’s two rescued border collies from of her back yard, she is sure it was Mike, and angrily threatens his life. The discovery of Mike’s murdered body in Willow’s locked back yard makes Willow the prime suspect. With the help of her textile-obsessed friends, Willow sets out to find the real murderer. A budding romance with the builder Willow hires to renovate the cottage and a sense of humor about women eager to embroider everything in sight enliven this debut cosy mystery.

Getting SassyD.C. Brod
Getting Sassy (Tyrus 2010) introduces Robyn Guthrie, a freelance writer in Fowler, Illinois. Robyn’s mother Lizzie nearly died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease two years earlier, and both mother and daughter thought she had only a few months to live. After a disastrous attempt to share living quarters, Robyn and Lizzie selected the luxurious Dryden Manor assisted living facility as the best alternative for the few months Lizzie had left to live. After a few rocky weeks when Lizzie was forced to stop smoking, she surprised everyone by beginning to thrive physically, though still coping with short-term memory loss. Unfortunately, Lizzie’s savings had been drastically reduced years ago by an unfortunate investment in a shopping mall venture run by William “Bull” Severn. Now that her mother’s remaining savings have been consumed by the fees at Dryden Manor, Robyn finds herself confronted by the prospect of moving her mother from the home she has come to love, or somehow finding enough money to afford the $5000 monthly fee. Mick Hughes, a former jockey turned accountant with an unsavory reputation, and Erika Starwise, a psychic who seems to know more than she should about the father Robyn never met, facilitate Robyn’s plan to kidnap and ransom Sassy, the goat companion for a twitchy racehorse who is Bull Severn’s pride and joy. This funny caper novel, featuring an appealing protagonist with more heart than sense, is the first in a series.

The WoodcutterReginald Hill
The Woodcutter (Harper 2011, UK 2010) is the story of Sir Wilfred “Wolf” Hadda, the son of a Cumbrian woodcutter who transformed himself into a rich man married to the woman of his dreams with the perfect child. But one morning everything changes. Wolf is arrested on suspicion of financial finagling and involvement in child pornography. His fairy tale happiness crumbles, and he loses everything: wealth, wife, child, and freedom. After seven years of silence in prison, Wolf finally begins to communicate with prison psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo, writing out for her the story of his life, except for the mysterious years between leaving home and returning a wealthy man, when he was known as The Woodcutter. With Alva’s help, Wolf is paroled, returning to his childhood home in rural Cumbria. Deserted by his friends and ostracized by his neighbors, Wolf begins searching for the real story behind his arrest and conviction, and Alva begins to worry that Wolf has decided to seek vengeance through violence. Masterfully plotted, this stunning thriller wrapped in the mythology of fairy tales was awarded the 2011 Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel.

Steal the ShowThomas Kaufman
Steal the Show (Minotaur 2011) finds former con-artist Willis Gidney struggling to make a living as a private investigator in Washington DC, while trying to adopt the orphaned baby girl he rescued from a crime scene. Willis has attended all the required child-rearing classes, but for some reason his caseworker doesn’t see a barely-employed private eye as the perfect father. Desperate for money to hire an adoption lawyer to convince the court that a survivor of the DC Child Welfare system is just what the orphaned child needs, Willis reluctantly accepts Rush Gemelli’s offer of a very generous payment for breaking into a film pirating center to steal the pirated copies of a soon-to-be-released blockbuster movie. Unfortunately the job Rush promised would be a piece of cake puts Willis on the wrong side of a dangerous Vietnamese gang. Rush blackmails Willis into hiring on as security for Rush’s father, Chuck Gemelli, the head of the motion picture lobby in Washington. While saving Chuck’s life, Willis attracts the unwelcome attention of the movie’s star, threatening his tenuous relationship with his ex-model hacker girlfriend. Fast paced and funny, this adrenaline-fueled follow-up to Drink the Tea gives the quick-thinking and fast-talking Willis plenty of obstacles to overcome in his quest to find a murderer and maybe even establish a family of his own.

El GavilanCraig McDonald
El Gavilan (Tyrus 2011) explores the tensions and challenges in a fictional southern Ohio town where a large Latino immigrant community, documented and un-, has come to find work and a better life. Able Hawk, the “El Gavilan” of the title, is a tough, blustery sheriff, who appears on no-nonsense billboards making clear to the illegals and those who would hire them that Sheriff Hawk is always watching. But Hawk has a softer side, and can be understanding when meting out justice; the widowed sheriff is also quite fond of Thalia Ruiz, the waitress at his favorite cafe. Compared to Hawk, though, the sheriffs of two adjoining counties are brutes. They are unhappy that Sheriff Hawk’s policies are driving illegals into their jurisdictions. Entering this powder keg is the new town chief of police, Tell Lyons, a former Border Patrol agent in California, whose Mexican-American wife and daughter were killed in a fire by a Mexican drug cartel. Lyons is fluent in Spanish, and soon becomes popular in the Hispanic community, dubbing him El Léon. Chief Lyons has some problems with alcohol that threaten his professional and personal relations. The story comes to a head when a Mexican woman is raped and murdered, and left in an open field where the jurisdictional lines are unclear. There are no easy answers, and the author skillfully portrays widely varying viewpoints in both the Anglo and Latino communities. Along with the broader social issues, the book includes plenty of personal interactions among the main characters, such as Shawn O’Hara, the young, cocky editor (and chief reporter) of the town’s weekly newspaper, with an unfortunate proclivity for date-rape, and the beautiful, lonely Patricia Maldonado, who runs her parents’ Mexican restaurant. Told from several perspectives, with flashbacks filling in the background of the main characters, the story moves briskly, if perhaps a bit overlong.

A Spark of DeathBernadette Pajer
A Spark of Death (Poisoned Pen 2011) introduces Benjamin Bradshaw, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. It’s 1901, and the students are preparing an exhibit for their parents and to present for President McKinley, who also plans to tour the nearby Snoqualmie Falls Power Plant. The centerpiece of the student exhibit is the Electric Machine, featuring a Tesla Coil powerful enough to fill the room with so much electricity that a person can illuminate a light bulb simply by touching it. As Bradshaw is leaving the building for the day, the lights suddenly dim and he realizes someone has started up the Electric Machine in the basement. There he finds the body of Professor Oglethorpe, whose burnt finger extends out of the Faraday cage designed to protect the user of the Electric Machine from the electric current running through the room. Bradshaw’s disagreements with Oglethorpe, who taunted his students rather than taught them, make Bradshaw the prime suspect. Bradshaw, a widower with a young son, is an endearing protagonist, a natural teacher, and an astute observer. Caught up in the excitement of clearing his name and finding the real killer, Bradshaw gradually begins to emerge from the depression following the death of his wife. This debut historical mystery is the first in a series featuring this charming master of electrical forensics.

Instruments of DeathImogen Robertson
Instruments of Darkness (Viking 2011, UK 2009) introduces Harriet Westerman, the wife of a navy commander and mistress of Caveley Park manor in West Sussex, England. When Harriet finds the body of a man with his throat slashed, she enlists the aid of neighbor and anatomist Gabriel Crowther, who unwillingly leaves his solitary research. After years of accompanying her husband at sea, Harriet is a bit bored with her role as housekeeper and mother, and persuades Crowther to join her in the search to identify the man and determine why he was killed. Harriet and Crowther make a good team: both are curious, observant, and persistent in their search for the truth. Harriet suspects that the death is linked to residents of neighboring Thornleigh Hall, the seat of the Earl of Sussex. A dark cloud of betrayal and unsavory secrets hangs over Thornleigh Hall: the eldest son and heir left home years ago and his whereabouts are unknown; the old Earl suffered a collapse shortly after marrying an unsuitable second wife and is bedridden; and the second son has turned to drink after returning badly wounded from the battlefields of the American Revolutionary War. Meanwhile, Alexander Adams, the widowed owner of a London music shop, is murdered, leaving his two small children in the care of an impoverished young gentleman attempting to make his living as a writer. A box he left behind contains documents that establish a connection with Thornleigh Hall. Dickensian in feel, this debut gothic historical sets the stage for a promising series.

January Word Cloud

February 1, 2012

Arthur & GeorgeJulian Barnes
Arthur & George (2006) is the compelling novelization of a true story, in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle champions the cause of a man unjustly accused and punished at the turn of the 20th century. George is the son of a rural Staffordshire vicar, the Reverend Shapurji Edalji, a converted Parsee from India, and his Scots wife, Charlotte. Nearsighted, polite, proper, and a bit shy, George does fairly well at school — a bronze and a second prize winner — and achieves his life’s goal: to be a solicitor. George lives at home, and travels by train to his clerkship with a Birmingham solicitors firm. His daily commute inspires him to write a modest treatise on Railway Law for the Man in the Train. But then the Great Wyrley Outrages begin: nighttime mutilation of farm animals near the Rev. Edalji’s vicarage. A campaign of anonymous letters and pranks, in a climate of some hostility and bigotry, leads to George’s arrest, conviction, and imprisonment for maiming a horse. Worse yet, he is disqualified as a solicitor. Upon his release, George pleads his case by letter to Sir Arthur. The author skillfully portrays the enthusiastic, over-confident Sir Arthur; in one telling scene Doyle meets his match in his confrontation with Captain Anson, the chief constable at the time. Doyle, and the reader, are so convinced of the unassailable truth of his arguments in favor of George’s innocence that it comes as quite a shock to find Captain Anson unmovable and seemingly immune to the obvious. Unfortunately for George, Captain Anson is not alone in his opinions. This brilliantly-crafted novel sets its own measured pace, but the steadfast reader is amply rewarded. The book provides a fascinating portrayal of Arthur Conan Doyle, and the characterization of George Edalji is equally engaging. Bound up in history, the story’s ending isn’t as dramatic and tidy as a novel’s would be, but that’s life.

A Game of LiesRebecca Cantrell
A Game of Lies (Forge 2011) finds Hannah Vogel back in Berlin to cover the 1936 Olympic Games, disguised as Swiss journalist Adelheid Zinsli. Posing as the lover of SS officer Hauptsturmführer Lars Lang, Hannah is also picking up film exposing the Nazis that Lars has prepared for her to deliver to England. Berlin doesn’t feel as oppressive as Hannah expected, but she discovers that the Nazis have temporarily cleaned the streets of anti-Semitic propaganda in order to present a peaceful facade to the rest of the world. Hannah has arranged to meet her mentor, Peter Weill, at the Games, where he tells her he has a package for her that will convince the rest of the world that the Nazis are a threat to world peace, but he dies before he can reveal the location of the package. Calling on her old friends for help, Hannah is disconcerted to find that solid Germans who resisted Nazi propaganda two years earlier have been drawn into acceptance of their sons joining the Hitler youth, viewing a former threat to their family as a wholesome activity. The longer Hannah stays in Berlin, the less secure she is that her false identity will protect her from discovery, torture, and a painful death. But despite the threat to her life, Hannah is determined to find the package that led to Weill’s death. This gripping third in the series is a finalist for the 2012 Bruce Alexander Historical Award.

The Trinity SixCharles Cumming
The Trinity Six (St. Martin’s Press 2011) is the story of Sam Gaddis, a Russian history professor at University College, London. Pressed for funds to pay his taxes and daughter’s school fees, Gaddis is looking for a book idea that will pay more than his usual historical volumes. Charlotte Berg, an investigative reporter and close friend, tells Gaddis she has information about the “Sixth Man,” the legendary additional member of the spy ring created at Trinity College Cambridge in the 1930s. Known as the Cambridge Five, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and John Caircross were recruited by Moscow Centre, and not revealed as spies until the 1950s through 1990. Charlotte has a 91-year-old contact named Thomas Neame, who claims there was another Cambridge spy, code-named ATILLA, whose existence has been covered up by British intelligence for over 50 years. Charlotte offers Gaddis the opportunity to co-write the book that will follow the publication of her articles. When Charlotte dies suddenly of heart failure, Gaddis takes over her investigation, unraveling layers of very dangerous Cold War secrets that the intelligence agencies of both Britain and Russia would much prefer stay hidden. Believable characters and a masterful plot enliven this engaging spy thriller, a finalist for the 2011 Steel Dagger Award.

One BloodGraeme Kent
One Blood (Soho 2012) finds Ben Kella, a native police sergeant, sent to investigate investigate acts of sabotage that threaten the local operations of a powerful international logging company in the Roviana Lagoon in the Western Solomon Islands in 1960. The crew of laborers come from Malaita, Ben’s home island, and his boss hopes Ben can use his status as hereditary spiritual peacekeeper of the Lau people to stop the sabotage. Meanwhile, Sister Conchita, a rebellious young American nun, has been placed in temporary charge of a nearby rundown mission and its three aging nuns, including Sister Brigid who 17 years earlier had joined the search for Lieutenant John Kennedy and the 10 men who survived the attack on their PT-109. When Sister Brigid returned from the search with the body of her guide, she never left the mission and refused to speak of the search. When an American tourist is murdered at the mission church, Ben and Conchita join forces. They suspect that whatever happened in the Solomons in 1943 has some connection to John F. Kennedy’s current campaign for president, since Kennedy has many One Bloods, pidgin for close relative or special friend, who risked their lives to find him and his men in the Roviana Lagoon before the Japanese did. Both Ben and Conchita are prickly yet endearing characters, challenging the limits set by their respective higher-ups while earning grudging respect for their abilities to solve problems and uncover the truth. The unique setting of this series provides a beautiful background for exploring issues of race, religion, and environmental preservation, while also solving a crime.

Murder Most PersuasiveTracy Kiely
Murder Most Persuasive (Minotaur 2011) finds Elizabeth Parker, a newspaper fact-checker and die-hard Jane Austen fan, enduring the feather-headed babbling of her just deceased great-uncle Martin Reynolds’s second wife. Unable to get her step-mother to concentrate, Ann begs her cousin Elizabeth to come and stay in the house and help her sort through her father’s affairs. A few weeks before his death, Martin Reynolds sold the family house in St. Michaels, Maryland, and the distribution of the proceeds is a bone of contention between Martin’s children and his second wife. Then the new owners dig up the pool and find the body of Michael Barrow, who disappeared eight years earlier after embezzling a million dollars from the family business. Pressured by her wealthy family to end her budding romance with policeman Joe Muldoon years ago, Ann is horrified to find that now-Detective Joe Muldoon is in charge of the investigation, and that the family and friends attending the party the night before the pool was installed are considered the prime suspects. Elizabeth’s sprightly narration, with humorous Austen-like descriptions of her family members, keeps the tone light as she throws herself into the investigation, determined to prove than Ann is innocent, and perhaps even facilitating an awakening of the lost love between Ann and Joe. This witty third in the series is a finalist for the 2012 Mary Higgins Clark Award.

Known to EvilWalter Mosley
Known to Evil (Riverhead 2010) is the second book featuring Leonid McGill, a short and stout, bald and black, former boxer and mob enforcer, now skating on the fringes of legality as a private investigator in New York City. Leonid is 54 years old, but still jogs up the stairs to his 11th floor apartment where Katrina, his Scandinavian wife of 23 years, has returned to the family fold after a serious extra-marital romantic fling. She’s back, but now has other love interests a-brewing. Maybe things balance out as Leonid has been making time with Aura Ullman, at least until she took up with a "forensic accountant" dedicated to evicting Leonid from his eight-room, 72nd floor Art Deco office suite. Leonid has other family problems: his son Dimitri has fallen hard for Tatyana, a smart Russian prostitute who thinks she has paid off the million dollar “contract” with her pimp; his other son, Twill (who everyone agrees could be president if his criminal record were expunged), is looking out for Dimitri, while running his own scams, and being the endearing son he’s always been. In the midst of all this family turmoil, Leonid is hired by Alphonse Rinaldo, a shady New York power broker, to find Angelique Lear. Immediately Leonid walks into the scene of a double murder, or perhaps an assassination gone wrong, and becomes a suspect. It isn’t Angie Lear, but who is it? Powerful forces in the NYPD are intent on taking Leonid down, making him pay for what they know he used to do for the mob, regardless of how they do it — but some scrupulously honest cops appreciate Leonid. Assisted by his “girl Friday,” Zephyra Ximenez, and Tiny “Bug” Bateman, the 300+ pound computer nerd and techno-anarchist, in his West Village high-security basement lair, Leonid struggles with his personal demons while threading his way through a labyrinthine plot. This is a wonderful pick-up for Mosley fans suffering from withdrawal at the conclusion of the Easy Rawlins series. Not to be missed for the fans of serious mystery writing. There is no better. Remember, as Leonid says: “Life is a test, and the final grade is always an F.”

Mercury’s RiseAnn Parker
Mercury’s Rise (Poisoned Pen Press 2011) finds Inez Stannert, part-owner of the Leadville Silver Queen Saloon, traveling in the summer of 1880 to a health resort in Manitou, at the foot of Pikes Peak, to spend time with William, the young son she has been separated from for a year. Suffering from a weakness of the lungs, William has been living back east with Inez’s younger sister Harmony, who has traveled to the health spa with her new husband. On the crowded stagecoach journey from Leadville, Inez’s fellow passenger Edward Pace dies suddenly after ingesting a small bottle of his wife’s medicine. At the Mountain Springs House in Manitou, Inez is surprised to find a resident doctor dispensing daily doses of medicine in identical bottles to the hotel’s residents. Pace’s wife tells Inez that her husband was considering investing in the hotel, sure that Manitou would soon experience a tourism boom of those seeking a healthy retreat or a cure for tuberculosis. Mrs. Pace opposed the investment and suspects that her medicine had been tampered with in order to remove her along with her objection. Realizing that a lone woman has little hope of penetrating the masculine investment club, Inez reluctantly sends for her husband Mark, who had unexpectedly reappeared in Leadville after more than a year’s absence, just as Inez’s divorce on grounds of desertion was about to go through. Inez and Mark establish an uneasy truce as they try to expose the con they are sure is in the works, and re-establish a connection with their young son who has entirely forgotten them. This engaging 4th in the series is a finalist for the 2012 Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award.

City of SecretsKelli Stanley
City of Secrets (Minotaur 2011) finds private eye Miranda Corbie working security for Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch, a peep show at the 1940 San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. On Opening Day, Pandora Blake, one of Sally’s girls who hopes to become a model, is found stabbed to death with a souvenir ice pick, the word “kike” written on her bare breast in blood. When a second woman is found murdered a few days later, Miranda suspects that the deaths are connected to the Musketeers, an anti-Semitic group encouraged by Hitler’s growing success in Germany. Former police inspector Gerry Duggan, a bent cop who beat up Miranda during a previous investigation, is arrested for the murders. He hires Miranda’s lawyer, Meyer Bialik, to defend him, and Miranda reluctantly agrees to help solve the case, convinced that whatever Duggan’s faults he didn’t murder the two young women. Her search for a connection between the two women leads Miranda into a dangerous investigation of powerful men who will stop at nothing to protect themselves and their beliefs. A former escort and Spanish Civil War nurse, Miranda fights against the demons from her past and her inability to live fully in the present as she crunches lifesavers in a probably futile attempt to give up the Chesterfields she finds so comforting. Miranda’s noir San Francisco is vividly rendered in this second book in the series, a finalist for the 2012 Left Coast Crime Golden Nugget Award for best mystery set in California.

The Albuquerque TurkeyJohn Vorhaus
The Albuquerque Turkey (Crown 2011) finds Radar Hoverlander, girlfriend Allie Quinn, and best friend Vic Mirplo, living on the proceeds of their profitable California Roll con and trying to go straight with various degrees of success in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mirplo has discovered that the Santa Fe art scene is teeming with opportunities for a con man with a gift for gab and a willingness to be outrageous. Amazingly Mirplo begins to produce some effective art pieces, causing Radar to wonder how many other artists began their careers as grifters. Radar automatically falls into patter when he runs across a drunk trying to pry his terrified daughter from his cowed wife, and ends up with a dog and several moments of fame when a neighbor posts a video on YouTube showing Radar talking the guy out of his gun. His brief notoriety brings Radar’s long absent father back into his life. Woody Hoverlander is on the run from a Las Vegas enforcer after a failed con job, and hopes to enlist Rader in a con to earn enough money to pay off his debt. Allie is determined to continue on the straight path, but Radar can’t resist the chance to earn his father’s approval, though he has a nagging suspicion that this all may be another yarn spun by a man far more comfortable with lies than the truth. Full of crosses and double crosses, this entertaining caper novel, narrated by an engaging protagonist with quick wits, shifty morals, and a love of language, is a finalist for the 2012 Lefty Award for most humorous mystery.

Lesson in SecretsJacqueline Winspear
A Lesson in Secrets (Harper 2011) is set in the summer of 1932, when private investigator Masie Dobbs is asked by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch to take an undercover position as a junior lecturer in philosophy at the College of St. Francis, a small private college in Cambridge. Masie’s brief isn’t very defined, she’s been asked to report on any activities “not in the interests of His Majesty’s government” that might be happening at the college. Dr. Greville Liddicote, founded St. Francis with donations from wealthy parents whose sons (former students of Liddicote) were killed in the war, with a pacifist mission of recruiting students from around the world to study and work to maintain peace in Europe. When Liddicote is murdered at his desk at the college, Masie calls in Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane and Detective Chief Inspector Richard Stratton. Though encouraged to continue her undercover activities and stay clear of the murder investigation, Masie is sure that Liddicote’s death has something to do with the mysterious activities of several teachers and students. Masie’s knack for social observation highlights two disturbing historical threads — the persecution of conscientious objectors during the World War I and the specter of the emerging Nazi party — in this powerful 8th in the series, a finalist for the 2012 Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award.

February Word Cloud

March 1, 2012

PluggedEoin Colfer
Plugged (Overlook 2011) introduces Daniel McEvoy, a bouncer for Slotz, a seedy casino in Cloisters, New Jersey. McEvoy now spends most of his time fretting about going bald, but luckily retains the fighting skills learned during two tours of active duty in the Irish army. When Connie, the waitress Dan has feelings for, is murdered outside the club, he’s sure the culprit is Jaryd Faber, a sleazy attorney who raised a giant fuss when McEvoy ejected him from Slotz for licking Connie. But the cops like McEvoy for the murder. Then Zeb Kronski, the unlicensed Israeli surgeon who implanted the itchy hair plugs that are driving Dan crazy, suddenly vanishes. McEvoy interrupts Macey Barrett, an enforcer for mobster Irish Mike Madden, tossing Zeb’s office, and kills him more-or-less in self defense. Now everyone’s target, Dan isn’t sure who is trying to kill him — the cops, the mob, or the attorney’s thuggish friends — but he’s sure it had something to do with Zeb Kronski, whose ghost voice seems to have taken residence in his brain. This frenetic and funny caper novel starring a very original protagonist, is the first adult novel by Colfer, author of the best-selling Artemis Fowl series for teens.

Red on RedEdward Conlon
Red on Red (Spiegel & Grau 2011) is the story of two NYPD detectives. Nick Meehan, burned out and unable to advance, takes an undercover assignment for Internal Affairs to watch Esposito, a suspected dirty cop. When the two find a woman who hanged herself in a tree, Meehan takes the lead, knowing Esposito doesn’t have the patience for suicides while Meehan is interested in pursuing the back story that led to the death. Esposito is more attracted to open-and-shut cases like gang homicides, where the victims are no better than their killers, known as “red on red,” military speak for the enemy attacking the enemy. An added bonus is that the dead criminals are often suspects in other murder investigations, allowing Esposito to earn the credit for clearing open cases. Esposito, who is married with frequent flings on the side, encourages Meehan, who lives with his elderly father, to get a life of his own and pursue a romantic relationship. Despite their differences, friendship and trust grows between the two detectives as they investigate the suicide, a serial rapist, a missing schoolgirl, and a gang war. This debut police procedural exploring the unique dynamic of a successful police partnership is a finalist for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Bit PlayerJanet Dawson
Bit Player (Perseverance Press 2011) finds Jeri Howard, a private investigator from Oakland, California, browsing in a movie memorabilia shop for a souvenir from one of the movies her grandmother was a part of. Jerusha Layne, the grandmother Jeri was named after, spent five years playing bit parts in Hollywood from 1937-1942. An elderly man helps Jeri find a pair of title cards advertising two Norma Shearer movies Jerusha had played in, and tells Jeri that her grandmother and Ralph Tarrant were an item right before his murder in 1942. Jeri is skeptical since her grandmother met her grandfather in 1941 and married him in 1942, but can’t help searching out more information about the unsolved Tarrant murder and her grandmother’s Hollywood life. A cache of letters from Jerusha to her Hollywood roommates brings the past to life, dovetailing with the information Jeri gleans from newspaper files. Curious about how the shopkeeper knew about her grandmother, Jeri decides to check him out, and discovers that there are no traces of his life before the early 1980s. Worried that he may be involved in new killings as well as connected to the 1942 murder, Jeri travels around the state determined to put all the pieces together. This engaging 10th in the series is a finalist for the 2012 Left Coast Crime Golden Nugget Award.

1222Anne Holt
1222 (Scribner 2011, Norway 2007) finds wheelchair-bound retired police officer Hanne Wilhelmsen, traveling by train from Oslo to Bergen to consult with a doctor about her paralyzing spinal injury. Derailed by an ice storm 1222 meters above sea level, the 268 passengers are rescued and transported to a nearby hotel, empty except for the owner and staff. Luckily the Finse hotel is well stocked with food, and everyone settles in for the night, relieved that they are safe and warm, and happily gossiping about the private car at the end of the train that must have been transporting a member of the royal family. During the night the storm worsens, trapping everyone inside the hotel. In the morning, a man is found shot on the porch, and Hanne is pressured to give her opinion since she is the closest to a police authority among them. At first extremely reluctant to get involved, Hanne finds herself slowly drawn back into investigative mode, stimulated for the first time in many months to use the part of her intellect she believed she was done with. Though able to hide the manner of death for a while, a second death precipitates panic among the trapped train passengers, already on edge from the howling wind of the raging storm that has blocked all the exits with snow. This engaging 8th in the series by Norway’s best-selling crime writer is a finalist for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

Nazareth ChildDarrell James
Nazareth Child (Midnight Ink 2011) introduces Del Shannon, a talented young missing-persons investigator, based in Tucson, Arizona. The only person Del has never been able to track down is the mother she never knew, the woman her alcoholic father refuses to talk about. When Del’s father dies in a car accident, the FBI recruits her to help with the investigation of Silas Church, a faith healer and leader of Nazareth Church, an isolated religious compound in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. It seems that Del’s father still owns a house in the gated community, and the FBI convinces Del to pose as the new wife of ATFE agent Frank Falconet and infiltrate Nazareth Church. Though the FBI is focused on locating Daniel Cole, an FBI agent who entered Nazareth Church months ago and then vanished, Del is hooked the moment she learns that she was born in the house in the church compound, a place her father never mentioned. This debut thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Left Coast Crime Eureka! Award for best first novel.

October FestJess Lourey
October Fest (Midnight Ink 2011) finds Mira James, an assistant librarian and part-time reporter for the Battle Lake Recall, covering a political debate at Battle Lake’s fall festival. Paid only $25 for a weekly food column and four articles a month, Mira takes her revenge on her stingy employer by creating horrendous recipes like Haunted Head Cheese and Fearsomely Frightening Fish Chili. In return, her editor assigns Mira to jobs he is sure she will hate, like the early-morning public debate between the two lead candidates for Minnesota’s 7th district congressional seat: Arnold Swydecker, a sincere bore, and local incumbent Sarah Glokkmann, earning national fame for her habit of making embarrassing off-the-cuff remarks. During the debate, national news blogger Bob Webber attacks Glokkmann’s less-than-stellar three-term legislative record. When Webber is found dead by a hotel maid the next morning, Mira is unfortunately next on the scene. Mira’s best friend, senior citizen Mrs. Berns, happened to be staying in the next room with her new fiancé, an ex-con reporter, and Mira finds herself investigating the murder in order to save Mrs. Burns from a fate worse than death — being moved by her son to a secure nursing home for her own protection. No one is surprised that Mira stumbled over the body, her 6th murder in six months. In fact, the Mira and the Corpse pool at the Senior Sunset is the hottest bet in town. This light-hearted mystery with a dash of romance is a finalist for the 2012 Lefty Award for best humorous mystery.

Murder Your DarlingsJ.J. Murphy
Murder Your Darlings (Signet 2011), introduces Dorothy Parker, quick-witted writer and intrepid sleuth in 1920s Manhattan. When Dorothy arrives unexpectedly early for lunch and spots a pair of legs under the Algonquin Round Table, she assumes it is a drunk. But the dead body, stabbed in the heart with a fountain pen, turns out to be that of Lealand Mayflower, the despised drama critic for the Knickerbocker News. Young Billy Faulkner, newly arrived from Mississippi to find his writing voice, becomes the prime suspect, but fortunately Dorothy takes him under her wing and smuggles him up to her apartment to hide him from the police. Best friend Robert Benchley joins Dorothy in the hunt to track down the real killer, following clues from poker game to speakeasy and trading witty banter and bon mots all the way. Cameo appearances by Douglas Fairbanks, who loans Faulkner a suit, and Harpo Marx, who actually speaks, add to the fun in this debut mystery, a finalist for the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel.

Magical Alienation Kris Neri
Magical Alienation (Red Coyote Press 2011) finds fake psychic Samantha Brennan heading to Sedona, Arizona, in the role of spiritual advisor to rock star Rand Riker, who is trying to make a final come-back tour: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. Riker’s current attempt to recapture the headlines is a benefit concert for Normal Frankly, accused of trying to kill Senator Kenny Campbell with a vial of toxin. Samantha’s friend Annabelle Haggerty, FBI Special Agent and Celtic goddess, is assigned to protect Senator Campbell. Meanwhile, the government is in the process of transporting their top-secret Area 51 being from the spaceship that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. Everything comes together with the Harmonic Convergence, a powerful psychic event centered around the rocks of Sedona, which just might be very slow moving life forms. This wild romp of a paranormal suspense novel is a finalist for the 2012 Lefty Award.

Bent RoadLori Roy
Bent Road (Dutton 2011) is the story of the Scott family. Arthur Scott left his small Kansas hometown for Detroit and never looked back. His wife Celia knows that his sister Eve died right before his departure, but Arthur won’t talk about her death or why he refuses to have any contact with his family. Twenty years later, the 1967 riots scare Arthur more than his past, and he moves his wife and three children back to a rural life in Kansas, where his mother and older sister Ruth still live. Arthur and oldest daughter Elaine soon settle into their new life, but Celia finds farm life hard. The younger children, Daniel and Evie, find it difficult to make new friends, and are frightened by two events that cause ripples of panic throughout the school: Julianne Robison, a little girl Evie’s age, disappears, and Jack Meyer escapes from nearby Clark City State Hospital. Months later neither Julianne nor Jack Meyer have been found, and suspicions increase that Ruth’s husband Ray, who was engaged to Eve before her death, might have something to do with both Eve’s death and Julianne’s disappearance. Celia, Evie, and Daniel, shielded from the dark secrets of the past, find themselves caught up in a haze of fear and half-truths in this atmospheric suspense debut, a finalist for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Death of the MantisMichael Stanley
The Death of the Mantis (Harper 2011) finds David Bengu, the large assistant police superintendent known as “Kubu” (hippopotamus), enjoying his new baby daughter, though his wife Joy is too exhausted to spoil Kubu in the manner to which he has become accustomed. An unexpected phone call from Khumanego, a bushman Kubu attended school with, pulls Kubu into the investigation of the death of a Wildlife Conservation worker in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, in the southern Kalahari area of Botswana. The body was discovered by three Bushmen, who were charged with murder and imprisoned, but Khumanego is convinced they are not guilty of the crime and were arrested out of racism. Kubu’s superior is reluctant to send him away from Gaborone, but an American reporter’s interest in the case, plus the parallels with the unfortunate conviction of two illiterate Bushmen in 1995 who understood none of the charges and yet were imprisoned for 10 years, changes his mind. The Bushmen respect Kubu, who has learned the way of the desert from Khumanego, but can’t provide much evidence to point in another direction. Kubu is drawn away to another case, but new connections to the Bushmen bring him back to the Kalahari. The current plight of the Bushmen, whose traditional beliefs bring them into conflict with modern Botswana, is sensitively interwoven within the tightly plotted mystery. This thought-provoking third in the series, featuring an engaging detective in a unique setting, is a finalist for the 2012 Barry and Edgar Awards for Best Paperback Original.

March Word Cloud

April 1, 2012

Now You See MeS.J. Bolton
Now You See Me (Minotaur 2011) begins when Lacey Flint, a young detective constable in London, exits an apartment complex after trying to convince a young victim of gang rape to testify. Arriving at her car, Lacey finds a woman bleeding to death, the victim of a stabbing. Newly appointed Detective Inspector Dana Tulloch arrives at the scene accompanied by Detective Inspector Mark Joesbury, a covert operations officer on light duty after an injury. Lacey feels a connection with Tulloch, and instant antagonism with Joesbury. The next day reporter Emma Boston appears on Lacey’s doorstep, with a letter that mentions DC Flint and referring to Saucy Jacky, one of the nicknames given to Jack the Ripper. Lacey just happens to have been fascinated by Jack the Ripper since adolescence, and is quickly reclassified from witness to Jack the Ripper expert as part of Tulloch’s team. Fearing that the killer may be targeting Lacey, Tulloch assigns Joesbury the task of protecting her, and Lacey fears that his scrutiny into her past may reveal information she would much rather stay buried. Lacey suspects that the killer may be mimicking the five murders that most researchers agree were committed by Jack the Ripper, leaving the police only five days until the next murder. This cunningly plotted and riveting suspense thriller, maintaining a high level of tension to the very end, is a finalist for the 2012 Barry and Mary Higgins Clark Awards.

A Simple Act of ViolenceR.J. Ellory
A Simple Act of Violence (Overlook Press 2011, UK 2008) is the story of a series of murders during the 2006 mid-term elections in Washington, DC. Robert Miller, a veteran homicide detective, and his partner Albert Roth, take over the case with the fourth murder in the series of strangled women, all found with ribbons bearing a luggage tag tied around their necks. As Miller digs into the case files of the four victims, searching for any hint of connection between them, he discovers that none officially exist. Each woman appeared in Washington with the trappings of a previous life, but attempts to trace their pasts prove futile. Interspersed with Miller’s investigation are first-person musings of a former CIA agent about government activities in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Each time Miller and Roth unearth a promising line of investigation, what they believe are facts crumble away into nothingness. Eventually Miller comes to believe that a federal agency is perpetuating a massive cover-up of endemic government corruption. Pulled off the case by the FBI, Miller finds himself unwillingly working outside the law in order to protect vital evidence from contamination, or worse. This compelling mix of police procedural and conspiracy thriller was a finalist for the 2009 Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel.

Death on TourJanice Hamrick
Death on Tour (Minotaur 2011) introduces Jocelyn Shore, a high school history teacher from Austin, Texas. While recovering from her divorce, Jocelyn convinces her cousin and best friend Kyla to join her on a guided low-budget tour of Egypt. Kyla isn’t crazy about being trapped on a tour, but the cousins have been fascinated with Egypt since high school. The other tourists are a mixed bag, including a family with two hyperactive teenaged boys, an elderly pair of sisters, a self-important lawyer and his self-absorbed daughter, a honeymoon couple in their 80s, and a handsome man who claims to be recently widowed. When Millie Owens, the most disagreeable person on the tour, plunges to her death from the great pyramid of Khafre outside Cairo, Jocelyn suspects that her death is not an accident. Repeated strange encounters with street venders, who try to get Jocelyn off alone while insisting she is from Utah, cause her to wonder if she is being mistaken for someone on the tour who is involved in smuggling artifacts. Jocelyn’s humorous and snarky narration enlivens this debut mystery, a finalist for the 2012 Mary Higgins Clark Award.

Learning To SwimSara J. Henry
Learning To Swim (Crown 2011) begins when Troy Chance, a freelance writer from Lake Placid, New York, sees what might be a small child fall from the rear deck of the opposite ferry crossing Lake Champlain. Reacting instinctively, Tory dives into the water and manages to tow the small boy through the frigid water back to shore. Horrified that the child’s arms had been tied with a sweatshirt, Troy takes the traumatized child home with her. The boy speaks only French and won’t talk of his parents or the boat, only reluctantly admitting his name is Paul and that he is six years old. Tory reports the incident anonymously to the police, and Paul soon reveals that bad men took him a long time ago, that his mother is dead, and that his father doesn’t want him. Worried that turning Paul over to the authorities will send him right back to whoever just tried to kill him, Troy searches for news about his kidnapping and finds not a hint of a missing child. Tory eventually traces Paul’s father, Philippe Dumond, head of a successful marketing agency recently relocated from Montreal to Ottawa. Sure that she will know instantly if Philippe was involved in his wife’s death and son’s kidnapping, Troy travels to Canada and confronts him in his office. Philippe’s angry reaction confuses Troy, but when she reunites father and son their mutual joy erases any doubt that he tried to harm Paul. Philippe convinces Troy to accompany them both back to Ottawa, hoping Paul’s attachment to her will ease his transition back to normal life. But a visit to the Ottawa police reveals that both Philippe and Troy are suspects in Paul’s kidnapping and his mother’s disappearance. Unsure whom to trust, Troy undertakes the task of finding out exactly what happened to Paul and his mother. This compelling psychological suspense debut novel is a finalist for the 2012 Barry First Novel, Mary Higgins Clark, And Agatha First Novel Awards.

Turn of MindAlice LaPlante
Turn of Mind (Atlantic Monthly Press 2011) is the story of Dr. Jennifer White, a retired orthopedic surgeon in the first stages of dementia. Dr. White was a highly skilled hand surgeon until she realized she was losing vocabulary and missing chunks of her day. Recently widowed, White lives in her home with Magdelena, the caretaker she hired when she diagnosed her own dementia. Through conversations with her son and daughter, we learn about Jennifer’s past, and her struggles to cope with her new disoriented reality. The journal she begins at the start of her illness provides another viewpoint, as both Jennifer and those close to her make daily entries. The police officer investigating the recent murder of Amanda, Jennifer’s life-long friend and neighbor, suspects that Jennifer was involved with the murder since four of Amanda’s fingers were surgically removed after death. Jennifer usually doesn’t even remember that Amanda is dead, but occasional tantalizing drifts of memory return. The murder provides a focus for the book, but the terrifying decline of a highly intelligent woman into dementia is far more real and frightening. At the beginning of the book she always insists on being called “Dr. White” by her caregivers, but the slow slide into accepting the informality of “Jennifer” parallels her increasingly fragile grasp on reality. This haunting debut literary thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

Wicked AutumnG.M. Malliet
Wicked Autumn (Minotaur 2011) introduces Max Tudor, the vicar at St. Edwold’s in the idyllic village of Nether Monkslip, England. The only irritant in Nether Monkslip is Wanda Batton-Smythe, who runs the Women’s Institute with an iron fist and a sharp tongue. The upcoming Harvest Fayre provides Wanda with a wider than normal range for bullying, and by the time the Fayre opens no one can stand the sight of her. When Wanda drops dead from a anaphylactic shock during the Fayre, it’s presumed to be an accident, the result of her violent allergy to peanuts. But Max, a former MI-5 agent, isn’t convinced, and soon finds himself helping the local police with the investigation, though he would rather put all thoughts of his former life behind him. Deliciously sly asides sparkle through this amusing first in a new series, a finalist for the Dilys Award and the Agatha Award for Best Novel.

HeadhuntersJo Nesbø
Headhunters (Vintage 2011; Norway 2008) is the story of Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter living above his means in Oslo, Norway. Roger earns huge commissions on successful placements, but his wife insists on the best of everything and her new art gallery is a total money drain. So one of Roger’s questions in a job interview is always about the art the candidate owns, which Roger later steals, replaces with a copy, and sells. While searching for a CEO for a GPS company, Roger interviews Dutch candidate Clas Greve, who may just be as good as Roger at interview power maneuvering. In answer to the art question, Greve tells Roger that he has just discovered a Rubens in a hidden closet in the Oslo apartment he recently inherited from his grandmother, who had probably been given some paintings to hide by a Nazi officer during the Occupation. Roger is sure that this is the painting that will solve all of his money problems forever and sets out to steal the Rubens. But he finds more than he expected in Greve’s house, and realizes that Greve may be far more dangerous than any high-tech corporate manager has any business being. Roger quickly finds himself implicated in a murder and fleeing for his life, sure that all he ever loved is threatened by a man whose motivations are murky at best. This clever caper thriller is Nesbø’s first stand-alone novel.

The Hangman’s DaughterOliver Pötzsch
The Hangman’s Daughter (Mariner Books 2011; German 2008) is set in 1659 Bavaria. When a badly beaten and dying boy is pulled from the river, a crude tattoo on his shoulder makes the superstitious townspeople suspect witchcraft. Town hangman Jakob Kuisl, interrogator as well as executioner, is called to torture local midwife Martha Stechlin into confessing to the crime. Jakob is sure that Martha isn’t guilty, and works with Simon Fronwiesser, the partially trained son of the local doctor, to find the real killer before Jakob has to execute Martha. A reluctant member of the hereditary hangman trade, Jakob left his village to fight in the Thirty Years’ War, but realized that the trade of a soldier was even bloodier than that of a hangman. With a deep knowledge of herbs and their uses, Jakob has become a more talented healer than the doctor, and even possesses a secret library of forbidden scientific books. Simon is drawn to the knowledge in Jakob’s books, and is enamored of Magdelena, the hangman’s headstrong daughter, but knows his father will never approve the marriage — hangmen’s daughters only marry the sons of other hangmen. The dead boy and a small gang of other town orphans spent much of their time hiding from the torments of the other children, and when another orphan is killed Jakob and Simon suspect that the gang of orphans saw something secret and are being systematically removed before they can talk. As Walpurgisnacht (Witch’s Night) draws near, the townspeople grow even more fearful of witchcraft, and the hunt for the real killer becomes even more dangerous for Jakob, Simon, and Magdelena. This fascinating debut historical mystery, written by a descendent of one of Bavaria’s leading dynasties of executioners, is a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original.

All Cry ChaosLeonard Rosen
All Cry Chaos (Permanent Press 2011) introduces Henri Poincaré, a veteran Interpol agent who has just arrested Stipo Banovic for ordering and participating in the massacre of seventy-three Muslim men and boys near Banja Luka, Bosnia. Finding the trench filled with bodies has haunted Poincaré for years, and he visits Banovic in prison, who tells him that Muslims raped and killed his wife and children, and swears that Poincaré will walk in his shoes before he dies. Poincaré is assigned to investigate the death of mathematician James Fenster, who was assassinated the evening before his speech at the World Trade Organization meeting in Amsterdam. The carefully planned explosion incinerated Fenster and his room, yet no one else was injured and the rest of the building remained standing. Everyone Poincaré interviews declares that Fenster was a once-in-a-generation genius, a gentle man with no enemies. Informed that Banovic has a contract out on his family, Poincaré takes a leave of absence, but is convinced by his wife to go back to work, leaving his family under Interpol’s protection. Trying to understand what Fenster’s much-anticipated speech might have revealed, Poincaré travels to America to interview Fenster’s graduate student, the hedge fund director who sponsored his research, and Eduardo Quito, a former academic who once worked with Fenster and is now the leader of the Indigenous Liberation Front. Along the way he encounters the Soldiers of Rapture, counting down the days to the End of Time and setting off bombs for Jesus. This complex and emotionally compelling thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Vienna TwilightFrank Tallis
Vienna Twilight (Random House 2011) finds Viennese psychoanalyst Max Liebermann treating a man who is convinced he is on the verge of death since he has seen his own dopplegänger. Meanwhile Detective Inspector Oskar Reinhardt is investigating the death of a young woman, killed by means of a hat pin driven into her brain during what appears to be consensual intercourse. Pushed by his superiors for a quick arrest, Oskar brings Max onto the case. A second murder sends Max to consult with Freud about what the hat pin fetish might reveal about the killer. Together they decide that the killer may have thanatophilia, an obsession with sex and death. Amelia Lydgate, an American medical student and former patient of Max’s, attends the autopsy and shares her new ability to identify the blood found under the murdered woman’s fingernails. The investigation leads Max and Oskar to a painter of very young nudes, for perhaps a less-than-respectable clientele, and a dress designer of the Vienna Secession, who creates brilliantly colored “reform dresses” to be worn without corsets. The food, music, and politics of 1903 Vienna provide a lush background to this 6th in the series, a finalist 2012 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

April Word Cloud

May 1, 2012

Dying in the WoolFrances Brody
Dying in the Wool (Minotaur 2012, UK 2009) introduces Kate Shackleton, whose Royal Medical Corps surgeon husband Gerald went missing in action 1918 near Villiers-Bretonneux. Four years later, Kate knows intellectually that Gerald is dead, but can’t quite accept it emotionally. Trying to deal with her grief, Kate takes on investigations for other women whose men disappeared in the war, finding one who had lost his memory, and another who had chosen to start a new life with a new family. Though unable to find any trace of her own husband after the bombardment that killed most of his comrades, Kate becomes known as a woman with a talent for finding missing people. Tabitha Braithwaite, a old chum from the Voluntary Aid Detachment about to be married to a much younger man, contacts Kate with a request to find her father, Joshua Braithwaite, who vanished seven years earlier. With the help of former police officer Jim Sykes, Kate travels to the village of Bridgestead to look into the disappearance of the prosperous mill owner, who disappeared a month after his only son was killed on the Somme. The police suspected suicide, Tabitha’s mother doesn’t seem to care, Uncle Neville (now running the mill) doesn’t want any rumors threatening the mill’s prosperity, and Tabitha wants her father found so he can walk her down the aisle. Kate learns all about the wool industry as she tries to determine if the mill’s income provided a motive for murder, and more about Tabitha’s father than a daughter wants to know. The plight of the generation of “surplus” women whose potential mates died in the war, is sensitively portrayed in this debut historical, just released in the US.

Zoo StationDavid Downing
Zoo Station (Soho 2007) introduces John Russell, an Anglo-American journalist living in Berlin, Germany. It’s 1939, and Russell has been living in Berlin long enough to have a German ex-wife, an 11-year-old son, and a film star girlfriend. Hoping to stay in Germany with his son and girlfriend, Russell avoids investigative journalism that might get him deported, instead writing human interest stories for American and British newspapers. When approached by Yevgeny Shchepkin, a Russian journalist acquaintance and Soviet agent, about writing a series of articles about positive aspects of the Nazi regime for the Soviet newspaper Pravda (and doing a bit of amateur spying on the side), Russell at first refuses, unwilling to take a risk that might endanger his relationship with his son. A chance encounter with the casual brutality of a kindertransport train moving tearful Jewish children out of Berlin changes his mind. Russell begins working on a series he calls “Ordinary Germans,” presenting themes like armament workers caught between their natural desire for peace and patriotic concern for the Fatherland. When Nazi and British intelligence discover Russell’s involvement with the Soviets, both ask to see and approve his articles before he mails them off. A side job tutoring in English brings Russell in contact with a Jewish family anxious to educate their teenage daughters in the hope of acquiring visas to send them to England. Meanwhile, Russell’s son Paul is having a great time on outings with the Hitler Youth, his girlfriend Effie is encountering hostility because of her Jewish appearance, and an idealistic young American reporter tries to involve him in a dangerous investigation into Nazi secrets. Caught in the middle, Russell finds himself entangled in a web of intrigue that threatens everyone he cherishes. This compelling debut thriller featuring a unique amateur spy is the first in a series. Lehrter Station (5th in the series) is due May 8th.

Come and Find MeHallie Ephron
Come and Find Me (William Morrow 2011) is the story of Diana Banks, who has suffered from debilitating panic attacks for the last two years, ever since her husband Daniel fell to his death during a climbing accident in Switzerland. The climbing vacation with best friend Jake was a celebration of a decision to go straight by the three hackers, and Diana used the insurance money from Daniel’s accident to start an Internet security company with Jake. Unable to summon the courage to leave her house, Diana has created an online persona called Nadia Varata (an anagram of Diana Avatar), to lead the virtual meetings for Gamelan Security. Diana spends most of her time as Nadia, inhabiting a virtual reality world called OtherWorld. The only person Diana allows within her home’s security perimeter is her younger sister Ashley, who gently pushes Diana to re-enter the world. Diana has made some progress — within the last month she has been able to make short ventures within her own backyard. When Ashley visits one Friday, Diana has just received a delivery of a custom-made Nadia outfit, designed and purchased in an OtherWorld shop. Ashley borrows the outfit to participate in a flash mob event, and doesn’t return to pick up her laptop computer during the weekend as she promised. When Ashley doesn’t arrive at work on Monday, Diana’s concern for her sister outweighs her fear of the world, and she forces herself to go in search for her. This intriguing suspense novel exploring the addictive appeal of virtual reality was a finalist for the 2012 Mary Higgins Clark Award.

What Angels FearC.S. Harris
What Angels Fear (New American Library 2005) introduces Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a young nobleman in 1811 London, shattered by his experience in the Napoleonic Wars. A beautiful young actress is found raped and murdered on the altar steps of a church, with a dueling pistol bearing the St. Cyr emblem under her body. While being taking in for questioning, a young constable is accidentally stabbed by his colleague, who then accuses St. Cyr of the crime. Fleeing the scene, St. Cyr takes to the streets in disguise to clear his name. A lucky encounter with Tom, an urchin who tries to pick his pocket, gives St. Cry a much needed ally. Tom’s mother has been transported for theft, leaving him to make his own way on the streets. St. Cyr discovers that the dead woman is Rachel York, mistress to at least one member of the Tory cabinet currently struggling to hold on to power as King George III sinks into madness. Kat Boleyn, an actress and St. Cyr’s former lover, holds several secrets that help St. Cyr in his investigation. St. Cyr has Bithil Syndrome, a genetic mutation marked by yellow eyes, acute hearing, and excellent eyesight even in the dark. Using these gifts, he roams the foggy streets of London, tracking Rachel’s last days and the men who might have a motive to kill her. St. Cyr identifies several suspects: a fellow actor, a French painter Rachel modeled for, her current patron who is short listed for the next Prime Minister, a French émigré who may be a spy, and his own nephew known to revel in pulling the heads off live turtles. The vast divide between the privileged class haunted by the specter of revolution, and the increasingly unhappy lower classes is deftly portrayed in this first in a series featuring a noble misfit with a flair for detection. When Maidens Mourn, 7th in the series, was just released.

Iron HouseJohn Hart
Iron House (Thomas Dunne Books 2011) is the story of Michael, who was raised with his brother Julian in the Iron Mountain Home for Boys, providing “Shelter and Discipline since 1895”. The brothers arrived at Iron House as very young children, Julian a premature newborn and Michael less than a year old. Michael grew tough enough to stand up for himself, but Julian was constantly bullied by the older boys until the day he finally struck back. To save his brother, Michael took the blame and ran away from Iron House, eventually becoming an enforcer for the mob. Twenty-three years later, Michael has fallen in love, and wants to start a new life with Elena and the child she carries. Otto Kaitlin, the mob boss who has brought Michael up almost as a son, gives Michael his blessing to start a new life, but Otto is dying, and his son Stevan refuses to let Michael go without a fight. First threatening Elena, who knows nothing of Michael’s job, and then the brother Michael hasn’t seen for 23 years, Stevan is determined to do anything to bring Michael back into the fold. This multi-layered thriller, a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best Novel, explores the long lasting repercussions of childhood trauma and the power of love and family loyalty.

Ice HunterJoseph Heywood
Ice Hunter (Lyons Press 2001) introduces Grady Service, a 20 year veteran Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer, known as a Woods Cop, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Being a Woods Cop is a tough job; only four or five of the thousands of yearly candidates make it through the training. A former hockey star and Vietnam vet, Grady has proved himself as a master tracker and fearless protector of the Mosquito Wilderness Track, the remote area protected by his Conservation Officer father before him. When Limpy Allerdyce, the patriarch of a disreputable clan of poachers, is released from prison, Grady prepares himself for a busy summer season, but a series of fires that may be arson turns out to be worse. News of an unregistered helicopter flying through the Mosquito causes Grady to suspect that something unsavory is going on in the middle of his favorite wilderness. Though frightened of both women and dogs, Grady finds himself responsible for a Canary Island mastiff named Newf, and partnered with Maridly Nantz, one of the few female Conservation Officers, who just may be a tough as Grady himself. As Maridly and Grady investigate the arson, they uncover evidence of a secret operation that threatens the pristine wilderness area they both love. Grady has a tendency toward doing things his own way, which puts him into direct opposition with many of his superiors as well as the pro-development state governor. This atmospheric mystery, first in a series that now numbers eight, features a protagonist with a strong moral streak and an intense dedication to his job.

Hell Is EmptyCraig Johnson
Hell Is Empty (Viking 2011) finds Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, transporting Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian, and a group of other convicted murders through a snowstorm. Shade confesses to the murder of a young boy ten years earlier, offering to show the FBI where he buried the body in the Big Horn Mountains. When Walt learns that the boy was part of the White Buffalo family, he is immediately haunted by the memory of Virgil White Buffalo, the oversized Crow he mistakenly arrested for murder some years earlier. Determined to make amends, Walt fights against the bitter winter weather of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, armed with little more than a tattered copy of Dante’s Inferno, resolved to locate the boy’s bones and bring them back for a proper burial. Unwilling to wait for backup, Walt follows the voices of Indian spirits swirling within the snow flurries, struggling to survive both spiritually and physically. Flashes of wry humor spark through this gripping 7th in the series, a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best Novel.

A Simple MurderEleanor Kuhns
A Simple Murder (Minotaur 2012) is the story of William Rees, who left his son and farm in the care of his sister and her family after the death of his wife. Still recovering from his time as a Revolutionary War soldier, William couldn’t bear the claustrophobic life of a Maine farmer, and embarked upon an itinerant life on the road, earning his living as a traveling weaver. Returning after five years, William discovers that his 14-year old son David, unable to stand being treated as a servant by his aunt and uncle, has run away to join the Shakers. Overcome by guilt, William follows David to the Shaker community, arriving just before the brutal murder of Sister Chastity, a young woman who recently joined the community. David, who at first refuses to speak to his father, tells Elder White that William has a talent for solving puzzles. Hoping that an outsider can find the truth, Elder White invites William to stay and try to discover the murderer. As William searches for the truth, he endeavors to rebuild his relationship with his son and makes a tentative connection with a woman who has been cast out from the Shaker community. Rich in historical details of life in 1796, this debut novel was the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Prize.

SisterRosamund Lupton
Sister (Piatkus 2010) is the story of Beatrice and Tess Hemming, sisters separated by eight years and a brother who died of cystic fibrosis as a young child. Though outwardly very different (Bee is a driven designer of corporate logos, Tess is a free-spirited painter), the two sisters have always been close, talking on the phone and emailing several times a week. When Bee gets a call from her mother saying that Tess is missing, she catches the next plane from New York to London, regretting the long weekend away with fiancé Todd in a remote cabin with no cell phone or Internet access. Bee is horrified to learn that Tess, who wasn’t due for another three weeks, has given birth to a stillborn son and then vanished from sight. When Tess’s body is found in an abandoned restroom in Hyde Park, the police decide it is suicide, the result of postpartum depression. But Bee can’t accept that Tess, who treasured the gift of life after their brother’s death, could have possibly killed herself, Bee begins to investigate the men in Tess’s life: the married father of her child and the student who stalked her. Told from Bee’s perspective in the form of letters to Tess, and statements to Mr. Wright, a Crown Prosecution Service solicitor, amplified with what Bee chose not to share, this haunting debut novel of psychological suspense was a finalist for the 2011 New Blood Dagger Award.

The InheritanceSimon Tolkien
The Inheritance (Minotaur 2010) is the story of Stephen Cade, who is charged in 1959 with killing his father William, an Oxford professor of history and a hero in World War II. Stephen was estranged from his father for two years, returning home only when his father was about to change his will and disinherit him and his step-brother. Stephen’s fingerprints are on the key to the locked study and the murder weapon, and no evidence points to the other five people in the house that night. But William Trave, a detective inspector, isn’t convinced that Stephen is guilty, and feels that some evidence was ignored, some trails not investigated. When Stephen is convicted, Trave realizes he has less than a month to find new evidence before Stephen is hanged. With the help of detective constable Adam Clayton, Trave begins a more thorough scrutiny of the other five people who were in the house that fateful evening and could have committed the murder, discovering that all five have a motive and none are telling the complete truth. Taking a leave from his duties, Trave travels to the town of Marjean in northern France to investigate the rumors that William Cade was involved in the killing of a French family and their servants in the summer of 1944. The ticking clock of Stephen’s approaching death adds tension to this historical courtroom drama/police procedural.

May Word Cloud

June 1, 2012

Dead ScaredS.J. Bolton
Dead Scared (Minotaur 2012) finds Lacey Flint, a young detective constable in London, working on an undercover assignment as a Cambridge student to investigate a troubling upswing in student suicide. Dr. Evi Oliver, head counselor for the university and an old friend of Lacey’s boss, believes there is a subversive subculture glamorizing the act of suicide, possibly through online chat rooms or websites. The London police suspect that someone at Cambridge is preying on troubled students, intensifying their insecurities and encouraging them to kill themselves in violent ways. Lacey agrees to pose as an older student returning to school after a debilitating bout of depression, and is assigned to the room vacated by the latest suicide attempt, barely alive in the intensive care ward after setting herself on fire. What Evi hasn’t told the police is that she herself is being targeted. She is being haunted by frightening sounds and items that trigger irrational fears only known to her own trusted therapist. When Evi finally calls the local police, there is no evidence that anyone broke into her house, leading them to suspect that Evi, who is on pain medication after an accident, has lost her grip on reality. Lacey herself begins to have troubling dreams of visitors to her locked bedroom at night, but when her screams awake her roommate, no one is there. Both Lacey and Evi are emotionally fragile; Evi suspects that Lacey has never recovered from a rape in her past, and Lacey worries that Evi isn’t strong enough to withstand the fear that she is imagining her torments. This well-crafted and very frightening novel of psychological suspense is a follow-up to Now You See Me.

Lucky BastardS.G. Browne
Lucky Bastard (Gallery Books 2012) is the story of Nick Monday, a part-time private investigator and full-time luck poacher in San Francisco. Nick is one of the few people graced with the ability to steal a person’s luck with a simple handshake. He then distills the luck through a slightly disgusting process and re-sells it to the highest bidder. Nick isn’t sure if he poaches luck for the money or the thrill, but knows that the powerful jolt of high-grade luck coursing through his body surpasses any other feeling he’s ever had. When Tuesday Knight, the daughter of the mayor, walks into his office offering Nick $100,000 to retrieve her father’s luck, Nick is dubious. It’s hard to track down stolen luck, even though he was the poacher that took it from the mayor in the first place. But Nick needs the money. Especially after Tommy Wong, a Chinatown crime boss, demands that Nick deliver to him some extremely rare Pure, the highest grade of luck. And the feds are onto Tommy’s scheme, threatening Nick’s sister if Nick delivers the luck that will keep Tommy out of their clutches forever. Nick, who lives mainly on mochas and apple fritters, is a delightfully satirical narrator, and the supporting characters are great fun — especially Nick’s assistant Doug (a wannabe rapper with the handle Bow Wow, who really wants to be a PI) and Alex (Tommy’s annoying vegan driver who can’t resist trading insults with Nick). The author’s first crime caper novel, which takes place in just one day, is hopefully the first in a series.

Bellfield HallAnna Dean
Bellfield Hall (Minotaur 2010; APA: A Moment of Silence 2008) introduces Miss Dido Kent, a 35-year-old spinster who is dispatched to Bellfield Hall, the Montague family estate, to provide aid and comfort to her niece Catherine, whose fiancé Richard Montague disappeared immediately after his engagement ball, telling Catherine she would be better off without him. It’s 1805, and everyone agrees that in such modern times the fact that Richard secretly fathered an illegitimate child with a local beauty could not have caused him to vanish. In fact, he has already confessed this youthful indiscretion to Catherine, earning her forgiveness. Then the body of an unknown young woman is found in the shrubbery of the estate, and Dido, with her masterful ability to worm information out of the servants, discovers that the young woman was pregnant. Convinced that the dead woman must be somehow connected to Richard’s need to release Catherine from her engagement, Dido expands her field of inquiry to include the residents of Bellfield Hall and the local shopkeepers. Dido’s keen intellect and strong reasoning skills are further revealed in her letters to her sister Eliza, chronicling the progress of the investigation as well as Dido’s increasing attraction to Mr. William Lomax, the father of Dido’s prime suspect. In the best convention of the traditional mystery, our amateur sleuth is beguiled by several red herrings in her pursuit of the truth and Catherine’s happiness. This thoroughly satisfying debut historical mystery is the first in a series; A Woman of Consequence, 3rd in the series, was just released in the US.

ArtifactsMary Anna Evans
Artifacts (Poisoned Pen 2003) introduces Faye Longchamp, a mixed-race archaeology student living secretly at Joyeuse, the dilapidated mansion on her family plantation on North Florida’s Gulf Coast. Faye’s great-great-grandmother Cally, a freed-slave, inherited the plantation, now moldering away under a heavy load of back taxes. Faye spends her time searching for artifacts on her land and the nearby National Wildlife Refuge on her family’s former plantation land, illegally selling them on the black market, and working as an assistant for Dr. Magda Stockard’s legitimate archeological dig. When Faye discovers a skull and a 60s style pearl earring, she is torn between reporting the 40-year-old crime and possible arrest for illegal artifact-hunting. The murders of two other student assistants at Magda’s dig cause the police to question Faye, threatening to reveal her secret inhabitation of Joyeuse. Faye’s discovery of a 19th-century diary hidden at Joyeuse expands her understanding of her own family’s history, and prompts her to seek justice for the woman with the pearl earring. Absorbing archaeological details enliven this debut mystery with a strong protagonist who is intelligent, independent, and fiercely protective of her home and heritage.

The Fear ArtistTimothy Hallinan
The Fear Artist (Soho 2012) finds Poke Rafferty emerging from a paint store in Bangkok, Thailand, with two cans of paint to spruce up the apartment while Rose and Miaow are away in the country visiting Rose’s family. Poke collides with a large middle-aged American man who collapses on top of Poke, gasping three words before dying from gunshot wounds. The police insist that the man wasn’t shot, close off the street, and confiscate the camera of a reporter. After a hard night of drinking, Poke is taken in for questioning by Major Shen, who demands to know what the man told him. The hungover Poke can only remember one of the words, and is finally released under a cloud of suspicion. Poke gets in touch with a group of semi-retired spies, and discovers that his interrogators have something to do with the Phoenix Project, a Vietnam-era program resurrected by the Pentagon after 9-11, now being used to wipe out suspected Muslim terrorists in southern Thailand. Poke narrowly escapes arrest, goes into hiding, and discovers that the dead man had proof of gruesome atrocities committed by Murphy, the Phoenix Project leader known as the Fear Artist in Vietnam. With the help of a charming but untrustworthy Russian spy, and Ming Li, Poke’s half-sister raised as an expert in duplicity by their father, Poke desperately tries to track down Murphy before Murphy finds him. The deadly impact of Murphy’s power to induce fear is poignantly demonstrated with his family: the nearly comatose wife who lives in a daze of codeine and alcohol and the virtually feral daughter who hides behind curtains and blackens her teeth so she can’t be seen in the dark. The chilling portrayal of the soul-killing effect on those waging the war on terrorism make this 5th in the series hauntingly effective.

The Devotion of Suspect XKeigo Higashino
The Devotion of Suspect X (Minotaur 2011; Japan 2008) is the story of Yasuko Hanaoka, who is raising her teen-aged daughter Misato alone after divorcing her abusive husband Togashi. But Togashi tracks Yasuko, an ex-bar hostess, to her new job at a lunchbox restaurant, and follows her home. When he threatens her, Misato hits him with a lamp. As Togashi strikes back at Misato, Yasuko strangles him with an appliance cord. Stunned, the two stare blankly at the body when next-door neighbor Ishagami appears, offering to dispose of the body for them. A high school math teacher, Ishagami has harbored a secret love for Yasuko since she moved into his building. Determined to save her from arrest, Ishagami coaches Yasuko and Misato about what to say to the police, who appear a few days later when the body is discovered. Helping Detective Kusanagi with the investigation is Dr. Yukawa, a brilliant physicist who knew Ishagami years ago in college. Yukawa tells Kusanagi that Ishagami is a math genius, more than capable of hiding a crime. The two match wits as Yukawa tries to figure out the truth and Ishagami works to protect the woman he loves. This beautifully written and multi-layered crime novel is a finalist for the 2012 Barry and Edgar Awards, and the first in a series featuring Dr. Yukawa and Detective Kusanagi.

Gunshpt RoadAdrian Hyland
Gunshot Road (Soho 2010) finds Emily Tempest, part white and part aborigine, beginning her job as an Aboriginal Community police officer. Unfortunately, old friend Tom MacGillivray who was supposed to be her boss is in the hospital, and replacement Sergeant Cockburn finds Emily’s independence a liability rather than an asset. When prospector Albert Ozolins is found murdered, Cockburn is sure that he was killed by fellow drunk John Vincent Petherbridge, known as Wireless. Wireless admits to a knock-down argument with Ozolins about Zeno’s Paradox the night of the murder, but insists he doesn’t remember hitting him with a geological hammer. Both the victim and the suspected murderer are old acquaintances of Emily and her father, and she can’t accept that Wireless killed his old friend and sparring partner. Her boss would rather Emily stick to night patrol in town, but she suspects that Ozolins’s research into the snowball Earth theory, that the surface of the Earth was at one time completely frozen over, has something to do with his death. With her intimate connection to the harsh life of the Australian outback, Emily is perfectly suited to follow clues her colleagues disregard, but even she may not be capable of surviving the dangers she uncovers. This second in a gritty series featuring a tough but empathetic protagonist is highly recommended.

The ExpatsChris Pavone
The Expats (Crown 2012) is the story of Kate Moore, wife, mother of two young sons, and CIA agent. Kate has kept her job secret from her husband Dexter, even after she moved to a desk job after the birth of her first child and an incident in Mexico she still finds difficult to think about. When Dexter, a financial security expert, is offered a highly-paid job in Luxembourg, Kate agrees, relieved to finally be leaving her secret life behind. But Dexter works long hours at his new job, for a secret client he is not allowed to tell his wife about, and Kate finds herself caught up in a strange new existence in a country where she doesn’t speak the language and can’t figure out how to work the appliances. In between the never-ending rounds of laundry, shopping, and cooking, Kate meets other expat mothers, bonding in strange ways to women she wouldn’t have otherwise spent time with. One American couple strikes Kate as not quite right. Worried that her past might be catching up with her, Kate investigates them and finds that they aren’t who they say they are. She suspects they are on assignment to assassinate a visitor to the palace of the Grand Duke, and reconnects with an old colleague from the CIA. Each layer of deceit Kate uncovers reveals another underneath, a web of lies and double-crosses that threaten her marriage and all she holds dear. This suspenseful debut spy thriller is very engaging.

Murder on MondayAnn Purser
Murder on Monday (2002) introduces Lois Meade, a mother of three who cleans houses in the quaint village of Long Farnden, England. Not challenged by her life, Lois applies to be a Special Constable, but is gently counseled to stay at home with her children. When Miss Gloria Hathaway, a village spinster, is killed while making tea in the village hall kitchen for the Open Minds women’s group meeting, Police Constable Keith Simpson asks Lois to keep her ears and eyes open for any connections between the villagers she cleans for and the murder. Lois agrees on the condition that Keith shares information with her, hoping to puzzle out the truth herself. An oily stain on the usually immaculate Barbour coat belonging to Professor Barratt makes Lois aware of the fact that most of the men in the village own similar coats, and all of those coats bear an identical oily stain on the sleeve. When she finds a stain on the sleeve of her husband Derek’s jacket, Lois realizes that the murder investigation is far more than a challenging puzzle to enliven her dreary round of chores. No-nonsense working class Lois and her realistic family problems make her an engaging protagonist in this debut mystery, first in a series that now numbers eleven.

Gone with a Handsomer ManMichael Lee West
Gone with a Handsomer Man (Minotaur 2011) introduces Teeny Templeton, who returns from a cancelled cooking class, a gift from her fiancé Bing Jackson, to find Bing playing naked badminton with two beautiful and equally naked women. Teeny pelts the trio with green peaches, and is arrested for assault and vandalism. She calls Bing’s stepmother Miss Dora to bail her out, and Dora convinces Teeny to house-sit the family mansion since Teeny has been ordered not to leave Charleston. Now that the wedding is off, Teeny starts baking cakes to sell at a local bakery, using recipes from a family cookbook compiled by generations of Templeton women. Unfortunately the avid Templeton cooks have a habit of working out their frustrations by recording poisonous recipes of vengeance in the cookbook, putting Teeny in a bad position when Bing is murdered. Teeny reconnects with her first love, lawyer Coop O’Malley, to take on her defense, realizing too late that Coop is still entangled with, though separated from, his tall and stylish wife. This romantic mystery featuring a sweetly feisty protagonist is great fun.

June Word Cloud

July 1, 2012

The CrownNancy Bilyeau
The Crown (Touchstone 2012) introduces Joanna Stafford, a young aristocratic novice nun in 1537 England. When Joanna learns that her beloved cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to burn at the stake, she breaks the rule of enclosure, sneaking out of Dartford Priory to travel to London and see her cousin one last time. There she unexpectedly meets her father, and both are arrested for interfering with the King’s justice and taken to the Tower. To save her father from torture by Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, Joanna agrees to return to Dartford Priory in search of the mythical crown won by King Athlestan in 937 during the historic battle that united Britain. Gardiner assures Joanna that the crown will help him save the Catholic monasteries the destruction threatened by Thomas Cromwell’s Reformation, but she fears that he is more interested in the power he believes the relic possesses. Joanna secretly searches the priory, but can find no sign of a hidden crown. The murder of the father of one of Joanna’s fellow novices while visiting the Priory puts everyone within the walls under suspicion, and brings the feared inspection of the Priory by the King’s commissioners. Joanna’s fellow nuns fear the end of their secluded way of life nearly as much as the specter of torture and execution for treason, but are helpless, paralyzed by their rule of enclosure within the priory walls. Only Joanna is willing to leave the priory to pursue the truth. Following clues hidden in the tapestries woven by the nuns, Joanna uses her family connections to visit royal castles, Stonehenge, and the tomb of the mysterious King Athelstan under Malmesbury Abbey, in search of clues to the hiding place of the crown, and the identity of the murderer. This enthralling debut historical mystery is a finalist for the 2012 Historical Dagger Award.

Murder in the MaraisCara Black
Murder in the Marais (Soho 1999) introduces Aimée Leduc, owner of a detective agency specializing in corporate security, in 1993 Paris. She is hired by Soli Hecht, a Nazi hunter and old friend of Aimée’s father, to break a Cold War code, an Israeli military encryption, and deliver the results to Lili Stein in the Marais, the old Jewish quarter of Paris. Aimée finds the puzzle much more difficult that she expected, but eventually breaks the code, revealing a torn black and white snapshot of a café scene of occupied Paris complete with SS officers. When Aimée attempts to deliver the photograph, she finds the old woman murdered, with a swastika carved into her forehead. Determined to find the killer, Aimée goes undercover into a neo-Nazi group, and discovers a connection with the next prime minister, currently involved in trade negotiations that echo the old Vichy laws. Aimée’s investigation threatens to unearth dangerous secrets from the time when Paris was occupied by the Nazis and Jews were deported to the death camps, endangering her life and the safety of others. This debut novel introducing a clever and resourceful protagonist was a finalist for the 2000 Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best First Novel.

SpiralPaul McEuen
Spiral (Dial Press 2011) is the story of biologist Liam Connor, recruited by the US military to control a Japanese bioweapon named Uzumaki in the last days of WWII. Liam, an expert on fungus, identifies Uzumaki symptoms as a fungal infection, a doomsday weapon that cannot be stopped once released. Sixty-four years later, Uzumaki is still top-secret, though Liam became concerned two years earlier that the US government began searching for an antidote, which would transform Uzumaki into the ultimate weapon for those who are immune to its fatal effects. Still working as a mycologist, Liam uses spider-sized nanorobots dubbed MicroCrawlers to care for his experiments and enjoys the company of his nine-year-old great-grandson Dylan and scientist granddaughter Maggie. Dylan suffers panic attacks, the result of a horrific car accident, and Maggie tries to distract him with fungus art projects (Fungus Among Us) while Liam shares elephant jokes and MicroCrawler investigations. When Liam suddenly jumps to his death from a bridge late one night, Maggie and Dylan can’t accept that he committed suicide. Jake, Liam’s research collaborator, is also doubtful that Liam killed himself. The discovery that Liam’s MicroCrawlers are missing convinces him that something very wrong. Then Jake and Maggie receive envelopes from Liam with coded messages leading to information about Uzumaki, propelling them on a frantic search for whatever Liam has successfully hidden for 64 years. This compelling debut techno-thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Thriller Award for Best First Novel and the Nero Award.

TrackersDeon Meyer
Trackers (Atlantic Monthly Press 2011, Afrikaans 2010) is a multi-layered story set in South Africa. Milla Strachan, an emotionally abused wife and mother to a self-absorbed teenaged son, finally works up the courage to leave her family and start a new life for herself. But things have changed in Cape Town since her last journalist job many years ago; the only job Milla can find is at the “Report Squad” writing intelligence reports for the government. The job isn’t as exciting as Milla had hoped, so she also signs up for Tango lessons and begins working on the novel she always planned to write. Meanwhile, Lemmer, a skilled bodyguard with violence issues, is convinced by a fast-talking farmer into taking a job smuggling a pair of rare black rhinos out of Zimbabwe. Lemmer knows smuggling is dangerous, but he is surprised to be given a highly-illegal military shotgun to protect the cargo from attack. And Mat Joubert, a former detective working his first case as a private investigator, is given the task of locating a bus company manager who vanished without a trace. With the help of Milla’s diary and the documents created by the Report Squad, the three story lines connect into a complex tale of smuggled diamonds, a stolen car containing 40,000 pounds sterling, and a possible Muslim attack on Cape Town. This intricate thriller vividly set in contemporary South Africa is a finalist for the 2012 International Dagger Award.

The End of the Wasp SeasonDenise Mina
The End of the Wasp Season (Reagan Arthur Books 2011) finds Glasgow Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow, pregnant with twins, assigned to investigate the murder of Sarah Erroll, a young woman alone in the home of her recently deceased mother. When confronted by two young intruders, Sarah’s phone recorded her declaring that she recognized one of the boys as he demanded to know where her children were. Though they intended only to scare her, anger and hate spiral out of control and one of the boys brutally attacks and kills her. At first viewed as a random burglary gone wrong, the discovery of a huge cache of Euros results in an investigation of Sarah’s past. Bloody footprints next to the body and a recording of the 999 call Sarah made before her murder place two teenaged boys at the crime. Meanwhile, Lars Anderson, a ruined banker, hangs himself from a tree in front of his mansion. His son Thomas is sent home from St. Augustus, an exclusive boarding school, to his emotionally distant mother and strange younger sister. As Morrow gradually connects the threads between the two deaths, she comes to understand the damage family members can do to each other, both in the Anderson family and her own. This powerful thriller, second in the series, was a finalist for the 2011 Gold Dagger Award.

UnwantedKristina Ohlsson
Unwanted (Atria 2012, Sweden 2009) introduces Fredrika Bergman, a civilian appointment to the Stockholm police force. Alex Recht, Fredrika’s boss, doesn’t expect her police career to last very long since Frederika doesn’t seem to have a dedication to the job and lacks the intuitive flair needed to solve cases. Her colleague Peder agrees that Fredrika has neither the experience nor the empathy needed to conduct an investigation. And Fredrika herself doubts that her skills as a criminologist specializing in crimes against women and children are of much use in her current assignment. Then six-year-old Lilian Sebastiansson vanishes from a train station. Alex and Peder are convinced that the girl’s father took the child, but Frederika fears they are ignoring important indications that the kidnapping was planned in advance. When the girl’s dead body is found miles away with the word “unwanted” written on her forehead, the whole team is shocked into re-examining the evidence, fearing that the bizarre killing may be the work of a deranged serial killer. Both Fredrika and Peder face their own unique challenges. Fredrika struggles to find a voice in the male-dominated police force and worries that she may never have a child of her own. Peder’s wife hasn’t emerged from the post-partum depression following the birth of their twin boys, and he finds it impossible to resist the sexual temptations of an affair with a colleague. This compelling debut police procedural/thriller is the first in a series of three.

The Tenderness of WolvesStef Penney
The Tenderness of Wolves (Simon & Schuster 2008, UK 2006) is the story of the murder of Laurent Jammet, a fur trader in 1867 on the Canadian frontier. The body is discovered by neighbor Mrs. Ross, searching for her missing 17-year-old son Francis. She reports the crime to Andrew Knox, the town’s elder statesman, whose life has been uneventful since his young nieces, Amy and Eve Seton, went missing 15 years earlier. Donald Moody, a young Hudson Bay Company representative, is sent to investigate with Jacob, a native Company employee who adopted Moody after nearly killing him. Thomas Sturrock, an American trader and tracker who failed to locate the Seton girls, arrives looking for a mysterious carved bone artifact he planned to buy from Jammet. Then William Parker, a half-breed Native American trapper is found in Jammet’s cabin and arrested. Knox doesn’t believe he committed the crime, and secretly releases him. Moody and Jacob set out in search of Francis, soon followed by Parker and Mrs. Ross, who believe Francis may be trailing the real killer. The trek through worsening weather leads to Himmelvanger, a Norwegian religious commune, and then to Hanover House, a Company Trading Post. Each of the characters is an outcast of some sort, held apart from others for reasons of race, sexuality, or personality. As they struggle against the unforgiving environment, each story is slowly revealed. This complex and absorbing suspense debut novel was a finalist for the 2007 Historical Dagger Award.

Leader of the PackDavid Rosenfelt
Leader of the Pack (Minotaur 2012) finds New Jersey defense attorney Andy Carpenter on one of his regular visits to Joey Desimone, a client convicted of murdering his ex-lover and her husband, Richard Solarno, nine years earlier. Andy is sure that Joey is innocent of the murders, sure that Joey’s connection to organized crime led the jury to convict him on little evidence, despite the fact that Joey refused to be part of the family business. During the visit Andy tries to cheer Joey up with the story of his golden retreiver’s new volunteer job as a therapy dog in the hospital. Joey finds the story amusing, and asks Andy to take the dog to visit his uncle “Nicky Fats,” a crime boss confined to bed and suffering memory loss. Between bouts of gibberish, Nicky tells Andy that Solarno was dirty, finally giving Andy a possible reason for Solarno to have been the target of the murder rather than his wife, and perhaps even the key to Joey’s freedom. Unfortunately the mob is not inclined to talk to outsiders, and Nicky’s younger brother Carmine makes it very clear to Andy that the investigation could prove very unhealthy for him if he insists on trying to connect Solarno to the family. Andy turns up a bit of evidence about Solarno that the prosecution didn’t disclose during the original trial, the wedge he hopes will persuade a judge to re-open the trial. Andy’s courtroom antics are as deviously effective as usual in this highly enjoyable 10th in the series.

The Seven WondersSteven Saylor
The Seven Wonders (Minotaur 2012) finds Gordianus, just turned 18, setting off to see the Seven Wonders of the World in 92 BCE with his tutor, Antipater of Sidon. Antipater, the world’s most celebrated poet, has faked his own death, and is determined to visit the Seven Wonders he has celebrated in poetry while also escaping the threat of revolt against Rome. Outside of Rome the naive Gordianus first encounters resentment against the Roman conquerors, and realizes that Rome’s imperial ambitions conflict with those of King Mithridates of Pontus, who harbors similar dreams of conquest and power. Teacher and pupil travel through Greece (Statue of Zeus at Olympia), Asia Minor (Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes), Babylon (Hanging Gardens and Walls), and Egypt (Great Pyramid, Pharos Lighthouse at Alexandria), finding a puzzle for Gordianus to solve at each stop as well as exotic amorous encounters. Antipater can’t resist declaiming his own poetry at each incredible Wonder, while the sharp-eyed Gordianus spots clues to help solve crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice. Several of the chapters were originally published as short stories, but Saylor has integrated them seamlessly within this prequel, wrapping the mysteries of each Wonder within the entertaining story of Gordianus coming of age and finding his vocation as Finder of Truth.

Fun and GamesDuane Swierczynski
Fun & Games (Mulholland Books 2011) introduces Charlie Hardie, an ex-cop from Philadelphia, now working as a high-end house-sitter. When Charlie arrives at the house in the Hollywood hills he is surprised to find that the keys are not in the mailbox as arranged. So the resourceful Charlie climbs over the roof and breaks into the house from the back deck. Inside he is even more surprised to be attacked by a beautiful starlet defending herself with a mic stand. Lane Madden tells Charlie that “they” are trying to kill her, having first run her off the road and then injected her with a syringe of drugs. Luckily Lane has been trained by her B-movie career to survive all kinds of falls and managed to fight off the syringe-wielding attacker and flee to the house. Charlie is sure that Lane is nuts, but when the delivery man is killed bringing Charlie’s lost suitcase, he begins to suspect that the Accident People, working for immense fees to protect reputations and investments, may really be after them. This very enjoyable adrenaline-fueled caper novel, which pays homage to Hollywood movies and superhero comics, is a finalist for the 2012 Anthony, Barry, and Shamus Awards for Best Paperback Original.

July Word Cloud

August 1, 2012

The InfernalsJohn Connolly
The Infernals (Atria 2011, APA: Hell’s Bells), finds Samuel Johnson eager to celebrate his new teenaged status by asking a girl out for a treat. Unfortunately he decides she will be more impressed if he takes off his glasses, and mistakenly invites a letter box — which is wearing a very similar red coat — out for a pie instead. Humiliated, Samuel trudges home from school with his faithful dachshund Boswell, positive his life can’t get any worse. But it does. The demon now known as Mrs. Abernathy takes advantage of a portal provided by loose energy from the Large Hadron Collider to transport Samuel and Boswell, four unpleasant dwarfs, Dan the Ice-Cream Man along with his van, and two policemen from the quiet streets of Biddlecomb straight to Hell. Mrs. Abernathy is convinced that bringing Samuel, who foiled the Great Malevolence’s invasion of Earth, to her master will snap him out of his depression and put her back on top of the demon servants. The other demons aren’t too sure that her new habit of putting out potpourri and carrying a purse really represents true demonic spirit, and all the Infernals are soon searching for one 13-year-old boy accompanied by one small dog. With the help of Nurd, a demon with a fondness for jellybeans and his odoriferous companion Wormwood, Samuel and the other humans stay one short step ahead of the other demons while trying to find their way back to England. Witty footnotes explain scientific principles like Hawking’s Chronology Protection Conjecture and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle without detracting from the action. The characters are hilarious, frightening, and occasionally touching in this sequel to The Gates. Aimed at both the young adult and grown-up audience, this comedic horror fantasy is a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel.

Beneath the ShadowsSara Foster
Beneath the Shadows (Minotaur 2012; Australia 2011) is the story of Grace, who moves from London to an isolated Yorkshire cottage with her husband Adam and baby daughter Millie. Grace isn’t quite comfortable with the move, but Adam is enthusiastic about the freedom from financial pressures living in the cottage he recently inherited from his grandparents will give them. A week after their arrival Adam vanishes without a trace, abandoning Millie in her stroller on the doorstep. Everyone is sure that Adam deserted his family, overwhelmed by the pressures of fatherhood, but Grace knows he adores Millie and is certain something awful happened to him. Grace and Millie are soon swept away by Grace’s parents to their house in the sunny South of France where they spend the next year. Then a chance fact about the cancellation of a game Adam had said he watched in the bar the day before his disappearance startles Grace with the realization that her husband had lied to her. Consumed by the need to discover the truth about Adam’s disappearance, Grace returns to the cottage on the moor with only Millie for company. As Grace searches through the boxes in the cottage attic, she learns that Adam was hunting for the father he never knew, and decides to trace his search. From the secretive village neighbors and the nearby manor house Grace hears ghost stories but little else, and begins to worry that the small cottage is haunted by the past. This atmospheric psychological thriller is the first of Foster’s gothic suspense novels released in the US.

Hush MoneyChuck Greaves
Hush Money (Minotaur 2012) introduces Jack MacTaggart, a junior lawyer with Henley & Hargrove, the oldest and snobbiest law firm in Pasadena, California. When socialite Sydney Everett’s champion show-jumper Hush Puppy dies unexpectedly, Jack is assigned the insurance claim. The vet doesn’t find any sign of trauma and gives a verdict of cardiac failure, but the insurance company suspects foul play. Jack finds the brittle and calculating Sydney Everett distasteful, but is instantly attracted to her stable manager, Tara Flynn, who sincerely mourns Hush Puppy’s death. Tara, a grand prix equestrian competitor, helps Jack understand the complex world of professional show-jumping and provides a disconcerting riding lesson to demonstrate the physical strength needed by the riders. Jack’s investigation into Sydney’s stables uncovers high monthly payments that look like blackmail, and then the necropsy on Hush Puppy turns up a parasitic infection that appears to have been intentional. A sudden death that just could be murder adds to the tension, and Jack fears that he might be the next victim. Jack is an engaging narrator, his quips balanced by true empathy for those he feels are deserving of help. His other client is Victor Tazerian, a trash collector whose insurance company refuses to pay for a medical procedure that might cure his leukemia. The procedure requires harvesting Victor’s bone marrow while his leukemia is in remission, which the insurance company claims is an unnecessary procedure since Victor is not sick while in remission. The quirks and tricks of legal negotiations are presented with humor in this fast-paced legal thriller, hopefully the first in a series.

The House at Sea’s EndElly Griffiths
The House at Sea’s End (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012, UK 2011) finds forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway just back from maternity leave, and finding it difficult to balance her need for intellectually challenging work and her desire to be with baby daughter Kate. Ruth’s first assignment back on the job is to help identify some human bones found on a remote Norfolk beach at Broughton Sea’s End, near an Art Deco gothic house that is threatened by erosion. Sea’s End House is owned by Jack Hastings, Member of the European Parliament, whose father was the captain of the Home Guard. Ruth determines that the skeletons of six men, buried with their hands tied behind them, are about 50-70 years old, probably from the war years when the Home Guard was protecting this stretch of the Norfolk coast from German invasion. Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson talk to the few remaining Home Guard veterans, who were just barely old enough to be part of the Home Guard 70 years earlier. When one of the old men dies immediately after telling Nelson there are some things he can’t discuss because he took a blood oath, Nelson suspects that someone is willing to kill to protect a 70-year-old secret. This engaging third in the series is a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel.

Defending JacobWilliam Landay
Defending Jacob (Delacorte Press 2012) is the story of Andy Barber, his wife Laurie, and their 14-year old son Jacob. Andy has worked as assistant district attorney in their idyllic suburban Massachusetts county for over 20 years, and is shaken like the rest of the peaceful community when a young boy named Ben is found brutally stabbed to death in the woods near Jacob’s school. Laurie is horrified, and worries that Jacob may be in danger. Andy throws himself into the case, determined to find the culprit and bring some closure to the dead boy’s shattered family. Andy focuses on a sex offender who lives close to the park, but when the police can’t turn up any evidence linking him to the crime they finally break through the protective barriers of his son’s school and begin interviewing and fingerprinting the students. When the fingerprint found inside the dead boy’s sweatshirt is identified as Jacob’s, he explains that he saw Ben lying on the ground and went to see if he could help him, but was then too frightened to tell anyone. Andy and Laurie are sure that Jacob is innocent, but the therapist hired by their lawyer to help with his defense uncovers some disturbing things about Jacob that were masked by his moody teenager facade. Unsavory truths about Andy’s past, which he has never revealed to Laurie, emerge at just the wrong time to be of vital importance to the prosecution, threatening Andy’s marriage as well as his son’s trial. This powerful legal thriller is highly recommended.

Dandy Gliver and the Proper Treatment of BloodstainsCatriona McPherson
Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains (Minotaur 2011, UK 2009) finds Dandy, a wealthy aristocratic amateur sleuth in 1926 Scotland, tempted by a plea from Lollie Balfour to help cope with her controlling and possibly abusive husband, Pip. The catch is that Lollie insists that Pip is having her followed and steaming open her mail, so the only way for Dandy to investigate is to apply for the open position of Lollie’s maid. Thoroughly upper class Dandy only has a faint understanding of what it is maids do all day long, so her own maid spends a day explaining the intricacies of maintaining a lady’s wardrobe and Dandy heads off to Gilverton, the Belfour estate outside Edinburgh. She finds Pip charming, but Lollie is clearly terrified of him, and the other ten servants drop mysterious hints about his cruelty. Lollie persuades Dandy to sleep in her room, since Pip has a habit of visiting and whispering frightening lines from a Robert Browning poem about strangling his mistress late at night. The next morning the tweeny finds Pip stabbed to death in his bed. The butler insists it must have been an intruder, but Dandy and Superintendent Hardy soon realize that the household routine of systematically locking up the house makes an outsider a very slim possibility. As Dandy expands her investigation to include questioning the villagers who may have noticed something, she begins to understand the reasons behind the coal strike, realizing the workers don’t really bring home the fat weekly wage packets reported in the paper to their cunning little cottages with unlimited supplies of free coal. Dandy’s struggles to submerge her own sharp-tongued wit beneath the persona of Miss Fanny Rossiter, lady’s maid, while avoiding pitfalls she never knew existed below stairs are deftly portrayed in this funny 5th in the series, a finalist for the 2012 Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery.

One Was a SoldierJulia Spencer-Fleming
One Was a Soldier (Minotaur 2011) finds Reverend Clare Fergusson just back from an 18-month tour in Iraq as a combat helicopter pilot, overjoyed to continue her romance with Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne and eager to resume her duties as priest of St. Alban’s Episcopalian Church. Clare pretends to be totally fine, but suffers from nightmares, drinks too much, and can’t make it through the day without resorting to the “go” and “no go” pills from her Army medical kit. Clare joins four other veterans at a support group, each finding it overwhelmingly difficult to cope with life back home. Police officer Eric McCrea can’t control his anger, bookkeeper Tally McNabb is unable to leave in-country actions behind as she hoped to, doctor Trip Stillman tries to hide the short term memory loss from his traumatic brain injury, and high school track star Will Ellis has to face the rest of his life as a double amputee. When one of the group dies from an apparent suicide, the rest of the veterans can’t believe they missed all the warning signs. Clare doesn’t think that Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne is taking her opinion seriously, and draws the rest of the veterans into an investigation of the death as a possible murder. This emotionally powerful 7th in the series is a finalist for the 2012 Anthony Award for Best Mystery.

Shortcut ManP.G. Sturges
Shortcut Man (Scribner 2011) is the story of Dick Henry, an ex-cop who takes care of situations where a quick solution is preferred over a legal one. Can’t get the roofer who installed your leaky roof to answer the phone? Can’t wait for the courts to grind through the slow process of evicting a bankrupt tenant? Call the Shortcut Man! Dick spends most of his time tracking down shifty con men in the underbelly of Los Angeles while enjoying his torrid affair with Lynette. Dick is tempted by a huge pile of money to find out if Judy, the wife of Artie Benjamin, wealthy porn producer, is stepping out on him. Benjamin swears he doesn’t need to know the name of Judy’s lover, so Dick reluctantly accepts the job. Unfortunately Judy and Lynette turn out to be the same person, Benjamin decides he wants to put a contract out on his wife’s lover, and Dick finds himself in the uncomfortable position of accepting another pile of money for killing himself. This darkly comic debut novel is a finalist for the 2012 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

Purgatory ChasmSteve Ulfelder
Purgatory Chasm (Minotaur 2011) introduces Conway Sax, an out-of-work auto mechanic recovering from alcohol and drug addiction in Framingham, Massachusetts. Conway credits the Barnburner AA group with saving his life, and pays back by “fixing” problems for other Barnburners. Tander Phigg isn’t his favorite in the group, but when Tander asks for to help retrieving his vintage Mercedes from a shady auto-body shop, Conway can’t say no. Tander presents himself as a rich man with a big house, but Conway discovers he is living in a shack and eating out of cans. Unfortunately Tander is also very dead, and Conway, on parole for manslaughter, finds himself a suspect in a murder investigation. Tander’s son Trey arrives with his Vietnamese wife and young son, ready to finally attempt a reconciliation with his father. The news that Tander is dead, and penniless, leaves them with nowhere to stay except the house Conway is restoring for resale. Conway’s life gets even more complicated when his own father, Fast Freddy Sax, is found wandering the streets, sober for once, but verging on mental collapse. Fast Freddy taught his son to hone the quick reflexes needed to drive race cars by dashing at full speed down the treacherous rocky slopes of Purgatory Chasm, and also how to drink, before vanishing from his life many years earlier. While searching Tander’s past for motives for his murder, Conway uncovers uncomfortable secrets and betrayals — hidden truths that force him to reexamine the turbulent relationship with his own father. This powerful debut thriller featuring a unique protagonist is a finalist for the 2012 Anthony and Edgar Awards for Best First Novel.

The Stranger You SeekAmanda Kyle Williams
The Stranger You Seek (Bantam 2011) introduces Keye Street, a Chinese-American private investigator in Atlanta, Georgia. Keye was a talented FBI profiler until alcoholism destroyed her credibility and her career. Now determined to hold on to her fragile sobriety, Keye concentrates on work that isn’t so emotionally taxing — serving subpoenas and bringing in bail jumpers. Keye has an uneasy relationship with her overbearing mother, an ex-hacker assistant, and a cat named White Trash for its color and habit of rooting in the garbage. In the blistering heat of an Atlanta summer, a brutal killer tortures and kills his victim, and then sends a taunting letter to Lieutenant Aaron Rauser, Keye’s best friend. Sure that he has a serial killer on the loose, Rauser persuades Keye to work as a consultant, examining the scene and preparing a profile of the killer. A second killing ramps up the pressure on the police, and on Keye, who finds herself craving alcohol as an antidote to the tensions of the investigation. Smart, witty, and determined, Keye refuses to give up her pursuit of the killer despite being banned from the investigation. This complex psychological thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

August Word Cloud

September 1, 2012

Dead Dancing WomenElizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Dead Dancing Women (Midnight Ink 2008) introduces Emily Kincaid, still adjusting to her new solitary life in rural Leetsville, Michigan, after her divorce from Jackson, an arrogant and philandering professor. Emily is trying (unsuccessfully) to write a mystery novel, working as a stringer for a local newspaper, and struggling to grow a garden that won’t be instantly devoured by slugs and deer. Her nearest neighbor is a peculiar loner with a pack of dogs who occasionally drops by with a mason jar of surprisingly delicious possum stew or other strange backwoods fare. One morning Emily discovers a severed head in her garbage can, and the prickly Deputy Dolly (one-half of the local police force) convinces Emily that the two of them can solve the case while the state police are being stonewalled by the insular local inhabitants. Jackson decides that Emily’s remote location is the perfect place to spend his sabbatical and shows up with his beautiful young research assistant in tow, seemingly content to sponge off his ex-wife for 10 months. Emily’s treasured peace and quiet is suddenly all too full of human contact. It turns out that the head belonged to an elderly woman, a fanatic gardener who had taken to dancing deep in the woods with three of her equally aged friends. When another member of the group is murdered, Emily and Dolly suspect that the deaths have something to do with a suddenly valuable oil lease, or perhaps the survivalist group who lives next door. Wonderfully eccentric characters form the supporting cast of this delightful debut mystery, first in a series that now numbers four.

A Most Peculiar Malaysian MurderShamini Flint
A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder (Minotaur 2010, UK 2009) introduces Inspector Singh, a portly Sikh Singapore police inspector. Singh is sent to Kuala Lumpur to ensure that Chelsea Liew, a former model and Singapore citizen, is treated fairly in her murder trial. Chelsea was in the process of divorcing her abusive husband Alan Lee, a powerful timber tycoon, when he suddenly announced that he had converted to Islam, making custody of their children a matter for the religious courts. Startled by the realization that the children would be taken from her to be raised in a Muslim home, Chelsea threatened to kill Alan in open court. When Alan was found shot to death a week later, Chelsea was arrested for murder. The Malaysian police assign Sergeant Shukor to keep an eye on Singh, and the young officer is fascinated by Singh’s investigative techniques. The two are soon convinced that Chelsea is innocent and become so involved in clearing her name that Singh is ordered home and Shukor is suspended. But Singh refuses to leave, even though he misses the cleanliness of Singapore, finding it impossible to keep his trademark pristine white sneakers spotless on the dirty streets of Kuala Lumpur. Local color and Singh’s endearingly idiosyncratic personality make this debut mystery — first in a series that now numbers five — something special.

The House of SilkAnthony Horowitz
The House of Silk (Mulholland Books 2011) finds Dr. Watson staying with Sherlock Holmes in the winter of 1890 while his wife Mary is visiting relatives. Edmund Carstairs, a wealthy fine art dealer, appears one evening at 221B Baker Street, asking for assistance dealing with a man who is following him, a threatening figure wearing a flat cap. Carstairs explains that his gallery recently sold a valuable series of Constable landscapes to Cornelius Stillman, an American collector. While the paintings were in transit from New York to Boston the train was robbed by the Flat Cap Gang, led by the notorious O’Donaghue twins, who blew up the safe in the mail car, destroying the paintings and killing the guard. A Pinkerton agent hired by Stillman to track down the gang surprised and killed most of the gang, including Rourke O’Donaghue, but the body of Keenan O’Donaghue was never found. Stillman was shot in his own rose garden, and Carstairs began to worry that Keenan O’Donaghue had survived and was seeking revenge. When a man wearing the distinctive flat cap of the O’Donaghue gang appeared outside his home in England, Carstairs knew he would be the next victim. While following the trail of jewels stolen from Carstairs’s home, one of the street urchins from the Baker Street Irregulars disappears, and Holmes and Watson are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy that threatens their very existence. This deft recreation of the world of Holmes and Watson, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery authorized by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate, is nominated for the 2012 Macavity and Nero Awards.

Dead SimplePeter James
Dead Simple (Carroll & Graf 2007, UK 2005) introduces Roy Grace, a Detective Superintendent of the CID, in Sussex, England. Still mourning the disappearance of his wife nine years earlier, Grace is finally on the verge of beginning a new relationship. When Ashley Harper reports that her financée Michael Harrison never returned from the night of his bachelor party, Grace is drawn to the investigation, empathizing with the agony of a loved one’s disappearance. What Grace doesn’t know is that Michael, who had played tricks on his friends before their marriages, was buried in a coffin in the woods after visiting several bars. His friends planned to release him after a few hours, leaving him a walkie-talkie to communicate with them, but a bad accident left most of them dead, and the one survivor in a coma. Davey Wheeler, the mentally challenged son of the tow truck driver, finds the walkie-talkie. Unfortunately Davey lives in his own imaginary world based on American TV shows, and Michael can’t convince him to tell anyone about the walkie-talkie that he shouldn’t have taken from the accident scene. Grace consults a couple of the psychics he uses in difficult cases, to the horror of his superiors, and suspects that Mark Warren, Michael’s partner and best man who missed the bachelor party because his flight was delayed, has something to do with Michael’s disappearance. Grace’s powers of logical analysis, eidetic memory, and a tentative belief in psychic powers make him an engaging protagonist in this series debut. Dead Man’s Grip, 7th in the series, is a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel.

The PlaydateLouise Millar
The Playdate (Emily Bestler Books 2012) is the story of three women who live next to each other in a quiet London suburb. Callie, who gave up her job in sound design when her daughter Rae was born, hoped that she would find it easy to fit into the family neighborhood when she moved there after her divorce. But both Callie and Rae, who suffers from a heart condition, have made few friends. The exception is Suzy, who lives next door with her rich husband and three young sons. Henry, Suzy’s oldest, is in Rae’s class at school and the two children have become close, but Rae longs to be invited for a playdate with one of the girls in her class. Callie knows that she is friends with Suzy only out of desperation. The two have nothing in common, but Callie has come to rely on Suzy for adult companionship. Now that Rae has started school, Callie has secretly been investigating the possibility of returning to work, needing that stimulation though she worries Rae will be unhappy in after-school care and that Suzy will miss having someone to talk to during the day. Then Debs moves into the neighborhood, a strange woman who immediately becomes paranoid that someone is spying on her and seeking revenge for a mysterious incident with a child in her past. Written from the perspectives of all three women, this engrossing debut novel of psychological suspense builds on the primal fear all parents have of trusting relative strangers to care for their children.

Missing PersonsClare O’Donohue
Missing Persons (Plume 2011) introduces Kate Conway, a TV producer for the show “Missing Persons” in Chicago. Kate is in the process of divorcing her husband, Frank, who left her for Vera Bingham. Late one night Vera calls Kate to tell her that she can’t wake Frank up. Kate rushes to the hospital and is surprised to discover that Vera is not a midlife-crisis trophy blond, but a graying woman who appears to be older than Kate herself. Frank doesn’t respond to treatment, and Kate demands an autopsy, unable to accept that a healthy 37-year-old man could suddenly drop dead from a heart attack. To distract herself from Frank’s death, Kate throws herself into the current Missing Persons story of Theresa Moretti, a young woman who disappeared a year earlier. Kate and her two-man crew film interview Theresa’s mother, brother, best friend, boyfriend, and ex-boyfriend, searching for a story line that will tie the sound bites together into a cohesive story. Kate has a sympathetic interview persona which induces people to talk frankly with her, masking her calculated strategy to get the emotion she wants on film. The autopsy on Frank indicates the possibility of murder, and Kate finds herself on the other side of the interview table, in the uncomfortable position of playing a starring role in a script she has not constructed. When Kate’s house is broken into and searched, she isn’t sure if she has attracted the attention of someone involved with Theresa’s disappearance, or with Frank’s death. O’Donohue’s real-life experience as a TV writer and producer provides the background to place her quick-thinking protagonist solidly in a believable environment. Life Without Parole, second in the series, was released in spring 2012.

Every Last SecretLinda Rodriguez
Every Last Secret (Minotaur 2012) introduces Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion, the half-Cherokee chief of police for the campus police force of Chouteau University in the small town of Brewster, Missouri. Formerly a homicide detective in Kansas City, Skeet left the big city for a slower life, unable to continue working on the force with her jealous ex-husband and the rumors swirling around her alcoholic father’s sudden retirement to avoid an internal investigation. The discovery in the campus newsroom of the murdered body of Andrew McAfee, the student editor of the school newspaper, is a shock to the peaceful community. The McAffees are neighbors, and Skeet breaks the news to McAfee’s wife and teenaged stepson, who mows her lawn and cares for her pets when she’s tied up at work. The college chancellor pushes Skeet to find the killer quickly, before too much bad press is generated, but Skeet soon discovers that McAfee seems to have been blackmailing one or more of the vice-chancellors. Then Skeet’s ex-husband coerces her into visiting her father for the first time in months, and Skeet realizes his health is failing. Though pulled in too many directions by her various responsibilities, Skeet pursues the murder investigation with single-minded dedication. The tough yet vulnerable Skeet, who knits brightly colored socks while letting her mind sort through case details, has just the right mix of strengths and flaws to build a series on in this debut mystery, winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

Dead Man’s TunnelSheldon Russell
Dead Man’s Tunnel (Minotaur 2012) finds one-armed railroad security agent Hook Runyon banished to the West Salvage Yard in the high desert of Arizona at the end of WWII. Hook is in disgrace for giving boxes of damaged goods to St. John’s Orphanage. The orphans discovered a box of military condoms and used them as balloons, to the horror of the resident priest. Hook is on the lookout for copper thieves when he is summoned to the nearby Johnson Canyon Tunnel, under 24-hour military guard because of its importance in the transport of war supplies. One of the guards was crushed by a train in mid-tunnel, something that should never have happened with a guard as experienced as Sergeant Joseph Erikson. Lieutenant Allison Capron from the Army Transportation Department decides the death was an accident, or perhaps suicide, but Hook is not convinced. Hook discovers a love triangle between Erikson, the other guard, and a waitress in the nearby town, and pursues his own investigation, hopping trains, including the luxurious Super Chief, to get from clue to clue. Hook hopes that either figuring out the truth about Erikson’s death or catching the copper thieves will convince the railroad to send him somewhere less desolate. Scrap West, owner of the salvage yard, provides comic relief with his continual schemes to convert scrap into gold with ideas like building generators from old car batteries and windmill blades. Scrap continually borrows and replaces parts on the jeep Hook uses, leaving him unexpectedly without important functions like reverse gear or headlights. This compelling historical mystery is third in the series.

The Two Deaths of Daniel HayesMarcus Sakey
The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes (Dutton 2011) is the story of a man who regains consciousness on an empty beach, naked, wet, and very cold. Unfortunately the man can’t remember who he is, how he got there, or even which ocean is lapping at the shore. Inside a nearby BMW is an auto registration in the name of Daniel Hayes and expensive clothes that fit. Realizing that he is in Maine, the man decides to call himself Daniel Hayes, and heads off across country for the Malibu, California, address on the registration. As he travels, Daniel continually reinterprets reality as if it were a screenplay, seeing the dialog and scene notes in his head. A TV show playing in a motel room triggers a memory -- Daniel is sure he knows Emily Sweet, the main character in Candy Girls. Desperate to find out who he is, Daniel breaks into the Malibu house, discovering that he was married to Laney Thayer, the actress playing Emily Sweet, and that he is the main suspect in Laney’s recent murder. Daniel’s anguished search to discover what happened to Laney and why he fled across the country is hampered by his status as a wanted man and threatened by Bennett, a cold-blooded killer searching for a diamond necklace Daniel didn’t know Laney had bought. This compelling thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Macavity and Thriller Awards.

Shut Your Eyes TightJohn Verdon
Shut Your Eyes Tight (Crown 2011) finds retired NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney not as appreciative of bucolic life in rural upstate New York as his wife Madeline. Dave knows that Madeline wants to spend more time with him, but can’t resist promising to spend two weeks looking into the beheading of a young bride on her wedding day. Cameras recording the entire wedding afternoon show Jillian entering the cottage of gardener Hector Flores, an illegal immigrant protégé of psychiatrist Scott Ashton, Jillian’s brand-new husband, just before the wedding toast. No one else entered the cottage until Ashton discovered Jillian’s decapitated body. Somehow Flores managed to escape from the window of his cottage on the estate, drop the bloody machete in the woods, and then disappear without a trace. Not even the bloodhounds can discover a scent that continues beyond the weapon. Dave finds this "impossible" disappearance irresistible, and accepts a commission from the dead bride’s mother to track down Flores, even though Jillian’s mother shows no signs of grief, admitting that her daughter was a violent manipulating nymphomaniac. Dave suspects that Jillian’s staged murder is symptomatic of a serial killer even more disturbed than his victim. Despite the increasing horror of his discoveries and dangers to himself and his wife, Dave thrives on the intellectual stimulation of the hunt, realizing he is only half-alive when not fully engaged in solving a challenging crime. This sequel to Think of a Number is highly recommended.

September Word Cloud

October 1, 2012

The End of EverythingMegan Abbott
The End of Everything (Reagan Arthur Books 2011) is the story of 13-year-old Lizzie Hood and her next door neighbor Evie Verver. Lizzie and Evie have been best friends forever, swapping clothes and playing field-hockey and living in the shadow of Evie’s flawless older sister Dusty. Then Evie disappears one afternoon on the way home from school. Lizzie has a faint memory of a maroon sedan that drove by too slowly, and eventually remembers a pile of cigarette butts that Evie showed her a few weeks ago, while whispering that sometimes, at night, a man stands there watching. Suspicion falls upon a neighbor, the father of a classmate, who drives a similar car and is unexpectedly delayed returning from an insurance convention. But a search of his house produces no evidence, not even a pack of cigarettes. As the days drag on, Lizzie feels lost, and pursues her own investigation, searching for hidden cigarette packs and prowling the neighborhood late at night. Dusty rarely emerges from her room, and Mr. Verver, usually the life of the neighborhood, seems to shrink a bit every day. Hints of something wrong beneath the perfect surface of the Verver household drift mostly above Lizzie’s head, as she revels in her new role of Mr. Verver’s supportive companion. Events are filtered through Lizzie’s perspective, who imagines horrors but is told very little by the adults, persuading herself that Evie is cradled in the love of an older man compelled to give up everything to be with her. This disturbing psychological thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Anthony Award for Best Mystery.

The AccidentLinwood Barclay
The Accident (Bantam 2011) is the story of Glen and Sheila Garber, a happily married couple with an eight-year-old daughter in a Connecticut suburb. The housing crisis has slowed the work of Glen’s contracting business, so Sheila has enrolled in business school at night with the hope of supplementing their income. One evening she doesn’t come home from night school, and Glen sets out to search for her. Flashing lights illuminate a two-car collision, and Glen discovers Sheila’s car heading the wrong way up an on ramp. The accident with an exiting car resulted in the death of Sheila as well as two people in the other car. Toxicology tests show that Sheila, who rarely indulged in more than a glass of wine, was completely drunk. Unable to accept that Sheila was a secret alcoholic, Glen tries to trace her movements on the last day of her life, discovering that Sheila never appeared at her night school class and may have been on her way to a secret trip to Manhattan. Her friend Belinda approaches Glen after the funeral, asking if Glen found an oversized envelope containing some money in Sheila’s purse. While on a sleep-over with Emily, the daughter of another of Sheila’s friends, Glen’s daughter Kelly overhears Emily’s mother talking on the phone while the girls are playing a hide-and-seek game. Emily’s mother is so angry when she discovers Kelly hiding in her closet that Kelly panics and calls her father to come get her at once. When Glen arrives, Kelly has been locked in the bedroom, leading Glen to believe that Kelly overheard something very embarrassing to Ann. When Ann falls into the harbor and drowns later that night, Glen is sure that there are very dangerous secrets in his seemingly very ordinary neighborhood. This suspenseful thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best Novel.

Hurt MachineReed Farrel Coleman
Hurt Machine (Tyrus Books 2011) finds New York private investigator Moe Prager anticipating his daughter Sarah’s wedding and dreading telling her about his recently diagnosed and rapidly growing stomach cancer. Then his ex-wife and former PI partner Carmella Melendez suddenly reappears, asking Moe to look into the murder of her older sister Alta Conseco. Alta and her partner Maya, emergency medical technicians for the New York Fire Department, had declined to assist Robert Tillman, a kitchen employee, because they were on a lunch break, telling the bistro to call 911. After the man died, Alta and Maya were condemned as heartless by the press, the fire department, and the city at large. When Maya was stabbed to death outside a pizzeria two months later, no one seemed to care who delivered the retribution she so clearly deserved. Moe, now in his mid-60s and contemplating his own demise, hasn’t worked a case since Carmella left him 10 years earlier, but can’t resist her pleas to help her understand the sister she barely knew. Unable to understand why two EMTs would ignore a dying man while lunching at a fancy restaurant above their price range, Moe picks away at Tillman’s death and Maya’s murder, though everyone is reluctant to talk to him about the disgraced EMTs. This powerful 6th in the series, chronicling the life of a sensitive man haunted by the mistakes he has made throughout his life, is a finalist for the 2012 Anthony Award and Barry Awards for Best Novel.

Don’t Ever Get OldDaniel Friedman
Don’t Ever Get Old (2012) is the story of Baruch “Buck” Schatz, an 88-year-old retired Memphis cop. though Buck’s skin is paper thin and he can no longer push his lawn mower, he still keeps his .375 Magnum oiled and ready for action. Called to the deathbed of Jim Wallace, a fellow survivor of the POW death camp in Chelmno, Poland, Buck learns that Heinrich Ziegler, the sadistic guard who enjoyed tormenting Jewish prisoners, did not die at the end of the war as Buck believed, but escaped with a trunk load of Nazi gold. Wallace confesses to Buck that he accepted a gold bar in exchange for letting Ziegler pass through a roadblock between East and West Germany in 1946, and begs for his forgiveness. When approached at the funeral by both Dr. Lawrence Kind, the preacher from Wallace’s church, and Norris Feely, Wallace’s son-in-law, Buck realizes that he wasn’t the only recipient of Wallace’s deathbed repentance. Buck tells his grandson Billy, a NYU law student dubbed “Tequila” by his fraternity brothers, about Ziegler and the gold, and Tequila offers his services as driver so that Buck can investigate. Then an Israeli gangster and a collector for a casino appear, both claiming the gold that Wallace may possibly have a connection to. When Kind is killed in the auditorium of his huge church, Buck isn’t sure whom to suspect. Unfortunately the police have their eye on Tequila, and Buck is forced to battle his physical aliments and mental confusion while searching for the truth, and the gold. Buck’s wry sense of humor (he calls his grandson a series of alcohol-related names like Moonshine and Mojito) and his notebook entries (Something I Don’t Want To Forget) to combat memory loss help to develop a vibrant protagonist, who just happens to be very old, in this debut mystery.

Death Makes the CutJanice Hamrick
Death Makes the Cut (Minotaur 2012) finds Jocelyn Shore, a high school history and foreign language teacher in Austin, Texas, busy organizing her classroom for the new school year when she overhears a parent shouting at fellow history teacher Fred Argus. Fred is also the tennis coach, and the overbearing father is angry that his son is not being groomed for a possible college sports scholarship. Arriving at school early the next morning, Jocelyn discovers Fred’s body in the tennis shack. The police find joints hidden in Fred’s cigarette cache, and suspect that Fred had been dealing drugs to his students. Jocelyn is sure the police are mistaken — Fred had mentored Jocelyn when she started teaching and she can’t believe he would have done anything to endanger his beloved students. The spineless principal appoints Jocelyn temporary tennis coach, to the chagrin of fellow teacher Ed Jones who had long coveted the coaching job. Jocelyn is dubious about her ability to coach tennis, but is determined to maintain Fred’s ideal of a team that accepts anyone who wants to play. When drama teacher Nancy Wales tries to force one of the tennis students to choose between drama and tennis, Jocelyn threatens to report Nancy for exceeding the hours after school clubs can require of students. Then Jocelyn offends Roland Wilding, the assistant drama couch, by snagging extra roles in a movie filmed on campus for her tennis students. So when Jocelyn is knocked unconscious with a rock, no one can figure out if it is because she is asking uncomfortable questions about Fred’s death or has simply offended one too many teachers or parents. Jocelyn’s entertaining observations about school politics enliven this second in a humorous mystery series.

The RidgeMichael Koryta
The Ridge (Little, Brown and Company 2011) is set in eastern Kentucky, where a lighthouse built on top of Blade Ridge by eccentric Wyatt French illuminates the isolated woods at night. Audrey Clark and her husband David, owners of a large cat sanctuary, protested the light when they bought the adjacent land as the new home for their rescued cats, finally succeeding in getting the wattage reduced. David died while scouting out the land, but Audrey is determined to follow her husband’s dream and relocate their 67 lions, tigers, leopards, and one rare black panther to the new location. The move goes smoothly, but the cats seem uneasy in their new home, especially after dark, and Audrey and her assistant find themselves equally unsettled. Jacqueline Mathis, who killed her abusive husband and wounded deputy sheriff Kevin Kimble on the Ridge years earlier, is nearing the end of her sentence. Kimble, who visits her regularly in prison, finds himself unexpectedly uncomfortable at the thought of her release. Jacqueline insists she doesn’t remember anything about that night, but Kimble can’t accept that she shot him for no reason. Wyatt French calls Kimble and asks if he would investigate a suicide if the suicide victim wasn’t exactly willing. Kimble assumes the strange question is Wyatt’s alcoholism talking, but when Wyatt’s body is found late that night, presumably a suicide, Kimble can’t get the conversation out of his head. What could possibly compel a peculiar loner to shoot himself in the head? Evil forces seem to be moving through the night on the Ridge, and Kimble begins to suspect that unexplained deaths for decades might be connected to the same uneasiness everyone feels in the dark on the Ridge. This sinister paranormal suspense thriller is a finalist for the 2012 Macavity and Thriller Awards.

The Invisible OnesStef Penney
The Invisible Ones (Putnam 2012, UK 2011), set in the 1980s, is the story of Ray Lovell, a half-Romany small-time private investigator who reluctantly takes on the case of finding Rose Janko, who went missing seven years earlier. Ray found another young woman years ago, and still hasn’t recovered from the guilt of what happened to her when she was returned to her family. But Rose’s father, Leon Wood, convinces Ray that no one else can help him find his daughter since the police don’t care about a missing Gypsy girl, known as Travelers in Britain. Leon hasn’t seen Rose since her arranged marriage to Ivo Janko, son of a traditional Traveler family. Ray’s father left the Traveler life after marrying a non-Romany woman, but Ray spent time with his Traveler grandparents and looks like a pure blood, a necessary door-opener in the Traveler community. Ray tracks down the Janko family and finds Ivo, Rose’s husband, living with their six-year-old son Christo, grandfather Tene Janko, and the Smiths, Tene’s sister and her family. Ray learns that Rose ran away with a non-Traveler a few months after giving birth to Christo, shortly after he began showing signs of the family wasting disease, which attacks male children who rarely live to adulthood. Ivo is the exception, cured by a miracle at Lourdes as a teenager. Conflicting stories from various family members cause Ray to suspect foul play — perhaps Rose vanished because she was killed. Alternate chapters are narrated by JJ Smith, Ivo’s 14-year-old nephew, who has escaped the family disease, possibly because his unknown father was not a Traveler. Both narrators have distinct personalities and provide a unique perspective on the same reality; JJ’s optimism and enthusiasm balance Ray’s depressed pessimism as they both try to solve the mystery of Rose’s disappearance. Ray has left the itinerant Traveler life and JJ lives in it, but both have connections to the other world and struggle with balancing the advantages and disadvantages of each. This intricately plotted and atmospheric mystery is highly recommended.

The Other WomanHank Phillippi Ryan
The Other Woman (Forge 2012) introduces Jane Ryland, recently fired by a Boston TV station when her refusal to reveal a source resulted in a lawsuit against the station and Jane herself. Now the award-winning investigative journalist finds herself working in the uncomfortable role of newspaper reporter for a boss who has no reason to trust her instincts on stories that aren’t nearly as exciting. Jane keeps hoping that her missing source will finally come forward and tell the truth so she can get her real job back. Assigned to write the usual puff piece about the wife of senate candidate Owen Lassiter, Jane notices that the same woman’s face appears in campaign photos taken all over the state, and suspects that she may have stumbled across Lassiter’s “other woman.” Meanwhile, Jane’s friend Detective Jake Brogan is investigating the death of two unidentified young women found near bridges. Jake is feeling the pressure of the media stories of a “Bridge Killer” stalking Boston women. Both Jake and Jane know that their budding relationship is a career-killer — Jane can’t cover the crime beat if she is dating a cop, and Jake would never be trusted not to leak case details to the press. As they pursue their separate investigations, Jane and Jake each begin to suspect that their seemingly distinct inquiries connect with a ruthless killer who will do just about anything to cover up a scandal with political repercussions. Ryan, a much-awarded investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, uses her insider experience to create a believable series protagonist whose reporter instincts won’t let her abandon an investigation despite the dangers to herself, her love life, or her career.

REAMDENeal Stephenson
REAMDE (William Morrow 2011) is the story of Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa farming family who fled to Canada to avoid the draft in 1972. After building a fortune smuggling marijuana across the border, Richard took advantage of the Carter amnesty to return to the US, building a profitable resort in the mountains and creating T’Rain, a hugely successful multiplayer online role-playing game. Richard’s innovative twist to online gaming was to incorporate a method for moving money out of the game, making it profitable for Chinese teens to work the long hours necessary to earn the virtual gold pieces needed for weapons, armor, potions, and powers, which they they sell for cash to American and European players with more money than time. Unfortunately this innovation opened a hole for an opportunistic Chinese hacker, who released a virus called REAMDE that encrypts the victim’s electronic files and holds them for ransom, payable in virtual gold worth $73 to the REAMDE money-laundering troll in the Torgai mountains of T’Rain. After the sensitive computer files of a Russian mobster are captured by the REAMDE troll, the virtual war game erupts into the real world when Zula, Richard’s niece, is kidnapped and held for ransom. The hunt for the hacker takes the Russians, with Zula and her boyfriend in tow, from the T’Rain headquarters in the Pacific Northwest to China, where Abdallah Jones and his group of Islamic terrorists and a British MI-6 agent are drawn into the mix. The chase continues through Manila, Canada, and northern Idaho, as Zula works on various escape plans while others use real-world and online investigative tools to track her down. This ingenious high-intensity techno-thriller, packed with fully-realized and complex characters, is shortlisted for the 2012 Steel Dagger Award.

Two for SorrowNicola Upson
Two for Sorrow (Harper 2011) finds mystery writer Josephine Tey working on a true crime account of Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the notorious Finchley “baby farmers” who were hanged thirty years earlier in 1903 at Holloway prison. Josephine was at school with Elizabeth Sach, who committed suicide when she learned that she was adopted at a young age, and really the daughter of a convicted baby killer. Celia Bannerman, a senior teacher at the school when Elizabeth killed herself, had been a prison warder caring for Amelia Sach before her death. Celia agrees to comment on Josephine’s draft, but insists that there was nothing noble or heroic or even interesting in the life and death of Sach and Walters. But Josephine is drawn to the story of the two women and feels compelled to seek out anyone connected to their lives. When a young seamstress recently released from Holloway is brutally murdered, Archie Penrose, the model for Josephine’s fictional detective, suspects the crime has something to do with Josephine’s research into the past. Josephine visits Holloway, now under the supervision of Mary Size, the first female deputy prison governor, and is horrified by the prison atmosphere despite the reforms Size has recently introduced. Josephine can’t imagine how her friend Marta Fox, recently released after serving a sentence for being an accessory to murder, managed to survive her incarceration. Josephine’s struggle to balance her attraction to Marta with her deep friendship for Archie adds depth to this suspenseful third in the series, a finalist for the 2012 Barry Award for Best Paperback.

October Word Cloud

November 1, 2012

Port Vila BluesGarry Disher
Port Vila Blues (Soho 2012, Australia 1995) finds Wyatt, a professional thief in Melbourne, in the process of stealing a $50,000 kickback from the floor safe of an Australian MP. Discovering a Tiffany diamond butterfly brooch under the cash, Wyatt tosses it into his bag and later offers it to a fence, who claims to be able to negotiate a trade back to the insurance company for a large fee. Unfortunately the brooch was part of the loot stolen by the notorious “magnetic drill gang” that specializes in robbing banks, and its appearance reverberates throughout the police and criminal networks. The gang is controlled by de Lisle, a circuit court judge with a hideout in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The sinister de Lisle has composed his gang primarily of bent cops controlled by blackmail, and Wyatt soon finds himself the target of just about everyone in Australia. Wyatt’s softer side emerges in his dealings with his partner Jardine, who plans and organizes Wyatt’s burglaries. Jardine is dying of cancer, and Wyatt turns over most of their ill-gotten gains to Jardine’s sister for his medical care, while fretting over his job security now that Jardine doesn’t have the strength to build new contacts. Smart, tough, cool under pressure, and able to quickly disappear into any crowd, Wyatt makes his fifth appearance in this noir caper novel, the second of the seven-book series to be released in the US.

Gods of GothamLyndsay Faye
The Gods of Gotham (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam 2012) finds Timothy Wilde tending bar in 1845 New York City, hoarding his wages and tips in the hope of marrying Mercy, the daughter of Reverend Thomas Underhill. But Timothy hasn’t quite mustered the courage to even call Miss Underhill by her first name when a raging fire destroys downtown Manhattan, including Tim’s four hundred dollar cache, leaving him penniless, homeless, and badly disfigured. Valentine, his fireman older brother, convinces Tim to try for a job at the newly created New York Police Department, and Tim’s proficiency in Flash — the dialect spoken by the thieves, confidence men, news hawkers, addicts, and others who live outside the law — land him a copper star and a job patrolling the dangerous slum beat in the Sixth Ward on the border of Five Points. The first week on the job Tim is taken by Reverend Underhill to the room of a starving Irish immigrant who has strangled her baby, convinced by malnutrition and desperation that she was silencing a rat. Defeated by the hopelessness of the situation, Tim is ready to quit when he encounters a small girl on his doorstep, her nightdress completely drenched with blood. Tim knows he should deliver the child to the House of Refuge, but can’t bring himself to abandon the girl, who tells him a wild tale of dozens of bodies of children buried in the forest near Twenty-Third Street. The girl is Aibhilin ó Dálaigh, an Irish orphan known as Little Bird Daly, and leads Tim to Silkie Marsh’s brothel, where she saw the hooded man carrying away the bodies in a black coach. The vicious anti-Irish prejudice that sweeps through the city — New Yorkers are convinced that the Irish Catholics are not Christians and practice horrific rites — makes it difficult for the new police chief to pursue the investigation once it is revealed that the victims are only Irish children. But Chief Matsell recognizes that Tim has a flair for solving crimes after they have happened, while the rest of the new recruits are better suited for breaking up fights and nabbing pickpockets, and allows him to secretly hunt for the killer. This debut historical thriller is highly recommended.

Kept in the DarkPenny Hancock
Kept in the Dark (Plume 2012, UK: Tideline, 2011) is the story of Sonia, an attractive 43-year old wife and mother with what everyone thinks is a perfect life. Sonia works from home as a voice coach, her husband Greg travels frequently for work, and their daughter Kit is away at college. Greg and Kit are pressuring Sonia to agree to sell her beloved River House on the banks of the Thames, but Sonia can’t imagine living anywhere else. Her mind continually drifts back to childhood summers spent messing about near the river with Seb, her early adolescent obsession. When Jez, the 15-year-old nephew of a neighbor appears at her doorstep asking to borrow a record, Sonia is drawn to his physical perfection, so like her memories of Seb. She gives Jez far too much wine to drink and takes him upstairs to sleep it off in the sound-proofed music room. The next morning finds her even more entranced, and reluctant to let him leave her, as Seb did so many years before. Moving back and forth between present and past, Sonia’s former and current obsessions blur together until she is no longer sure whose peachy skin she is caressing. This debut psychological suspense novel is a compelling exploration of madness from the inside out.

What the Cat SawCarolyn Hart
What the Cat Saw (Berkley Prime Crime 2012) introduces Nela Farley, who has just lost both her fiancé, who died in Afghanistan, and her job as an investigative reporter in the latest round of staff cuts. Nela’s free-spirited sister Chloe has recently won a trip to Tahiti and convinces Nela to travel to Craddock, Oklahoma, for a week to cover Chloe’s job at the Haklo Foundation. Chloe arranges for Nela to stay in the apartment of Marian Grant, who died in fall down the apartment stairs a week earlier, and care for her cat Jugs. Too depressed to care much where she is, Nela agrees. Arriving at the apartment, Nela is surprised that it looks like the former occupant simply stepped out for a moment — a red silk robe is draped across the arm of a sofa, and a Coach bag and a set of car keys wait on a bookshelf next to the front door. Jugs, the cat with huge ears, stares at Nela with mournful eyes, thinking of his loneliness and a board that rolled on the second step. Unwilling to face the fact that she is again picking up the thoughts of a feline, Nela feeds him and goes to bed, only to be woken in the middle of the night by the sound of an intruder. When the police arrive, there is no sign of forcible entrance, but the apartment has been subjected to a frantic search. The next morning Nela searches the purse, and finds a gold and diamond necklace hidden under a pair of gloves. At the Haklo Foundation, Nela learns that there has been a string of vandalism, beginning with a car fire several months earlier and ending with the theft of a gold and diamond necklace the day before Marian’s death. Detective Kate Dugan suspects that the Haklo vandalism can be linked to the arrival of Chloe, and that Nela is covering up for her sister. Nela agrees that the perpetrator has to be a Haklo employee, and begins asking questions at work. Reporter Steve Flynn is attracted to Nela, and offers to pool resources to help clear her name. This engaging cozy mystery with a slight paranormal element is the first in a planned series.

Invisible MurderLene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis
Invisible Murder (Soho 2012, Denmark 2010) finds Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse in Copenhagen, Denmark, struggling to stick to her bargain with her husband Morten — no secret work for the Network, providing health care for undocumented immigrants. But she is unable to resist the plight of desperately ill Roma children living with an impoverished group in an old mechanics’ workshop in Valby. Nina assumes the children have picked up a stomach bug, or perhaps were exposed to a chemical in the workshop, and treats them for dehydration. But the sickest child grows weaker, and Nina herself develops a pounding headache. A second storyline follows Sándor, a half-Roma student in Budapest who receives a surprise visit from his step-brother Tamás, who uses his Internet connection and then disappears along with Sándor’s passport. Sure that Tamás is up to no good, Sándor returns home and discovers that Tamás has taken off for Denmark to sell something he found in the ruins of a Russian military hospital in Szikla. Tamás has also left behind a huge dept to Alexisz Bolgár, a powerful Roma leader. To protect his family from Bolgár, Sándor follows Tamás and the money to Valby. A third storyline tracks the progress of a Security and Intelligence Service (PET) investigation, led by Søren Kirkegaard, into possible terrorist activity targeting Copenhagen. To the horror of Nina’s husband, these separate events converge upon Nina and their daughter, endangering their lives and the safety of everyone around them. This compelling thriller is a followup to The Boy in the Suitcase.

The Dark WinterDavid Mark
The Dark Winter (Blue Rider Press 2012) introduces Aector McAvoy, a detective sergeant in Hull, an old port city in East Yorkshire, England. McAvoy, who exposed corruption in the force, is forbidden to talk about the events that led to the early retirement of a high ranking officer. McAvoy requested a transfer to the Serious and Organized Crime unit, where everyone except his boss Trish Pharaoh treats him with suspicion or hostility. Two weeks before Christmas, McAvoy hears screaming from a church, and is attacked by a man fleeing the scene where a young girl has been killed with a machete. McAvoy hopes to head the investigation, but after his statement is taken he is sent to deliver a death notice to the sister of an old man, the only survivor of a fishing trawler that sunk in a storm 40 years earlier, who just drowned during the filming of a documentary about the tragedy. McAvoy is a huge man who looks like a bruiser, but excels at database research, spending most of his time behind a desk. Determined to live up to Pharaoh’s trust in his intuition, McAvoy throws himself into the investigation of the murdered girl, while also checking into the odd death of the old fisherman. A family man, McAvoy is devoted to his wife, who comes from a traveling (Gypsy) family, and his young son, using his love as a moral compass, intent on being the best person he can for their sakes. His obsession with understanding the true nature of everyone he meets contributes to McAvoy’s social ineptitude while enhancing his investigative skills. This debut police procedural featuring a unique protagonist and setting is the first in a planned series.

Stealing Mona LisaCarson Morton
Stealing Mona Lisa (Minotaur 2011) is a fictionalized story of the actual theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum in 1911, told from the point of view of Marquis Eduardo de Valfierno from his deathbed several years later. When Valfierno begins his reminiscence, he’s living comfortably in his native Argentina selling fake masterpieces to rich Americans who believed they were buying stolen originals. When young Julia Conway picks his pocket on the street, Valfierno recognizes a talented fellow con artist and invites her to join Émile, his young protégé rescued from the streets, and Yves Chaudron, the gifted forger. Julia’s light-fingered skills prove invaluable in persuading Joshua Hart, of Eastern Atlantic Rail and Coal, to complete his agreement to purchase Edward Manet’s La Ninfa Sorprendida, which Valfierno claims to have recently stolen from the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes of Buenos Aires. Valfierno has just begun searching for the next mark when Yves Chaudron succumbs to the illness that forced him to seek a warmer climate. Deciding that he must return to Paris to recruit a new forger, Valfierno decides to run one final con—stealing the Mona Lisa long enough to sell several forgeries at outrageous prices. This engaging debut caper novel takes some liberties with actual events, but only in the interest of weaving a spell-binding tale. A trade paperback reissue was just released.

Dog in the MangerMike Resnick
Dog in the Manger (Seventh Street Books 2012) introduces Eli Paxton, a former Chicago cop now barely making it as a Cincinnati private investigator. When Hubert Lantz appears in his office asking Eli to find Baroness von Tennewald, Eli thinks his luck has turned and he may be able to pay his rent after all. Unfortunately Baroness is only a dog, a famous Weimaraner show dog, but a dog none the less. Lantz, a professional dog handler, sent his kennel girl with Baroness to the airport to ship the dog home to owner Maurice Nettles for breeding, but Baroness never arrived. Now Nettles is threatening to sue Lantz, and the police don’t seem too interested in tracking down a missing dog. Eli takes the case, thinking that he can easily find proof that Lantz shipped the dog, but nothing adds up. He finds a receipt for the dog crate, but the dog doesn’t appear on the shipping manifest, and everyone involved seems to be either missing or suddenly dead in an accident. This solidly plotted and amusing mystery featuring an engaging protagonist was originally published in 1985. Resnick, a much honored science fiction writer, planned to write a straight mystery series, but science fiction writing got in the way until now, with this reissue and a sequel in the works.

Death of a SchoolgirlJoanna Campbell Slan
Death of a Schoolgirl (Berkley Trade 2012) finds Jane Eyre and husband Edward Rochester enjoying their baby son. Jane’s only worry is that Edward’s eyesight seems to be getting worse; the doctor prescribes strict rest. Then a letter arrives from Adèle Varens, Edward’s French ward now at a London boarding school, with a secret message pleading for rescue. Jane is uncertain if the letter is merely a ploy by Adèle for attention, but feels she must make a visit to be sure. On the journey to London Jane is attacked and robbed, a puzzling circumstance since her plain appearance and dress should have given no indication that she was carrying the Rochester diamonds in her reticule. When Jane arrives at the posh Alderton House School for Girls with a bruised face and simple traveling gown, she is taken for the new German teacher. Selina, one of Adèle’s schoolmates, has died suddenly, and Jane takes advantage of the confusion to consult with Miss Miller, one of Jane’s old teachers who works at the school, about Adèle’s safety. Miss Miller convinces Jane that standing in for the missing German teacher will allow her to verify that all is well with Adèle without disrupting her education. So Jane reverts to her previous governess persona, and takes on the responsibility for the senior girls, the group that includes Adèle. Jane discovers several suspicious circumstances surrounding Selina’s death, and works to protect the girls while she searches for the truth. This enjoyable continuation of the Jane Eyre story is the first in a planned series.

Syndrome EFranck Thilliez
Syndrome E (Viking 2012, France 2010) introduces Lucie Hennebelle, a detective in Lille, Belgium, whose old friend becomes spontaneously blind after watching a film from the 1950s. Lucie watches the film and is sickened by the violence and unexpectedly terrified by one of the film’s gentle scenes of a child petting a kitten. Analysts discover subliminal images of children engaged in unspeakable violence hidden in the film, and a lip reader catches some fragments of conversation. Lucie makes a connection with five bodies discovered in Paris, missing hands, teeth, and the tops of their skulls, and convinces Inspector Franck Sharko, a schizophrenic analyst for the Paris police, to investigate. Ever since his wife and child died, Sharko has been haunted by the phantom of a small girl named Eugenie who rarely leaves him alone for long, demanding his attention and a constant supply of candied chestnuts and Pink Salad cocktail sauce. Sharko is just brilliant enough for his boss to put up with his eccentric behavior, but he knows this may be his last case. While Sharko investigates another set of violent deaths with missing skull tops in Egypt, Lucie follows the trail of the film, but someone is always one step ahead, leaving behind only destruction and corpses. This compelling debut thriller delves into the history of neuroscience, exploring the disturbing possibility of evil use of scientific advances in brain research.

November Word Cloud

December 1, 2012

The Hiding PlaceDavid Bell
The Hiding Place (NAL Trade 2012) is the story of Janet Manning, who has been haunted for 25 years by the disappearance of her four-year old brother Justin. When she was seven, Janet was given the responsibility of taking Justin to play at their neighborhood park in Dove Point, Ohio, on their own for the very first time. Distracted by meeting her best friend Michael, Janet leaves Justin at the playground with the other children. When she returns, Justin has vanished. Seventeen-year old Dante Rogers, who had been seen playing with Justin, is convicted of killing Justin after the body of a small child is found buried in a shallow grave in the woods behind the playground six weeks later. Now released from prison, Dante continues to insist that he was innocent of murder. The 25-year anniversary of Justin’s disappearance prompts renewed interest in the Manning family by the press, as well as a visit from Detective Frank Stynes, who worked the original case. Janet, who has returned to live in her childhood home with her father and her 15-year-old daughter Ashleigh, encounters a strange blond man on the porch late one night. The stranger claims to know something about Justin’s disappearance. Janet senses that the man, who is about the right age and coloring, might actually be Justin. Stynes, who has always harbored a secret doubt about Dante’s guilt, picks up on Janet’s uncertainty, and decides to take one last look through the original case file to make sure something hadn’t been overlooked in the rush to convict Dante. Ashleigh, who has always been fascinated by pictures of her four-year-old dead uncle, decides to pursue her own investigation, and Michael, who has underdone therapy to try and sort out his conflicted memories of the day Justin disappears, suddenly reappears in Dove Point asking Janet to review her own recollection of what really happened that afternoon in the park.

Twelve Drummers DrummingC.C. Benison
Twelve Drummers Drumming (Delacorte Press 2011) introduces Tom Christmas, the new vicar in Thornford Regis, a picturesque village in England. Tom left London after his wife was killed in a drug robbery gone bad, hoping to find safety for his nine-year-old daughter and peace to soothe their grief. Thornford Regis is in full spring bloom and bustling with preparations for the May Fayre when Sybella the teenaged daughter of the choir director, is murdered. Sybella was in the tail end of a goth stage, but seemed to be recovering from her rebellious drug use thanks to the encouragement of local artist Mitsuko Drewe, who recognized Sybella’s artistic talent. Tom realizes that the murderer is probably a fellow villager and begins to look more closely at Mitsuko’s husband Liam, who sports prison tattoos on his fingers, and Colonel Northmore, who has never fully recovered from the horrors he suffered in a WWII Japanese prison camp. Police suspicion centers upon Sebastian John, the church verger without a past hired by the previous victor before he vanished into thin air. Tom’s perspective is balanced by the chatty letters his housekeeper pounds out on an old typewriter each day to her deaf mother, blotted with frequent strike-throughs as she struggles with spelling and strives for properly descriptive language. Deft touches of humor brightens this traditional British village cozy series opener.

The Twelve Clues of ChristmasRhys Bowen
The Twelve Clues of Christmas (Berkley 2012) finds Lady Georgiana in Scotland, not looking forward to spending the 1933 Christmas holidays at drafty Castle Rannoch under the penny-pinching control of her sister-in-law Fig, especially with the dismal prospect of Fig’s dreary relatives in store. But Fig decides that the family can’t afford to open the London house for Georgie, and Georgie’s social butterfly mother insists there is no room for guests at the tiny cottage Noel Coward has rented for the two of them while collaborating on a new play. So when Georgie sees Lady Hawse-Gorzley’s notice in the Tattler, searching for a young woman “of impeccable background” to share hostess duties for a large Christmas house party at Gorzley Hall in Tiddleton-Under-Lovey in Devonshire, she jumps at the chance to finally get some practical use from her position as 35th in line for the throne. Georgie immediately takes to no-nonsense Lady Hawse-Gorzley, who confesses that she is hosting guests willing to pay for the experience of an old-fashioned Christmas on an English estate. Lady Hawse-Gorzley cautions Georgie not to mention that the police are investigating the death of a neighbor who shot himself while up a tree hunting pheasants that morning, or the recent escape of three convicts from nearby Dartmoor Prison. Though Georgie finds the American guests rather dreadful, she is overjoyed to discover that her secret love Darcy O’Mara is to be part of the houseparty. Unfortunately fatal accidents keep occurring each day, leading Georgie to suspect that they are not accidents at all, but a carefully planned killing spree. Georgie’s retired policeman grandfather helps Georgie investigate while her impossible maid Queenie continues her good-hearted destruction of Georgie’s wardrobe in this funny 6th in the series, perfect to read before the fire while munching on mince pies.

City of SaintsAndrew Hunt
City of Saints (Minotaur 2012) introduces Art Oveson, a devout young Mormon just starting a job as sheriff’s deputy in 1930 Salt Lake City, Utah. Known as the City of Saints for its reputation for being a law-abiding and religious community where all the clean wide roads lead to the huge Mormon temple, Salt Lake City has a seedy underside that raises its ugly head with the murder of beautiful socialite Helen Pfalzgraf. Art and his partner Roscoe Lund, a tough vice-ridden former strike-breaker, are first on the murder scene and are assigned the murder investigation. Art is all too aware of his own inexperience, and relies on Roscoe to take the lead, but Roscoe is busy organizing a petition to oust Fred Cannon, the corrupt sheriff concerned only with getting reelected. Art doesn’t trust Sheriff Cannon either, but when asked to report on the mood of the department, he thinks of the wife and young children depending on his salary and can’t say no. When Roscoe and several other non-Mormon deputies are fired, Art finds himself in sole charge of an investigation revealing blackmail and corruption that no one, most of all Sheriff Cannon, wants to hear about. But Art can’t let go, and seeks help from his former partner, now patrolling for the Provo Police Department. Roscoe couldn’t be more different from the squeaky-clean Art, but the two establish a tenuous working relationship in their search to find the truth. This original debut historical mystery won the 2011 Hillerman Prize.

The Drowning RiverChristobel Kent
The Drowning River (Minotaur 2010; APA: A Time of Mourning) introduces Sandro Cellini, a former policeman in Florence, Italy, coerced into taking early retirement after providing information about a suspect to a grieving father who took justice into his own hands. At the age of 58, Cellini isn’t ready for an idle retirement, and opens a private detective office. His wife Luisa knows he thrives on the mental stimulation of investigating, and figures he can keep busy helping locals and tourists with cases too small to interest the police. His first client is Lucia Gentileschi, an elderly woman whose 81-year old husband Claudio died three days earlier. The police are sure that Claudio killed himself, because of depression caused by early stages of Alzheimer’s, or perhaps memories of the time he spent in a concentration camp. But Lucia is equally convinced that Claudio would never have willingly left her alone, and persuades Cellini to find out what happened the last day of his life. Sandro’s second case is to act as liaison with the police for Serena Hutton, the English mother of a missing art student. Busy with a new boyfriend, Serena signed Ronnie up for a life drawing course in Florence along with her straight-arrow friend Iris, who reluctantly falls into the habit of making excuses for Ronnie who sleeps late and cuts class. When Ronnie tells Iris she is going to stay with friends in the country for a long weekend, Iris covers for her at school until the discovery of Ronnie’s purse in a park prompts a search for the missing girl. Cellini retraces Claudio’s last day through the worst rains since the floods of 1966, discovering that Claudio had a secret life with a mysterious connection to the missing art student. Cellini’s inner turmoil, as he grapples with his new profession and broods about his wife’s health, is as absorbing as the investigation in this compelling series debut.

December DreadJess Lourey
December Dread (Midnight Ink 2012) finds part-time librarian Mira James worried about being able to pay her rent when the Battle Lake, Minnesota, town council decides to save money by closing the library for the two weeks before Christmas. Hoping for more part-time work from the newspaper, Mira visits her editor, who tries to persuade her to spend Christmas with her mother and finally complete the class she needs to qualify for a private detective’s license. When the Candy Cane Killer reemerges, Mira decides that living alone might not be the smartest move this December. The killer targets 30ish long-haired brunette women who look a lot like Mira and live in small Minnesota towns. Returning to her hometown of Paynesville isn’t easy, but Mira finds herself enjoying her PI class while rediscovering her past until the Candy Cane Killer strikes again, leaving a snow man holding a candy cane outside the house of her oldest friend. Mira tries to convince the FBI investigator that her local connections could be helpful, but Agent Walter Briggs doesn’t take her seriously. Mira’s best friend, the irrepressible 80-year-old Mrs. Burns, arrives to cheer Mira up and nag her into using her skills to try and identify the Candy Cane Killer before he strikes again. An ill-advised foray into on-line dating promises to either unmask the killer or score Mrs. Burns a new boyfriend in this funny 8th in the series.

The Secret KeeperKate Morton
The Secret Keeper (Atria 2012) is the story of Laurel Nicolson, a successful actress who witnessed a shocking event when she was 16 at Greenacres, the family farm in the English countryside. Laurel was hiding from her irksome younger sisters in the treehouse during a summer birthday party for her baby brother Gerald when she noticed a stranger come to the door of the farmhouse. Answering the door while holding both Gerald and a cake knife, Dorothy, Lauren’s mother, appeared at first confused when the man spoke her name, then frightened, and suddenly plunged the knife deep into the stranger’s chest. Lauren tells the police that the man attacked her mother, and the incident is not spoken of again by the family. Fifty years later the children gather at Greenacres to celebrate their mother’s 90th birthday. Knowing this may be her last chance to understand the murder that has haunted her for half a century, Lauren searches through the trunks in the attic and tries to focus her mother’s patchy memory on the past. Interwoven with Lauren’s perspective is Dorothy’s story of her life in London during the blitz with Vivien and Jimmy, three virtual strangers whose lives became intertwined by chance. This suspenseful novel of passion, deception, and the bonds of family is spellbinding.

A Fistful of CollarsSpencer Quinn
A Fistful of Collars (Atria Books 2012) finds private investigator Bernie Little and his canine partner Chet working for Mayor Trimble, who recently created the Millennial Cultural Initiative to attract movie industry money to the Valley. Filming is about to begin on a high-budget action western featuring Thad Perry, a big name star with a substance abuse problem, and Trimble hires the Little Detective Agency to keep an eye on Thad as well as the progress of the movie. Unfortunately Thad takes an instant dislike to Bernie and challenges him to a boxing match. Thad isn’t as good as he thinks he is, and Bernie ends up taking him to a doctor friend to get his broken nose fixed, creating an unexpected bond. Thad’s cat Brando isn’t too fond of Chet, who returns the sentiment though secretly admiring the fluid way Brando can move. Chet also develops a healthy respect for Brando’s lightning quick claws, which connect to his nose before he even notices the paw in motion. Bernie discovers that Thad has a past connection to the Valley that he wants to keep under wraps, and asks a reporter friend to look into it, precipitating a string of violence. Chet’s engaging and often hilarious narration of this fifth in the series provides a unique perspective on Bernie’s investigation of a new murder with roots in the past.

Anatomy of MurderImogen Robertson
Anatomy of Murder (Pamela Dorman Books 2012, UK 2010) finds Harriet Westerman and anatomist Gabriel Crowther in London, where her husband is resident in a convalescent hospital for the protection of himself and his family, a few months after capturing a French ship during a 1781 Revolutionary War battle. Captain James Westerman mutters about spies, but has no coherent memory of the battle or the interrogation of his captives shortly before the accident during ship repairs at sea that left him with a severe head injury, impairing his memory and his self control. Mr. Palmer, of the Admiralty, visits Harriet and Crowther, asking them to examine a corpse that has just been pulled from the Thames. Palmer believes that the body is Nathaniel Fitzraven, possibly connected to a spy ring passing information about British ships and troop movements to the French. Harriet’s family is dubious about further damaging her already notorious reputation by investigating another murder, but Crowther is sure that she won’t be able to resist escaping the boredom of London society. Meanwhile, Jocasta Bligh, a Tarot card reader in one of the poorest parts of London, suspects that someone means to harm Kate Mitchell, a young wife who comes to have her fortune told. With the help of Sam, a young orphan, Jocasta finds evidence that Kate’s husband and his mother murdered her because of some hidden papers that neither Jocasta nor Sam can read. Woven through the complex investigation are fascinating threads about opera and the final reign of the castrati, the treatment and understanding of mental illness in the late 1700s, and the wretched plight of the poor in London. This second in the series is highly recommended.

The Alto Word TweedMark Schweizer
The Alto Wore Tweed (St. James Music Press 2002) introduces Hayden Konig, the choir director and organist at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, in the Appalachian town of St. Germaine, North Carolina. Hayden, who happens to be independently wealthy, would love to write the next great hard-boiled American detective novel, and buys Raymond Chandler’s 1939 Underwood No. 5 in a Christie auction, hoping some of the Chandler magic will rub off. Instead, Hayden pounds out some of the most dreadful prose ever written (“her voice as husky as last year’s Iditarod”) to the amusement of his long-suffering wife and the members of his choir, who tend to break out into fits of the giggles in the middle of a long sermon while reading the next installment hidden in their hymn books. It’s coming up on Christmas, and Hayden is in full revolt against the self-absorbed priest of St. Barnabas, who demands to be called Mother Ryan and is in the midst of planning a conference for Episcopal Womyn. The discovery in the choir loft of the poisoned body of Willie Boyd, the sexton, gives Hayden, who is also the under-worked police chief of St. Germaine, and Mother Ryan additional opportunities to lock horns. Hayden restrains himself from using the loaded Glock he keeps under the organ bench, choosing instead to recruit the son of a friend as the Penguin of Bethlehem to disrupt Mother Ryan’s travesty of a Christmas Eve service. This very funny mystery is the first in a series that now numbers eleven.

December Word Cloud

Disclosure: Some of these books were received free from publishers, some were discovered in Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon Book Bags, and many were checked out from our local public library. Our thanks to all who support our passion for reading!


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