SYKM


2009 Reviews
January 1, 2009

Storm FrontJim Butcher
Storm Front (2000) introduces Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in the yellow pages in Chicago, Illinois. The police have Dresden on retainer to help with unusual crimes, and the two bodies whose hearts have exploded from their chests definitely qualify. Dresden has no doubt that this is serious (and illegal) black magic and begins to investigate the how in order to identify the who with the help of a sex-obsessed skull named Bob. Along the way, Dresden questions a greedy faery and a very hungry vampire before battling a demon and a few scorpions. Luckily, Dresden is very good at what he does, both as an investigator and as a wizard. This humorous blend of mystery and fantasy is perfect escapist fiction.

BloodLeighton Gage
Blood of the Wicked (2007) introduces Mario Silva, chief inspector for criminal matters of the federal police of Brazil, dispatched to a remote town in the interior to investigate the shooting of a bishop. Silva and his assistants find themselves in the middle of a confrontation between the landless peasants and the powerful owners of vast estates. The corrupt local state police force is more frightening than the criminals and the local judge has no interest in justice. Pressured by his boss to solve the case quickly without offending any of the wealthy landowners, Silva and his team have to convince the oppressed to speak out against the powerful. Buried Strangers, the 2nd in the series, will be released this month.

HeadcasePeter Helton
Headcase (2005) introduces Chris Honeysett, a painter and private investigator, in Bath, England. Chris is a witty narrator and a sympathetic protagonist. He is knowledgeable about art and people, hopelessly infatuated with his classic Citroen, and a gourmet cook who loves seafood. Chris is hired to investigate the theft of several paintings from a local estate, and is intrigued that the thief passed over several more valuable paintings. As that investigation slowly progresses, Chris discovers the brutally murdered body of an old friend who managed a residence for mental-health patients. Though warned by the police to keep his distance, Chris can’t help searching for her killer. Another sub-plot or two add to the confusion in this action-packed mystery.

TrinityWard Larsen
Stealing Trinity (2008) is an engaging spy thriller set in the summer of 1945, as Nazi spies attempt a final coup, to steal atomic bomb secrets. Alex Braun, an American-born and educated Nazi soldier, is dropped off the US coast by submarine to find “Die Wespe” (The Wasp), the embedded German spy in the Manhattan Project. But Major Thatcher, a determined, one-legged British intelligence officer, is on the case and the chase is on, from society “cottages” of Newport, Rhode Island, where Alex “Brown’s” former girlfriend lives, to Los Alamos, New Mexico, and then to the South Pacific. Intrigue, double-cross, cliff-hanging escapes, and bumbling military and FBI bureaucracies make for a compelling story. The author’s knowledge of military history provides a solid foundation for the story.

Cozy WriterG.M. Malliet
Death of a Cozy Writer (2008) is a humorous tribute to the classic English country house mystery. The cozy writer in question is Sir Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk, who has grown rich writing about Miss Rampling, his amateur sleuth who solves murders in the small village of Saint Edmund-Under-Stowe. After spending years alienating his four grown children by re-writing his will every month or so, Sir Adrian lures them all back to the family estate by announcing his forthcoming marriage to Violet Middenhall. Hoping to talking him out of an unsuitable marriage, the four squabbling siblings troop down to Chambridgeshire, and are soon all under investigation by the redoubtable Detective Inspector St. Just, ably assisted by Sergeant Fear. Sure to appeal to fans of Christie and Wodehouse, this book had me hooked from the 2nd page when a character observed while glancing at the obituaries that all the unimportant people seemed to die in alphabetical order.

Grave in GazaMatt Beynon Rees
In A Grave in Gaza (2008) Omar Yussef Sirhan, a 50-ish schoolteacher in a Palestinian refugee camp, travels from Bethlehem with UN observer Magnus Wallender to inspect the UN schools in the Gaza Strip. Upon arrival they learn that a UN teacher has been arrested on spying charges after making public the university’s policy of selling degrees to the secret police. When Wallender is kidnapped as an exchange for an imprisoned murderer, Omar Yussef is caught in a confusing maze of torture, traditional ideas of tribal revenge, rival government gangs armed with machine guns, and smuggled missiles. Omar Yussef moves through this dust-choked and thoroughly corrupt atmosphere in somewhat of a daze, yet he manages to hold on to his humanity and ideals of justice as he eventually ties all the threads together. The richly detailed prose creates a sympathetic portrait of a violent and wounded society as it brings this compelling setting to life. (2nd in the series following The Collaborator of Bethlehem)

Nox DormiendaKelli Stanley
Nox Dormienda (2008) introduces Arcturus, a half-British, half-Roman doctor who is the physician of Agricola, the provincial governor of Britannia in 83 AD. When a Syrian spy, possibly carrying a message terminating Agricola's tenure, is found dead, Arcturus is asked by Agricola to find the truth. It’s December, and Arturus’s toga is usually soaked and trailing mud, as he walks the mean streets of Londinium that are teeming with citizens, freedmen, slaves, whores, politicians, and Druids. History comes alive in this “Roman Noir” that seamlessly weaves details of daily life (honey is an approved medical treatment!) into a fast-paced and fascinating mystery.

Forcind AmaryllisLouise Ure
Forcing Amaryllis (2005): Years earlier, Calla’s sister Amaryllis was brutally raped and left for dead. Amaryllis refused to say much about the attack, tried to commit suicide soon after, and has been in a coma ever since. Calla works as a trial consultant for civil cases, but is forced by her unsympathetic boss to work for the law firm representing a man accused of a rape and murder. The new case has enough similarities with her sister’s rape to shock Calla out of her torpor and into an investigation of the seven-year old crime against her sister. With the help of a friend in the Arizona police department and a private detective, Calla tracks down other rape victims and begins to build a tenuous theory that may identify the man behind the crimes. This chilling novel won the 2006 Shamus Award for Best First Novel.

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February 1, 2009

MissingKarin Alvtegen
Missing is the story of Sibylla Forenström, a 32-year old drifter on the streets of Stockholm. Dressed in her best thrift-store suit, Sibylla cons a wealthy businessman into buying her dinner and a hotel room in a fancy hotel. When the police arrive the next morning she assumes the con has been exposed and flees. But the man has been brutally murdered, and the police identify Sibylla’s fingerprints and charge her with the crime, revealing that she disappeared from a mental institution 15 years earlier. Two other murders follow, and Sibylla, whose survival on the streets depends on her anonymity, finds she is now the most wanted criminal in Sweden with her face on every newspaper. A fortuitous encounter with a 15-year-old loner with computer talents provides Sibylla with an ally who is eager to help her track down the real serial killer. Throughout the book, Sibylla’s past is slowly revealed, adding depth to this well-written thriller. Originally published in Sweden in 2000, Missing came out in the US in 2008 and is a finalist for the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

ShadowVicki Delany
In the Shadow of the Glacier (2007) takes place in the small mountain town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, Canada. When the first murder in memorable history occurs, veteran Detective Sergeant John Winters, a homicide detective relocated from Vancouver, is partnered with enthusiastic rookie constable Molly Smith, born and raised in Trafalgar. The victim, Reg Montgomery, was right in the middle of a town conflict. An American Vietnam draft dodger has left money to the town for a park to honor fellow draft dodgers. The business community, led by Montgomery, opposed the park as bad for tourism. Smith’s mother, a long-time activist, leads the local group supporting the park. Smith’s father, also an American draft dodger, is unsure of his stance. The awkward partnering of Winters’s investigative experience with Smith’s local knowledge provides additional conflict as both grow to appreciate the other’s strengths.

NoufZoë Ferraris
Finding Nouf (2008) is set in modern Saudi Arabia. When 16-year-old Nouf goes missing, her wealthy family hires Nayir ash-Sharqi, a desert guide, to lead a search party. When Nouf’s body is discovered in the desert, her brother Othman asks Nayir to keep investigating even though the rest of the family is content to accept the verdict of accidental death. Nayir, a Palestinian usually mistaken for a Bedouin, was orphaned as a small child and raised by a bachelor uncle. His greatest regret is that he had no sister, and so knows nothing of women, who are segregated in the rigid Muslim society. Katya Hijazi, Othman’s fiancee who works in the women’s lab of the coroners department, is eager to help with the investigation. Shy and religious Nayir is uncomfortable working with a woman, but realizes there is no other way to enter the secret female world. Nayir struggles to balance his need for female companionship with his religious beliefs, and Katya tries to maintain traditional female modesty while satisfying her need for a fulfilling career. This compelling mystery provides a fascinating look at life in modern Saudi Arabia where fur coats are given as bridal gifts even though sandal soles melt on the sidewalks and drivers carry pot-holders to avoid burns from door handles. Highly recommended, this first novel was a finalist for the 2008 New Blood Dagger Award. APA: The Night of the Mi’raj

SweetsmokeDavid Fuller
Sweetsmoke (2008) takes place in 1862. Cassius is a skilled carpenter and secretly literate slave on the Sweetsmoke tobacco plantation in Virginia. When Emmoline, a freed slave who once saved his life, is murdered, no one but Cassius cares enough to find her killer. Her death is the catalyst that shocks Cassius out of the despair caused by his wife’s death four years ago. The dangerous search leads Cassius off the plantation, where he meets slave traders, black-marketeers, Confederate and Union soldiers, Underground Railroad conspirators, and Northern spies. Cassius’s encounters with the other characters on and off the plantation paint a vivid portrait of the demeaning daily suffering of the slaves, and the horrors of civil war. The interactions between Cassius and Hoke Howard, the plantation owner, are a complicated mix of respect, menace, and love, showing the impossibility of a true relationship between master and slave. This powerful debut novel, more a Civil War historical than a mystery, illuminates a dark chapter in American history. Nominated for 2009 Edgar Award for Best First Mystery

Dragon TattooStieg Larsson
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sweden 2005, US 2008) is the first of a trilogy set in Sweden. Financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist has just been convicted of libel and is at loose ends while waiting for his jail sentence. He is hired by Henrik Vanger, a retired industrialist, to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet who disappeared forty years ago. Blomkvist reluctantly agrees to take on the task, as well as the cover story of writing a Vanger family history, since Vanger promises new evidence in the libel case as partial payment. Blomkvist joins forces with Lisbeth Salander, a strange and tattooed researcher and hacker, and they begin to unearth unpleasant secrets in the Vanger family history while searching for new evidence in the Harriet disappearance. This large and intelligent thriller is a compelling read that addresses serious issues like the failure of the State social system and sexual violence through the development of complex and unforgettable characters. Part thriller/mystery and part social commentary, this powerful novel is highly recommended.

Devil's PeakDeon Meyer
Devil’s Peak (2007) tells the story of three damaged people in South Africa. Thobela Mpayipheli is a former mercenary trying to make a new life when his young son is killed in a store robbery. Christine van Rooyen is a young woman who has become a sex worker to support her young daughter. Benny Griessel is an alcoholic police inspector whose wife has just thrown him out of the house. When the men who killed his son escape from jail and the police cannot find them, Thobela takes matters into his own hands. Frustrated by having no luck tracking the killers, Thobela uses a tribal sword to kill others who have committed crimes against children and eluded the justice system. Griessel is assigned to investigate the killings, and slowly the three threads of the story come together. A powerful examination of vigilante justice and the moral consequences of revenge, this book is highly recommended.

RedbreastJo Nesbø
The Redbreast is a masterful weaving of parallel narrations. One thread is in WWII with the Norwegians fighting for Hitler on the eastern front. A second is in modern day Oslo, Norway, where recovering-alcoholic Detective Harry Hole has been reassigned to the Security Service. A third follows an assassin also in modern Oslo. While tracking neo-Nazis, Hole discovers a mystery with roots in the past and the threads begin to come together. Stubborn and determined, Hole manages to worm his way back into the crime division far enough to use their resources to pursue his investigation. Hole is an appealing protagonist who moves at his own pace as does this thought-provoking and highly recommended thriller. The Redbreast is third in the Harry Hole series (2000), the first in English translation (2006).

Calumet CityCharlie Newton
Calumet City (2008) is the story of Patti Black, Chicago’s most decorated cop. Though Patti lives alone with her two goldfish in the same ghetto she grew up in, she is content with rugby and her job to fill her time. During a routine drug bust that turns violent, the cops discover the body of a woman manacled inside a basement room. When the woman is identified as Patti’s former foster mother, she fears that the horrors of her past will come to light. With the help of a newspaper reporter friend, Patti searches for her abusive foster father who she knows is responsible for the new murders, and whose very existence threatens the relative peace and safety she has built for herself since running away 18 years ago. Narrated in Patti’s voice, this powerful novel creates an unforgettable character. A finalist for the 2009 Edgar Award for Best First Mystery, this noir thriller moves at an unrelenting pace from one shocking event to the next.

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March 1, 2009

PrinceAlex Carr
The Prince of Bagram Prison (2008) is the story of war and intrigue which begins with the birth of a baby in the prison infirmary by one of the “disappeared” imprisoned during the brutal reign of Morocco’s Hassan II. Many years later, while stationed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Kat Caldwell, Army intelligence fluent in Arabic, interrogates Jamal, a young Moroccan boy arrested with a group of suspected terrorists. Kat determines Jamal is not a terrorist, and he is placed in Madrid by the CIA. Three years later, when Harry Comfort, his sympathetic CIA handler, retires, Jamal pretends to know more than he does in order to please his new handler. Quickly realizing this pretense has put his life in danger, Jamal flees back to Morocco and Kat is sent to help find him by CIA chief Dick Morrow. The shifting perspectives and time switches add to the unsettling nature of this book. Motivated by a complex mixture of love, betrayal, suspicion, and guilt, the characters try to make sense of a world of compromise and deceit. This intense thriller is an Edgar nominee for Best Paperback Original.

AdonisSarah Caudwell
Thus Was Adonis Murdered (1981) tells the story of young barrister Julia Larwood, who takes an Art Lover’s Holiday tour of Italy in order to forget her troubles with the Inland Revenue. When the body of a fellow tourist, a handsome young Inland Revenue agent, is found with Julia’s inscribed copy of the Finance Act, she is charged with the crime. Narrated by Hilary Tamar, a medieval law professor in Oxford, England, this witty and clever novel is a gem. Hilary’s prose is relentlessly pedantic, “My hypothesis is a meretricious little thing, hired out to you, as it were, for half an hour’s casual diversion…”, and her portrayal of the other supporting characters is hilarious. This first of a 4-book series is highly recommended for readers who enjoy subtle plotting with a very English touch.

Kind OneTom Epperson
The Kind One (2008) is the story of Danny Landon who lives in 1930s Los Angeles, and works for mobster Bud Seitz. Danny doesn’t remember anything before being hit in the head with a lead pipe 10 months ago, which left him with a limp, severe headaches, and a grove in his skull. The rest of the guys call him Two Gun Danny, but he doesn’t feel comfortable with guns, and isn’t even sure he likes being a gangster. Danny does like Darla, Bud’s beautiful young mistress, and Bud trusts Danny enough to make him Darla’s bodyguard. Bud’s vicious nature (he was nicknamed “The Kind One” by a former mistress after a particularly brutal killing) is a sharp contrast to Danny’s reflective humanity. As Danny struggles to figure out where he fits into the gangster world, he befriends two misfit neighbors: an abused and neglected girl and a lonely older man. Nominated for the 2009 Edgar for Best First Novel, this beautifully written noir thriller slowly builds to a violent and surprising climax.

Ghost WriterJohn Harwood
The Ghost Writer (2004) tells the story of Gerard Freeman, a young Australian boy who loved listening to his mother’s reminiscences about her childhood in an English country manor. One afternoon he discovers the key to her locked drawer and finds an old picture, and later a supernatural story he suspects was written by his grandmother, Viola. He tells his English pen-friend, Alice, everything. Twenty years later he travels to London to try to unravel the story of his family’s past and perhaps to finally meet Alice in person. Interspersed with Viola’s supernatural tales, this impressive gothic suspense debut novel slowly builds the tension to the very last page.

March VioletsPhilip Kerr
March Violets (1989) introduces Bernie Gunther in 1936 Berlin, Germany. This historical mystery is full of fascinating details. Soon to be the site of the Olympics, the book starts with the temporary removal of street showcases featuring drawings from Der Stürmer, the Reich’s violently anti-Semitic journal, in order to avoid shocking the foreign visitors coming to Berlin for the Games. Bernie has left the increasingly corrupt police force to become a private detective and is hired by Hermann Six, a rich businessman, to recover some diamonds that were stolen during a burglary that left Six’s daughter and son-in-law dead. Bernie discovers that the son-in-law was an SS agent, and that secret documents hidden in the safe may have been the real reason for the theft and murders. His investigation uncovers possible connections between Six and organized crime, and between Herman Goering and the theft. The hard-boiled wise-cracking Bernie is an appealing character who is willing to do just about anything to get to the truth. He is interrogated by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau, all the while battling the March Violets, new members of the Nazi party who joined in order to be on the side in power. Kerr does an amazing job of showing how the Nazis take total control of the country, and how people can be deluded into believing what they are told, no matter how implausible.

Kiss MurderMehmet Murat Somer
The Kiss Murder (2008) is narrated by a nameless transvestite nightclub hostess and computer technician by day, in Istanbul, Turkey. Though mainly concerned with maintaining her flawless Audrey Hepburn-like appearance, our narrator is drawn into an investigation of the murder of a fellow drag queen, who kept secret pictures and letters documenting her affair with a powerful man. Luckily our self-absorbed narrator is also a master of Thai-kickboxing, since the search for the secret cache stirs up all kinds of trouble. The unique viewpoint provides a fascinating look at modern Turkish life (should the drag queens pray with the men or the women at the funeral?) spiced with our narrator’s self-confident wit.

WomanJohn Straley
The Woman Who Married a Bear (1992) introduces Cecil Younger, an alcoholic private investigator in Sitka, Alaska. Cecil is hired by Tlingit elder to find out why her son, a hunting guide, was killed by one of his employees. The killer, who hears voices, has been tried and convicted, but the woman needs to understand what motivated her son’s death. After taking the case, Cecil’s roommate is shot, and Cecil begins to suspect that the man in jail is not the real murderer. This suspenseful book is beautifully written with rich details of Alaskan life, strong character development, and masterful interweaving of Tlingit mythology and disturbing hints of racial prejudice.

Writing ClassJincy Willet
The Writing Class tells the story of Amy Gallup, a promising writer in her youth, who is now a middle-aged and teaching adult education extension courses in fiction writing. Amy is a loner who is frightened of being alone, a blocked writer who can only write clever lists on the blog she considers private. She lives with a basset hound who merely tolerates her and has no friends. The 13 students in her new class at first seem totally hopeless, but they coalesce into a decent group and Amy finds herself enjoying the class meetings. Then someone in the class begins writing cruel critiques, making threatening phone calls, and playing frightening practical jokes. When one of the class members is found dead, possibly murdered, Amy informs the administration, and the class is immediately canceled. But the rest of the group want to continue, and they meet to try and figure out which class member is the murderer. This black comedy is often laugh-out-loud funny, especially at the beginning of the book, and the suspense builds to the final pages.

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April 1, 2009

Royal PainRhys Bowen
A Royal Pain (2008) takes place in June 1932. Lady Georgiana, the 34th in line for the British throne, has finally mastered making tea and toast and is beginning to feel that she can manage living independently in London. But then the queen asks her to host Princess Hannelore of Bavaria and Georgie has to beg her brother for a temporary allowance to cover staff and food. The princess arrives with a forbidding baroness as a chaperone, an even more dour maid, and a hilarious version of English learned from American gangster films. Just out of convent school, Hanni is boy crazy and chases after every attractive man she meets. When one young man dies after falling off a 6th floor balcony during a party, and another acquaintance is stabbed, the queen asks Georgie to try and catch the killer before the visiting princess has to testify at the inquests. Georgie is an endearing narrator: charming yet clumsy, full of wisdom about royal protocol but hopelessly naive about life in London. This light-hearted sequel to Her Royal Spyness (2007) was a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Award and is nominated for the Agatha Best Novel Award.

Money ShotChrista Faust
Money Shot (2008) is narrated by Angel Dare, a former porn star now running an adult model agency in Los Angeles, California. One day Angel is asked by Sam, a porn producer and friend, to co-star in a film with the hot new male star Jessie Black. Close to 40, Angel is regretting her lost youth and is convinced to come back for one last film. Arriving at the set, she is beaten, raped, and left for dead in the trunk of a car since she doesn’t know where the briefcase full of money that Jessie and his gangster friends are sure was last seen in her office. And that’s just the start of the book! Escaping from the trunk, Angel finds herself on the run, charged with the murder of Sam, but is determined to get revenge against Jessie and his friends. Angel is tough, smart, and funny. She manages to stay upbeat even while bleeding from several gunshot wounds and dressed only in a very smelly garbage bag, making this Edgar Nominee for Best Paperback an enjoyable thriller.

CritiqueMichael Gregorio
Critique of Criminal Reason (2006) is set in 1904 Konisberg, Prussia. Hanno Stiffeniis, a young magistrate, is called from the countryside to investigate a series of murders. Since the bodies have no visible wound, the people fear the work of the devil. Though aged and infirm, Immanuel Kant has collected and preserved physical evidence from the earlier murders to aid the investigation. A former student of Kant, Stiffeniis is determined to use Kant’s new rational method of analysis rather than the current method of gathering circumstantial evidence and then convincing the suspect to confess. Dense and literary, this psychological historical thriller is solidly set in its time and place.

BloodDeclan Hughes
The Price of Blood (2008) is the third book in the Ed Loy series. Back home in Dublin, Ireland, after 20 years in Los Angeles, California, Loy is working as a private investigator. Recommended by Tommy, the shifty friend from his youth now filling in as sacristan, Loy is hired by Father Vincent Tyrrell to find Patrick Hutton, a jockey who has been missing for 10 years. Loy discovers that Hutton rode for Father Tyrrell’s brother, F.X. Tyrrell, and disappeared after a notorious fixed race. A body is found that Loy suspects is Hutton, and then two other people connected to the Tyrrell family are murdered. As usual, Loy drinks too much, sleeps too little, falls for a completely unsuitable woman, is roughed up by gangsters, and struggles to come to terms with his own past. Beginning on Christmas Eve and ending with the four-day Leopardstown Racecourse Christmas Festival, Loy works pretty much round the clock to delve far enough into the dark secrets of the Tyrrell family to find the motivation for the current murders. Often brutal, this fast-paced intelligent suspense novel is nominated for the Edgar Best Novel Award.

MurderN.M. Kelby
Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar & Grill (2008) tells the story of a gated Florida beach community. Danni Keene, the owner of the Bad Girl’s Bar & Grill, is a retired horror-film actress famous for her screaming. Danni isn’t having a good week: the local flock of vultures attacked the body of a homeless man left in her dumpster, her car was torched, her current singer who channels Barry Manilow is so bad that other patrons have chained themselves to the tiki god of fertility in protest, and three bright pink circus buses have set up camp in her parking lot. When the body of the singer is also found in the same dumpster, Danni decides to try and figure out what is going on, aided by a mixed bag of assistants: Sòlas MacKay, the head circus puppet artist, Brian Wilson, the security guard, and Sophie, the blind daughter of the stun-gun toting community tycoon on a quest to find the perfect wines to pair with junk food. The local chapter of The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watcher’s Club, a cranky wounded vulture, and a spoiled shih tsu dog add to the fun in this wacky Lefty nominated novel.

Lush LifeRichard Price
Lush Life (2008) examines a random shooting in New York City. Ike Marcus, a bartender, is killed late one night while with two friends. Eric Cash says it was a mugging gone bad, the other friend is in a drunken stupor and can’t say anything, and two eyewitnesses say that the three men were alone on the street. Eric is held and questioned by the police until his friend regains consciousness and corroborates the mugging. The point of view alternates among Eric Cash, whose life grows steadily more hopeless after the crime; Matty Clark, the police detective investigating the shooting; Tristan Acevedo, a teenager from the projects who has a gun; Ike’s grieving father Billy, who follows the police around trying to help with the investigation; and the Quality of Life Task Force, four cops who roam the streets in a taxi. This amazingly dense and detailed police procedural brings the world of the Lower East side to life through realistic dialog and character development.

At RiskStella Rimington
At Risk (2004) introduces Liz Carlyle, an agent in MI-5’s Joint Counter-Terrorist Group, based in London, England. The group suspects that an “invisible,” a terrorist who is an ethnic native and able to move about unnoticed, has entered England. Then a fisherman is shot with an unusual armor-piercing gun favored by foreign agents, leading Liz to suspect that the invisible has been joined by a known terrorist smuggled into the country. Solving the identity of the invisible appears to be the only way to figure out the target in time to prevent the act of terrorism. An uneasy alliance between MI-5, MI-6, local police, and the military is formed as the investigation proceeds. Told from several perspectives, this thriller presents realistic characters with individual flaws and quirks. Even the terrorists, motivated by deep emotional pain rather than crazed religious motives, are believable. Rimington, a former director general of MI-5, has written an amazing spy procedural that gives an insider’s look behind the scenes of a modern terrorist investigation.

Mixed BloodRoger Smith
Mixed Blood (2009) follows the travails of Jack Burn, an American whose gambling addiction and some serious crimes start him on a slippery slope to Cape Town, South Africa, where he hides out with his wife and young son. Not a good choice, in Jack’s case, because a chance home invasion by some local drugged-out gangsters draws him and his family ever deeper into a sea of inescapable violence. The poverty, hopelessness, and turmoil of Cape Town is portrayed frankly and unapologetically, and also with sympathy, but in this brutal noir world, almost no characters can escape. Smith creates memorable characters, including “Gatsby” Barnard, a vicious lone-wolf Afrikaaner cop, Disaster Zondi, a neat-freak Zulu detective from the new order, Benny Mongrel, an ex-con gang killer trying to turn things around, and Carmen Fortune, a crack addict surviving day to day with her damaged son and her Uncle Fatty. Smith’s writing is direct, clear, and compelling; the book is highly recommended for those who can stomach the violence.

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May 1, 2009

DeKokA.C. Baantjer
DeKok and the Mask of Death (Dutch 1987) [English 2000] [new US edition from Speck Press due July 1, 2009] is the 27th title in the long-running Dutch police detective series featuring Inspector Jurriaan DeKok (in English translations) and his loyal sidekick Inspector Dick Vledder, homicide detectives at Amsterdam's Warmoes Street station. Women are going to Slotervaart Hospital and disappearing, their existence later denied by the hospital staff. There are enough suspicions surrounding the women’s lovers and associates to completely confuse investigators, but with DeKok and Vledder on the case, it is only a matter of time. One can’t judge the entire series by one or two titles, of course, but this book was quite entertaining, with a compelling story and enjoyable characters. This title was more fun than the only other DeKok we've read — the 6th, DeKok and the Dead Harlequin (1968) [1993], which suffered a bit from an apparent attempt at updating from 1968. Reading the series in order would be our inclination, but they are hard to find, not all have been translated (including the 1st and 4th), and the newest printing isn’t coming out in order.

Blue HeavenC.J. Box
Blue Heaven (2008) takes place in Kootenai Bay, a small town in north Idaho nicknamed Blue Heaven because of the large number of retired LAPD officers. Annie (12) and her brother William (10) witness a murder while fishing, and run when they are spotted by the killers. Quickly realizing that the murderers are searching for them, the children hide in the barn of a sympathetic rancher, Jess Rawlins. At first doubtful, Jess is persuaded that the ex-cops helping the sheriff search for the missing children are indeed a bad bunch. In fact, the bad ex-cops are violent, well organized, and appear to have the local sheriff working for them. Though some characters are somewhat one-dimensional — the good are devoted to protecting the innocent, and the bad concerned only with their own self interest — others struggle with doing the right thing in a difficult situation. This fast-paced thriller just received the 2009 Edgar Best Novel award.

Last KissJames Crumley
The Last Good Kiss (1978) introduces C.W. Sughrue, a private investigator and bartender based in Montana. Sughrue is hired by a famous author’s ex-wife to find Abraham Trahearne, who has been on an extended drunk. When Sughrue finally catches up with Trahearne, he is drinking with an alcoholic bulldog in a bar in Sonoma, California. The bar owner asks Sughrue to look into the disappearance of her daughter, Betty Sue, 10 years earlier from Haight-Ashbury. The author, bulldog, and investigator set out to return Trahearne to his family while looking into the missing girl and stopping at every bar along the way. The search soon becomes obsessive for Sughrue as he uncovers layer after layer of the past. Sughrue is a complex character. He teeters on the edge of alcoholism, hasn’t much patience with the law, and has a strong desire for justice. A completely hard-boiled detective, he is relaxed, cynical, and completely committed to his job. The beautiful prose of this highly recommended novel transcends the detective genre while remaining completely true to it.

Strange FilesDianne Day
The Strange Files of Fremont Jones (1995) introduces young independent-minded Caroline Fremont Jones, who sheds her first name when leaving Boston for San Francisco in 1905 to set up a typewriting service. She finds lodging in a Victorian house, and is convinced by her landlady that the other lodger, Michael Archer, is a spy. Fremont’s first client is Justin Cameron, a young lawyer who finds her very attractive. Her second client is Edgar Allan Partridge, a strange and frightened man who asks her to type a manuscript of gothic horror stories, hands her a overly generous payment, and then flees while muttering about being followed. Another client is Li Wong, an old Chinese gentleman who is murdered soon after his visit. Concerned about the death of Li Wong, Fremont ventures into the exotic world of Chinatown. Partridge never returns to claim his manuscript, and convinced that the tales have at least some basis in fact, Fremont tries to locate the settings for the stories, which she hopes will lead to Partridge himself. The wonderfully scary tales are amply quoted throughout the book. Winner of the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, this entertaining novel captures the mystery, danger, and beauty of San Francisco at the turn of the 19th century.

Night FollowingMorag Joss
The Night Following (2008) is narrated by a woman who discovers her husband has been having an affair. She is so upset she accidently hits and kills a woman on a bicycle. Fleeing the scene, she retreats to her house and slowly starts to fall apart. She realizes her empty life is devoid of purpose, and that she has never been happy. After reading in the paper about the overwhelming grief of Arthur, the widower, she begins to watch over him. Following the directions of his grief counselor, Arthur writes letters to Ruth, his dead wife. At first very short, the letters grow longer as he gradually begins to believe Ruth has come back to him. He also reads chapters of a book Ruth was working on, which tells the story of the women in a multi-generational family with disturbing parallels to our narrator’s past. The three narrations are masterfully woven together in this haunting novel of loss, grief, and deception. Highly recommended, this beautifully written book is nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Cure for NightJustin Peacock
A Cure for Night (2008) is narrated by Joel Deveraux, who loses his job at a top law firm because of drug problems and ends up with the Brooklyn Public Defender’s office, where he finds himself handling arraignments for addicts and dealers. Offered second chair to Myra Goldstein in a murder case where a black dealer is charged with murdering a white college student, Joel jumps at the chance for more interesting work. Peacock has a great ear for dialog, and the minor characters ring true. Both the culture of overworked public defenders and the drug culture of the housing projects are realistically yet compassionately portrayed. As the courtroom drama proceeds, it it becomes evident that neither truth nor justice are the goal, but the creation of a plausible story that will sway the jury. This fast moving and thought provoking debut novel is nominated for the Edgar Best First Novel Award.

EchoesJohan Theorin
Echoes from the Dead (Swedish 2007, English 2008) joins Julia Davidsson 20 years after her young son Jens disappeared into the fall fog without a trace on the island of Öland, Sweden. Julia’s estranged father Gerlof, a retired sea captain now crippled with arthritis, has received Jens’s sandal in the mail. Gerlof convinces Julia, who has been sunk in depression for the last 20 years, to return to the island to help him search. Gerlof suspects that Nils Kant, a murderer who supposedly died before Jens was born, is involved in the disappearance. As Julia and Gerlof search back through the past, they slowly begin to reconnect. Alternating chapters fill in the back story of Nils Kant as the present investigation moves toward the truth. Compelling characters and a beautifully remote landscape make this haunting novel unforgettable. This is the first in a planned quartet, one book for each season of the year on the island of Öland.

Veil of LiesJeri Westerson
Veil of Lies (2008) introduces Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight reduced to living by his wits on the mean streets of 1384 London. Now known as “Tracker,” Crispin is hired by a wealthy London cloth merchant who suspects his wife is unfaithful. Crispin is reluctant to take that sort of case, but a severe shortage of funds persuades him to go against his principles. The next day the merchant is found murdered in a room locked from the inside, and the wife hires Crispin to find the killer and a missing religious relic. Crispin is soon caught up in a mesh of conflicting interests: the sheriff who wants the relic for the king, a mysterious Saracen working for an equally mysterious cartel, and a gang of ruthless Italians. Crispin falls for the girl, uses his knightly skills to fight for his life, and relentlessly pursues justice in this thoroughly enjoyable Medieval Noir.

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June 1, 2009

Only to DeceiveTasha Alexander
And Only To Deceive (2005) introduces Lady Emily Ashton, a young recent widow in Victorian London, England. Emily married Viscount Philip Ashton to escape her overbearing mother, and wasn’t too grieved when he died on safari a few months after their marriage. Though somewhat constricted by Victorian mourning norms, Emily enjoys her new freedom to make decisions for herself and becomes interested in Greek art and literature after discovering the art antiquities her husband donated to the British Museum. As Emily studies Greek and talks to Philip’s friends, she finally mourns the man she never knew. Then Emily begins to suspect that Philip was involved in art forgeries and stolen works from the British Museum, and sets out to discover the truth while juggling the courtships from two very different men. This Victorian cozy is suspenseful and romantic.

Dead Woman’s ShoesKaye C. Hill
Dead Woman’s Shoes (2008) introduces Lexy Lomax, who runs away from her husband with a suitcase full of stolen money and a Chihuahua attack dog named Kinky. Lexy buys Otter’s End, a log cabin in Clopwolde-on-Sea, England, on the Internet from the son of the previous owner, recently dead from a heart attack. When Lexy answers the phone in her new home, she discovers the dead woman was a private investigator. Short on cash and determined not to spend the stolen money, Lexy agrees to take the case, following the wife of the caller for an unnamed reason she assumes is infidelity. Lexy soon picks up a second case, finding a missing cat, and a third, uncovering the writer of poison pen letters. When she finds the murdered body of the wife she is tailing, Lexy realizes she is in over her head, but keeps investigating since the client secrets she hasn’t told the police may keep them from solving the crime. This amusing debut will appeal to fans of traditional mysteries.

Hard Ticket HomeDavid Housewright
A Hard Ticket Home (2004) introduces Rushmore (Mac) McKenzie a cop from St. Paul, Minnesota, who has no hope of promotion after a shooting incident using a shotgun instead of his police-issued weapon. Mac quits the force after coming into an unexpected windfall, and with more money than he knows what to do with, works as an unlicesnsed private detective whenever the spirit moves him. A couple with a young daughter who needs a bone marrow transplant asks Mac to find their older daughter, Jamie, who ran away from home years ago. As Mac searches the seedy underbelly of the Twin Cities for clues about Jamie, he finds connections to drug dealers and respected businessmen. Mac is an appealing protagonist: tough, quick-witted, fond of music, and eager to offer a sno-cone to every visitor. Despite a high body count, this action-packed first in a series is balanced by the humorous tone and snappy dialogue.

Cold DishCraig Johnson
The Cold Dish (2004) introduces Walt Longmire, the good-humored veteran sheriff in Absaroka County, Wyoming, where nothing much happens in the way of crime. When Cody Pritchard is found shot to death, everyone, including the police, assumes it was a hunting accident, but Walt is nagged by the memory that Cody and three friends were convicted of raping a young Cheyenne girl with fetal alcohol syndrome two years earlier. Because of their youth, the four boys were given suspended sentences, creating tension between the white and Native American communities. When the second of the four boys is found dead, Walt is sure someone is out for revenge, “the dish best served cold.” Walt fears that his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, the uncle of the girl, may be involved in the murders, especially after the police identify the weapon as a Sharps buffalo rifle. Engaging characters, a strong sense of place, and a twisting plot make this appealing book a highly recommended series start, especially for fans of Tony Hillerman and Steven F. Havill.

Empty MirrorJ. Sydney Jones
The Empty Mirror (2009) takes place in 1898 Vienna, Austria. Five bodies, all with noses sliced off, have been found on the grounds of the Prater amusement park over a two-month period. The latest victim was Gustav Klimt’s current model, who held an empty mirror up to the viewer in Nuda Veritas. When Klimt is charged with the crime, he calls on his old friend and lawyer Karl Werthen for help. Werthen in turn asks Dr. Hanns Gross, the father of modern criminology, whose early monographs may have inspired Sherlock Holmes, to assist in solving the murders. Eventually Werthen and Gross conclude that the current murders are connected in some way with the assassination of Empress Elisabeth and the earlier deaths of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his lover Mary Vetsera. The investigation moves at a leisurely pace, reflecting the unhurried nature of life in that time and place. The mix of historical and imaginary characters is very well done. Klimt is portrayed as a vibrant and eccentric bear of a man—dressing in flowing caftans and painting even his society matron portraits first nude with clothing added later. The details about period medical techniques and the strange family of Emperor Franz Josef are fascinating, adding depth to this fine historical mystery.

Miernik DossierCharles McCarry
The Miernik Dossier (1973) is the story of a group of international agents who set out on a road trip from Geneva to deliver a Cadillac to Prince Kalash el Khatar’s father in Sudan. Paul Christopher is an American agent, Nigel Collins is a British agent, Ilona Bentley is English-Hungarian, Tadeusz Miernik is a Polish scientist who may be a Communist plant. Narrated entirely in official communications, dossier notes, transcripts of conversations, and diary entries, the investigations and deceptions of each character slowly emerge. A fascinating study of the power of suspicion to create its own reality, this thought-provoking spy book is an amazing first novel.

Beautiful Place to DieMalla Nunn
A Beautiful Place To Die (2008) is set in 1952 in Jacob’s Rest, South Africa, a small town on the border with Mozambique. New apartheid laws have just been enacted and Detective Emmanuel Cooper, an Englishman from Johannesburg, has been sent to investigate a supposed hoax call that turns out to be the murder of Captain Pretorius, a local Afrikaner policeman whose family owns most of the town. Emmanuel begins the investigation with the help of Constable Shabalala, a Zulu who grew up with Pretorius, but two thuggish officers from the powerful Security Branch soon arrive, convinced that the murder must be the work of the black communist radicals. Emmanuel manages to stay in town with the pretense of investigating a Peeping Tom who preys on black and coloured women, but he knows that it is only a matter of time before the Security police figure out he is still looking for the real murderer. Emmanuel is a sympathetic protagonist, determined to find the truth at great personal risk while battling shell shock in the form of severe headaches and a voice from the trenches. This powerful debut novel is a gripping story of corruption and the oppressive injustice of apartheid in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.

Mallory’s OracleCarol O’Connell
Mallory’s Oracle (1994) introduces Kathleen Mallory, a New York City cop with the soul of a thief. A feral child rescued from the streets at age 10 by Detective Louis Markowitz, Mallory grew to love her adoptive parents and found an outlet for her criminal tendencies in computer science, eventually finding a home in the police Computer Division. When Louis is killed by a serial killer targeting wealthy widows, Mallory is placed on compassionate leave. Compelled to track down and punish his killer, she joins forces with Charles Butler, an eccentric consultant with a photographic memory. This character-driven thriller is an amazing debut novel with a unique protagonist. Mallory seems to have few moral guidelines of her own, relying instead on cues picked up from her parents, rules she doesn’t totally understand. She is loyal, driven, intelligent, and emotionally alienated from the world around her. As she pieces together the evidence leading to the killer, we slowly begin to understand Mallory herself.

SuspectMichael Robotham
The Suspect (2004) is the story of Joseph O’Loughlin, a psychologist in London, England. Joe has a wife, a young daughter, and has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he is trying to keep secret. Joe advises prostitutes about ways to keep themselves safe, so Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz asks his opinion about the unidentified and disfigured body of a murdered woman believed to be a prostitute. It is only after Joe has given his insights that he realizes he knew the murdered woman—a former patient who accused him of harassment after he rebuffed her advances. Joe is soon the prime suspect and hides from the police in order to conduct his own investigation. He fears another patient, who tells him of violent dreams, has something to do with the murder. Moving at a relentless pace, this psychological thriller has a sympathetic and believable protagonist who struggles with professional ethics while trying to think his way out of the steadily mounting evidence against him.

Red ScreamMary Willis Walker
The Red Scream (1994) introduces Molly Cates, a true-crime writer and reporter in Austin, Texas. Molly’s book about serial killer Louie Bronk, the Texas Scalper, has just come out and Louie’s execution date is a week away. Louie has requested that Molly be a witness at his execution, and she is planning the article she will write when Charlie McFarland, the wealthy real estate developer whose wife, Tiny, was Louie’s last victim, finally consents to an interview. But all he wants is to bribe Molly not to talk to his daughter or to write about the execution. Molly receives an anonymous letter with an imitation of Louie’s jailhouse poetry, which she quoted in her book, and Charlie’s current wife is murdered and “scalped” in the same manner as Louie’s victims. Louie states that he can prove he didn’t kill Tiny, the only capital crime he was convicted of, and Molly begins to worry that he might be telling the truth. The knowledge that Louie was certainly guilty of the earlier murders poses a dilemma for Molly: should she investigate, discredit her book, and help release a killer? Molly’s relationship with her grown daughter and police detective ex-husband add human interest to this thriller.

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July 1, 2009

EmperorStephen L. Carter
The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002) is the story of Talcott (Misha) Garland, an African American law professor at an Ivy League college, who is left a cryptic note from his father, Oliver Garland, upon his death, which just might have been a murder. The family has never quite recovered from the scandal that destroyed Judge Garland’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, and now Misha’s wife Kimmer, who he suspects is unfaithful, is undergoing her own investigation for a judgeship. Judge Garland’s old friend Jack Ziegler, a former CIA agent suspected of being an organized crime boss, is interested in the mysterious “arrangements” the Judge left for Misha, as is the FBI, and several shady men who begin to follow him. Unfortunately Misha has no idea what these arrangements are. Misha’s nickname comes from his early talent for chess, and chess references begin each section. This huge (654 pages) and complex book is far more than a murder mystery, raising issues of racism, classism, politics, and the essential loneliness of the individual. Highly recommended.

AppraisalJane K. Cleland
Deadly Appraisal (2007), the 2nd in the series, finds Josie Prescott, an antiques dealer in a small town in coastal New Hampshire, feeling good about the growth of her new business. Then a woman is poisoned at the gala Prescott Antiques is sponsoring to raise money for the local Women’s Guild. Everyone who had access to the poisoned wine is under suspicion, but the police suspect that Josie may have been the intended victim. The theft of a valuable antique that was one of the fundraising auction items adds to the confusion as Josie and Wes, an untrustworthy yet talented investigative reporter, try to figure out what is really going on. Cleland is chair of the Wolfe Pack’s literary awards, and spotting references to Nero Wolfe (Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin appear on a list of car owners) adds to the fun, as does the inclusion of interesting information about antiques.

RhymesDiana Killian
High Rhymes and Misdemeanors (2003) introduces Grace Hollister, an American schoolteacher and literary scholar visiting England’s Lake District. While out walking Grace stumbles over the not-quite-dead body of Peter Fox in a stream and resuscitates him. The next day Peter disappears and Grace is kidnapped by two thugs looking for the "gewgaws" Peter is hiding. When Peter and Grace reconnect in Peter’s flat over the dead body of one of Peter’s dubious friends, Peter reveals that he has no idea what the gewgaws are but they can’t go to the police because of his criminal past. Once they discover that the missing treasures have something to do with Lord Byron, Grace is hooked, and the hunt is on. Secret passageways, unscrupulous collectors, and eccentric villagers add to the fun in this lively mystery.

SusanJulie Kramer
Stalking Susan (2008) introduces Riley Spartz, an investigative TV reporter in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Riley has been unable to concentrate on work since her husband died a year ago, but her old friend and retiring cop Nick Garnett tempts her back into the game with his file on two women named Susan who were murdered on the same date a year apart. The police aren’t convinced there is a link between the two murders, except for Garnett, who has been staking out the area where both bodies were found each year on the anniversary date. Investigating a possible serial killer revitalizes Riley, who throws herself wholeheartedly into nailing her story and winning back her star status in the newsroom. The news director, for whom Riley is fond of imagining fatal accidents, assigns Riley a story from the tip line no one else wants—a man convinced the cremains of his dog really aren’t—that unexpectedly turns into a popular story, just in time for sweeps month when every rating point counts. Kramer, a television news producer reveals the inside story of a reporter balancing the two stories while navigating the cut-throat internal politics of the television newsroom. Totally committed to her job, Riley’s humor has a cynical edge which perfectly defines her character, and the relationship between Riley and Garnett, illuminated by their penchant for meeting in theaters and exchanging quotes from old movies, promises enjoyable development in future books. This engaging debut is nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel.

BorderlandsBrian McGilloway
Borderlands (2007) introduces Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin from the small town of Lifford, Ireland. When the body of a 15-year-old girl is found on the Tyrone-Donegal border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Devlin takes the case since he recognizes the girl as a resident on his side of the border. The border was drawn in 1920 with no regard for geography or property rights, so the Borderlands is a confusing area where TV signals come from the north, and the electricity to run the TVs from the south. The girl is wearing a ring her family doesn’t recognize, and an old photograph is left with the flowers local mourners place at the site. This first murder in Devlin’s small town since 1883 seems at first to be the work of an itinerant “Traveler,” but the same photograph left with a second murder victim makes that unlikely. Devlin is a sympathetic protagonist with enough flaws to make his future development interesting. Though happily married with two children, Devlin fights his attraction to an old girlfriend and worries that his daughter’s beloved dog may be a livestock killer. This solid police procedural was nominated for the 2007 New Blood Dagger.

Bone RattlerEliot Pattison
Bone Rattler (2007) tells the story of Duncan McCallum, a Scottish prisoner convicted of harboring a traitor to the throne, who is indentured to the Ramsey Company of New York and transported to the New World in 1759. Two mysterious deaths aboard ship cause the captain to ask McCallum to use his medical training to examine the dead bodies for clues. The deaths are not resolved by the time the ship arrives in New York, though the Ramsey representative escorting the prisoners is eager to pin it on Mr. Lister, a trustee who has hidden his Highland heritage. In order to clear Lister, McCallum continues his investigation in the wilds of New York Colony, both helped and threatened by the English army, the Iroquois and other Native Americans, and the American Rangers. Pattison captures the flavor of the time in very human terms. The horror McCallum and the other prisoners feel when first faced with the Iroquois warriors highlights the disequilibrium of one culture dropped into a totally alien environment. The overlapping of these two unique cultures brings a unique time in American history to vivid life.

RossettiChristi Phillips
The Rossetti Letter (2007) tells the story of Alessandra Rossetti, a Venetian courtesan who wrote a letter warning of a Spanish plot against the government of Venice in 1681, and Claire Donovan, a modern woman writing her dissertation about that same Spanish Conspiracy. Claire lucks into a week in Venice in exchange for chaperoning a challenging teenager, and discovers that an established historian is writing a book discounting the Spanish Conspiracy as a myth created by powerful Venetians interested in discrediting Spain. Determined to find evidence to prove that Alessandra was a heroine and not a pawn, Claire dives into the primary documents of the period. Told from the viewpoints of both women, this engaging novel brings 17th century Venice to life, while revealing the detective quality of historical research.

DeathLinda L. Richards
Death Was the Other Woman (2008) introduces Kitty Pangborn, daughter of a formerly wealthy father who crashed with the stock market in 1929 Los Angeles. Kitty gets a job as secretary to world weary private eye Dexter J. Theroux, experienced but prone to vanishing into a bottle to fight his lingering WWI memories. Dex takes a case for Rita Heppelwaite, mistress to the rich and shady Harrison Dempsey, and is asked to follow him that night. Since Dex is too tipsy to drive, Kitty takes the wheel, but they both fall asleep on stakeout. Waking and desperate to find a powder room, Kitty discovers a dead body in the bathtub. By the time the police arrive the next day, the body has disappeared and Dex is hired again, this time by the wife to find her missing husband. Dex and Kitty make an engaging pair, and Kitty’s snappy narration keeps the action solidly in 1930. This entertaining first in a new series is great fun.

DetectiveRichard Yancey
The Highly Effective Detective (2006) introduces Teddy Ruzak, who failed police academy and became a security guard in Knoxville, Tennessee. When Teddy’s mother dies and unexpectedly leaves him a small fortune, Teddy decides to fulfill his lifetime dream of becoming a private detective. He rents an office and hires his favorite waitress as his secretary, but neglects to get a license since he doesn’t know he needs one. His first client is a man who witnessed a hit-and-run with six fatalities. The victims happen to be goslings, but Teddy is hot on the case, or would be if he had the slightest idea what to do. A month later he is still investigating when a woman tells him her stepmother went missing the same day the goslings were killed, and Teddy finds himself in the middle of a dangerous situation. Teddy is a unique and charming protagonist. His habit of free association during the middle of conversations, developed during endless nights alone on security duty, is hilarious and endearing. This funny and suspenseful cozy debut is a delight from cover to cover.

Small CrimesDave Zeltserman
Small Crimes (2008) is the first person perspective of Joe Denton, just released from 7 years of soft time, out of 24 sentenced, which he mostly spent playing checkers with the warden in county jail and reading library books. Joe was a cop in Bradley County, Vermont, but he went wrong: bribery, cocaine, embezzlement, conspiracy with the Mob, and ultimately convicted of attempted murder and mayhem on the District Attorney. He neglected his wife and two daughters along the line, too, as he wallows in the vortex of drugs and corruption. Now, though, he vows to make things right—no more gambling, drugs, and all that, and he’s determined to get back with the family. His wife, his childhood sweetheart, divorced him and changed her name, and his two daughters don’t know him, but he’s on the right track now. His parents don’t seem to share his vision of how he’ll move in with them and rehabilitate himself. Plus, there are the pressures of the old gang, the still corrupt cops and the Mob, and those ever-fluctuating gambling debts. But Joe is determined to change his life, and he can be so convincing. Unfortunately, he is trapped in a Jim Thompson-type novel, and he does have his faults, a temper to violence, and there are drugs and sex around, too. This is a compelling, if depressing, book in an older tradition, and unlike many “couldn’t put it down”, this one is the real deal. This is the first of a trilogy of “bad guys just out of prison”, and we’ll be looking forward to the others. Pariah, the 2nd in the series, will be released in the US this fall.

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August 1, 2009

Draining LakeArnaldur Indriðason
The Draining Lake (Icelandic 2004, English 2007) is the 4th Erlendur Sveinsson mystery available in English translation. An earthquake has caused the slow draining of a lake revealing a skeleton with a hole in the skull, tied to a Russian radio device. Erlendur, who is enduring his enforced summer vacation by skulking in his apartment with the shades down, is rescued by his obsession with missing persons cases and assigned to investigate. The listening device is dated to the Cold War era, when promising left-wing Icelandic students were given Soviet scholarships to the University of Leipzig in East Germany. Tantalizing snippets narrated by one of these students reveal a fascinating slice of Icelandic history as Marxist idealism clashes with Fascist reality. While checking on people who went missing around 1970, Erlendur and his colleagues, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg, focus on a salesman who disappeared, leaving a girlfriend and a new Ford Falcon behind. As the investigation slowly progresses, Erlendur struggles to maintain a relationship with his estranged children, dying former boss, and new love interest. Though Erlendur is a rather dour and gloomy protagonist, Arnaldur’s novels manage to maintain a glimmer of hope and optimism through the noir Scandinavian fatalism. This highly recommended book is nominated for both the Barry and Macavity Awards for Best Novel.

Black EchoMichael Connelly
The Black Echo (1992) introduces Harry Bosch, a famous homicide detective from Los Angeles, California, who has been exiled to the small-town Hollywood police force after killing an unarmed suspect. When Harry gets the call for a body in a drainpipe, he recognizes first the tattoo, and then the face of a former fellow "tunnel rat" from Vietnam. Though meant to look like an overdose death, Harry suspects murder and is soon deep into an unpopular investigation of bank robbery, diamonds, and more murders. Harry is an amazingly complex character who elevates this solid police procedural into a vividly realistic mystery. This winner of the 1993 Edgar Award for Best First Novel is highly recommended.

CakeEvelyn David
Murder Takes the Cake (2009) reunites Mac Sullivan, a retired cop trying to start a PI business, with Rachel Brenner, a 40-something divorcee and funeral make-up artist, in Washington, DC. When Rachel discovers that the inventory of coffins at the funeral home doesn’t match the invoices, she asks Mac to look into the discrepancy quietly since her boss is stressed out about his daughter’s upcoming wedding to the son of a snooty New England socialite family. Mac fears that the request is just a ploy on Rachel’s part to pin down his intentions about their sort-of relationship, but he needs a case to keep JJ, his young punk assistant, and Edger, his walker-bound researcher, from driving him crazy. Then the bride ambushes Mac, swears someone is trying to kill her, and hires him to catch her would-be killer. Everyone assumes this is just another case of pre-wedding jitters, but Mac worries that she might really be in danger. Whiskey, Mac’s junk-food addicted Irish wolfhound adds yet another source of fun in this light-hearted and fast-paced cozy.

NailTimothy Hallinan
A Nail Through the Heart (2007) introduces Poke Rafferty, who came to Bangkok to research the latest in his “Looking for Trouble” travel guides for the young adventurer. Poke has finished the book, but has found a home in Thailand with Rose, an ex-bar girl, and Miaow, an 8-year-old girl he has rescued from the streets. Miaow in turn rescues a troubled boy known as Superman, who helped her survive before vanishing into drug addiction. Rafferty has a reputation of being able to find those who vanish, and an Australian woman hires him to find her uncle who has gone missing. Rafferty discovers the missing man’s unsavory collection of sadistic pornography and soon learns more than he can stand about the brutal reality of Thailand’s street children. Despite the disturbing descriptions of sexual depravity, this powerful novel suggests that love can be a redemptive force. Rafferty is an appealing protagonist as he struggles to understand his adoptive country and to cope with the concept that murder may at times be the logical and just solution to combat the personification of evil.

Little FaceSophie Hannah
Little Face (2006) tells the chilling story of a missing baby. When Alice Fancourt returns home after her first outing since returning from the hospital she discovers that the front door is open, and realizes the baby in the nursery is not her two-week old daughter Florence. Alice’s husband David, who was napping, insists that Alice is mistaken, but Alice calls the police and reports a missing baby. Simon Waterhouse, a detective constable, responds to the call and is sympathetic to Alice, but Charlie Zailer, his detective sergeant, is sure that Alice is suffering from postpartum depression and is delusional. Alice notices that David begins calling the baby “Little Face” instead of Florence, and her mother-in-law Vivienne also begins to doubt that the baby is her granddaughter. David becomes increasingly abusive of Alice, who seems unable to cope. When both Alice and the baby disappear, the police are forced to investigate, and Simon’s suspicion of David deepens when he discovers some discrepancies in the investigation of the murder of David’s first wife. Narrated from both the viewpoint of Alice and Simon, this dark psychological thriller is emotionally intense.

Water ClockJim Kelly
The Water Clock (2003) introduces Philip Dryden, a reporter for a weekly newspaper in the watery Fens district of Cambridgeshire, England. A former reporter for a large London newspaper, Dryden is a bit tired of his mundane story assignments until the discovery of a body in a car pulled from the frozen river. When a second body is found, Dryden suspects that the connection is a robbery from 30 years ago, and uses the facts he uncovers to trade for the police file on the accident that left his wife in a coma two years earlier. Consumed by guilt that he survived the accident intact while his wife was left in the car for several hours, Dryden is willing to submit a false story in order to learn the truth. Though the ending relies too much on the compulsion of the killer to confess, this book is a fine start to a series. Dryden refuses to drive after the accident and is ferried about by an enormous taxi driver who listens constantly to foreign language tapes. Dryden, a good-humored cynic, grazes on mini-pork pies and raw mushrooms from his pockets and discusses his day each evening with his unconscious wife. Nominated for the Dagger Award for Best First Novel, this highly recommended novel sparkles with evocative prose.

DetectionLaurie R. King
The Art of Detection (2006) finds lesbian SFPD detective Kate Martinelli and her partner Al Hawkin confronted by a body dumped in the gun embankment of Battery DuMaurier in the Presidio of San Francisco. The body is identified as Philip Gilbert, a Sherlock Holmes fanatic who collected valuable Holmes memorabilia and turned the bottom floor of his house into a replica of 221B Baker Street, complete with gas lighting and a tobacco pouch stored in a Persian slipper nailed to the wall. The members of Gilbert’s monthly Holmes-themed supper club don’t seem to know much about Gilbert outside his Holmes mania, but do reveal that he was excited about a new discovery: a possible unpublished Holmes story that could be worth millions. In the story, the unidentified narrator chronicles his search for the missing lover of a transvestite nightclub singer. As Kate reads the story, the astute reader will discover that it is Holmes own account of how he spent his time while Mary Russell dealt with family obligations in Locked Rooms, great fun for fans of both series. The juxtaposition of the present day police procedural with the period Holmesian narrative adds depth to both investigations, highlighting the similarities and differences and underscoring the essential qualities of a good detective in any era.

RedReggie Nadelson
Red Mercury Blues (1995, APA: Red Hot Blues 1998) introduces Artie Cohen, a New York cop who isn’t eager to remember that he was once Artemy Maximovich Otalsky of Moscow. When Gennadi Ustinov, an old friend of his father and a former KGB general tries to make contact on a visit to New York, Artie ignores him until it is too late: Ustinov is shot on a live New York talk show and dies before Artie can talk to him. The reluctant Artie, fluent in Russian, is assigned to investigate the killing since the police figure that the answer lies somewhere with the Russian Jewish mafia of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. Unfortunately no one will talk to a cop, so Artie takes a leave and puts the word out that he is available for hire. Artie identifies Ustinov’s killer as a young Russian working as an atomic mule, selling stolen nuclear samples to the highest bidder, and dying of radiation poisoning. Though he swears he will never return to Moscow, Artie is compelled by his search for the truth to confront both his own past and Russia’s uneasy present. This New York/Russian noir debut thriller places a troubled protagonist in a situation where he must make hard choices in order to do the right thing.

Buffalo JumpHoward Shrier
Buffalo Jump (2008) introduces Jonah Geller, a private investigator in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Jonah is having a bad day. He is still recovering from a bullet wound in his arm caused by a careless mistake on a case, his boss is still mad at him, and he comes home to find a contract killer in his apartment. Luckily the hit man, Dante Ryan, isn’t there to kill Jonah, but to ask for his help. Ryan has been given the contract to kill an entire family, including a 5-year-old boy the same age as Ryan’s son, and he can’t do it. Ryan asks Jonah to find out who ordered the hit so that he can renegotiate and spare the boy’s life. Jonah investigates the father, an independent pharmacist, and soon finds himself in the midst of a dangerous prescription drug smuggling operation. Jonah is an entertaining narrator: quick, witty, always ready to defuse the situation with a joke. The supporting characters are equally complex and surprising, especially Dante Ryan, who grows on Jonah as the investigation progresses. This debut novel won the 2009 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.

ShadowsShirley Wells
Into the Shadows (2007) introduces Jill Kennedy, a forensic psychologist who has left her job and London to write a book in the village of Kelton Bridge, Lancashire, England. Jill’s profile helped the police arrest Rodney Hill for a series of murders, but the murders continued after his suicide in jail. Jill is determined to have nothing more to do with the case, but Max Trentham, a detective chief inspector and her ex-lover, is sent to Kelton when the local vicar’s wife is murdered. Max tells Jill the police need her, and Jill begins to suspect that the serial killer, called Valentine from his habit of carving hearts into the skin of his victims, is stalking her. Once she rejoins the police, Jill suspects that Valentine may live somewhere in the rural community she now lives in. Though Jill ignores some obvious clues to the identity of the killer, the closed set of suspects allows the suspense to build.

August Word Cloud

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September 1, 2009

Trust MeJeff Abbott
Trust Me (Dutton 2009) is a stand-alone thriller, which finds Luke Dantry, a University of Texas graduate student, applying his computer skills to infiltrate extremist websites and befriend terrorists on the Internet, working for his stepfather’s think tank. Luke focuses on a group of malcontents, bombers, and assassins called the “Night Road.” as they work toward their ultimate goal “Hellfire.” Luke thinks he is working for the good guys, but things are more complicated than that; other shadowy groups such as the Book Club (!) and Quicksilver make it difficult to trust anyone. The days and nights of researching and chatting in the Internet are soon over for Luke, as he is kidnaped and becomes a highly sought international fugitive, trying to stay one step ahead of multiple pursuers. Soon enough, Luke can’t even trust his own past. This is a fast-paced adventure that rushes from Texas to Chicago, New York, Paris, with seemingly superhuman villains: Snow, the white-haired female bomber who grew up in a Waco Branch Davidian-style community, and Mouser, the indestructible ex-con. They’ve got the organization, the will, and the motivating hatreds — all they need is more money and time. Trust Me is all the more alarming because it resonates with current events.

CavalierSusanne Alleyn
The Cavalier of the Apocalypse (Minotaur Books 2009) is a prequel explaining how series hero Aristide Ravel, a young and impoverished writer in Paris, France, becomes a detective. In 1786, Ravel runs into an old schoolmate, the wealthy Olivier Derville, who introduces Ravel to a printer who is interested in manuscripts mocking the royal family and the Church, and Ravel promises three essays on the state of France and what might be done about it. Brasseur, a friendly police inspector, saves him from losing the down payment to a cut-purse on the way home. When Brasseur finds a murdered man marked with strange symbols in a churchyard, he asks Ravel for help interpreting the symbols. Impressed by Ravel’s natural bent for investigation, he appoints him an unofficial sub-inspector to help identify the murderer. Their investigation leads to a confusing tangle of secret societies, the royal scandal of the queen’s diamond necklace, and rumblings of revolution against the court of Louis XVI. Ravel is never sure exactly who he can trust as he follows the thread of evidence through the streets and mansions of Paris, meeting strange historical figures like Honoré Fragonard, an anatomist who created macabre models like The Cavalier of the Apocalypse: a preserved skinless man riding a skinless horse. Excellent details make this fascinating historical period come to life.

Carved in BoneJefferson Bass
Carved in Bone (William Morrow 2006) introduces Dr. Bill Brockton, a forensic anthropologist who runs the Anthropology Research Facility (dubbed The Body Farm) at the University of Tennessee. Brockton is asked by the sheriff of nearby Cooke County to help with a a nearly mummified corpse discovered in a cave. When Brockman examines the body, the discovery of the skeleton of a 4-month old fetus inflames his pain over the death of his wife and his estrangement from his grown son. The discovery of a set of dog tags around the dead woman’s neck eventually leads to a match with a young woman who disappeared 30 years earlier, though getting any information from the clannish and suspicious residents of Cooke County is not an easy task for an outsider. Brockton’s investigation is not helped by the overly powerful sheriff and his incompetent deputy, but his criminologist friend at the Knoxville Police Department is willing to help out. Brockman’s discussions with his student assistants and snippets from class lectures provide a natural forum for inserting tidbits of forensic science into the narrative. Jefferson Bass is the joint alias for Dr. Bill Bass, who founded the real Body Farm, and Jon Jefferson, which explains the enthusiastic, but not overly gruesome, presentation of the details of forensic examination techniques.

BurglarsLawrence Block
Burglars Can’t Be Choosers (1977) introduces Bernie Rhodenbarr, a burglar in New York City. While on the job in a fancy apartment, Bernie is surprised by two policemen responding to a call. Recognizing one, Bernie offers a bribe, which is accepted, and all is well until the other cop finds a dead body in the bedroom. Bernie makes a quick escape and hides out in the apartment of an actor acquaintance who is on tour. With the assistance of the girl who appears to water his friend’s plants, Bernie is soon on the hunt for the real murderer. Bernie is a charming protagonist, quick-witted and proud of his burglary skills. This lighthearted caper is a fast-moving puzzle with enough surprises to keep you guessing until the end.

SweetnessAlan Bradley
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Delacorte Press 2009) introduces Flavia de Luce, an 11-year old aspiring chemist in the small village of Bishop’s Lacey, England, in 1950. Flavia’s father is still mourning the death of his wife, who died 10 years earlier, and her two older sisters are absorbed in either books or the mirror, so Flavia is usually left to her own devices. Early one morning Flavia discovers a stranger in the cucumber patch, who breathes his last word into her face and dies. Since this is easily the most interesting thing that has ever happened, Flavia decides to solve the crime herself, especially after the police show no inclination to let her hover around the crime scene. When Flavia’s father is arrested and charged with murder, her efforts redouble and she is soon on the trail of the mysterious death of a schoolmaster 30 years earlier, whose last words were the same as the man in the garden. Her quest to save her father includes a desire for an emotional connection that is sadly lacking in her life. Flavia is an engaging protagonist: precocious, stubborn, single-minded, passionate in her loyalties and plots for revenge. Exotic poisons, rare stamps, and multiple red herrings enliven this light and witty debut mystery.

Last EnemyGrace Brophy
The Last Enemy (Soho Crime 2007) introduces Alessandro Cenni, a maverick state police commissario, in Assisi, Umbria, Italy. On Good Friday, Rita Minelli, the visiting American niece of Count Umberto Casati, is murdered in the Casati family vault. Rita brought her mother’s body back Assisi for burial several months earlier, and then over-stayed her welcome with her snobbish aristocratic relatives, none of whom seem saddened by her death. Casati, who has retained his title despite the act abolishing all Italian titles in 1947, uses his connections to try and shield his family from investigation, but Cenni is convinced that one of the family is the killer. Cenni’s superior would prefer that Cenni arrest Sophie Orlic, a Croatian flower seller who discovered the body, but Cenni refuses to be pressured into arresting an innocent woman. Cenni, who joined the police after his fiancee was kidnapped by political terrorists, is a complex and engaging protagonist. The supporting characters, Cenni’s family and colleagues as well as the suspects, are quirky and fully-developed. This debut police procedural deftly places the intrigue of contemporary Italian politics and society in context with the historical Umbrian setting.

Share in DeathDeborah Crombie
A Share in Death (1993) introduces Duncan Kincaid, a Scotland Yard superintendent spending a week’s vacation in a luxurious Yorkshire time-share. Kincaid hopes to hide his profession for a week, but the electrocution of a gossipy staff member in the whirlpool blows his cover. Nash, the local DCI, isn’t at all thrilled to have Kincaid on his patch, but Kincaid isn’t convinced Nash is up to the job and finagles his way into acting as a consultant. While Kincaid looks into the other guests first-hand, he sends his partner, Sergeant Gemma James, to check into their backgrounds at home. The other time-share guests all have unique personalities, with enough flaws and secrets to keep the reader guessing until the murderer is finally unmasked. Nominated for both the Agatha and Macavity awards for Best First Novel, this assured novel is a fine series start.

Odd ThomasDean Koontz
Odd Thomas (2003) introduces a 20-year-old fry cook in the fictional small town of Pico Mundo, California. Odd’s parents say his name is a misspelling on the birth certificate, but don’t agree on anything else. At a young age, Odd discovered that he can communicate with the lingering dead who have unfinished business. He can also see “bodachs,” dark shapes that cluster around evil or violence. Odd notices a crowd of bodachs clustering around a stranger, and later discovers a shrine to serial killers in the stranger’s house. Luckily the police chief understands Odd’s gift and works with him to figure out what is happening until the chief himself is shot. Odd’s simple and straightforward narration makes the bizarre realities of his life easy to accept. A unique and unassuming protagonist, Odd Thomas is a character you will enjoy spending time with.

Black WaterAttica Locke
Black Water Rising (Harper 2009) tells the story of Jay Porter, a young, black lawyer struggling to make ends meet in 1981 Houston, Texas. To celebrate his pregnant wife’s birthday, Jay hires a cut-rate boat for a moonlight cruise. When they hear a woman screaming, then shots, and finally splashing, Jay doesn’t want to get involved, but his wife Bernie shames him into rescuing the woman from the bayou. A former activist in the Black Power movement who narrowly escaped jail time, Jay is leery of the white woman who refuses to talk to them. After dropping her off outside the police station, Jay and Bernie assume their involvement is done. But Jay can’t leave it alone, especially after a man is found shot and the woman is arrested for the murder. Jay knows the man was threatening the woman, and tries to convince her to tell the truth, revealing that he was a witness. Soon Jay is bribed with $25,000 to keep his mouth shut by a very scary guy who follows him to make sure that he does. Meanwhile, Jay is defending a young black man who was beaten after a meeting of the longshoremen who are threatening to strike, and some powerful Texan oil men and the mayor would like Jay to disappear. This literary thriller skillfully weaves powerful themes of race relations and the business practices of oil corporations with an engaging murder investigation.

RuleLouise Penny
A Rule Against Murder (Minotaur 2009, APA: The Murder Stone 2008) finds Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec, celebrating his 35th wedding anniversary at the Manoir Bellechasse, a luxurious and isolated inn not far from the village of Three Pines, in southern Quebec, Canada. Armand and Reine-Maire share the inn with the wealthy and dysfunctional Finney family, who think the Gamaches run a shop. The Gamaches are delighted when the final members of the Finney reunion, the dreaded Spot and Claire, turn out to be their old friends Peter and Clara Morrow from Three Pines. When the oldest Finney daughter is crushed by the newly installed statue of the Finney patriarch, Armand knows the murderer must either be a member of the Finney family or part of the hotel staff, but he can’t figure out how the massive statue was toppled from its base. The snobbish Finneys continually denigrate Armand’s investigation and his infamous father, but Armand treats everyone with respect as he sorts through the suspects and clues. Penny’s beautiful prose brings the eccentric characters and the beautiful Manoir Bellechasse to vivid life. The 4th book in the series, this atmospheric novel is a finalist for the 2009 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. The Brutal Telling, the 5th in the series, is due this month.

September Word Cloud

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October 1, 2009

AngelRuth Brandon
Caravaggio’s Angel (Soho Constable 2008) introduces Reggie Lee, an art curator for the National Gallery in London, England. After stumbling across a rare pamphlet at a rural school fete, Reggie begins to plan a small exhibition of three almost identical Caravaggio paintings of St. Cecilia and the Angel. One painting is at the Louvre, another at the Getty, and Reggie is determined to track down the third. When a fourth painting emerges, Reggie is sure one is a fake, but which one? Reggie is an engaging protagonist who easily makes the transition from an art historian investigating the history of a painting to amateur sleuth investigating sudden deaths she is sure are not accidents. The early 17th century art history details are fascinating, sending me on an Internet search for the work of Caravaggio, as are the insights into art thefts in the early 20th century.

HoneyLester Dent
Honey in His Mouth (written 1956, first published by Hard Case Crime in 2009) finds small-time con-man Walter Harsh caught up in an international plot involving millions of dollars. The masterminds have been waiting for a dupe with the right looks and blood type to substitute for a South American dictator—all he needs is a scar in the right place and some Spanish lessons. Walter is more interested in the day-to-day problems of finding a bit of cash and getting back together with Vera Sue. Walter thinks $25,000 would be a king’s ransom, and has a hard time playing in the same league with the cabal that has taken over his life. Flirting with the dictator’s mistress and living a life of ease has some appeal, but as the pressure mounts, the conspirators begin to fight amongst themselves, leaving Walter and Vera Sue in dire straits. We weren’t familiar with Lester Dent, although he created the pulp hero Doc Savage and wrote about 165 adventures under the house pseudonym Kenneth Robeson. The writing in this book is accomplished and a bit quirky in an appealing way, and the ending was unexpected. Dent wrote only a handful of mysteries, but we’re glad to have added an author page for him, triggered by the new Hard Case Crime entry.

Starvation LakeBryan Gruley
Starvation Lake (Touchstone 2009) introduces reporter Gus Carpenter who has returned to his hometown of Starvation Lake, Michigan, after leaving the Detroit Times in disgrace. On top of that failure, everyone in town remembers that he was the goalie who gave up the winning goal to lose the town’s only chance at the state hockey championship ten years earlier. After that season, beloved hockey coach Jack Blackburn died in a snowmobile accident and the town’s economic health took a turn for the worse. Now working as editor for the Pilot, whose motto is “Michigan’s Finest Bluegill Wrapper,” Gus plays hockey with his boyhood teammates, rehashing aggressions and alliances on the ice. When the remains of a snowmobile emerge from a different lake with a bullet hole in the hood, the police and the press wonder if Blackburn was murdered. Most of the town, including the owner of the paper, would prefer that the past stay buried, but Gus and cub reporter Joanie McCarthy sink their teeth into the investigation and can’t let go. Gruley’s depiction of small town life is pitch perfect: the long group memory, the importance of hockey in a small northern town, and the difficulty of becoming an adult in a town who knew you as a kid.

Murder at LongournTracy Kiely
Murder at Longbourn (Minotaur 2009) introduces Elizabeth Parker, a newspaper fact-checker and die-hard Jane Austen fan in Virginia. Elizabeth has just broken up with her two-timing boyfriend and is facing a lonely New Year’s Eve when a note arrives from her Aunt Winnie, inviting her to a Murder Party at her new Bed & Breakfast on Cape Cod, which Winnie, who is also an obsessed fan of Pride and Prejudice, has christened The Inn at Longbourn. Elizabeth is horrified to find that Peter McGowan, her childhood nemesis, is helping Aunt Winnie with the opening festivities, but the handsome and very British Daniel Simms provides a welcome distraction. The Murder Party proceeds as expected until the all too realistic scream when the lights suddenly go out. The very dead body of the very wealthy and obnoxious Gerald Ramsey is revealed when the lights go on again. Since Ramsey had competed with Aunt Winnie for the B&B property, and vowed that the house would one day be his, Winnie is the prime suspect for his murder. Determined to clear her aunt’s name, Elizabeth sets out to find the real murderer. Red herrings and Austen quotes abound in this light and witty debut mystery.

Hold My HandSerena Mackesy
Hold My Hand (Soho Constable 2008) is the story of Rospetroc House, a Cornish manor house turned tourist rental. Parallel stories tell of two migrations from London. During WWII, Lily, a nine-year old East Ender was evacuated to stay with the unwelcoming and dysfunctional Blakemore family at Rospetroc House. In the present, Bridget Sweeny flees London with her six-year-old daughter Yasmin to escape her abusive ex-husband Kieran, and becomes housekeeper for Rospetroc House, now a tourist rental. With few guests and an unreliable electric system, Bridget is often nervous in the remote house, though relieved that Yasmin seems to be settling into the village school and has made a new friend called Lily. Vandalism inside the house and a feeling of being watched intensify for Bridget as Kieran begins to pick up their trail from London. This suspenseful and scary modern gothic novel is a chilling tale of murder and revenge that builds to a frightening conclusion during a snowstorm and power outage.

Marx SistersBarry Maitland
The Marx Sisters (1994) introduces Kathy Kolla, a young Scotland Yard detective, and Detective Chief Inspector David Brock, in London, England, who are called to investigate the death of an elderly widow, living with her two sisters in Jerusalem Lane, a unique neighborhood where Eastern European immigrants pass the time debating philosophical points and harboring ancient grudges. The coroner rules suicide, but the case is reopened when the second sister is murdered six months later. The sisters are Karl Marx’s great-granddaughters (via an illegitimate son), which adds an interesting twist to this fine mystery. (All My Enemies, the 3rd in the series, was recently reissued by Minotaur.)

Promise Not to TellJennifer McMahon
Promise Not To Tell (2007) is the story of Kate Cypher, a nurse who returns home to a small town in Vermont to care for her mother who has Alzheimer’s. The night of Kate’s return, a young girl is killed in the same way Kate’s childhood friend Del was brutally murdered 30 years earlier. Kate and her mother Jean arrived to live in a tent in a commune next to Del’s farm when Kate was 10. With her hippie lifestyle, Kate doesn’t fit in at her new school, but Del is even more of an outcast. Known as the Potato Girl, Del is bullied and tormented by her classmates, and is afraid of her father. But Kate is attracted to the free-spirited girl, and they become secret friends since Kate doesn’t have the courage to stand up to the 5th grade status quo. The current murder drives Kate back into memories of the past as she tries to come to terms with her own betrayal of Del while coping with the fear that her mother may have something to do with the new killing. Moving effortlessly between past and present, this chilling debut novel incorporates supernatural elements without sacrificing realistic suspense as Kate tries to figure out the truth. The portrait of Del, an imaginative child caught between the isolating control of her father and the continual cruelty of her classmates, is unforgettable.

The Pot ThiefJ. Michael Orenduff
The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras (Oak Tree Press 2009) introduces Hubert Schuze, owner of a shop selling Native American pottery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hubert is a treasure hunter, proud of his ability to find old pots on public land. Unfortunately that occupation was made illegal when Congress passed the Archaeological Resources Protection Act in 1980. But Hubert still believes the pots belong to the finder. He is surprised when a furtive customer offers him $25,000 to steal an ancient Mogollon water jug from the Valle del Rio Museum at the University of New Mexico. Tempted by the challenge, Hubert scopes out the museum just to see if the theft would be possible. Then he receives a surprise visit from a Bureau of Land Management agent who suspects that Hubert may be involved with the recent theft of a similar pot from park headquarters at Bandelier National Monument. When the agent is murdered, Hubert knows he is in over his head. but with the help of his best friend Susannah (a fan of Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr) and his nephew Tristan (a master of all things electronic), he sets out to find the truth. Hubert is an engaging protagonist: totally enamored of his native town, he lives on huevos rancheros and margaritas and is studying Pythagoras in order to figure out how the ancient potters could manage to space 17 design elements evenly around a pot. Hubert and his quirky friends occupy center stage more often than the murder investigation, but that doesn’t detract at all from the charm of the book, which is sure to appeal to fans of humorous mysteries.

Dark of the MoonP.J. Parrish
Dark of the Moon (2000) introduces Louis Kincaid, a young Detroit cop who returns in 1983 to his birthplace in rural Mississippi to be with his dying mother, an alcoholic who surrendered him to foster care with a white family when he was seven. Hired by mail and phone before sheriff Sam Dodie realizes he is half black, Louis encounters ingrained prejudice in Black Pool, where segregation is considered the norm. The discovery of the skeleton of a young black man lynched at least 20 years ago confronts Louis with the grim reality of his home town only a generation before. Though Louis is determined to identify the body, the town’s white power structure wants him to sweep the whole incident quickly under the rug. When white men begin dying, Louis suspects that the new murders are an attempt to cover up the old crime. Though reminiscent of John Ball’s Virgil Tibbs, Louis Kincaid is a strong character: conflicted about his mixed race, unable to forgive his dying mother for deserting him, and haunted by a powerful sense of responsibility toward the dead. This gripping debut novel is a fast-paced thriller set against a disturbing portrayal of a southern town struggling to come to terms with civil rights.

The AmateursMarcus Sakey
The Amateurs (Dutton 2009) is Sakey’s fourth non-series thriller, this time following the spiraling fates of four 30-something friends who have gravitated together seemingly through a shared sense of failure: Jenn, a travel agent who can only dream of taking a vacation like the ones she arranges; Mitch, a hotel doorman, with major insecurity issues; Ian, a cokehead financial trader waiting to repeat his big score, who also has a gambling problem; and Alex, a divorced bartender with child support and custody problems, who once wanted to be a lawyer. Meeting as the Thursday Night Drinking Club where Alex tends bar, one night the sleazy owner, Johnny Love, puts the moves on Jenn, insults Mitch, and threatens Alex, who learns that Johnny has a large pile of money as middleman in some nefarious deal. The group finds a common purpose fantasizing about robbing Johnny’s safe. After all, they are smart and above suspicion. The plan takes on a life of its own, and the amateur crooks predictably find themselves involved in murder, pursued by scary professional killers, and with a lot more than money to worry about. The protagonists will resonate with some readers more than others, but the writing is compelling as the four losers struggle to cope with their unraveling lives and plans, with some ennobling theatrics to round out the plot.

October Word Cloud

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November 1, 2009

Devil’s GardenAce Atkins
Devil’s Garden (Putnam 2009) tells the story of the 1921 trial of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, accused of killing Virginia Rappe, who was mysteriously injured and dies four days after a wild party hosted by Arbuckle in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. William Randolph Hearst, determined to punish Arbuckle for a brief liaison with his mistress, minor film star Marion Davies, uses his newspaper to accuse Arbuckle of crushing the innocent Virginia with his massive body during an attempted rape. Arbuckle, not nearly as large as his film studio reputation, is confused and bemused by the whole affair, unable to believe that a party crasher can ruin his career. Sam Dashiell Hammett, a Pinkerton operative living in San Francisco, is hired by Arbuckle’s lawyer to find the witnesses being hidden by the prosecution. Battling tuberculosis, Hammett finds evidence that the autopsy was a farce, and the police investigation sloppy at best. Written in pitch-perfect period tone, this fast-paced novel brings San Francisco and the Hollywood crowd of the 1920s to vivid life.

Lightning RuleBrett Ellen Block
The Lightning Rule (2006) is set in Newark, New Jersey, in 1967. Detective Martin Emmett is banished to the records room because he refuses to release the name of a black witness to a murder committed either by a mobster or a bent cop. Emmett’s home life isn’t easy either; his brother has returned from Vietnam in a wheelchair and has retreated into bitter alcoholism. When a black teenager’s body is found dumped in a subway tunnel, Emmett is called back to investigate since his boss needs a detective to toss to the wolves when the crime isn’t solved. Emmett discovers that the body is missing a finger, and remembers a similar case buried in the unsolved section of the records room. Burrowing through older records, he discovers a third unsolved murder of another black teenager missing a finger, and knows the cases are connected. As Emmett investigates, the infamous Newark Riots break out and Emmett must negotiate his way through road blocks, corrupt cops, racist attacks, and organized crime. Along the way he rescues a young black friend of the murdered boy who provides the connection that finally leads Emmett to at least some of the truth. This powerful novel was a finalist for the 2007 Macavity Award for Best Historical Novel.

Black DogStephen Booth
Black Dog (2000) introduces Ben Cooper, a detective constable trying to fill his dead father’s shoes, in Northern England’s Peak District. When young Laura Vernon goes missing, retired miner Harry Dickinson’s dog finds the girl’s shoe, leading the police to the body. Ben feels that the old man is holding something back, but the police focus on the gardener working for the girl’s wealthy parents. Ben, who worries that he may also be suffering from his mother’s "black dog" of schizophrenia, is partnered with Diane Fry, a coldly ambitious new transfer with secrets of her own. Both are on the short list for a promotion, but work out an uneasy truce as their investigation proceeds. They uncover unsavory aspects of the Vernon family life and try to convince Harry to reveal the information Ben is convinced he is hiding. This debut atmospheric thriller moves at a leisurely pace while always maintaining the psychological tension.

Blood WeddingP.J. Brooke
Blood Wedding (Soho Constable 2008) introduces Sub Inspector Max Romero, a detective assigned as liaison to the Muslim community in Granada, Spain. When Leila Mahfouz, a Muslim graduate student from England, is murdered in Max’s home village of Diva in the nearby mountains, Max is asked to help with the investigation. The prime suspect is living at the European Training Center for young Muslim entrepreneurs, and representatives from the Anti-Terrorist Group in Madrid suspect there may be a terrorist connection. The investigation reveals varied expectations: the local police want a quick solution to the crime at any cost, the Anti-Terrorist investigators have political agendas connected to the upcoming election, Max wants the truth about Leila’s death, and Leila was searching for a solution to the mystery of who betrayed Federico Garcia Lorca’s hiding place to the right-wing military during the Spanish Civil War. Because of Max’s mixed Scots-Spanish heritage, he is both connected and detached from his environment, giving him the perspective to identify all the different threads and their possible connections. Though totally involved in the investigation, Max seems to have plenty of time for wine, tapas, and his family, providing a unusually leisured pacing for a murder investigation. This debut novel by the husband/wife writing team of Philip J. O’Brien and Jane Brooke is a thought-provoking introduction to a unique detective in a fascinating setting.

Brasws VerdictMichael Connelly
The Brass Verdict (Little, Brown and Company 2008) is the second book in the Mickey Haller series. Still recovering from the addiction to pain medication following his gunshot wound, Mickey is just about ready to start back slowly as a defense lawyer when he gets an urgent message to visit the chief judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. Jerry Vincent, another sole practitioner, has been murdered, and Mickey has inherited his 31 cases, including that of Walter Elliot, a Hollywood producer charged with murdering his wife and her lover. The judge warns Mickey that he had better head quickly over to Vincent’s office to protect the confidential case files, but Mickey finds Detective Harry Bosch already going through them, searching for a motive for Vincent’s murder. Though initially reluctant to take on too much too soon, Mickey is soon back into full “Lincoln Lawyer” mode, reading case files non-stop in the back seat of his Lincoln set up as a mobile office. When Mickey’s life is threatened, he realizes that the Elliot case may be more than it seems, and he and Bosch establish a tentative partnership to uncover the truth. Mickey’s search for the "magic bullet" that will convince the jury to clear Elliot is masterfully portrayed—Mickey leads the reader quickly and easily through the legal issues and demonstrates the “high” that comes from solving a complex case. This feeling is balanced by Mickey’s moral sense, as the case draws him into issues of jury tampering, fraud, and legal malpractice. This highly recommended novel is engrossing from start to finish.

Mother ShadowMelodie Johnson Howe
The Mother Shadow (1989) introduces Maggie Hill, a 35-year-old failed writer now working for a temp agency in Los Angeles, California. Ellis Kenilworth, Maggie’s wealthy current employer, asks her to witness and then keep a new codicil to his will which leaves his valuable coin collection to Claire Conrad, a stranger outside the family. While Maggie lunches, Kenilworth kills himself. Maggie finds the body and a suicide note, but by the time the police arrive the note is missing. Later Maggie discovers the codicil has been stolen from her purse. Maggie tracks down Claire Conrad, an eccentric and elegant private detective. Together, they begin to investigate the Kenilworth family, uncovering unsavory secrets while exchanging snappy quips. First in a two book series, this thoroughly enjoyable debut novel was nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, and Edgar awards.

Gentle AxR.N. Morris
The Gentle Axe (2007) finds us in the world of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, about 18 months after the conclusion of that book. Two bodies are discovered in Petvosky Park: a dwarf with an axe wound in his skull and a peasant with a bloody axe in his belt hanging from a tree. Porfiry Petrovich, still haunted by the case of Raskolnikov, finds himself with another starving student as his main suspect in the new case. Morris captures the murky atmosphere of 1866 St. Petersburg, Russia, with empathy and skill: starving prostitutes and students, bureaucrats looking for quick solutions, the insurmountable gap between peasants and aristocrats. Porfiry Petrovich evades attempts to take him off the case and follows a twisted path of clues and hunches to reach the surprising conclusion.

AndrogynousSteven Rigolosi
Androgynous Murder House Party (Ransom Note Press 2009) is narrated by Robin Anders, the wealthy and snobbish director of new talent at The Goode Foundation in New York City. One weekend, the androgynous Robin throws a house party on Long Island for six equally androgynous friends. A series of near fatal accidents threaten Robin’s life, but a combination of different colored pills prescribed by Robin’s psychologist, Terry, allows Robin to remain unaware of his peril. When Robin’s best friend Lee and former partner Pat are killed after returning to New York, even the self-absorbed Robin can’t ignore the fact that something is going on—someone in their circle must be a killer. Robin is a hilarious narrator, relentlessly intent on presenting a perfect exterior to the world, making catty comments about everyone encountered, and pretentious to the extreme. The androgynous joke is carried seamlessly through the book, no small feat as I can attest after trying to write this without used a gender-infused pronoun!

Queen’s GambitDiane A.S. Stuckart
The Queen’s Gambit (Berkley 2009) introduces Delfina, a young woman who in 1483 disguises herself as a boy, Dino, in order to gain an apprenticeship with the famous painter Leonardo da Vinci, currently employed as court engineer to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. During a living chess game, the Duke’s ambassador to France is murdered and Dino stumbles over the body. As an outsider free of the intrigues of court politics, Leonardo is the only man the Duke can trust to find the killer. Leonardo enlists Dino as a helper in the investigation, sure that no one will notice the young apprentice spying in the background. Dino’s narration, as she struggles to hide her gender from everyone around her, is full of interesting details of the everyday life of an art apprentice: making brushes, mixing paints, preparing frescos. Leonardo emerges as a talented Holmesian observer of detail, and his fascinating mechanical inventions add spice to this historical mystery.

The CallingInger Ash Wolfe
Inger Ash Wolfe is the pseudonym for a North American literary novelist who has written a first rate crime novel. The Calling (Harcourt 2008) introduces Hazel Micallef, a 61-year old detective inspector in the small town of Port Dundas, Ontario, Canada. Hazel, divorced after nearly 40 years of marriage, lives with her 87-year old mother, who has Hazel on a strict and tasteless diet. Suffering from a bad back, Hazel has reduced her dependence on the alcohol that destroyed her marriage, but not the painkillers that help her through the night. When a terminally ill woman is gruesomely murdered in her own home, Hazel and her understaffed police department struggle to rise to the challenge of the first murder in years. A second murder in a nearby small town ups the ante, especially when evidence emerges that points to a serial killer with a long string of unsolved murders. The police find no sign of forced entry, the victims seem to have welcomed the murderer into their homes. The killer sees himself as a merciful agent helping his willing victims move from a painful life to the peaceful escape of death, but the mutilation of the bodies after death hints at undercurrents of rage and insanity. With little support from her superiors, Hazel orchestrates a team to find the earlier murders and hopefully predict the next target before the killer strikes again. Overcoming her distaste for technology, Harriet uses every means at her command to find the pattern motivating the killer, often violating procedure and endangering her career. This beautifully written book, which presents a unique and complex character struggling to make sense of a frustrating and dangerous reality, is highly recommended.

November Word Cloud

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December 1, 2009

Many and Many a Year AgoSelçuk Altun
Many and Many a Year Ago (2008) [Telegram Books 2009; trans. from Turkish by Ruth Christi & Selcuk Berilgen] is more of a mysterious literary quest for answers, than a mystery, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Kemal Kuray has vaulted to high rank in the Turkish Air Force, but his life changes dramatically when he crashes his F-16 in a test flight. Things take a strange turn when we receives a $5,000 monthly allowance from a friend who has disappeared. His friend was obsessed by Edgar Allen Poe, and Kemal is launched on an international search, following ephemeral clues, that eventually takes him to the Poe Museum in Baltimore. The book’s title is taken from Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee”, and the Poe element provides some sidelight interest as we wind down the bi-centennial of Poe’s birth. This is an intriguing, well-written, if off-beat book, full of literary references, but not overwhelmingly so. It is also refreshing to read of modern day Istanbul from the perspective of a native Turk.

Swan for the MoneyDonna Andrews
Swan for the Money (Minotaur 2009) is the 9th in the Meg Langslow series. Meg’s parents have become fanatic rose growers and have coerced Meg into organizing the Caerphilly Garden Club’s First Annual Rose Show, hosted by Philomena Winkleson at her ritzy estate farm. Everything on the Winkleston estate is monochromatic including the livestock: black and white Belted Galloway cows, black Frisian horses (kept inside during daylight to prevent reddening), fierce black swans, and a hilarious herd of Tennessee belted fainting goats that do exactly that when surprised or excited. Mrs. Winkleson is sponsoring a special prize for the blackest rose, and Meg’s father has thrown himself wholeheartedly into rose hybridization while her mother grooms the entries with tiny tools. When a friend of Mrs. Winkleson is found dead near the security fence surrounding the Winkleson rose garden, everyone asumes it is the eccentric and nasty hostess herself because of the monochromatic outfit, and Meg finds herself in the middle of another murder investigation. The mystery is not as interesting as Meg’s family and friends, but the quirky humor is more than enough to carry this amusing book.

Charlie MBrian Freemantle
Charlie M (1977, APA: Charlie Muffin) introduces Charlie Muffin, an experienced, rumpled, and endearing working-class British agent. Charlie irritates his boss and fellow agents with his appearance and accent, yet he always manages to get results. After narrowly escaping death during a border crossing in Berlin, Charlie is convinced that the department has decided he is expendable. Back in London, Charlie finds that two younger agents are now sharing his office while Charlie’s desk has been moved to what used to be the secretary’s rest room. But the in-experienced upper-class agents who are given preference begin bungling the defection of the head of the KGB, and Charlie finds himself back in action. This amusing spy story is fast-paced, satisfying, and almost makes us nostalgic for the Cold War.

Nail KnotJohn Galligan
The Nail Knot (2003) introduces Ned “Dog” Oglivie, who is traveling the United States in an old RV, trout fishing until his money runs out. He is content to live simply upon peanut butter sandwiches and vodka-Tang and would prefer not to interact with anything except the trout. Unfortunately he stumbles across the body of a fellow fly fisher and is trapped in Black Earth, Wisconsin, until the murderer is caught. While working to solve the mystery, Dog is surprised to find himself beginning to care about another human being. Humorous and original, this mystery will appeal to fishers and non-fishers alike.

StealingEmyl Jenkins
Stealing with Style (2005), introduces Sterling Glass, an antiques expert in the small town of Leemont, Virginia. Divorced with grown children, Sterling wishes her friendship with Peter Donaldson, a former minister now working at the local Salvation Army Thrift Shop, would develop into something more. Sterling is asked by Roy Madison, the trust officer in charge of the estate of an elderly woman found dead in her apartment, to make a quick appraisal of the contents of the apartment before the police change the locks. Sterling finds a rare silver tea urn hidden in a closet, and is astounded when she investigates and discovers is is worth at least $70,000. Then Peter finds a valuable bracelet hidden in a potholder donated to the Salvation Army by the dead woman’s relatives, and Sterling finds herself caught up in the investigation of an antiques burglary ring preying on the elderly. Sterling writes an Antiques Q&A column for the local paper, and each chapter begins with a question and answer that highlights a bit of antique trivia that will be important in the narration, a clever way to insert needed information without interrupting the action. Jenkins herself is an experienced antiques appraiser, and her love for her subject comes through clearly in Sterling’s passion for treasures from the past. An intriguing heroine and clever mystery make this debut something special.

TouchstoneLaurie R. King
Touchstone (2007) takes place in 1926 in England. The coal miners are on the verge of a massive strike when Harris Stuyvesant, an investigator for the U.S. Justice department, arrives looking for the man responsible for a series of terrorist bombings in America. His prime suspect is Richard Bunsen, a leader in the Labour Party. He gets little support from British officials until he meets Aldous Carstairs who is eager to introduce Harris to Bennett Grey, whose sister works for Lady Laura Hurleigh, Bunsen’s lover and supporter. Grey, the Touchstone, was nearly killed in WWI and now lives in isolation since his heightened senses cause him physical pain when near someone who lies or plans evil deeds. Harris convinces Grey to come back to society long enough to introduce him to Bunsen, but soon realizes that Carstairs has his own plans for Grey. The personal and political agendas are slowly intertwined as Harris struggles to unmask his terrorist without injuring any of the people he comes to cherish. Full of period details and unforgettable characters, this assured novel was nominated for the Bruce Alexander Best Historical Mystery Award.

Thistle and TwiggMary Saums
Thistle and Twigg (2007) introduces Jane Thistle, who has just moved to Alabama after the death of her career military husband. Originally from England, Jane feels that she is finally at home again in the small town of Tullulah, especially after meeting Phoebe Twigg, another 60ish widow who has lived her whole life in Tullulah. After an initial encounter involving a shotgun and threats, Jane befriends Cal Prewitt, a reclusive man who owns the neighboring woods. When Jane and Phoebe stumble over a body on Cal’s land, things get even more interesting: Cal is wanted for murder and Phoebe’s kitchen is firebombed. Narrated in alternating chapters by the two very different women, the opposing views of the same events are often hilarious. Outwardly a proper silver-haired lady who retains her British accent, Jane has hidden depths. She owns an arsenal collected by her husband, practices martial arts, and can see ghosts. Phoebe is totally transparent. She is related to or knows everyone in town, and speaks her mind openly, even when she hasn’t a clue what is going on. Humor, suspense, and a surprising supernatural element, combine to make his unusual cozy a success on many different levels.

Ice TrapKitty Sewell
Ice Trap (2005) is the story of Dafydd Woodruff, a surgeon in Cardiff, Wales, who receives a letter from a 13 year old girl in Moose Creek, Northwest Territories, Canada, claiming to be his daughter. The letter couldn’t have come at a worse time, since Dafydd and his wife Isabel have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive, and he is beginning to wonder if he really wants to become a father. Dafydd knew the girl’s mother, Sheila Hailey, while working in the Moose Creek Clinic 15 years earlier, but since they never had sex he knows the girl can’t be his daughter. When the DNA tests come back positive, Dafydd’s marriage begins to crumble and he returns to Moose Creek to ferret out the truth. Flashbacks from Dafydd’s year in the remote sub-Arctic wilderness are interspersed with the current narration, slowly revealing the events of the past that are driving the present. A unique and beautifully portrayed setting and complex characters more than make up for occasional lapses in narrative drive. This compelling debut novel of psychological suspense was a finalist for the 2006 New Blood Dagger Award.

the Little SleepPaul Tremblay
The Little Sleep (Henry Holt 2009) introduces Mark Genevich, a severely narcoleptic private investigator in South Boston, Massachusetts. Not only does he fall asleep in mid-conversation, but he also has serious hallucination problems, making it difficult to run a detective business properly. Jennifer Times hires him to find her stolen fingers — or did she? Mark isn’t too sure, and Jennifer denies it. He finds compromising pictures of her in an envelope on his desk, so it must be true, but her father, the Suffolk County District Attorney, denies that the pictures are Jennifer. With Mark as the protagonist, the story can go about anywhere. He wants to be a tough, wise-cracking PI, but with his tenuous grip on reality, it is a hard act. Mark also finds he has to depend on his mother Ellen, if for no other reason than she owns his apartment and his office. Readers prone to nervous anxiety probably shouldn’t read this one — Mark insists on smoking (being a hard-boiled kind of guy), but tends to fall asleep with burning cigarets, and of course, he shouldn’t drive! But you have to give him credit for trying, and he is somehow endearing. A second book in the series is due in February.

Frost at ChristmasR.D. Wingfield
Frost at Christmas (1984) introduces Jack Frost, a scruffy and forgetful detective inspector in Denton, England. It’s the week before Christmas, and Tracey Uphill, the eight-year-old daughter of a successful call girl, disappears on the way home from Sunday School. Clive Barnard, a detective constable straight from London attired in a flashy Carnaby suit, is assigned to work with Frost. Barnard, the nephew of the Chief Constable, agrees with the Superintendent in thinking Frost a crude and bumbling fool, but the rest of the police force enjoys Frost’s idiosyncrasies and respects his ability as a detective. As the days pass and no sign is found of Tracey, Frost and Barnard get caught up in investigating the remains of a skeleton linked to an unsolved bank robbery. Frost is a unique and enjoyable protagonist who often blurts out thoughts that would best remain unspoken, a trait that endangers any chance of further promotion. This humorous police procedural was nominated for the 1989 New Blood Dagger Award, and we are looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

December Word Cloud

Disclosure: Some of these books were received free from publishers.

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