Friday, November 30, 2007

Korea Strait-David Poyer

Korea Strait
David Poyer
St. Martin's, Dec 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312360498

U.S. Navy commander Dan Lenson rejects the strong suggestion that he leave the service on a medical retirement. He is unhappy with his treatment having just saved the Commander in Chief from an assassination attempt (see THE THREAT, not reviewed). Outraging the Congressional Medal of Honor is that the brass assigns him with duties to force him into retiring out of ennui as he no longer is given THE COMMAND assignments.

He is tasked to serve as an observer to a multinational exercise involving South Korea, Japan, Australia, and America off of Korean. Part of his duties is to escort U.S. civilians and retired military personnel and serve as liaison between them and their naval hosts on a South Korean frigate. However, the simple but boring mission turns suddenly potentially deadly when a disabled North Korean submarine is found nearby. They refuse rescue as they prefer to go down with the ship. This disturbs Lenson as he thinks they have something to hide; unaware at that moment how accurate his assessment is as other North Korean subs head to the Sea of Japan with perhaps Kim’s personally autographed nukes; Dan plans to find out though his superiors and the South Korean Navy demand he do nothing except escort duty.

Lenson is terrific as his heroic past proves a handicap when it comes to political appointees and the Naval and DOD brass, who are entrenched bureaucrats seeking their next job while insuring their current position causes no personal harm to their careers. The enemy is unknown yet known as being erratically impulsive so anything can happen. However, as Lenson has learned throughout his naval career, sometimes the real enemy is the guy patting you on the back saying good job Brownie. Contemporary military fiction fans will relish David Poyer’s exciting Korean thriller that spotlights how complex the five decade plus truce is.

Harriet Klausner

Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die-Robert J. Randisi

Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die
Robert J. Randisi
Dunne, Dec 2007, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312360436

In 1960 during the filming of Ocean’s 11, Sands casino pit boss Eddie Gianelli helped Dean Martin with a problem (see EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME). So when the leader of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra tells Dino he has a problem, Dino suggests Eddie.

Frank explains to Eddie he has a female problem that has nothing to do with the two women the press connects him with. He asks Eddie to help him, but the pit boss cannot fathom what Frank is saying about the dames until finally he says the lady in question has vanished. Gianelli and his New York protector, Jerry Epstein search for the missing female as someone is bumping off people connected to the Rat Pack; Epstein assumes Mafia Don Sam Giancana is involved as money is the root of a potential gang war between the mob and the pack.

The key to the second Rat Pack crime caper is Robert J. Randisi’s adoring homage of the members while also bringing them to life especially Frank this time. The story line is fast-paced while enabling the readers to meet the Rats up front and personal even as the original Ocean’s 11 film is about to hit the big screen and an apparent mob war between a gang that uses real bullets and a group that uses Hollywood glitter seems imminent. The mystery is light but fun as it is more a mechanism for the readers to meet the rat Pack so that baby boomers and other fans of the recent Ocean’s movies will enjoy LUCK BE A LADY, DON'T DIE.

Harriet Klausner

Strange Blood-Lindsay Ashford

Strange Blood
Lindsay Ashford
Dunne, Dec 2007, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312355807

In England forensic psychologist Dr. Megan Rhys heads the Heartland University Department of Investigative Psychology as well as providing consulting services to the British police. Currently Megan has personal issues with a former Ph.D. student, which she hopes to derail before she runs into professional condemnation.

To occupy her mind and escape her troubles, Megan is profiling a serial killer who carves pentagrams on the foreheads of his victims. Looking into the background of the first victim wife and mother Tessa Ledbury, Megan learns the deceased was involved with Wiccan coven chief Sean Raven. Wolverhampton Detective Superintendent Steve Foy assumes between the Raven connection and the etching that the occult, probably one of the witches, is involved. Megan has doubts re Foy’s theory especially as the murder count rises, but struggles to offer a counterpoint even as she profiles the killer.

STRANGE BLOOD, the sequel to FROZEN, is a tense serial killer thriller starring an engaging heroine. Megan is terrific as once again she struggles with a police superintendent although Foy is nothing like West Midlands Police Detective Superintendent Martin Leverton of FROZEN fame who wanted Megan to fail. Readers will enjoy Megan’s profiling efforts as things don’t go quite smoothly as she tries to make the puzzle fit in a constantly morphing arrangement in which either she has to many pieces or lacks pieces.
Harriet Klausner

Strange Blood-Lindsay Ashford

Strange Blood
Lindsay Ashford
Dunne, Dec 2007, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312355807

In England forensic psychologist Dr. Megan Rhys heads the Heartland University Department of Investigative Psychology as well as providing consulting services to the British police. Currently Megan has personal issues with a former Ph.D. student, which she hopes to derail before she runs into professional condemnation.

To occupy her mind and escape her troubles, Megan is profiling a serial killer who carves pentagrams on the foreheads of his victims. Looking into the background of the first victim wife and mother Tessa Ledbury, Megan learns the deceased was involved with Wiccan coven chief Sean Raven. Wolverhampton Detective Superintendent Steve Foy assumes between the Raven connection and the etching that the occult, probably one of the witches, is involved. Megan has doubts re Foy’s theory especially as the murder count rises, but struggles to offer a counterpoint even as she profiles the killer.

STRANGE BLOOD, the sequel to FROZEN, is a tense serial killer thriller starring an engaging heroine. Megan is terrific as once again she struggles with a police superintendent although Foy is nothing like West Midlands Police Detective Superintendent Martin Leverton of FROZEN fame who wanted Megan to fail. Readers will enjoy Megan’s profiling efforts as things don’t go quite smoothly as she tries to make the puzzle fit in a constantly morphing arrangement in which either she has to many pieces or lacks pieces.
Harriet Klausner

The Mortal Groove-Ellen Hart

The Mortal Groove
Ellen Hart
St. Martin's, Dec 2007, $25.95
ISBN: 9780312349455

In Minnesota, Ray Lawless is considering a run for governor. His family, especially his daughter lesbian restaurateur Jane Lawless encourages him. As she and the rest of the relatives actively get involved, Ray realizes his chances of winning are good.

However, the media begins sniffing into the past of the Lawless brood and his key staffers. Reporter Melanie Gunderson especially looks at a cold case homicide that has ties to Ray’s prime workers. Shockingly someone viciously assaults Melanie. Knowing the journalist and concerned for the victim and that the incident and the decades old murder will derail her dad’s chances, Jane investigates. Her efforts lead to Iowa and serving in Vietnam.

THE MORTAL GROOVE is an interesting political whodunit that asks the question can someone who never served in the military claim the mantle of patriotism as so many chicken hawks do. The story line is fast-paced from the moment that an unknown thug batters Melanie and never slows down until the final confrontation. Although having Jane’s significant other and her appear more often together especially on the campaign trail would have been the perfect sweetener, Ellen Hart provides a strong mystery with a deep message that no one asks about one’s sexual preference in the foxholes.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chillwater Cove-Thomas Lakeman

Chillwater Cove
Thomas Lakeman
St. Martin's, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312348007

FBI Special Agent Peggy Weaver works in the Crimes Against Children Unit of the Philadelphia office. However, she received a bitter reminder of why she became a specialized agent when she receives an email containing porn photos. Over two decades ago when she was ten years old, Peggy and her best friend Samantha Stallworth were abducted. Peggy escaped, but Samantha was sexually molested and further abused by her kidnapper.

Now a college professor Samantha calls Peggy informing her she received the same email. Stunned Peggy goes to her college hometown Avalon, Tennessee where her father is police chief and racial strife is boiling over. When Samantha vanishes, Peggy vows to save her friend and catch the culprit who is toying with her.

The key to this interesting regional police procedural is how many people including her father and his department and Samantha’s relatives hinder Peggy on her desperate search to save her friend’s life. Readers will feel the pain and guilt that Peggy feels as she not only needs to save her friend’s life, but sees it as redemption for her failure to be able to provide her father with expert witnessing when Samantha was snatched as a child. Readers will appreciate this character driven investigative tale and seek out Thomas Lakeman's previous gripping FBI thriller (see THE SHADOW CATCHERS).

Harriet Klausner

Killer Riff-Sheryl J. Anderson

Killer Riff
Sheryl J. Anderson
St. Martin's, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312351410

Molly Forrester writes a highly regarded stylish advice column for chic Manhattan based Zeitgeist magazine, but wants to become an investigative journalist. She is euphoric with her latest assignment; a Features’ article on recently deceased Rock and Roll giant producer Russell Elliott, whose death was officially due to an accidental overdose.

Molly interviews Elliott's surviving extended family members as Elliot had several wives, which has left his will tied up in probate wars. As she digs deeper, Molly begins to believe that Elliot was a murder victim, but anyone cut out of his latest will apparently have an avaricious motive. This means most likely one of the ex’s or part of their retinue rejected Elliot’s final riff.

KILLER RIFF is an enjoyable lighthearted romp starring a likable heroine whose sidebars are sub-genre requirements expected of a chic lit heroine starring in an amateur sleuth whodunit. The story line is fast-paced and somewhat inane both due to the antics and barbs of the unsinkable Molly. Her struggles to complete her article and deal with her relationship with NYPD homicide detective Kyle Edwards is fun to follow. Fans who enjoy a funny but frivolous frolic will appreciate the Killer Molly series (see KILLER DEAL, KILLER HEELS, and KILLER COCKTAIL).

Harriet Klausner

Without Warning-Eugenia Lovett West

Without Warning
Eugenia Lovett West
St. Martin's, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312371135

In affluent Connecticut forty-seven years old former opera star Emma Streat, may be suffering from the empty nest syndrome with her boys at college, but believes her concern for her spouse Lewis has nothing to do with the kids being away from home. Instead she sees firsthand the recent erratic behavior of Lewis, CEO of a firm that contracts with the Department of Defense. His sudden need for incredible layers of security that the President would envy seems excessive and scary to Emma. She has asked him several times why he is so tense and frightened, but he refuses to talk to her.

On a trip to London together, Lewis tells Emma he has some problems with a new laser weapons project that his firm is working on for DOD. When they return home to New England, Lewis dies in an accident. If he had not acted paranoid, Emma would have just grieved her loss, but she suspects foul play. She travels back across the ocean where she learns two physicists associated with the project recently died in accidents. Emma knows that three in a rather short time frame is not accidental coincidence, but probable homicides. She risks her life to learn who and why.

Emma’s grief over her husband’s sudden death seems genuine and serves as a realistic motivator for her to pursue the truth. Her investigation on both sides of the pond, but especially in England is fun to follow as the attacks on her life only encourages her to dig deeper. Fans will appreciate this amateur sleuth because the heroine’s need to know why Lewis died makes for a compelling tale.

Harriet Klausner

Person of Interest-Theresa Schwegel

Person of Interest
Theresa Schwegel
St. Martin's, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312364267

Chicago police detective Craig McHugh is undercover investigating a deadly Chinese-American gang the Fuxi Spiders, who peddle illegal drugs. Craig knows he needs to get in closer with members if he is to get the proof that they sell heroine including a lethal bad batch. To do so he plays card with Moy and other Fuxi Spiders, who take gambling as a sacred pastime, losing his entire official allotment and some of his own money in the game.

While he is away from his family, they have issues. The police found his brooding teenage daughter Ivy at a party where ecstasy was being used. His wife Leslie assumes he is having some sort of early middle age affair and feels entitled to one too so she chooses her daughter’s boyfriend. However, his professional and personal lives converge forcing a good cop to take drastic measures to keep his loved ones alive from vindictive thugs.

This exciting thriller will be on the short list for police procedural of the year as the action, some quite graphic, never slows down for even a paragraph. Besides a strong undercover subplot and a close look at the underbelly of the Windy City, the key that makes this a strong tale is a deep look at a cop whose keeps him away from his family leading to a dysfunctional relationship. Readers will seek Theresa Schwegel’s previous Chicago PD tales as they come highly recommended (see PROBABLE CAUSE and OFFICER DOWN)

Harriet Klausner

My Soul To Keep-Melanie Wells

My Soul To Keep
Melanie Wells
Multnomah, Feb 2008, $12.99, 320 pp.
ISBN: 9781590524282

Professor Dylan Foster teaches psychology at Southern Methodist Universality yet she has no trouble believes in demons and devils since Peter Terry came into her life. He wants souls and he will use whatever means necessary to get them but Dylan temporally defeated him twice. He is the last thing on her mind when her friend Liz Zocci and her daughter Christine are celebrating her birthday in the park with her friend Maria and her son Nicholas.

In the blink of an eye, the party ends when a car stops and someone kidnaps Nicholas. The person tries to take Christine too but her touch burns him. Somehow, someway, Christine is psychically connected to Nicholas and she ends up in the hospital with the same illness Nicholas once had. Peter Terry is also in the picture as light bulbs pop in her home; Dylan hears snakes hissing in her home and a gas leek occurs. The demon appears in her dreams but she refuses to give into her fears. Instead she chases every clue including her sleeping subconscious ones that might lead her to Nicholas, even if it means spiritual warfare.

Christine has a guardian angel Earl who Dylan sees in the park and she and her mom come to the conclusion there is a spiritual battle taking place in which Christine is the prize. They meet another angel in the hospital who calms Christine; Dylan, a believer, is not surprised. She just wishes they would point her to the location where Nicholas is but she has to apply investigate methods instead like a mortal. Melanie Wells has written an exciting pulse pumping thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Twilight-Brendan DuBois

Brendan DuBois
St. Martin's, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312361372

Canadian journalist Samuel Simpson joins as a grunt a United Nations peacekeeping force that is also investigating terrorism and war crimes. His unit seeks to find the evidence that will bring to justice those who committed the crimes against mankind before and during the recent civil war and those who continue the atrocities.

His tour of duty is New York months after a dirty bomb destroyed much of Manhattan and other attacks eliminated most of the American electric grid. The United States collapsed and a civil war further devastated the country. As Samuel and his undersized squad investigate a particular ugly atrocity in Upstate New York, he realizes as snipers kill some of his peers that anyone could be the angel of death.

This may be the thriller of the year as Brendan DuBois combines plenty of action, twists especially that initial set up in which the audience assumes some Baltic or African nation is the setting, and introspection on what is a war crime to include torture. Samuel is an interesting protagonist as he is starts out naïve and idealistic, but quickly becomes mature and caustically realistic as he helplessly sees death everywhere. Readers will ponder beyond the presidential candidates and White House sound bites to what if an even greater more concerted attack occurred to America than 9/11 once we understand who the Belgians are donating tents to.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Too Pretty To Die-Susan McBride

Too Pretty To Die
Susan McBride
Avon, Feb 2008, $6.99, 322 pp.
ISBN: 9780060846015

Beautiful Miranda DuBois is an anchor on a Dallas Television Station but to improve her looks she went to cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Sonja Madhavi for work on her eyes and her mouth. The results are a drooping mouth and an eye twitch, which in turn tainted her career and caused her to be ousted by the Caviar Cliub. In a drunken rage she crashes a party at Delaney Armstrong’s house where Dr. Sonja is giving Botox injections.

She fires her gun but the bullet hits a picture frame and the weapon is taken away from her. Andy Kendricks, who avoids being a society girl even though her mother is mega-wealthy, takes Miranda home, puts her to bed on the couch and shuts off the computer. The next morning she returns to Miranda only to find her dead. The police think it is a suicide but Andy believes differently. The computer is missing, the gun that killed her was the one left behind at the party and Miranda was angry not despondent. When her mother gets involved trying to prove it was murder and her best friend, a reporter cajoles her into investigating what really happened, Andy has no choice but to figure out what occurred; unaware that she is putting herself in harm’s way.

TOO PRETTY TO DIE is a delightful Debutante Dropout mystery with a social message concerning the nation’s addiction to beauty at all cost. The protagonist of the humorous and charming cozy isn’t interested in beauty or her standing in society which makes her seem much more mature than many of the other characters. Susan McBride provides a fantastic amateur sleuth tale sprinkled with humor yet with a deep underlying question on wasting medical funds on the frivolous.

Harriet Klausner

The Black Dove-Steve Hockensmith

The Black Dove
Steve Hockensmith
St. Martin's, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780312347826

In 1893 brothers Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer recover from their work as rail cops (see ON THE WRONG TRACK) by visiting San Francisco in order to partake of some of the city’s world renowned wickedness as well as look into a personal matter. When they worked as railroad cops, the luggage of the late Dr. Chan was tossed off the train that was their beat. Knowing their hero would investigate, the siblings emulate HOLMES ON THE RANGE; albeit this time Holmes in San Francisco to determine who killed Dr. Chan and why. Joining them is former railroad sleuth Diane Corvus, who also has a personal reason to learn the truth.

The Reds assume that hired Chinese “highbinders” killed Chan, but the clues take them everywhere in the City by the Bay not just Chinatown. With local police and Chinatown's “Napoleon of Crime” assisting them Old Red and Big Red land in whorehouses where they are a bit distracted, but with Diane and Napoleon coaxing them, their escapades lead everyone into a final confrontation in which being shanghaied appears to have a greater life expectancy.

The third Holmes on the Range historical mystery is another superb zany caper as the Red siblings land in one egg drop soup after another. The humorous story line is fast-paced especially when the heroes begin to follow clues that have more twists than Lombard St. Fans of the series will appreciate the Reds’ escapades as Gaslight San Francisco comes to life as rarely seen in a whodunit with a terrific insane ending.

Harriet Klausner

The Spymaster’s Lady-Joanna Bourne

The Spymaster’s Lady
Joanna Bourne
Berkley, Jan 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780425219607

Leblanc tortures spy maestro Annique “The Fox Cub” Villiers demanding she give him the Albion plans that Vauban gave her in Bruges to take to England. Annique is the best at the espionage game especially when it comes to checkmating men so since she has no plans to die here, she must find a way out of this mess. She has outplayed every male opponent with ease and wouldn’t be in this hell hole with the devil’s spawn if her elderly associate was not so desperate; still she expects to win every time though right now she lingers in a French prison and ponders how to escape.

British spymaster Robert Grey is assigned the task of abducting the infamous Cub in order to interrogate her to learn what she really knows and who gives her orders. Thus he enters the same French prison where she is currently a resident and meets the renowned Cub. This is a case of hate at first sight in spite of an attraction. However they both conclude they need one another to escape their jail, which they do. As they flee across France they begin to fall in love, but their various enemies and some alleged allies pursue them with one thought kill the spies.

Although The Fox Cub seems very vulnerable and not quite the invincible professional that she allegedly is, THE SPYMASTER’S LADY is an exhilarating historical romantic espionage thriller starring two strong adversaries needing to team up if they are to survive those wanting them dead. The story line is action-packed, but belongs to the courageous lead couple who go from distrust to dependency to love. Joanna Bourne begins her legacy with a fine tale.

Harriet Klausner

Hush My Mouth- Cathy Pickens

Hush My Mouth
Cathy Pickens
Dunne, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780312354428

Atlanta resident Fran French asks Dacus, South Carolina lawyer Avery Andrews to find her missing adopted “sister” Neanna Lyles who came to the small town to learn more about the Wenda Sims murder in 1985; Avery agrees. However, when the attorney finds Neanna, it is not a welcome home scenario; instead the police report the missing person committed suicide.

A stunned Fran tells Avery no way would Neanna kill herself. Fran admits that Neanna was despondent over the recent death of her grandmother and horrified to find a picture of corpse of Aunt Wenda in a family scrapbook. Not long afterward Avery finds that same photo in Neanna’s car. She believes the niece was murdered with the motive to keep her from finding out who killed her beloved aunt.

The latest Southern Fried Mystery (see HOG WILD, DONE GONE WRONG, and SOUTHERN FRIED) is a wonderful regional cozy that fans of the series will appreciate. The case is difficult enough for Avery to solve only to have comic relief (for the audience not for the heroine) caused by a ghostbusters trio interfering with the investigation as they hope to make contact with any of the late Lyles as a ticket to appearing on reality TV, paranormal style. No slim Pickens with this author as HUSH MY MOUTH is a fabulous South Carolina whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

Reluctant Smuggler-Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Reluctant Smuggler
Jill Elizabeth Nelson
Multnomah, Jan 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781590526880

In Mexico City, American security consultant Desiree Jacobs of HJ Securties has been hired to test rival Greybeck and Sons’ security measures at the internationally renowned Museo de Arte Museum. Desi sort of succeeds, but rejects the job offer to provide security because the museum did not live up to their provisional agreement. Instead she plans to fly home the next day and begin wedding plans with her beloved FBI agent, Tony Lucano.

However instead of returning home, Mexican Presidente Montoya asks Desi for a favor as he trusts her due to knowing her late maligned father personally and her display of ethics during the museum caper. He wants her to investigate stolen art treasures, which she agrees to do as long as it is understood she is not law enforcement. As she begins to unravel the truth, she finds a tie to the illegal drug trade that makes her a target of ruthless killers. Tony realizes his beloved is in trouble and defying FBI policy immediately races to Mexico to insure his Desi is safe, but fears he may be too late as a snake betrays her.

The third To Catch a Thief saga (see RELUCTANT RUNAWAY and RELUCTANT RUNAWAY) is an exhilarating inspirational suspense thriller that focuses on the antiquities black market. The story line is fast-paced from the opening segue that showcase Desiree’s talent through her ordeal with killing thieves and to the final confrontation with a shocking twist. Although the Greybeck subplot feels contrived, fans will enjoy the latest “reluctant” tale wondering if Desi will make it out of Mexico alive and in time to wed Tony.

Harriet Klausner

An Incomplete Revenge- Jacqueline Winspear

An Incomplete Revenge
Jacqueline Winspear
Holt, Feb 2008, $24.00
ISBN 9780805082159

In 1931 business tycoon James Compton considers buying property in Heronsdene, Kent but a rash of questionable fires has left him re-evaluating his selection. He asks his friend London based investigative psychologist Maisie Dobbs to look into what seems to him as obvious the work of an arsonist. She would do anything for her mentor and besides needs the money he offers as the Great Depression has hammered at consultants like her so she agrees to visit the tiny rustic village.

Maisie quickie uncovers the suspicious dealings of a landowner while wondering why the locals refuse to speak about visiting Gypsies or a WW I zeppelin raid that killed an entire family; as the behavior is way beyond the normal suspicion of strangers. A struggling Maisie begins to tie together the townsfolk, the gypsies, the Great War and what happened afterward in remote Heronsdene, but someone is on war alert watching her every step.

The latest Dobbs between the World Wars’ mystery is a terrific entry in one of the best twentieth century private investigation series. Maisie is at her best as she sleuths in a location in which no one wants her around let alone snooping. However, it is the sense of time and place that makes AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE and its four predecessors (see MESSENGER OF TRUTH, PARDONABLE LIES, MAISIE DOBBS and BIRDS OF A FEATHER) worth reading as few authors if any bring to life England in the late 1920s and early 1930s as picturesquely as Jacqueline Winspear consistently has done with the marvelous Maisie mysteries.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Afterimage-Kathleen George

Kathleen George
Dunne, Dec 2007, $24.95
ISBN 9780312372491

In Pittsburgh homicide squad Commander Richard Christie has some doubts with the new guy make that gal assigned to his unit. He likes rookie detective Colleen Greer’s enthusiasm, but also fears her excess zeal could prove dangerous to her and the team. Still he has no choice but to toss her into the ocean while a hurricane hits.

Richard has two homicides to investigate. The first victim is Laura McCall, who Greer knows from working for her separated husband David Hoffman at a counseling clinic. The second is a child who Greer knows once again from her time at the clinic. Like her married boss, who she is attracted to; Greer wonders if Hoffman killed his wife and the child, but has some doubts as a niggling suspicion in her gut points to someone else she knew in her clinic days.

The third Christie Pittsburgh police procedural (see TAKEN and FALLEN) is a strong tale due to the simmering relationship between the commander and the rookie. Although this is Greer’s first tale, her key appearance adds tension to the veteran homicide detective and will remind series fans more so of TAKEN in which Richard’s wife Marina Benedict requested a separation. The mystery is well done especially as David asks his former employee for favors, which make him appear even guiltier to her, but it is the newbie who steals the show on a personal front with her hero worship attraction and her on the job investigative training.

Harriet Klausner

The Poisoner of Ptah-P.C. Doherty

The Poisoner of Ptah
P.C. Doherty
St. Martin’s, Feb 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780312359621

In 1478 B.C. Pharaoh Hatusu rules Egypt with a firm but gentle hand. She feels no major internal threats to her keeping the throne in spite of her gender. Her biggest concerns come from outside her kingdom as foreign rulers assume she is weak because she is female. Still, she negotiates peace treaties with her royal peers for the betterment of her nation.

While working on a treaty with Libya, three Egyptian scribes die apparently by poison. Hatusu directs her Chief Judge in the Hall of Two Truths Lord Amerotke to uncover the identity of the killer. The prime suspect is Rekhet, who just escaped from incarceration having been sent to prison for life for royal poisonings. Amerotke finds a link between Rekhet and the Libyans that makes him wonder if the foreigners are negotiating in bad faith.

The Lord Amerotke Ancient Egypt investigations continue to be some of the best whodunits on the market. The latest tale THE POISONER OF PTAH is an excellent entry both as a mystery and as a historical thriller. Amerotke is terrific as he holds the story line together with his investigation while the support cast helps bring to life Ancient Egypt and to a degree Libya through its delegation. This series (see THE ASSASSINS OF ISIS, THE MASK OF RA, HORUS KILLING and THE SLAYERS OF SETH) remains top of the line.

Harriet Klausner

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose-Lauren Willig

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose
Lauren Willig
Dutton, Feb 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780525950332

Graduate student Eloise Kelly continues her research into the Napoleonic era Vaughn family with information on the tangential Mary Alsworthy. Mary wishes the best for her younger sister Letty who inadvertently fell in love and married her sibling’s betrothed (see THE DECEPTION OF THE EMERALD RING). Mary finds social events quite boring especially loathing those who pity her as they all point to her living off her brother-in-law’s charity. Thus when spymaster Lord Vaughn asks her to help him uncover uncover French spy the Black Tulip, she accepts as their target obsesses over dark-haired young women.

Mary hooks the interest of the Black Tulip, who sees her as more than just another flower petal to toy with. However, he wants much more from Mary, which upsets Lord Vaughn who finds he is falling in love with his agent.

The fourth Pink Carnation tale is an exciting historical espionage romance that fans of the series will enjoy as two secondary players (Lord Vaughn was in THE MASQUE OF THE BLACK TULIP) return as the stars. The story line is fast paced especially when the events focus on the nineteenth century. When Eloise intrudes with her modern day issues, the story line decelerates as she feels like an unneeded interloper. Still readers will enjoy this fine romantic suspense.

Harriet Klausner

Murder in Miniature-Margaret Grace

Murder in Miniature
Margaret Grace
Berkley, Feb 2008, $6.99, 256 pp.
ISBN: 9780425219805

Retired schoolteacher Geraldine Porter is watching her granddaughter Maddie at the same time she is the chairperson for the local Dollhouse and Miniatures Fair. She is sharing a table with her friend Linda Reed who has made a beautiful miniature Governor Winthrop desk. Gerry notices a spot of blood on one of the pieces of furniture before Linda and the desk disappear.

After watching over two tables for the day and not being able to locate Linda, Gerry is very worried. When Linda calls Gerry pick her up from a deserted area at night she refuses to tell her friend what happened. Word gets around that her son Jason, a troubled teen, might be involved in the robberies of Crane’s Jewelry store. Gerry later learns that a dead stranger was in the area when Linda made a phone call. When Mr. Crane is murdered, the Winthrop desk is found in his hand. Gerry knows that Linda and Jason are no killers so she starts her own investigative and find evidence that links the murders to the robbery. Now all she has to do is convince the police.

Margaret Grace makes creating miniature furniture and people so enticing that many readers will personally try it as a hobby. The author is a gifted storyteller who has the magic touch when it comes to flawed but endearing characters like Gerry. The heroine is just starting to live again after the death of her beloved husband; ironically solving the puzzle of the robbery and the murders brings her back to life.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 26, 2007

Record of Wrongs-Andy Straka

Record of Wrongs
Andy Straka
Five Star, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146527

Former SUNY-Binghamton campus security guard Quentin Price spent almost a decade in a maximum security prison in Upstate New York for the rape and murder of student Gwen Crawford; their link being the library where she worked nights and he locked it up. Finally thanks to his persistent lawyer Christine Shackleford, DNA testing proved he did not commit the crime he was convicted of. The State of New York gives him forty dollars gate money and a bus ticket back to the county he was convicted in, Broome. While he was behind bars his mom died leaving him her bible that the Warden finally gives him as his mother’s stipulation was upon his release; she always believed in her son.

Waiting outside to give him a lift is a face he will never forget; Christine’s mother haunted his trial insuring his conviction. Apparently the incestuous Upstate New York prison system works as Ruth Crawford knows the head correctional officer who arranged their meeting. Ruth wants Quentin to find the real killer of her daughter, who brought sorrow and grief to both their families and so far got away with it. At the same time, New York State Deputy Attorney General Bollinger assigns NYPD homicide detective Garnell Harris to investigate the Crawford murder and some recent homicides that look similar. Harris and Quentin will meet on their respective inquiries.

Leaving Frank Pavlicek (see A WITNESS ABOVE) in Charlottesville, Virginia, Andy Straka provides a fast-paced stand alone crime thriller. The story line is fast-paced working along two COLD QUARRY investigations led by Price and Harris respectively ultimately converging. Although the ending seems too miraculous especially the salvation of an odious dark avenging angel, fans will enjoy this interesting whodunit although the sum of Price and Harris fails to equal the whole Pavlicek sleuthing.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No More Angels-Ron Butlin

No More Angels
Ron Butlin
Serpent’s Tail, Feb 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 978185429546

This Scottish anthology contains fifteen short stories, five ultra short tales (each under two full pages) and a novella (“Alice Kerr Went With Older Men”). Each entry from the “Five Fantastic Fictions” (the under two pages each grouping) to the Alice Kerr novella share in common characters who seem genuine as they struggle for equilibrium following a disappointment, setback, or tragedy yet end with a bizarre twist of hope as the person takes action. The contributions appeared in various Scottish publications, the Internet or BBC radio.

This is a terrific collection starring real people doing things to uplift themselves in spite of feeling down. Whether it is Donna telling her stunned host that his open skylight is “How the Angels Fly In” or a grieving bone weary geriatric Mrs. Williams providing “Kindness” to a Grinch of a driver by puncturing his air in a way we all would love to do, readers will not just empathize; they will wear the shoes of the characters. Closing out with Alice Kerr on an optimistic note, Ron Butlin provides a strong look at people overcoming for a moment the nastiest spitballs that life has tossed at them even knowing the quagmire remains to engulf them again shortly.

Harriet Klausner

The First Patient-Michael Palmer

The First Patient
Michael Palmer
St. Martin’s, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9780312343538

When the physician to President Andrew Stoddard, Dr. Jim Ferendelli, vanishes, the POTUS asks his long time friend Dr. Gabe Singleton to come to DC to take the position. Although Gabe would prefer to remain in Wyoming, he travels to Washington for his friend.

In the capital, Singleton is taken aback when Andrew acts confused as if he suffered a stroke; yet no vital signs imply a stroke or any other brain debilitating illness. Instead Gabe believes someone close to the President has caused the mysterious ailment, but he is ignorant as to whom, how and why. He needs to perform preventative medicine on President Stoddard, which means stopping whatever is causing the illness. To do that Gabe, trusting no one except Nurse Alison Cromartie, investigates those at the White House and even at Blair House trying to answer the questions that befuddle him. Gabe also knows he should suspect Alison as she has the know-how, but he can’t because he has fallen in love with her.

Although this medical political thriller is way over the top of the Washington Monument, fans will enjoy Michael Palmer’s entertaining tale. The story line contains the typical Palmer brand as the action is fast-paced, the hero is way over-matched, and real science supports the nefarious premise. Readers will savor Singleton’s amateur sleuthing.

Harriet Klausner

The Thieves of Faith-Richard Doetsch

The Thieves of Faith
Richard Doetsch
Dell, Dec 26 2007, $6.99
ISBN 9780440242895

In Geneva, Switzerland, former art thief Michael St. Pierre knows he would do anything for Genevieve, who has been there for him ever since his beloved wife Mary died last year. So when she asks a favor of him, he gives her an unequivocal yes before knowing what she needs. She explains she is being hunted by her son Julian who demands she tell him the secret of a painting by an obscure artist. She owns the work that is being sold at a black market gallery, but does not want it back; she wants it destroyed. Genevieve gives Michael a week to decide if he will perform her request.

Three days later, he calls her to tell her no as the mission is impossible only to learn she is dead. Owing her, Michael completes what turned out to be her death bed request. However, malevolent raging maniac Julian Zivera claims Michael owes him. He demands the thief break into the Kremlin to steal a gold box that allegedly contains the eternal life formula buried in the most buried vault. If he fails to accomplish the impossible mission, his biological father who he never met will die.

This exciting sequel to THE THIEVES OF HEAVEN (not reviewed) is an entertaining thriller as Michael and two buddies conduct the dangerous quest in which betrayals seem to occur on every page and close shaves that Gillette would envy even more so. The story line is over the Urals, but thriller fans will enjoy anyway because Michael Doetsch never makes his tale into the universal big crunch; instead there is a comic book like forth to the fun caper.

Harriet Klausner

Vienna Blood-Frank Tallis

Vienna Blood
Frank Tallis
Random House, Jan 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780812977769

In the winter of 1902, Vienna Police Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt is working on the high profile case of who slaughtered the royal anaconda at the Tiergarten Zoo when his superiors yank him off that investigation. Instead he is assigned to lead the inquiry into who is killing prostitutes; as several victims have suddenly been found in the frozen city streets. The killer leaves brazen cross-like marks on his victims that lead Oskar to believe one clever diabolical person is responsible.

He knows he needs special help on this strange case witch as far as he knows has no local precedent although there is some experience in London of an apparent mentally sick yet brilliant predator. He asks Freudian adherent Dr. Max Liebermann, who collaborated with him on A DEATH IN VIENNA, to provide him insight into the culprit’s mind so that they can put together a pattern and find the killer. Max realizes that the serial homicides ties into Mozart’s classic The Magic Flute, but why and who remains unknown as more hookers are killed.

Readers will believe they are visiting Freud’s Vienna at an exciting time in the city even if the Empire is tottering on the brink of extinction as Frank Tallis through the actions of his serial killer and the collaborative team bring the turn of the century to life. Although the police procedural is fun to follow with its link to Mozart even if it is somewhat obvious to the reader, this prime plot actually enhances the vivid look at the still thriving capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1902 as historical fans will fully treasure the tour though paved with blood.

Harriet Klausner

Wild Goose Chase-Terri Thayer

Wild Goose Chase
Terri Thayer
Midnight Ink, Feb 2008, $13.95, 312 pp.
ISBN: 9780738712154

It has been six months since her mother died and Dewey Pellicano is doing her best to hold herself together. She lost her IT job, so is running the store Quilter Paradiso her mother left to her. Currently she rents a booth at the seventeenth annual Northern California Quilt Extravaganza. She is putting the store online thanks to an expensive program her mother bought a week before she died. Her sister-in-law Kym, who works at the store, sabotages her efforts wanting it done the old fashioned way and Dewey walks a way in a huff.

She runs into quilting celebrity Claire Armstrong who offers to buy the store from her. She needs time to think about it and then decides to go to Claire’s room to talk about it some more. Claire’s assistant Myra lets her in and they see Claire dead. She bled out from an accident with a yellow-handled rotary cutter. When the police arrive she is glad to see Detective Buster Healey is one of them because her friend makes he feel less like a suspect in what turns out to be a murder. A few days later, Dewey agrees to sell her store to Myra but another death occurs at a rehearsal for the Quilter’s fashion show. Again Dewey is made to look like the killer but she knows someone is setting up the evidence to make it look that way and she intends to find out who it is.

WILD GOOSE CHASE is a delightful cozy that gives readers an insider’s look at a quilting fair. The heroine is doing her best to hold it all together even before she became the prime suspect in two homicide investigations while wondering if she is doing the right thing by selling her mom’s heritage. The support cast acts realistic and the few eccentric amongst them add a touch of humor to the serious storyline. Terri Thayer creates an excellent amateur sleuth mystery in which the audience will believe a desperate Dewey follows the clues one stitch at a time.

Harriet Klausner

Thugs and Kisses-Sue Ann Jaffarian

Thugs and Kisses
Sue Ann Jaffarian
Midnight Ink, Feb 2008, $13.95, 336 pp.
ISBN: 9780738710891

Odelia Grey is a paralegal at Wallace, Boer, Brown, and Yates. Her immediate boss Michael Steele requested her and the partners thought she would be good for the hard to get along with anal-retentive obsessive attorney because she has patience and should be able to keep him grounded. They bribed her with a big pay raise and her own office.

Since her wheelchair bound lover Greg Steven is ill, she takes Detective Dev Frye as her date to her thirtieth high school reunion. While dancing with Dev, Danny Oliver is shot and killed. Everyone has a motive for killing him including Odelia and her friend Sally Kipman who lost custody of her son to him in an ugly court battle. While dealing with being a suspect, her boss Steele never returns from his mini vacation. His car is found at the airport, certain documents from a client are tampered with and he never showed up at the inn where he made reservations. Although it looks bad for Steele who some think broke the law and fled the country, Odelia knows he is too obsessed to do anything illegal. She and Sally team up to help each other locate Steele and find out who murdered Donny.

Ignoring the amateur sleuth investigating plausibility, THUGS AND KISSES is a very enjoyable reading experience. The whodunit and the missing person case are well thought out; run parallel to each other and the sequences smoothly change from one case to the other. The protagonist, a size twenty who is very comfortable with her body does what she believes is right because she has a strong sense of justice and loyalty. Obstinately she refuses to be swayed from the case by her lover, family or friends which sometime make for strained relations.

Harriet Klausner

Ghost of a Chance-Kate Marsh

Ghost of a Chance
Kate Marsh
Obsidian, Feb 2008, $6.99, 279 pp.
ISBN: 9780451223241

Karma Marx is an otherworldly being who is half polster and half human. She is faster than mortals, able to hide in the shadows, and is working off a punishment for accidentally killing her best friend as a young child because she didn’t know her own powers. She is a transmortis anomaly extermination which means she cleans the homes of otherworldly beings and usually ends up bringing them into her own home.

The Akashial League which oversees her punishment has her foster young polter child Pixie for a month; her husband Spider agrees to a divorce if she cleans up the Walsh home that night. When she arrives there she is met by her husband, his partner Meredith, Meredith’s wife Savannah who wants to make contact with the operational entities living in the house and Adam, another polter who believes the house still belongs to him. When Spider refuses to give it back, he creates a binding spell that prevents anyone from leaving the abode; he hopes to mediate the ownership of house with Spider but before he can do that, someone kills him. Adam, a Marshall in the mundane plane and an investigator in the otherworld, with the help of Karma investigates the homicide. They have twelve hours to find the culprit otherwise the case will be taken out of their hands.

Katie MacAlister writing as Kate Marsh pens a spellbinding and enchanting paranormal mystery populated by a horde of polters, a unicorn, a guardian and the imps who keeps following Karma home no matter where she puts them are hilarious. Although there are a lot of magical scenes, it is mundane investigative techniques that give the heroine a GHOST OF A CHANCE in solving this paranormal locked room whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Moving Target-Lori A. May

Moving Target
Lori A. May
Silhouette Athena Force, Jan 2008, $5.25
ISBN: 9780373389773

Oracle sends Richmond, Virginia based FBI profiler Athena Academy graduate Francesca “Chesca” Thorne to Boston seeking a link between Arachne and the Queen of Hearts; several people at the Athena Academy and at the FBI believe that they are the same person. Whether separate females or not, both are dangerous especially Arachne who loathes the Athena Academy and will do anything to destroy it.

Francesca makes some progress at Boston University, but finds her tires deliberately slashed. She calls in for back-up and Athena Academy Principal Christine Evans arranges for her great-nephew, Will Evans to act as her bodyguard. As Will and Chesca work together linking clues, an unknown adversary, most likely connected to either Arachne or the Queen of Hearts, seems to know much of what they are doing; making staying alive a top priority.

From the opening serial killer sequence in Baton Rouge to the final confrontation involving who is Delphi, MOVING TARGET is an exciting Athena Force tale. The story line moves the saga forward with several revelations especially a humongous one, but too many little events seemingly all over Beantown occur so that none become deeply illustrated. Still this is an entertaining entry that fans of the series will need to read as the revelations keep on coming.

Stranger in Paradise-Robert B. Parker

Stranger in Paradise
Robert B. Parker
Putnam, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780399154607

Apache hit man Wilson "Crow" Cromartie brazenly walks into the office of Paradise, Massachusetts Chief of Police Jesse Stone to ask the cop to make his latest consulting job easier. Jesse reminds Crow that a decade ago, he was part of a gang that executed a deadly heist on nearby affluent Stiles Island. Crow says he had nothing to do with the homicides as he was forced to flee on a speedboat from a dangerous shootout, which Jesse reminds him led to the death of two police officers.

Louis Francisco, reputed crime boss of South Florida, hired Crow because he knows the Paradise coast and has a reputation for success. He wants Crow to find his daughter and report back to his client for further instruction. Jesse says he will discuss an arrest with the ADA. After Crow leaves Jesse tells his staff that Crow freed the female hostages because he does not kill women, but when it comes to men, he is STONE COLD.

Crow informs Louis he found Amber living in poverty with her mother Fiona. Louis orders Crow to kill Fiona and bring Amber to him. Since he does not murder women, Crow brazenly tells Jesse to protect Fiona. The question for Jesse is whether Crow will abduct Amber to take her south; complicating matters is his ex wife TV reporter Jenn is involved as she investigates local teen gang activity.

Crow steals the show with his odd but fascinating morality that enables him to double cross clients as he did ten years ago, kill men in cold blood, steal from the dead, and not harm a woman. Jess is at his best when he reluctantly collaborates with Crow; he is at his worst when he begins to reconcile with Jenn; ignoring her sexual betrayals to further her career that turned him into an alcoholic, which in turn cost him his LAPD job. Time lines since LA and the Stiles Island caper aside, this is a solid thriller, but Robert B. Parker needs one more DEATH IN PARADISE so that Jess can stop obsessing over Jenn.

Harriet Klausner

Final Curtain-R. T. Jordan

Final Curtain
R. T. Jordan
Kensington, Feb 2008, $22.50
ISBN: 9780758212825

Not everyone can be a Hollywood legend while they are still alive, but Polly Pepper has managed to become one. The only thing missing in her long glorious career is that she never made it to Broadway, but now in her sixties the opportunity to fulfill her dream seems imminent. She is the title character in a revival of Mame at the Galaxy Theater in Glendale, California. If this proves successful the backers want to bring it to the Great White Way.

Rehearsals do not start very well when Polly arrives late on the first day. They go downhill by day two when director Karen Richards is killed with the murder weapon being the Emmy won by Mame co-star Sharon Fletcher. The police arrest Sharon, but Polly believes she is innocent even if witnesses claim Sharon was the person seen with the victim. In fact, Polly thinks Sharon’s role as a bad girl on the soap "It's Never Fair Weather" is part of the reason the cops look nowhere else as they mix up the character with the person. Polly quickly realizes that others in the production had strong motives to kill Karen. With the help of her son and her personal assistant, Polly investigates but almost joins Karen in the next life when she begins uncovering the true motive for the homicide.

In spite of Polly being a classic diva, readers will admire her spunk and adore her caring for others, which she displays all the time and leads her to make inquiries. The support cast including recurring characters from REMAINS TO BE SCENE like her homicide detective lover and her doting son turns FINAL CURTAIN into a delightful amateur sleuth tale. Although some will question why a sexagenarian with a twenty-seven room Bel Air mansion will risk her pampered life on an investigation instead of hiring a professional, fans will enjoy B.T. Jordan’s salute to the stars whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

As The World Churns-Tamar Myers

As The World Churns
Tamar Myers
Obsidian, Feb 2008, $21.95, 270 pp.
ISBN 9780451223029

The day Magdalena has always been waiting for has finally come and now she is six hours into her honeymoon with Gabe Rosen, a doctor from New York City who came to Hernia Holstein to get away from the pressure. Unfortunately, his possessive mother Ida calls them on their honeymoon. When the phone rings again Magdalena thinks it is Ida, but it turns out to the warden at the state penitentiary; he tells her a murderer escaped. He is the ex-chief of police of Hernia who targets her family.

The honeymoon ends abruptly because Magdalene wants to make sure her loved ones are protected and because she wants to make sure everything is ready for the guests who are coming in for the first Hernia Holstein competition. The originator of the contest Doctor Shador is beaten up and can’t remember who hurt him. Magdalena gets Gabe to judge the contest but soon after that he and Magdalena’s step-daughter Alison disappear. Magdalena rounds up a posse to find them.

AS THE WORLD CHURNS is as tasty as shoofly pie. This is a delightful mystery due to the characters, especially the secondary and recurring ones. Although “Monster-in-Law” is obviously not a new relationship concept, Ida as the mother in law from hell is Magdalena’s worst enemy as she came to town to find Gabe which results in keeping the storyline fresh. Tamar Myers has quite a few shocks in store for the reader. These surprises will change Magdalene’s thoughts about herself and everybody will not see the final surprise coming because the protagonist never thought it could happen.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Shanghai Tunnel-Sharan Newman

The Shanghai Tunnel
Sharan Newman
Forge, Feb 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 978-0765313003

In 1867 Horace Stratton decides to return home to Portland after a very successful business trip in Shanghai. Accompanied by his wife Emily and their teenage son Robert they reach San Francisco in January 1868; only Horace dies there. The dutiful daughter of missionaries, feeling some guilt for she knows she never lived up to her husband’s expectations, Emily and Robert bring Horace’s body home to be buried in Portland.

The surviving Strattons plan to live in Horace’s hometown; not aware of how rough and tumble of a place it is in spite of leading citizens hoping to turn it into the San Francisco of the northwest. However, the widow and her son are not welcomed by Portland’s elitists especially those who partnered with Horace. They are ignorant as to how much she really knows and understands about her late husband’s unethical and mostly illegal activities; and her plans to learn what she does not know. Still they will not take chances and plot to drive her and her son out of town; if they fail to run her out then they will bury her next to her deceased husband.

THE SHANGHAI TUNNEL (in an afterward Sharan Newman explains that the tunnels exist under Portland’s streets) is an enjoyable and riveting historical amateur sleuth tale that brings alive Reconstruction Era Portland, which obviously has come a long way from its salad days. The Oregonians are a deep support cast, but the story line totally belongs to the courageous widow as she surprises everyone including her self with her grit by refusing to leave. Horace must be turning in his grave witnessing what he never saw in his wife; as the mouse roars. Ms. Newman begins her new historical saga (see Catherine LeVenduer historical mysteries) with a winning mid nineteenth century thriller.

Harriet Klausner

L.A. Outlaws-T. Jefferson Parker

L.A. Outlaws
T. Jefferson Parker
Dutton, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9780525950554

In Los Angeles a woman claims to be Allison Murrieta, a descendant of the legendary some say notorious nineteenth century robber. Allison insists her relative was Robin Hood of the Wild West while his victims over a century ago insisted he was a cold-blooded killer. Allison emulates her ancestor by wearing a mask to hide her real identity of eighth-grade history teacher and mother of three boys, Suzanne Jones, when she robs from those she dubs as avaricious; giving part of her loot to charity.

A media and public darling who doe not want her secret identity exposed; her latest caper is to steal diamonds from Bull, a known criminal. This time however, she gets more than she wants when she observes Bull’s prime killer Lupercio cold bloodedly murder gangland-style his boss’ enemies. As she tries to flee the crime scene serendipitously, L.A. sheriff's deputy Charles Hood catches her and demands she testify that she witnessed Lupercio’s murdering spree at the same time Bull wants his diamonds returned to him so he sends his top gun to retrieve them anyway he can.

This is an exciting single sitting read that grips the audience from Allison’s first heist until the final confrontation when the thug, the cop, the media, and the heroine come together. The cast is deep and powerful enhancing a strong plot that will have readers rooting for this modern day female Robin Hood as she moonlights by robbing from greedy bullheaded hoodlums while teaching American History in the daytime.

Harriet Klausner

Wash and Die-Barbara Colley

Wash and Die
Barbara Colley
Kensington, Feb 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 9780758222510

In New Orleans, Charlotte LaRue, owner of Maid for a Day, is unhappy to return home after a hard day of cleaning to see Joyce Thibodeaux waiting for her on her porch. With no place to stay, Joyce, formerly married to Charlotte's tenant Louis Thibodeaux and just out of rehab, begs her to let her stay here for a few days. Against her better judgment as Charlotte knows that Joyce is a lying con artist, she realizes she can not let the woman sleep on the street.

Their arrangement fails to work out as Joyce may be a guest but she keeps her room looking like a pig sty, lies about why a San Francisco inspector wants to speak with her, and steals the gold watch Charlotte inherited from her father. After tossing out Joyce, Charlotte tries to recover the watch that the woman hocked, but the pawn shop proprietor rejects her plea. Frustrated, Charlotte comes home to find her house trashed from an obvious search, Joyce shot to death amidst the mess, her parakeet Sweety Boy gone. Charlotte and Louis discuss possible suspects before she begins her investigation to find her missing bird and a killer. Her snooping almost gets her killed twice by different people who want the dirt to remain unclean.

Readers will admire the sexagenarian business owner who is determined to cleanse her name from the mud that it recently took as much as she also wants her beloved bird back. Yet with her cleaning enterprise, an amateur sleuth investigation and much more, Charlotte welcomes her newborn twin grandchildren with love and tenderness. She is the role model that insists the sixties today are the forties of yesterday. Readers will enjoy this fine thinking person’s cozy as Charlotte escorts the audience around New Orleans in search of cleaning up a murder.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Memories Are Murder-Lou Allin

Memories Are Murder
Lou Allin
Napoleon & Company: Rendezvous Crime
ISBN: 9781894917339

Northern Ontario realtor Belle Palmer rents a place to her former boyfriend (from when they attended Scarborough Collegiate Institute in Toronto) field research zoologist Gary Myers, who is studying the adaptability of elk recently released in the wilderness. The Brock University professor apologizes for using her as his “beard” back in school when they dated fourteen times and he failed to kiss her until she forced the issue on event ten.

When his “secret” partner murder-mystery author Malcolm “Mutt” Malloy arrives to join Gary, he cannot find him. Mutt and Belle look for Gary only to locate him dead having apparently drowned near his research camp. Mutt and Belle organize Gary’s notes only to conclude key items are missing; the cottage he rented from Belle had been broken into and his camera and laptop stolen. Soon afterward, Mutt is almost killed by carbon monoxide poisoning and someone tries to murder Belle. After finding an article Gary had on poisoning, Belle returns to the spot where she and Mutt found his corpse only to flee into the wilderness to escape from a killer.

The latest exciting Belle Palmer amateur sleuth (see NORTHERN WINTERS ARE MURDER, BLACKFLIES ARE MURDER and MURDER, EH?) is an entertaining Northern Ontario whodunit. The heroine has no plans to interfere with the police investigation into the death of Gary, but she and Mutt become embroiled by simply trying to dot he right thing with the late professor’s notes. Readers will appreciate the wild a long way from Toronto and not just in kilometers, but the murder mystery belongs to the brave realtor and her new partner as innocence is no excuse when someone wants you dead.

Harriet Klausner

Desert Cut-Betty Webb

Desert Cut
Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen, Feb 2008,
ISBN 9781590584910

Private investigator Lena Jones and Oscar-winning documentary director Warren Quinn seek locations for the latter to film late nineteenth century Apache Wars. To their horror, they find a mutilated corpse of a small child that the Cochise County medical examiner sadly calls “Precious Doe”. Lena, who suffered child abuse from the foster homes she grew up in, takes it personally as this angel could not have been more than seven years old; she vows to find justice for the child.

Her investigation takes Lena to the nearby town of Los Perdidos where the descendents of the founders are armed for war against illegal aliens coming in from Mexico just like their ancestors were fighting Geronimo. As Lena keeps digging angering the generational locals although supported by legal immigrants working at a nearby plant, two more young girls vanish. Lena refuses to quit, but the more she learns the more confused she becomes as she starts to believe there is a conspiracy that crosses racial and religious lines to keep females subservient or worse; but the disappearances make no sense as they seem deliberate.

As Lena continues to uncover more about her infant abandonment, fans of the Desert saga (see DESERT NOIR, DESERT WIVES, DESERT SHADOWS and DESERT RUN) will enjoy her latest thriller that takes a fascinating spin on Southwest immigration. The story line is driven by the heroine who seeks to insure the young are safe unlike her own past. Interestingly, being a legal immigrant with documentation means nothing when corrupted power needs a fall guy because immigration has become tied to 9/11 (as if it was illegal Mexicans who hijacked the four planes). Betty Webb provides another strong whodunit with her usual thought provoking underlying social message that America is only as strong as our weakest.

Harriet Klausner

The Vagabond Virgins-Ken Kuhlken

The Vagabond Virgins
Ken Kuhlken
Poisoned Pen Press, Feb 2008
ISBN 9781590584613

Lupe Garcia travels to rural areas claiming to be a virgin angel in 1979 Baja Mexico. She quotes scripture and pleads with children to tell their parents to vote against the corrupt tyrannical Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in the upcoming election.

Lupe’s younger sister Lourdes fears that the PCI will kill her sibling, whom she has not seen since their father threw Lupe out of their home years ago. She needs to warn Lupe that the PRI is seeking Lupe to prevent her from causing them problems. To find her sister she hires law student and private investigator Alvaro Hickey because she heard he is not afraid to break the rules. He thinks his client is the VAGABOND VIRGIN angel and she has no sibling; he also wonders if she killed her father as the PRI suspect as she took gold bricks worth a fortune. Now the PRI, her brother and much of Mexico search for the sleuth and the younger sister while the duo searches for the older female sibling, who has been captured by the PRI.

The latest Hickey Family thriller (see The Angel Gang for one of dad’s tales and The Do-Re-Mi for the son’s first solo) is a superb look at the immigration issue circa 1979 (pre Reagan “amnesty” and no nebulous link to 9/11 to obfuscate the issue). Violence and corruption at the California-Mexico border makes for a dangerous MZ yet that stays in the background as the fast-paced story line contains deep characterizations, a trademark of Ken Kuhlken’s Hickey historicals. This powerful exciting drama will leave the audience thinking beyond the inane sound bite solutions of politicians and extremists to ponder how to realistically deal with a complex issue with ramifications hitting all aspects of society.

Harriet Klausner

Killer Mousse-Melinda Wells

Killer Mousse
Melinda Wells
Berkley, Feb 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780425219812

In Santa Monica, California Della Carmichael accepts the offer from the better Living Channel to host a cooking show In the Kitchen with Della so that she can pay the rent on her cooking school studio. However, one hour before she is to make her live appearance on the air debut, the previous Cooking Diva Mimi Bond verbally assaults her; accusing her of sleeping with Mickey Jordan as that would be the only reason he gave her Mimi’s show. Trying to remain calm, Della insists she only met Mickey four times and his wife was with him each time. She keeps to herself that the rumor Mimi was fired was too much 100 proof sauce in her sauce. To her chagrin Mimi takes Della’s famous KILLING MOUSSE and claims it is terrible before falling down to her death. From the audience the woman sitting next to Mimi shouts “You killed my mother”.

Police Detective Hall leads the investigation in which all the evidence points towards Della. The mousse, which had been in the nearby refrigerator for a few hours, contains two ingredients that Della claims she did not use: Intesteral the chocolate laxative and peanuts, which Mimi is deathly allergic too. Realizing at a minimum her career is ruined and at maximum face an official accusation of first degree murder, Della investigates starting with how Mimi who could not boil water became the COOKING DIVA.

This is an interesting culinary amateur sleuth as the heroine cook has a genuine reason to find the real culprit; she recognizes she is a bumbling amateur but cannot afford a professional. Della keeps the plot fresh with her inquiry as she uses her cooking process to guide the steps she takes. Readers will enjoy the recipes provided by Della, the support cast and some guests (Barbara Rush and her sister Ramona Hennessy) ranging from the title dessert to “Gangster Chicken Cacciatore”, and “Funeral Salad” (by guest Regina Cocanougher).

Harriet Klausner

The Purrfect Murder-Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown

The Purrfect Murder
Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Bantam, Feb 2008, $26.00
ISBN: 9780553803655

The town of Crozet, Virginia is growing rapidly with the upper crust building McMansions trying to outdo each other. “Harry” Haristeen is not interested in material wealth having remarried the love of her life and is doing work she loves by creating a winery. Murder once again hits the people of Crozet hard when their beloved doctor William Wylde is murdered by a sniper’s bullet. Most people think it was a fanatic who wanted to stop the doctor from performing abortions. The police think that the killer shot the physician from a roof across the street but the only thing on the roof on a Virginia Slim’s cigarette butt.

The upper crust of Crozet is attending a charity gala when a scream rings out. Deputy Cynthia Cooper sees Carla Paulson murdered; her throat cut and the architect who is building her house Tazio Chappars is standing over the body with a knife in her hand. Harry’s intuition tells her that the woman is innocent despite the evidence. “Harry’s cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter and her corgi Tee Tucker find out from the pack rats that live in the building where the gala was held that they found a Virginia Slim butt. Harry intends to find out who the real killer is so an innocent woman can regain her freedom even if it puts her in danger.

Crozet residents (two and four legged) are shook up by a big crime wave. Someone is blackmailing the women who had abortions and a building inspector seems shady to Harry even if she has no proof. As long time friends know her animal friends talk to each other and with other species enabling them to help in her investigation. This provides an air of enchantment to the storyline. Readers will thoroughly enjoy this magical tale where suspects abound despite the arrest of the most likely killer. Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown have written a fantastic regional mystery.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Moonlight Downs- Adrian Hyland

Moonlight Downs
Adrian Hyland
Soho, Feb 2008, $24.00
ISBN 9781569474839

After several years of seeing the world, half-aboriginal Emily Tempest returns home to the Moonlight Downs camp in Australia’s Outback. Emily struggles to readapt to living in the “Blackfeller” camp, but is getting there thanks in part due to a warm welcome home from her friend Lincoln Flinders although his daughter, her former best friend Hazel, makes her feel like an outsider.

She is stunned when Lincoln is found dead, a strangulation victim. Even more shocking is the killer carved out his kidney. The locals assume sorcerer Blakie Japanangka murdered and then mutilated the body of the camp’s leader. Emily assists police sergeant Tom McGillivray in trying to find Blakie, who has vanished. When information surfaces that makes the prime suspect look innocent, Emily looks into a land dispute as the motive for killing Lincoln with the organ removal used to throw blame on the aborigine sorcerer.

This is an interesting look at the aborigine culture from the perspective of a person who had one foot in that and one in the white Australian society before she became a globetrotter. Emily is the strength of the story line as her relationship with Hazel seems to be a microcosm of the two groups. Although the whodunit especially when it detours into an avarice land deal seems a stretch and lacks suspense, readers will enjoy this insightful visit to the Outback.

Harriet Klausner

Betrayal-John Lescroart

John Lescroart
Dutton, Feb 2008, $26.95
ISBN 9780525950394

When lawyer Charlie Bowen suddenly vanishes Attorney Dismas Hardy agrees to complete his missing peer’s cases. He assumes this will prove easy until he realizes that Charlie was about to file an appeal of an obvious murder conviction. In 2005, Evan Scholler was convicted of killing former SEAL Ron Nolan in spite of being defended by top lawyer Aaron Washburn.

Hardy learns from Police Detective Abe Glitsky that the two men met in Iraq where Scholler was serving as a lieutenant in a National Guard unit and Nolan was a contract guard working Allstrong Security. Back in America Nolan seduced Scholler's ex-girlfriend and caused an incident that left Scholler brain damaged and much of his team dead. Scholler publicly vowed to kill his former friend. The appeal looks hopeless until they begin to uncover proof that Nolan was involved in killing other Americans.

BETRAYAL is a fascinating timely thriller that is incredible when it looks into the legal accountability of contract guards in a war zone and into the post traumatic stress including survivor guilt of returning veterans especially those suffering physical injuries. While a legal thriller, interestingly the court room drama though well written takes a back seat on the docket to the Iraq War legal and medical issues. John Lescroart is in top form with the return of Dismas Hardy, who is terrific in this tale as he enhances the best segues, which occur ironically when he is off page.

Harriet Klausner

A Bone To Pick-Charlaine Harris

A Bone To Pick
Charlaine Harris
Berkley, Feb 2008, $7.99, 272 pp.
ISBN 9780425219700

Lawrence, Georgia is usually a quiet little southern town except when Aurora “Roe” Teagarden has A BONE TO PICK; which to the locals seems too often. Trouble follows her like a magnet but when she goes to the funeral of Jane Engle, her lawyer has some good news for her. Jane left Roe her entire estate which includes her house and half a million dollars. The lawyer hints that Jane has something she wants Roe to fix.

As Roe inspects her new house looking for a hiding place, she spots the window seat carpeted to look like a piece of furniture. When she opens it, Roe finds a skull and since she doesn’t want to take it to the police, she wraps it inside a blanket and takes it to her mother’s house. She later finds inside a book a note in Jane’s handwriting saying she didn’t do it. Relieved, Roe has to figure where the skull came from and who killed that person.

Charlaine Harris’s second Aurora Teagarden mystery is a charming delight populated with eccentric lovable Southern characters. The mystery is well thought out with enough suspects to keep readers turning the pages to find out who lost their head, why that person was beheaded, and why the head is with Jane while the body remains in parts unknown (pardon the pun). A BONE TO PICK is a classic reprint from 1992 that stands the test of time.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Tongue Merchant-Lance Hawvermale

The Tongue Merchant
Lance Hawvermale
Five Star, Jan 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9781594146608

In the Caribbean the US Coast Guard cutter the Sentinel is boarding a drifting yacht, Lady Lynn Rob. The Coast Guard Executive officer on board Lieutenant Marcella Paraizo knows the vessel is owned by her friend heiress Isabella “Bella” Murillo. She prays her pal is not on board, but her payers are not answered as someone viciously murdered her friend. The Coast Guard takes the Lady Lynn Rob to nearby Hozumkur on St. Nore.

After learning from the lead police investigator Sergeant Kyle Straker that the killer cut out the deaf Bella’s tongue, Marcella is unable to remain on the sidelines. She begins to investigate alienating the cops, the Coast Guard and murderous thugs as she island hops the West Indies following nefarious clues that keep pointing towards either Bella’s spouse, her brother, or the trustees running her late father’s corporation De Casals International. Although avarice goes a long way as a motive it is the tongue that disturbs Marcella who thinks the killer is someone else perhaps the violent environmental group Earth Liberation Front, better known as ELF.

Although one wonders why an amateur in most cases including this one feels compulsive obsessive behavior to sleuth, fans will appreciate this Caribbean adventure. Marcella is a terrific protagonist as she must know what happened to Bella in spite of risking her life and career and that of Kyle, who allows her to get away with too much; this reviewer agrees with Kyle’s partner that she should be arrested, but then we would have no story line. Her efforts hopping from island to island make for a fun thriller filled with two wonderful late twists that will leave the audience fully entertained by this enjoyable amateur sleuth tale.

Harriet Klausner

Without Mercy-Toni L.P. Kelner

Without Mercy
Toni L.P. Kelner
Five Star, Jan 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9781594144783

Boston based freelance celebrity author Tilda Harper recently wrote a where are they now article on the former cast members of ’70s sitcom Kissing Cousins. Her article published in prestigious Entertain Me magazine focuses on the “Curse of the Kissing Cousins”; as two former cast members starring respectively as Brad the jock and Damon the freak recently died. When paranoid fanboy Vincent Peters claims a third cast member starring as Sherry the cheerleader was murdered and that a serial killer is bumping off the cousins, Tilda takes him seriously as he is her best tipster when he insists Mercy Ashford is next as they are being killed in chronological order.

Tilda’s first investigation into the cousins led to her easily finding everyone except Mercy, who walked off a movie set and disappeared without a trace; she has never picked up her rerun checks. However, this time going through her boxes of 1970s fan junk Tilda considers a different approach to finding the missing cousin who was her idol when the reporter was a teen. Tilda is unaware that someone is watching her moves following her to New York because she is the best chance of finding the fourth victim.

WITHOUT MERCY is an enjoyable journalistic investigative tale starring a likable heroine. Her behavior towards Vincent and her sister shows she is a caring person; her actions towards an obnoxious last Entertain me reporter is amusing and on target. Fans who appreciate the Scooby Doo mysteries will enjoy this fun homage to Geeks and Freaks.

Harriet Klausner

A Grave in Gaza-Matt Beynon Rees

A Grave in Gaza
Matt Beynon Rees
Soho, Feb 2008, $24.00
ISBN 9781569474723

The United Nations Relief Works Agency headquartered in Jerusalem sends Swedish worker Magnus Wallender to escort fiftyish Palestinian girls’ school principal Omar Yussef from the Dehaisa Refugee Camp to the Gaza Strip on an inspection visit. There they meet Scottish security officer James Cree known locally as Abu Ramiz, who explains that part-time Shati Refuge Camp teacher and full time Al-Azhar University Professor Eyad Masharawi has been arrested. Eyad’s wife insists he was snatched by fourteen Palestinian Security Agents who invaded their home because he loudly objected to the university selling degrees to the Preventative Security officers and not due to his volunteer teaching at the UN refugee camp school.

Unassuming, Omar wants to leave Gaza as all he sees is a hell hole; he wants to go home to Bethlehem as soon as possible. However, he will do his inspection duty and all he can to get Eyad freed. He never expected to have machine guns pointed at his head nor discus missile diplomacy over dinner. That and more makes Omar feels his age much more than struggling to carry his bag.

Although the probability of a fifty-six years old school principal successfully getting involved in perilous incidents like a rescue from deadly armed men seems so unlikely (the odds would be an imaginary number), readers will drop reality to enjoy a deep look at Gaza. As Omar’s friend Bethlehem Police Chief Zeydan who has come to Gaza many times says: “the place was so broken that it ought to be pulled out into the Mediterranean and sunk”. Readers will be appalled by Matt Beynon Reyes’ vivid descriptions of poverty, random killings, and torture; supported by official corruption in which death is a welcome outcome while also seeking Omar’s previous work A COLLABORATOR IN BETHLEHEM (not reviewed).

Harriet Klausner

A Grave in Gaza-Matt Beynon Rees

A Grave in Gaza
Matt Beynon Rees
Soho, Feb 2008, $24.00
ISBN 9781569474723

The United Nations Relief Works Agency headquartered in Jerusalem sends Swedish worker Magnus Wallender to escort fiftyish Palestinian girls’ school principal Omar Yussef from the Dehaisa Refugee Camp to the Gaza Strip on an inspection visit. There they meet Scottish security officer James Cree known locally as Abu Ramiz, who explains that part-time Shati Refuge Camp teacher and full time Al-Azhar University Professor Eyad Masharawi has been arrested. Eyad’s wife insists he was snatched by fourteen Palestinian Security Agents who invaded their home because he loudly objected to the university selling degrees to the Preventative Security officers and not due to his volunteer teaching at the UN refugee camp school.

Unassuming, Omar wants to leave Gaza as all he sees is a hell hole; he wants to go home to Bethlehem as soon as possible. However, he will do his inspection duty and all he can to get Eyad freed. He never expected to have machine guns pointed at his head nor discus missile diplomacy over dinner. That and more makes Omar feels his age much more than struggling to carry his bag.

Although the probability of a fifty-six years old school principal successfully getting involved in perilous incidents like a rescue from deadly armed men seems so unlikely (the odds would be an imaginary number), readers will drop reality to enjoy a deep look at Gaza. As Omar’s friend Bethlehem Police Chief Zeydan who has come to Gaza many times says: “the place was so broken that it ought to be pulled out into the Mediterranean and sunk”. Readers will be appalled by Matt Beynon Reyes’ vivid descriptions of poverty, random killings, and torture; supported by official corruption in which death is a welcome outcome while also seeking Omar’s previous work A COLLABORATOR IN BETHLEHEM (not reviewed).

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ice Trap-Kitty Sewell

Ice Trap
Kitty Sewell
Touchstone, Feb 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9781416539971

The letter from Canada shook up Dr. Dafydd Woodruff, as the Cardiff, Wales based surgeon has never been touched before. Married to Isabel, his bones shake as he rereads the note from thirteen year old Miranda who insists he is her father and that of her twin brother Mark. Still he shows his wife the letter, but is not very sympathetic as she assumes he got drunk and shagged the head nurse; he hides the time he spent with Uyarasuq from his spouse for fear she will know the depth of his feelings for the Canadian native.

Dafydd thinks back to when he spent a year practicing medicine in Moose Creek, Northwest Territories as a means of paying penitence for messing up an operation of a Welsh lad. He remembers vividly expecting to meet no one of consequence in the remote small village. Instead there was his head nurse Sheila Hailey, as acrimonious of a person one could ever have met. Now she accuses him of siring her twins; an impossible occurrence as he never slept with her. When DNA testing affirms her assertion, Dafydd returns to Moose Creek to learn more about how he fathered two children without sleeping with the mother.

The location and the lead character’s obvious amateur sleuthing make for a fine tale as the audience and Dafydd wonder how in this isolated village with not much medical technology he sired the kids. The eccentric support cast embellishes the sense of remoteness. Filled with twists though somewhat lacking in suspense readers will appreciate learning just how the Welsh doctor fell into an ICE TRAP.

Harriet Klausner

The Abyssinian Proof-Jenny White

The Abyssinian Proof
Jenny White
Norton, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780393062052

In 1303 Rumi (Oct 1887 Gregorian) in Istanbul, concern is high over the stealing of religious antiquities from the mosques, synagogues and churches of the Ottoman Empire; especially when the purloined artifacts are smuggled out of the country to London for sale to the highest bidder. With leaders of the three religions in feverous rage blaming one another and the Sultan, fear by the secular rulers is that a new Crusade is coming that could destroy the already ailing Empire if they do not calm the waters by catching the thieves. On top of all this is an assassination in broad daylight of the Ottoman governor of Macedonia.

The minister of justice assigns secular court magistrate Kamil Pasha to handle the assassination expeditiously and then the antiquities thefts. However, the latest item has caused an even greater furor than usual as the stolen reliquary contains the Proof of God message hidden to keep it safe from the Muslims by Isaak Metochites and his family in 1453 Constantinople. Tied up with the murder on Istanbul’s streets, Kamil turns to his friend Malik, the caretaker of a mosque, to regain the stolen reliquary.

In many ways the second Kamil Pasha late nineteenth century Ottoman Empire mystery (see THE SULTAN'S SEAL) is more a deep historical tale than a whodunit as the investigations enhance the insightful look at the era than visa versa. Thus THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF targets those who prefer an insider glimpse of life in Istanbul with religions ready to fight one another in the name of God while devastating the enfeebled empire using the mysteries to augment the period piece.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mr. Monk in Outer Space-Lee Goldberg

Mr. Monk in Outer Space
Lee Goldberg
Obsidian, Nov 2007, $19.95
ISBN: 9780451220981

As she ponders her dating pool, which consists of killers, grieving relatives, frustrated cops and men named Scooter whose mouths that taste like overdosed with mouthwash, personal assistant Natalie Teeger enters the apartment of her boss, Mr. Adrian Monk. Natalie is a realist as she raises her twelve years old Julie by herself and helps her paranoid employer cope with life. However, this time the crisis is beyond her immediate assistance; Monk, known for evacuating city blocks based on finding a cobweb in some obscure corner of his pad, studies a small coffee stain that he cannot remove from the carpet. Monk wants to move in with Natalie for a few days, but she is saved from that anguish when SFPD Lieutenant Disher calls her; without saying hello she asks where the corpse is?

After he solves the not homicide in spite of the triangle bullets case for Disher and captain Stottlemeyer, he becomes involved in another investigation. At the Beyond Earth cult TV show convention, a starship uniformed person kills the producer Conrad Stipes in a public shooting. Asked to investigate while suffering from rug burns, Monk moves into the home of his brother Ambrose, an expert on the show, while Natalie takes care of the more critical carpet problem.

Monk is at his humorous neurotic best as he solves cases in his crazy way. Readers will be laughing out loud at the side commentaries such as his measuring parallel parked cars or visiting a Burgerville restaurant or marveling at the value of three decade old Beyond Earth cereal that tasted like sugared cardboard when it was fresh. The whodunit is fun as the compulsive Monk invades the cult TV world, which he realizes is filled with those as obsessively insane as he is. Lee Goldberg provides a wonderful entry on one of the better novelizations series of a TV show.

Harriet Klausner

The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies-Kathleen Hills

The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
Kathleen Hills
Poisoned Pen, Jan 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9781590584767

In St. Adele, Michigan, the Hofer family is led by an abusive patriarch who treated his wife and two young offspring (Claire and Joey) as prisoners. A decade earlier, Reuben Hofer learned how to control people when he was interred at a nearby Civilian Public Service camp for those conscientious objectors the church refused to deal with. Those lessons in behavior he brought into his marriage and family. Thus for instance his eleven years old Claire knows that if the noise from the tractor goes silent hide as her bastard father is coming home, which most likely means punishment for no reason except his dictatorial rule. Thus, in that environs, someone could not take Reuben’s heavy handed discipline any longer; that person shot and killed the martinet while he was on his tractor.

Town constable John McIntire investigates the homicide, but finds no one who had a kind word for Reuben. Additionally almost the entire town except for Dr. Gulbard, who tendered the obese ailing wife, and Father Doucet had any dealings with the Hofer brood. John’s initial reaction is that a family member could not take it anymore; but it would have had to have been a preadolescent child as the mother could not have walked that far. However, he reconsiders his assessment when strangers from the victim’s camp days and Reuben's fundamentalist sister arrive in town although no new motive surfaces.

The fourth John McIntire 1950s police procedural (see WITCH CRADLE), PAST IMPERFECT, and HUNTER’S DANCE) is a fabulous look at an impoverished family suffering from abuse just after WW II in Michigan. The key to this unique thriller is John’s adversary Claire; a tough but frightened preadolescent protecting her younger brother and her ill ma. She proves quite a capable opponent as fans will appreciate this strong entry in one of the best 1950s series on the market today.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Matala-Craig Holden

Craig Holden
Simon & Schuster, Jan 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 9780743274999

Thirty-nine years old Justine has been mentoring her younger lover Will on the art of conning people since they met a few years ago. They always choose easy marks small sums so that the pigeon never retaliates or even go to the police. Justine’s philosophy is that the humiliation must be greater than the lost funds.

In Rome, the two grifters select recent American high school graduate Darcy Arlen as their next pigeon. The tourist is bored with the organized group tours of the great ruins so while the guide Mrs. Abignale naps and her roommate Rhonda showers, the American teen sneaks out of their hotel to do her own sightseeing. When she meets pensive Will looking into the Tiber, she is fascinated especially since she recognizes him from going to the same Old Indian bend High School in Ohio that she just graduated from; albeit six months late. He and his teacher persuade Darcy to leave the tour and go to Venice with them. From there they travel to the Greek isle Matala as Will and Justine think they have the perfect victim even as a romantic triangle forms.

The key to this superb sting story line is Darcy whose character seemingly changes over the course of MATALA. The two con artists are fascinating protagonists who assume the high school grad comes from wealthy parents as her trip is a graduation present from them. Readers will enjoy this entertaining thriller as the interplay between the triangular participants and a few other marks make for a fun read with several wonderful unexpected twists.

Harriet Klausner

The Shell Game-Steve Alten

The Shell Game
Steve Alten
Cedar Fort, Jan 2008, $26.95
ISBN: 9781599550947

In 2012, "centrist conservative" David McKuin is the President of the United States. However, much of the secretive centralize controls gained after 9/11 are gone following the excesses of his predecessor President Bush. Thus they cannot do what they feel is needed to keep Americans safe; take out Iran and its radical fundamentalist leadership and insure reelection of an at war president.

However, some of his Neocon advisors believe a 9/11 sting needs to occur so once again they can centralize power and provide security to the American people. They concoct a plan to have the Feds nuke an American city and hold Iran culpable. Energy guru Ace Futrell wants to know who killed his wife as he thinks it was government agents. He soon uncovers the scheme to use a nuclear strike to attack Iran and to strengthen their power; he plans to expose this horrific American tragedy.

Except for those who believe President Bush directed the 9/11 attack, this thriller is over the stratosphere of plausibility; sinister Feds planning to nuke an American city and believing they can not only hide the attack but blame Iran seems unreal in spite of some recent slam dunk CIA revelations. Still conspiracy buffs will appreciate the exciting action-packed thriller especially those on the extreme right as Hilary was the latest Democrat to lose to a sound bite conservative while the Middle East country building contingent find neo con work with reengineering Iran starting with blowing up an American city.

Harriet Klausner

The Fault Tree-Louise Ure

The Fault Tree
Louise Ure
St. Martin's, Jan 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 0312375859

In Tucson, Arizona, Cadence Moran is a highly regarded auto mechanic in spite of her being blind. Her acute sense of hearing is so fine tuned she can hear car trouble. However although she has adapted physically, she has never forgiven herself for her part in the accident that cost her sight and killed her toddler niece.

The blind mechanic never expected her uncanny skill with sound would involve her in a serial killer case, but it does as a speeding vehicle almost kills her. Apparently the driver was fleeing a crime scene after killing Cadence’s elderly neighbor. Her sonar skill makes her a reliable witness to ending this horrific murder spree.

THE FAULT TREE is for the most part an interesting police procedural starring a unique witness. Cadence is a terrific protagonist and the insertion of the tragic accident is done over the course of the story line as a series of timely look backs so it enhances the plot rather than decelerates it. The story line is excellent until the climax, which seems unlikely. Still fans will enjoy this fascinating Arizona cat and mouse thriller as Louise Ure provides a heroine who is the cheese as the cops chase after killer rodents.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bone Rattler-Eliot Pattison

Bone Rattler
Eliot Pattison
Counterpoint, Dec 2007, $26.00
ISBN: 9781593761851

While the Seven Year War between England and France is fought on several continents, Scottish prisoner Duncan McCallum is on the prison ship heading to the New World. On the voyage many die including his friend Adam Munroe. The ship’s captain assigns Duncan to investigate as he has a medical background, but by the time the vessel docks in New York he fails to uncover the reason why so many died.

In New York, McCallum continues his inquiries in spite of pressure to hold another prisoner culpable. However, as he concludes that the deaths are tied to the French and Indian War North American segment of the bigger hostility, he also learns that he has been indentured to Lord Ramsey to work off his prison debt. However, what he realizes is that he and the other prisoners are fodder for the war in which different groups want to control New York’s Heart of Darkness where a massacre once occurred.

Edgar winner (see Inspector Shan novels) Eliot Pattison writes a great French and Indian War whodunit that grips the audience from the opening sequence and never lets go until the final confrontation. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action yet enables the audience to believe they are sailing the Atlantic and later thrust into a war zone. The cast is solid especially the hero who knows how far he has fallen from being the Laird of a failing Scottish clan to an indentured expendable servant. Mr. Pattison provides a winning Colonial Era mystery.

Harriet Klausner

One Last Scream-Kevin O’Brien

One Last Scream
Kevin O’Brien
Pinnacle, Jan 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780786017768

Amelia Faraday was adopted as a four years old child by loving nurturing people; she has no memory of her biological parents. Overall she has been contented and understands how fortunate she has been. However strange happenings worries her as she has no explanation re their cause; she suffers from blackouts and wakes up in places that she has never been before and cannot recall how she got there. Amelia feels intense phantom pains that have no physical source and she knows things that are occurring as they happen.

When her younger brother died, Amelia felt that she somehow killed him though logically she knows that was impossible. When her parents and her aunt were killed in their vacation home, Amelia feels as if she murdered them though logic once again tells her otherwise. Her psychologist Karen tries to convince Amelia that she never killed anyone while her Uncle George searches for his niece’s origins. These two people who care about Amelia and want to help her are unaware that someone condemns to death based on guilt of association.

Kevin O’Brien writes an entertaining electrifying thriller as readers will find themselves mesmerized by ONE LAST SCREAM. Karen is a strong courageous individual who goes the extra kilometer for her beleaguered patient; George has his own grief that he puts aside for his ailing niece. However, the tale belongs fully to the enigmatic Amelia as the audience wonders whether she is the killer perhaps during her blackouts or the ultimate omega target of a serial killer targeting her and her loved ones. Needing to know, the enthralled audience will read this psychological whodunit in one sitting.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 15, 2007

School for Scumbags-Danny King

School for Scumbags
Danny King
Serpent’s Tail, Feb 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 978185429720

Looking back at his career over the last two decades Wayne Banstead knows when being a thief imprinted on his brain. He had been kicked out from several schools due to his inability to conform to what the headmasters called the norm until his final headmaster Mr. Atkinson anointed him “a born thief”. Lashes only increased his delightful smirk as he now recognized what he wanted to be once he left school. Thinking further back he agreed with Mr. Atkinson that he was born to be a nipper even purloining from his family and enjoying in a perverted sense the clouts his father gave him.

Feeling brazen, he does what all kids have time to do which is robbing the tuck shop. However, Wayne does it in daylight so witnesses can identify him and carries in the open an air gun. This time when the school boots him out, he is sent to a special place for repeat delinquents like him. He attends the Gatlin School for Misdirected Boys where the dregs of teenage society are sent. There he obtains the perfect education that will enable him to return to society as a respected member; he studies how to get away with criminal activities.

SCHOOL FOR SCUMBAG is an entertaining first person satire that rips the skin off those whose solution to everything is out of sight out of mind storage that has made the private prison industry a wealthy service entity. The story line lacks action for the first half as the plot looks deep into what makes Wayne tick (from his perspective); the action picks up late in the tale as Wayne deals with the pros outside the classroom. Fans who appreciate an amusing lampooning of society will enjoy attending reform school in which the teachers instruct the students on bettering their criminal skills.

Harriet Klausner