Monday, November 30, 2009

Vanishing Act-Fern Michaels

Vanishing Act
Fern Michaels
Zebra, Jan 2010, $7.99
ISBN: 9781420106855

After successfully completing their last mission without their mentor Charles Martin (see Under the Radar), who remains missing, the Sisterhood decides to celebrate at their getaway on Big Pine Mountain anyway as he would have expected that of them. As Charles comes home to them, his reception is a bit cold until Yoko welcomes him back. However the pre gala amiable bickering comes to an abrupt halt when Jack Emery calls his fiancée Nikki to tell her Yoko’s beloved Harry Wong lost everything including his dojo to an identity theft ring.

Outraged, the Sisterhood vows to not just get Harry back his money and his dojo, they plan to steal the identities of the thieves. With help from their journalist pal Maggie and with Charles back in the fold, they begin their vendetta.

Over the top as usual, this is a fun Sisterhood entry with the ladies doing their typical mission impossible escapades. The story line is fast-paced though even fans of the previous thirteen entries will need a scorecard to keep track of the good gals. Still with a terrific surprising coda, fans will relish the latest avenging exploits of the Sisterhood.

Harriet Klausner

High Anxiety-Charlotte Hughes

High Anxiety
Charlotte Hughes
Jove, Dec 29 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780515147407

Psychologist Kate Holley wonders if she is as big a Nutcase as some of her patients ever since her former husband Jay Rush the firefighter became her lover again in spite of her obsessive compulsive fear of his profession ever since her father was taken from her by the Fire Gods. While Jay is fighting a forest fire in Florida, her best friend and receptionist, Mona Epps is on sick leave so the High Anxiety shrink hires a temporary assistant Abigail Davis.

However, although Abigail is competent she changes her wardrobe and hairstyle to emulate Kate. When she begins to get involved in Kate’s personal life, the psychologist knows in this case What Looks Like Crazy is crazy. Although she has other issues and is worried about Jay, Kate knows Abigail is at the top of the list as her temp is stalking every aspect of her life.

This is an exciting fast-paced madcap thriller that balances humor with the seriousness of a deranged stalker. The story line is fast-paced whenever the plot focuses on Abigail who clearly needs help. When the subplot involves other clients, neighbors or mom it is over the top with fun eccentricity. Readers will enjoy Kate’s third case mostly because of Abigail, whose needs turn potentially dangerous.

Harriet Klausner

A Night Too Dark-Dana Stabenow

A Night Too Dark
Dana Stabenow
Minotaur, Feb16 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312559090

The Park in Alaska is a place of beauty to private detective Native American Kate Shugak, but the pristine landscape she loves will change when the Suulutaq Mine opens operations. Global Harvest Resources, the parent company learned the mine contains gold and after months of careful sampling and they know they have found quite a strike.

Already the firm is making changes that the inhabitants of the Park have to adapt to as people working the mine come to the town of Ninikltna. One of the newcomers leaves a note in his car stating he committed suicide. When the body of Dewayne Gammons is found, there is not enough left of him to make an identification. Kate has a hunch after two people from the mine disappeared at the sane time that the deceased is not Dewayne, but she has no idea who the victim is. As she seeks clues, a third person is killed, which makes Kate even more determined to find out what is going on at the mine.

Even before the homicides, Kate feels sad because the mining operation will change the Park though she is resigned that it will happen as people she respects sold out to the mining interests, which was not easy for them to do but they felt they had to tale advantage of people with money to spend. Still her melancholy over the mine does not prevent her from investigating as only she can. Her latest Alaskan Shootout is an entertaining whodunit that also showcases a difficult complex issue of needed economic development vs. maintaining the beauty of nature.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 27, 2009

Toxin-Paul Martin Midden

Toxin
Paul Martin Midden
Millennial Mind Publishing, Mar 2009, $24.95
www.american-book.com
ISBN: 9781589824928

Professor Isadore Hathaway, daughter of a deceased US senator, calls Senator Jake Telemark to ask him to meet her at the Emporia Restaurant in Alexandria immediately. Although she provides no reason why he should as they never met before he joined the “club” after her late dad left it; Jake accepts the date. At the restaurant, instead of sitting down to dine, Isadore leads Jake out the back door to a car where she tells him the horror she learned that is occurring to the United States.

Dora swears that twelve highly placed right-wing extremists “The Bookkeepers” were planning a coup d’etat. Religious fanatics, the Bookkeepers want to install a theocracy. The professor defends her claim explaining when she points out the incredibly high numbers of judges, some in perfect health, who died in the last few months; all strongly support separation of state and church. Furthermore the Bookkeepers plan chemical and nuclear attacks on American targets as a ploy to anger citizens against Muslims and killing opponents. Finally Dora raises Jake’s background as a former military-assassin who suffered a PTSD breakdown. She believes he is one of the few hopes there is to prevent the Bookkeepers from succeeding on their Machiavellian scheme. Soon afterward Denver proves time ran out.

Before 9/11 this theme would be considered in the realm of science fiction, but with the Patriot Act, the opposition to try terrorists in criminal courts, the road to the Iraq War, the health care debate and the politicalizing of Justice, etc. makes Toxin feel very plausible. The story line is fast-paced and filled with straight forward action as Dora and Jake team up to prevent a home grown catastrophe, but neither know who else to bank on. Fans will appreciate this cautionary conspiracy thriller as the premise seems too frighteningly feasible.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Semantics of Murder-Aifric Campbell

The Semantics of Murder
Aifric Campbell
Serpent’s Tail, Sep 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9781846687334

Cocky American Dr. Jay Hamilton moves from Los Angeles to London where he practices psychoanalysis in Kensington. His affluent clientele worship by him and his practice is thriving. However, they are ignorant that Dr. Hamilton has an alter ego.

As J Merritt, he writes stories about psychological analysis that is major sellers. His subjects are the clients he treats as Dr, Hamilton. He also has his own psychotic secret, the murder of his beloved older brother Robert, who raised him. Biographer Dana Flynn visits Jay to interview him about a book she is writing about Robert that leads to an abashed Jay questioning his ethics for using his clients especially Cora as the subjects of his books.

The semantics of Murder is an intriguing look at ethics as Dana’s inquiries into Jay’s late hero Robert coaxes him to take a discerning gaze into what he is doing. Robert, who was much older, was more a caring father than a sibling; thus Jay has the epiphany that Robert disappointingly stares down at him. Although the action is minimal, fans who relish a cerebral character driven tale will enjoy Jays’ morale reawakening.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Run For Your Life-James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Run For Your Life
James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
Grand Central, Oct 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780446562676

In New York City Police Detective Michael Bennett has no time to mourn the loss of his beloved wife as he has to deal with their ten grieving kids suffering from the loss of their mom and the flu. However, he has no time away from the job either as a serial killer is murdering people in daylight at expensive uptown places.

Bennett leads the investigation with the brass demanding a fast resolution although their motives to assigning the honest cop the case is to keep him occupied while an official inquiry into a hostage shooting death that the department apparently misplayed is undrway. Michael finds no viable clues, initially, but luck sends him to soon link the homicides to a psychopath calling himself the "Teacher". The maniac’s mission is to teach lessons in manners to those rude rich rubes who mistreated him or others especially humiliating him in front of others. As he closes in on the culprit, the Teacher catches a child dear to Michael and soon has the cop too. Using the skills he learned as a hostage negotiator, Michael tries to extract the child from the lunatic before he thinks of saving his own life.

This over the top of the Manhattan skyline thriller is fun, fun, and more fun yet has a philosophical underpinning to the fast-paced plot when the Teacher poses the question is this life worth getting up for every morning? Readers will appreciate this entertaining tale as a beleaguered Michael learns a lesson from the teacher as to what matters in life.

Harriet Klausner

My Own Worst Enemy-Brandon Hebert

My Own Worst Enemy
Brandon Hebert
Five Star, Dec 2009, $25.95
ISBN 9781594148279

In Florida, Coral Gables police catch burglar Jack Murray outside of the house he and his partner Rudy Maxa just robbed. Rudy escapes with the loot while Jack is convicted of the crime and goes to prison for a year and a day.

Incarceration at Okeechobee Correctional Institute shook up Murray so once he is freed, he vows to go straight. Miami mob boss Caesar Pelli rewards Jackie for keeping quiet by hiring him as a manager of a club he has on Collins. At the club Jack is attracted to twenty six year old psychology major at Florida Atlantic club pole dancer Miranda Mendoza. She reciprocates but tries to conceal her feelings as she is an undercover FBI agent. When Murray meets Maxa, he finds his former partner has some powerful allies he made in the past year who will kill Murray if he even hints at harming Rudy.

Jack is a terrific protagonist, who wants to go straight, but no one seems to believe him as crime is in his blood; his cronies assume he is going through a short readjustment to civilian life after a year in jail. On the other hand, Miranda makes no sense as she is undercover but gives that away without a second thought as if she is thinking with her libido rather than her brains. Still even with a thin plot, fans will relish this fast-paced South Florida crime caper as everyone knows Jack, they think.

Harriet Klausner

A Word to the Wise-David Heinzmann

A Word to the Wise
David Heinzmann
Five Star, Dec 2009, $25.95
ISBN 9781594148477

Former FBI Agent Augustine Flood has become a practicing attorney in Chicago at the law firm of Cronin, Drew and Guzman. Senior partner Alan Cronin assigns Flood to a certain case due to his eight years as a Fed to help a desperate client, Dan Westlake, find his missing wife, Marcy. Westlake is not being altruistic as he needs his spouse so he can obtain his money invested in an offshore account in Marcy’s name.

Flood learns later that Westlake is connected to a mob-run casino project that is undergoing a federal investigation. From his former FBI contacts, Flood meets a battered corpse whom he assumes is Marcy. Now he must decide between his position at the firm and its client or the cops, not realizing he inadvertently places his girlfriend Jenny in jeopardy and not from his baking.

This is an engaging Chicago investigative thriller that is fun to read except when the hero bakes apple pie, etc. as his cooking feels forced to soften up his hardboiled personality (should have used quiche). The action-packed story line takes readers on an intriguing tour of Chicago as Flood leaves the downtown Lake Michigan area to loop his way into a hostage mess. A Word to the Wise is a bit thin, but enjoyable starring a lead character who is at his best outside the kitchen kicking down barriers especially human.

Harriet Klausner

Assassins of Athens-Jeffrey Siger

Assassins of Athens
Jeffrey Siger
Poisoned Pen, Jan 2010, $24.95
ISBN 9781590586891

In Athens, Greece, Police Chief Inspector of the Special Crimes Division Andreas Kaldis arrives at a rundown part of the city to look at a corpse found amongst garbage in a dumpster. At GADA, Andreas' secretary Maggie Sikestis sees the photos of the victim and recognizes he is Sotiris Kostopoulos who is always in the tabloids as part of a ménage a trois with the granddaughter of the Linardos clan while his family and hers are at war.

Andreas visits Sotiris’ adopted parents Zanni and Ginny, who say nothing to the news or the questions asked by the CI. An affluent publisher Zanni says the only suspects he can think of are Sarantis Linardos and his family as each covets the highly regarded The Athenian newspaper. Meanwhile clues lead the detective to hooker Anna Panitz who admits to taking cash from strangers to entice the victim to go with her to an isolated locale. With pressure mounting from high officials to close the case, Andreas keeps the pressure on the feuding families and their associates.

The latest Kaldis investigation (see Murder in Mykonos) is an enjoyable Greek police procedural Noir as the CI curses out incompetent cops and roughs up crooks while taking fans on a tour of Athens not seen by the Olympics crowd. The story line is fast-paced from the opening moment when Kaldis hammers a cop for tainting a crime scene and never slows down as he stares down everyone except Maggie. Although somewhat linear with not twists, fans will enjoy this tough cop’s homicide investigation.

Harriet Klausner

Death Without Tenure-Joanne Dobson

Death Without Tenure
Joanne Dobson
Poisoned Pen, Jan 2010, $24.95
ISBN 9781590585856

In Massachusetts, Enfield College English Professor Karen Pelletier is up for tenure. Her rival has much less experience and papers than Karen has. However, the department chair is pushing Native American Joe Lone Wolf for the spot.

Upset by what she knows is unfair treatment, Karen is also anxious about her daughter Amanda who is in Kathmandu, Nepal and her boyfriend U.S. National Guard Bureau Lieutenant and State Police Investigator as a civilian Charles Piotrowski deployed to Iraq. When Joe dies from apparent peyote poisoning, the police suspect Karen as she had plenty to gain with the competition removed. Not one to sit by idly, Karen puts aside her personal concerns made worse by a jealous “Person” in the department to investigate and soon locates other suspects from among the faculty, staff and student bodies.

Professor Pelletier's latest amateur sleuth (see The Maltese Manuscript) is a fascinating whodunit that starts off a bit slow as Karen whines about the unfairness of academic life, but accelerates once the heroine gets out of her funk to investigate the homicide. The story line somewhat lampoons the college world as Karen’s inquiries lead to stereotype characters from all lines of academia and their related issues. Fans will enjoy the New England English professor who puts aside her companion The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson to investigate who killed her rival.

Harriet Klausner

Virtually Dead-Peter May

Virtually Dead
Peter May
Poisoned Pen, Jan 2009, $24.95
ISBN 9781590586709

In California, Orange County Forensic Science Service photographer Michael Kapinsky cannot cope with the crippling depression he feels ever since his wife Mora died from cancer. Her medical care ran him into steep debt that he despondently feels he can never climb out of.

Michael agrees to try an experimental online group therapy session as suggested by his shrink. As Chas Chesnokov he joins Second Life with its fourteen million members. Orange County crime scene investigator Janey Amat is a member too; managing the Twist of Fate Detective Agency. Janey is elated to have Michael sign on to SL and join her as her detective partner. Chas also enjoys the company of escort dancer Doobie Littlething. However, Chas soon fears that an online stalker is killing people on SL and in real life as Chas recognizes crime scenes online that match some he has been to as Michael.

This is a terrific thriller that contains strong SL and RL whodunits that link the virtual with the real. However, what makes the tale is the deep look at the psychological uplift of becoming part of a social online network as Peter May takes the audience deep inside the new way we relate and will relate virtually. With a strong investigative mystery and a deep look at a modern day network nation of fourteen million netizens that find the virtual intoxicating, Peter May provides a fascinating exciting thriller; if you have not read this author you are missing one of the best.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 23, 2009

Faces in the Pool-Jonathan Gash

Faces in the Pool
Jonathan Gash
Minotaur, Dec 8 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312384111

When his antique scam failed, Lovejoy is sent to prison for his con. However, Ellen Jaynor, owner of The Anglers Manglers Speed-Datery offers to get him out of jail immediately if he agrees to marry temporarily millionaire Laura Moon. In fact Laura wants Lovejoy to find her former spouse, but he smells a rat in which he will be left holding the crap when the ex is killed.

His apprentice Lydia and his son Mortimer persuade him to at least attend the antiques convention of the sixteen groups representing the world's Lost Tribes. They want him to authenticate their antiques. However, nothing goes right as Mortimer is kidnapped and the edifice storing the artifacts is burned to the ground. However, the worst is watching his beloved sail off into the sunset with her lover and the booty from the Lost Tribes' valuables. Jail seems safer.

The story line is all over the place as Jonathan Gash proves chaos theory can be fun to read inside a crime caper. The cast is strong as Lovejoy is his usual roguish self as nothing is quite what it seems or goes right. Not for everyone as the dots don’t connect in a simple easy to follow way as B does not follow A, or precede C; fans who enjoy mass pandemonium will want to read convoluted Faces in the Pool.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Good Son-Russel D. McLean

The Good Son
Russel D. McLean
Minotaur, Dec 8 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312576684

Farmer James Robertson finds his brother Daniel hanging from a tree. Although the siblings were estranged for decades when Daniel left home at sixteen after an argument with their father, James rejects the official opinion that Daniel committed suicide. Instead he hires former Dundee police officer J. McNee, who is still recovering from a car accident that severely injured him and killed his fiancée.

McNee quickly uncovers that the deceased worked as a thug for former gangster Gordon Egg, who owns a London nightclub. Meanwhile Kat from London arrives insisting she was close to Daniel while two more bad eggs follow her. McNee fears he is in over his head as a hardboiled detective battling crime kings because his throbbing leg keeps telling him.

Taking the injured hardboiled urban American detective to Dundee makes for an engaging refreshing tale though the lead character never quite feels like he is from Scotland rather than the United States. Still his inquiry, aching leg and all, makes for a fun tale as the cops tell him to stay out, the thugs warn him to stay out, and his common sense pleads with him to stay out; three strokes and he stays in. Fans will enjoy McNee as an avenger trying to survive the case of the dead farmer’s brother.

Harriet Klausner

Dead Pan-Gayle Trent

Dead Pan
Gayle Trent
Bell Bridge, Nov 2009, $14.95
www.bellbridgebooks.com
ISBN: 9780984125845

In Brea Ridge, Virginia, Daphne Martin runs a successful dessert making operation from her kitchen with many repeat customers. Her latest order is creating the cake for the Brea Ridge Pharmaceutical Christmas party held at the firm’s office. All of the guests become ill, but a vaccine for the stomach flu bacteria campylobacter helps everyone feel better within twenty-four hours except Fred Duncan who dies.

Fred’s mother Connie asks Daphne to investigate her son’s death and find out who is responsible. She agrees to do so, but makes no progress because the toxicology report comes in with the finding that none of the food contained the bacteria. No one can figure out how it got there or what the vector was that got transmitted to so many people so quickly. When her boyfriend reporter Ben Jacobs comes down with the same stomach flu, Daphne begins to have a theory how the crime was perpetrated, but she might not live long enough to talk about it to anyone.

Daphne has come a long way from being a spousal abuse victim as she is now a strong independent woman who questions many townsfolk without a second thought or concern. Readers also obtain a taste of a small town life during a health crisis as everyone knows one another. Although Connie asking Daphne to investigate seems a stretch even if Murder Takes the Cake, fans will enjoy this fun icing filled amateur sleuth cozy.

Harriet Klausner

Iron River-T. Jefferson Parker

Iron River
T. Jefferson Parker
Dutton, Jan 5 2010, $26.95
ISBN 9780525951490

Los Angeles sheriff's deputy Charlie Hood is assigned to the Operation Blowdown taskforce trying to end the tidal wave of guns and money flowing down the “Iron River” from the States to Mexico. Charlie understands the irony that the Second Amendment crowd who many demand tighter border patrol sells arms to the cartels who sell back drugs and people.

During a shootout between Charlie and his Blowdown unit against a cartel buying weapons leaves the son of the cartel leader dead. Now the border war is personal with Charlie and his team being targeted one at a time through loved ones if necessary. At the same time bankrupt weapons manufacturer Pace Arms has brokered a deal with a cartel through a middle man Bradley Smith, making life for law enforcement more dangerous.

The third Hood police procedural (see L.A. Outlaws and The Renegades) is a terrific tale that spotlights how large, complex and dangerous the gun trafficking sold south is. Ironically during the recession this segment of free enterprise drugs for guns and cash remains profitable. The story line is fast-paced but the scope is so massive that gunrunning removes the faces of the victims and the survivors as characters including Charlie become almost irrelevant. As Stalin said: “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million is statistic”, which in this case overwhelms the cast and plot.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 20, 2009

Village of the Ghost Bears-Stan Jones

Village of the Ghost Bears
Stan Jones
Soho, Dec 2009, $24.00
ISBN 9781569476062

Inupiaq Alaskan state trooper Nathan Active is camping with his beloved Grace when they find a corpse in a creek. The pike had eaten away the face of the deceased.

Soon afterward someone sets a fire to the recreation center in the remote village of Chukchi. Eight people including the police chief die in the dealdy inferno.

Nathan investigates both cases of homicide. At the same time, apparent polar bear poaching, an illegal act as the animal is protected by law, makes his inquiry much more dangerous and convoluted especially the body in the brook inquiry.

The latest Nathan Active police procedural (see Frozen Sun) is a terrific Alaskan thriller that hooks the reader early with its stark beautiful description of remote Alaska mostly from an aerial view. Nathan is his super self working exciting twisting investigations into homicides and poaching that look like Bridges to Nowhere except for his diligence, and his romance enhances the plot as he turns to a native healer for advice. However, Alaska owns this super tale as Stan Jones provides a deep look at a remote part of the state.

Harriet Klausner

A Deep Dark Secret-Kimberla Lawson Roby

A Deep Dark Secret
Kimberla Lawson Roby
Morrow, Oct 2009, $19.99
ISBN 9780061443091

Her mom Roxanne remarried when Jillian Maxwell was seven years old. When her mother gave birth to Layla, her stepfather Byron turned to Jillian for sexual relief starting with fondling her. Now twelve, Jillian is terrorized by her stepfather’s abuse but also fears telling her mom; as Byron points out who will she believe a child or a caring adult. He also tells her if he has to he will turn to Layla next to Jillian’s horror. To the tweener’s relief, Byron's pedophile abuse of another little one becomes known and Roxanne kicks him out of the house. However, he pleads with her and to Jillian’s horror, her mom takes him back into their home.

Jillian’s BFF confident Nikki is euphoric as she dances with Marcus at a school event. However, he arranges “running a train” with her as the sexual culprit for him and two of his buddies. The trio struts like peacocks at school, which leaves stunned Nikki as a joke contemplating suicide until Jillian steps in for her, Layla and herself against these sexual predators who have turned them into abuse victims.

This is a gripping stunning thriller as the voice of the novel is Jillian who pulls no punches with her fears and horrors as a sexual abuse victim for several years and not quite a teen yet. Jillian makes the tale with her heart-wrenching accounts of her abuse, the blackmail to keep her younger stepsister from becoming abused, and the gangbanging of her best friend. Fans will be stunned with the intensity of this profound tale as Kimberla Lawson Roby provides a deep look at a social issue that many in society prefer to ignore. The sexual abuse of tweeners by friends and family.

Harriet Klausner

Where Armadillos Go to Die-James Hime

Where Armadillos Go to Die
James Hime
Minotaur, Nov 24 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312534868

He may be the most hated person in Brenham, Texas due to his mean spirited racism, but his restaurant Bouree is also the most popular. No one makes catfish like Sylvester Bradshaw can. His repeat customers come for the great food and not for the small talk; just the way nasty Bradshaw prefers it.

Sylvester has invented a gizmo that people want a piece of the action, but he tells everyone to stick it up their butt. When he vanishes Sheriff Dewey Sharpe thinks nothing of it as he has personal problems dealing with erectile dysfunction that is more important to him than some ignoramus disappearing. Former Texas Ranger Jeremiah Spur learns that the man’s office was invaded and torn apart, he becomes concerned. However, when Bradshaw’s worried daughter asks him to investigate he agrees as he hopes an inquiry will help him reduce his worry over his hospitalized wife Martha suffering from E. coli food poisoning and besides he may be the only pal of rhe ornery Sylvester.

This is a fast-paced investigative tales as Texans prove tougher than E. coli. The story line is fast-paced from the onset and never slows down from the moment that Sylvester’s wife calls her daughter to tell her he never came home. Over the top of Guadalupe Peak, Where Armadillos Go to Die is an enjoyable thriller due to a wacky eccentric cast and a wonderful retired hero (see Scared Money and The Night of the Dance) who still has his moxie, Texas style.

Harriet Klausner

Dead Air-Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid

Dead Air
Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid
Oceanview, Dec 7 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9781933515502

In Vermont, communications major Sammy Greene attends Ellsford College where she is also the talk show host of "The Hot Line" on the conservative school's radio station, WELL. The show has no restrictions, which has at times alienated faculty, staff and students; however it is popular because of the anything goes attitude.

When Dr. Burton Conrad is found dead, the police officially claim he killed himself; Sammy has doubts and considers conducting an investigation. However when a student allegedly commits suicide while another is sent from school due to chicken pox but never arrives home’ she knows she must probe into what is happening. She finds a link between the students in that both saw Dr. Palmer at the health clinic when he is conducting sort of top secret research project. Meanwhile Reverend Taft leads the Youth Crusade protests against the school and a deliberate fire burns down the radio station. Sammy digs deep not realizing she is under scrutiny by a predator willing to kill to keep a secret concealed.

This is an exciting, enthralling and seat of your pants riveting college amateur sleuth tale starring an intrepid heroine who is used to being in trouble so like any wannabe journalist she investigates. Sammy is terrific holding the story line together while the college cast is solid support. Although the solution and the villain are over the top of the Green Mountains, fans will enjoy Sammy’s climb seeking the truth.

Harriet Klausner

Murder on the Cliffs-Joanna Challis

Murder on the Cliffs
Joanna Challis
Minotaur, Dec 1 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312367145

Wanting to become a writer, twenty one year old Daphne du Maurier is in Cornwall conducting research at Rothmarten Abbey. During a storm, Daphne notices a teenager leaning over the body of a woman on the beach. Daphne introduces herself to Lianne Hartley, who reluctantly says the deceased is former kitchen maid Victoria Bastion, who was engaged to Lianne’s brother David over the objection of his family. Local magistrate Sir Edward rules the death an accident.

Soon after running into Lianne for the first time Daphne meets the rest of the aristocratic Hartley family whom she finds odd but fascinating. When she learns Victoria died from poisoning, Daphne investigates starting with the Hartley brood at nearby Padthaway Mansion.

The mystery takes a back seat to the early adult life of Daphne du Maurier whose investigation serves as the conduit to her one day writing Rebecca. The suspense never comes close to that described by the lead protagonist in her novels but is a fascinating device that enables the audience to have a glimpse at the author’s life and her most famous work. Fans who enjoy historical fiction wrapped inside a thin amateur sleuth will want to read Murder on the Cliffs.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chill-Stephanie Rowe

Chill
Stephanie Rowe
Love Spell, Dec 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780505527769

Luke Webber ran away from his affluent slick past to change his lifestyle as he hated what he was doing. He is happy being a bush pilot in Alaska. No one asks about his past and people seem to genuinely care for one another; they have your back.

Luke is upset when slick dressing Isabella Kopas in her four digit priced gown arrives as a reminder of his past and Marcus Fie; especially the bullet in her shoulder. He recognizes the hoodlums chasing her as he used to be one of them. However, Luke fears for his new friends especially his crazy partner as he knows firsthand that acceptable collateral damage from his old crowd is the norm.

Although over the top of Mount McKinley, no one will care as Chill grips the audience from the moment Luke flies into trouble and never lands until the final confrontation with his former peers from his past. The story line is action-packed even before Isabella flees for her life and as Luke struggles to keep Isabella and his Alaskan cronies safe from his former associates. Think of Grosse Point Blank without the satirical spin in Alaska.

Harriet Klausner

Code 15-Gary Birken

Code 15
Gary Birken
Jove, Nov 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780515147209

At Dade Presbyterian Hospital in North Miami, Florida, Chief of Emergency Medicine Dr. Morgan Connolly wonders if her personal life issues are impacting her medical judgment at work as a physician. There has been an alarming sudden rise in Code 15 deaths that were caused by unacceptable preventable mistakes.

Pregnant and alone as her spouse left her just when her father was murdered, Morgan ponders over the rise and decides to investigate so that she can change procedures if necessary. She is stunned when hospital administrators blame her for the deaths calling her incompetent and wanting her fired and disbarred. Morgan is further shocked with how they react to her inquiries as if they are covering up for someone. Still she knows someone wants to destroy her and collateral damage of the innocent is acceptable by her unknown adversary. Instead of wallowing, Morgan turns determined and goes after her enemy planning to destroy her foe with the precision of a surgeon before he or she can further devastate her.

This is an exciting medical thriller starring an intriguing heroine who seems numb by all that is going on in her personal and professional life. The story line is fast-paced from the onset and never slows down until the mile high final confrontation. Although the villain is over the top of Mount Trashmore, sub-genre readers will root for the beleaguered lead protagonist as so much has happened to her in a short time including her father’s murder, her husband leaving and the Code 15 deaths along with the medical review of her have left her anesthetized yet obstinately resolute.

Harriet Klausner

Trial by Fire-J. A. Jance

Trial by Fire
J. A. Jance
Touchstone, Dec 1 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9781416563808

In Sedona, Arizona, former TV reporter Ali Reynolds obtains a media-relations position with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department. Ali knows to tread carefully as her predecessor Information Officer Devon Ryan, on administrative leave pending an investigation into illegal activity, got into a physical altercation with Cononimo Courier reporter Oscar Reyes who may sue the department for the black eye he received at a news conference.

Ali handles the press as the cops investigate a suspicious fire that left a Jane Doe barely alive with third degree burns, an ability to communicate by winking only, and amnesia. Also at Saint Gregory’s Hospital is Sister Anselm, known as the "Angel of Death," for her nurturing of unidentified patients; she provides comfort to the latest injured soul. Meanwhile Ali sneaks into the burn unit to obtain more information from the victim while a killer targets the nursing nun, but soon teams up with the Sister.

In her latest case (see Cruel Intentions), readers need to ignore why a public relations specialist would investigate an attempted murder-arson because this is an engaging amateur sleuth tale that fans will enjoy although the action is limited as Ali mostly works her Mojo in the burn unit. Still fans will appreciate the teaming up of the nun and the former reporter as they make an intriguing pairing working together to solve the mystery.

Harriet Klausner

The Sculptor-Gregory Funaro

The Sculptor
Gregory Funaro
Pinnacle, Jan 5 2010, $6.99
ISBN: 9780786022120

Dr. Cathy Hildebrant is a shy retiring art history professor at Brown University and the author of Slumbering in the Stone, the bestselling definitive work on Michelangelo. Like everyone else residing in Providence, Rhode Island, the art historian is aware of the disappearance of football hero Tommy Campbell just prior to the Superbowl, but like almost everyone else Cathy has no reason to think the NFL player’s vanishing has anything to do with her.

However, she learns differently when FBI Special Agent Sam Markham arrives at her door to ask her to accompany him to a crime scene. At the estate of a broker, she is shown the corpse of Tommy posed with a young faun arranged to look like Michelangelo’s Bacchus with a plaque dedicating the horrific arrangement “For Dr. Hildebrant”. The Sculptor hero worships Michelangelo placing the great artist on a pedestal as he plans on using human corpses to replicate the Pieta at an exhibit. The FBI hires Dr. Hildebrandt as a consultant due to her knowledge of Michelangelo and the serial killer’s high regard of her. However the psychopath changes his opinion of her when he believes she betrayed him so he plans on her being the piece de resistance of his next great work of deadly art.

There are more discussions between characters than usual in a serial killer thriller so the audience understands what motivates each key player even the title character. Yet there is plenty of action centered on the gruesome exhibits of The Sculptor and the Feds efforts to end his methodical reign of terror. Although over the top of the Sistine Chapel, the audience will enjoy this creative roller coaster ride as Dr. Hildebrant learns horridly first hand art imitates art. Gregory Funaro displays a strong talent and if justice prevails his exciting novel will sell a hell of a lot more than his heroine’s book.

Harriet Klausner

Divine Misdemeanors-Laurel K. Hamilton

Divine Misdemeanors
Laurel K. Hamilton
Ballantine, Dec 8 2009, $26.00
ISBN: 9780345495969

They were crowned queen and king of the Unseelie Court by Faerie and the Goddess, but Princess Merry and her bodyguard lover Doyle choose to return to California and set up her own court. Now they live in Los Angeles where they stay together based on love and trust instead of pain and intrigue. They earn a living at sleuths at the Grey Detective Agency.

Their latest case is horrible. Twenty demi-elves (small Barbie like creatures with wings who look like angels but are anything but the sort) were killed and posed as if they were in a children’s book. The only living witness, a survivor of the massacre of the serial killing of her kind, obviously saw something but flees before the detectives can question her. A few days later, a brownie and her human husband are killed in their home once again posed from another children’s story. The two sleuths learn there are two killers, one with wings, bur many creatures have wings in Faerie. Merry and her retinue know only one way to prevent more ritual murders; she is served up as bait.

Laurell K. Hamilton shows her talent to make alternate worlds filled with mythological creatures living side by side with humans seem real. Merry is a heroine who avoids the Seelie and Unseelie Courts as she detests the intrigue that flows everywhere like light waves do on earth. The Goddess still favors her and creates a new faerie mound in aptly named Los Angeles in an apropos apartment building. The investigation is entertaining as Merry cannot help her people by offering herself as a potential sacrifice to catch serial killers. Even with that as the prime theme, Ms. Hamilton is at her provocative sensual best in Divine Misdemeanors.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lullaby for the Nameless-Sandra Ruttan

Lullaby for the Nameless
Sandra Ruttan
Leisure, Dec. 2009,$7.99
ISBN: 9780843962864

Two bodies are found far apart; one in the mountainous woods near Kelowna while the other is found in a dumpster. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Detectives Constables Hart and Tain are sent to investigate the corpse in the dumpster while Constable Nolan works the case in the rural area as he is already is near Kelowna as part of a manhunt for deadly Hank Kurtis Jeffers.

The investigations begin to merge though geographically at a distance, but also ties back to that infamous first case that brought a then newbie Hart to work with feuding Tain and Nolan. His role is to keep them from fighting, but they simply kept him on the out. They must work together as they have recently done (see The Frailty of the Flesh and What Burns Beneath), but none of the trio want that as they each remember their stubbornness led to avoidable deaths.

This is a super Canadian police procedural that uses flashbacks to fill in more of the back story that has left the three detectives alienated from one another. The story line is fast-paced from the opening moment readers join Nolan trekking and musing across the mountainous path while thinking of his previous manhunt re murderess Lisa Hamilton. The plot never slows down even with the back story and rotating first person perspective between the three antagonist-constables. Fans will relish this strong investigative thriller enhanced by reading the previous two engagements starring a dysfunctional threesome.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family-Kathryn Harrison

While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family
Kathryn Harrison
Ballantine, Nov 24 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780345516602

Almost a quarter of a century ago in Medford, Oregon, eighteen year old Billy Gilley stabbed to death his parents and his younger sister eleven years old Becky. He swore that he killed them so he and hi sixteen year old sister Jody could live abuse free. A shocked Jody testified against her older brother who was convicted of the homicides and is serving three consecutive life sentences as he could not blame parental mistreatment for the murder of Becky.

This is a terrific true crime tale that uses the court record and intense numerous interviews with the surviving siblings, who do not communicate with one another, to tell the story of the Gilley family leading to the killings. The fascination is how far apart Billy and Jody are when it comes to parental physical and verbal violence, but clearly they agree that there was some even if he fails to explain why he killed Becky. Although Kathryn Harrison includes a memoir re her abusive relationship with her father, that feels out of place padding, and should be ignored as the Gilley family murders are tragic enough for one true story.

Harriet Klausner

The Red Velvet Turnshoe-Cassandra Clark

The Red Velvet Turnshoe
Cassandra Clark
Minotaur, Nov 24 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312537364

In 1383 the Archbishop of York directs Sister Hildegard to journey to Rome to bring home the Cross of Constantine. The trek is expected to be dangerous due to the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War, and two popes claiming Peter’s See dividing loyalties. However, although she some doubts over taking the wooden cross said to have been the one the Emperor Constantine pledged his fealty to Christianity on, the abbess begins her trek by joining a baggage train led by her friend Ulf as the steward of Lord Roger de Hutton moving his cargo shipment to Bruges.

In Bruges a crate containing wool turns rancid with a horrific odor that everyone knows means death even before opening the box. Cocooned inside is Lord Roger’s clerk Reynard of Risngholme whose throat was sliced open obviously in England. Everyone assumes Pierrekyn the sodomite minstrel killed the clerk; that is everyone except the nun dressed as a pilgrim. She sneaks Pierrekyn out of the city dressed as a squire to Sir Talbot, the knight keeping Sister Hildegard safe in dangerous Italy and back to England where she plans to prove the minstrel’s innocence.

The second Sister Hildegard medieval thriller (see Hangman Blind) is a super tale that showcases Europe at a time of horrific strife as many believe the Black Plague and the wars are because of God’s wrath over the papal divide and other heresies. Fans journeying with Hildegard obtain a taste of fourteenth century life in the moors of Yorkshire, impoverished Flemish villages and treacherous Renaissance Italy. Although the story line has been used before (see Company of Liars by Karen Maitland), Cassandra Clark keeps it fresh with a strong cast led by the courageous nun and a deep historical base to include a jurisdiction dispute over the homicide that has readers transported to fourteenth century Europe.

Harriet Klausner

Faces of the Gone-Brad Parks

Faces of the Gone
Brad Parks
Minotaur, Dec 8 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312574772

In Newark four men were assassinated with a bullet to their respective head and left in an empty lot. The cops assume the mass murders are connected to a robbery at a nearby bar. The media jumps on what the cops tell them.

Thus Newark Eagle-Examiner investigative reporter Carter Ross sees the killings in his paper. He disagrees with the official take and begins to work the streets. The four victims seem to have no connection beyond living in Jersey. He has editor Tina Thompson, Cuban-American intern Tommy Hernandez and stripper Tynesha Dales to assist him as one of the victims was an exotic dancer. Still he struggles to connect the dots and is unaware the Director is watching the thirty something journalist.

The lead pairing of the reporter vs. the Director makes for an enjoyable fast-paced investigative thriller with ironically the audience identifying the killer before the cops or the journalist can. From the opening mass murder scene until the final confrontation that fans anticipate, Faces of the Gone is action-packed throughout as the Director continues his gruesome business patiently waiting for Carter and his team to stumble onto who he is.

Harriet Klausner

Jaclyn The Ripper-Karl Alexander

Jaclyn The Ripper
Karl Alexander
Forge, Nov 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780765318947

After dispatching Jack the Ripper from 1979 to a far future, H.G. Wells and Amy Catherine Robbins travel to his time 1893 (see Time After Time) where they marry. However, so her beloved parents would not worry she returned to tell them what became of their prodigal daughter. In 1906 Wells is worried about his wife who failed to come home, Wells traces her to 2010 Los Angeles.

Meanwhile Jack managed to anchor in 2353 before returning back to 2010 Los Angeles as a woman. While Wells searches for his Amy, he notices an alarming pattern that reminds him of Victorian Whitechapel and San Francisco circa 1979; Jack is back and he obsessively believes he must stop the killer for all eternity.

With two fascinating twists since the events of Time After Time, Jaclyn the Ripper is an exciting fast-paced thriller that never quite gels as the key two antagonists never quite come across as the naïve good vs. the sinister evil of the first book. Still fans of Time After Time, book or movie, will enjoy the return engagement as Jaclyn the Ripper still enjoys the kill.

Harriet Klausner

The Paris Vendetta-Steve Berry

The Paris Vendetta
Steve Berry
Ballantine, Dec 1 2009, $26.00
ISBN: 9780345505477

Danish billionaire Henrik Thorvaldsen obsesses over the terrorist incident in Mexico City that left seven dead including his son. He cannot move on as the brain behind the assault has remained free although he now knows who he is.

Henrik sends apparently fired Secret Service Agent Sam Collins to break into the Copenhagen bookstore owned by former United States Department of Justice (DOJ) operative Cotton Malone. The grieving Dane hopes to obtain Malone’s cooperation to help bring down the killer Lord Ashby who has ties to a financial cartel the Paris Club planning an assault on the global economy for avaricous gains that the DOJ hopes to counter. The starting point in the plan is a plot to destroy a landmark that could kill hundreds; war is usury profitable for the finance community.

With terrific ties to Napoleon in Corsica and an exciting action packed story line, the latest Cotton Malone thriller (see The Charlemagne Pursuit) is a fun read. Filled with twists and over the top of the Eiffel Tower villains, fans will enjoy Malone’s newest retirement caper mindful of War, Inc and If Looks Could Kill although not a satire. Malone teams up with a grieving angry father and a First Amendment conspiracy buff to thwart the latest capitalist plot to have the masses finance war with money and blood so the affluent can make outrageous profits.

Harriet Klausner

The Black Minute-Christopher Valen

The Black Minute
Christopher Valen
North Star Press, Sep 2009, $14.95
www.northstarpress.com
ISBN: 9780878393329

St. Paul, Minnesota Homicide Detective John Santana leads the investigation into the murder of a twenty something Asian woman on Harriet Island. He learns that her name was Mai Yang, a Hmong, whose father was a general who fought on the American side during the Viet Nam war. She was also an Internet prostitute whose partner Jenna Jones is shocked.

John and his partner Kacie Hawkins interview Grace Chandler who found the body; to his shock he is attracted to her as he avoids personal entanglements since his Columbia childhood. They next visit the father who is icy cold and the brother Kou who is shocked. He heads to the Myth Club where Mai was on Saturday night to see if anyone can verify she was there and with whom. There John is further stunned by a woman who looks like his sister, whom he has not seen in two decades. When Jenna and Hmong gang members are killed, John and Kacie know they must solve the cases before a blood bath between clans and gangs occur; increasingly Kou looks guilty in what may be a vendetta in honor of his sister, but the murders have the precision of a military leader.

The second John Santana St. Paul police procedural (see White Tombs) is a terrific thriller that contains a strong investigation, insight into the hero’s past in Columbia and fascinating look at immigrants. The case engages the reader as John and Kacie follow the clues. The story line includes a special freshness interwoven within the inquiry that enables the audience to obtain an interesting perspective on the similar issues confronting first generation immigrants from diverse countries with specificity on the Hmong culture in Minnesota. Christopher Valen provides the audience with his second straight winning whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

Rosetta Stones-Catherine Parra Dix

Rosetta Stones
Catherine Parra Dix
Central Ave. Press, Jan 2009, $14.95
www.Centralavepress.com
ISBN: 978-0979845222

The four high school students ditch school as expected by graduating seniors. Javen Schroeder, Antonia Pacheco, Joey Diaz and Sonny Goretti drive to the nearby Gila wilderness in New Mexico on Senior Ditch Day. On the drive, Javen tosses beer at a hitchhiker before they reach their destination.

Soon afterwards as the guys are by the water, Antonia is by herself when a boy arrives to sit with her. Adolph introduces himself, but his touching her frightens Antonia who leaves to join her friends. Later she and Joey see Adolph raping a battered Dolores. When they intercede Adolph shoots Joey in the chest. Sonny and Javen arrive to beat up and contain Adolph. As they call the cops and rush to take Joey to the hospital, Dolores dies and Adolph escapes. With the police on a manhunt, Joey dies while Javen delays telling Antonia how he feels about her. Adolph remains free stalking Antonia as she is number ten and no one escapes his countdown.

This is a fascinating high school thriller that is character driven as Antonia and Sonny, and to a lesser degree Javen, are forced to grow up abruptly with the horrors that Adolph does to their friends and the threat to them by his remaining free. Rotating perspective mostly between Antonia and Javen, but also less frequently Joey, Sonny and Adolph, this is a fast-paced tale from the moment the psychopath arrives on the scene. With a hint of the paranormal and the isolation of the Gila wilderness section of New Mexico (though cell phones somewhat keep you in touch), fans will appreciate this dark tale as Antonia seeks the Rosetta Stones of life to explain why people do bad things to good people.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 16, 2009

Land of the Blind-Jess Walter

Land of the Blind
Jess Walter
Harper, Aug 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061712845

Spokane detective Caroline Mabry knows she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following her recent case (see Over Tumbled Graves). However, she is on the night shift trying to overcome the emotional crippling of burnout that has devastated her recent performance when self made millionaire Clark Mason enters the station in the early morning hours to confess he committed a murder. Caroline finds herself shocked by an attraction to Clark with his black eye patch, but lectures herself to stick to the facts.

Clark begins writing down his Statement of Fact on legal sized paper starting with his childhood betrayal of Eli Boyle whom he sacrificed his friend so he could avoid a beating from preadolescent bully Pete Kramer and again at the high school prom. Mason says he and Boyle created a video game together Empire that led to the latter’s death. Caroline follows up on names Clark gives her, but struggles to find the corpse he alleges exists.

This is an odd well written police procedural in which the alleged culprit confesses to the cop before the corpse is found. The story line is at its best when Mason sadly muses on his weaknesses as he reflects back on his life and his negative dependency relationships with Boyle and Kramer. When the plot focuses on Mabry’s investigation, it remains grim as she empathizes with him that life is violent, nasty, and ugly; just the way Spokane comes across. Although very little action occurs, fans who relish a vivid but pessimistic look at humanity will either climb on the ledge with Mabry and Mason or shout at them to jump.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The First Rule-Robert Crais

The First Rule
Robert Crais
Putnam, Jan 12 2010, $26.95
ISBN: 9780399156137

In Westwood, California, garment importer from Asia and Africa Frank Meyer lives the good American life as he reinvented himself eleven years ago once he met his beloved Cindy. Four men invade their home killing Frank, Cindy and their sons; the nanny survived but is in a coma. LAPD finds tattoos on Frank's arms that police detective Deets has seen before on private investigator Joe Pike.

The cops assume Frank was dirty due to six previous invasions of homes belonging to criminals. Joe knows better even if he had not seen the man in a decade ever since Frank walked when his mercenary contract expired; he knows because Frank loved Cindy and would never go dirty because of her. Deciding he owes it to Frank to clear his name and to bring down his assassins, Joe and his partner Elvis Cole investigate starting with the nanny who they learn has ties to an Eastern Europe organized mob.

As the cops warn him to stay out of it, Frank and Joe, not trusting the law to look beyond their nose, investigate by digging deep into the activities of local gangsters. They begin to understand a different ethics than their own as The First Rule of the mob is the only way to leave is in a coffin. Fans will fully appreciate the latest Pike inquiry (see The Watchman) that has the mob, the gangs, and the cops in a rare unity (using differing means) to persuade Frank and Joe to back off.

Harriet Klausner

Merry Wives of Maggody-Joan Hess

Merry Wives of Maggody
Joan Hess
Minotaur, Jan 19 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312363611

The 755 residents of Maggody, Arkansas are overall excited over hosting the first ever Maggody Charity Golf Tournament, which symbolizes how far from homemade cornpone to country club whiskey the townsfolk’s have come; though secretly most prefer the products of the back woods distillery. Mrs. Jim Bob Buchanan who came up with the idea refuses to accept any issues to prevent the tournament; for instance there are no golf courses, clubs or players in the town; most of the folks cannot spell the word golf.

When Mrs. Jim Bob announces the prize of a $40,000 bass boat for the first hole in run, everyone takes out brooms and what not to practice golf. Faberville Country Cub professional Tommy Ridner wins the prize over the hoot and holler of locals claiming he is an outside ringer as is PGA player Bonaparte Buchanan brought in by his clan to keep the prizes inside the family. Someone murders Tommy and soon afterward his friend. Pregnant police chief Arly Hanks puts aside her tea for tee time to investigate the homicides; while a LPGA pro files an assault complaint.

Merry Wives of Maggody is even zanier than the title implies as golf proves a lethal sport with a hole in one having new meaning as a hole in the head. The thin story line is fast-paced from the moment Mrs. Jim Bob tries to change the town’s rep from the centerfold of hick to glamour and never slows down as Arly investigates the homicides and the assault. Golf has never been crazier than in Maggody as Joan Hess strokes an ace on the sixteenth hole with this amusing cozy.

Harriet Klausner

Death of a Valentine-M.C. Beaton

Death of a Valentine
M.C. Beaton
Grand Central, Jan 12 2010, $23.99
ISBN: 9780446547383

In the Highlands on Valentine's Day, Lammas festival queen, Annie Fleming received a gift that exploded when she opened it; she died instantly. police sergeant Hamish Macbeth leads the investigation with his new sidekick constable Josie McSween at his side; something he detests. They soon find out that the victim had plenty of rejected lovers who loathed Annie for spurning their advances.

Meanwhile working together draws the two cops closer even as Hamish uses the murder as proof that love is lethal to more than just the heart. However the villagers of Lochdubh are euphoric that the bachelor police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth and popular constable Josie McSween are engaged. Unlike seemingly the entire Highlands, Hamish is miserable and grumpy when he should be elated.

With a strong police procedural combined with a comedic romantic subplot, fans of the long running series will relish the latest Macbeth thriller. Ironically, the investigation is super vs. the romance which is amusing yet it is the latter that keeps the audience reading in one sitting (or cheating) with a need to know whether the long time (24 previous titles) bachelor says I do.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Five Greatest Warriors-Matthew Reilly

The Five Greatest Warriors
Matthew Reilly
Simon & Schuster, Jan 5 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9781416577577

The Dark Star has begun it entry to the solar system. If it is allowed to continue its arrival, the earth will be destroyed by the negative solar energy this sun emits.

Australian adventurer Jack West Jr. knows that life has survived the last visit, but not how. He and his team begin a desperate race to find a way to prevent pandemic calamity from occurring. As he and his squad work on solving seemingly indecipherable riddles, some people believe the Dark Star should come to earth. They try to prevent Jack and company from succeeding; and with time running out they look like they will achieve their objective.

The pace of this entertaining thriller is faster than Indiana Jones as Jack and his teammates go from one adventure to another without a respite. The story line is action, action and nth degree action. Although the plot is over the top of Mt. Kosciusko (make that Mt. Everest) fans who ignore plausibility will want to go along for the ride (see Seven Ancient Wonders and The Six Sacred Stones).

Harriet Klausner

The Puzzle Lady vs. the Sudoku Lady-Parnell Hall

The Puzzle Lady vs. the Sudoku Lady
Parnell Hall
Minotaur, Jan 19 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312612184

In Japan, Minami “the Sudoku Lady” is shocked when an American pushes past her to number one on her country’s bestseller list. Stunned and ashamed by this dishonor that that some ancient New England crone Cora “The Puzzle Lady” Felton has moved ahead of her, Minami accompanied by her teenage niece Michiko comes to Bakerhaven, Connecticut to challenge the foreign upstart in a puzzler’s duel. Minami is unaware that Cora is the front for her shy recently married niece Sherry Carter who creates the crossword and sudoku puzzles.

Cora as the Wicked Witch of the West wants to ignore the Japanese diva, but Sherry persuades her otherwise. However, before the duel between the Japanese puzzle champion and her American rival can occur, Police Chief Harper informs the aunt and niece that Mrs. Ida Fielding was murdered, but not by her spouse who was in jail sleeping off a drunken binge and no puzzles to assist on the investigation. Harper wants Cora to help anyway because she is very good at finding clues. Minami sees them and follows them. As the two puzzle-makers compete, Minami is arrested for murder so her books move back to number one while Cora and Sherry try to prove the visitor is innocent and Michiko asks them to take their time so she can go mall shopping without adult supervision.

The latest Puzzle Lady tale is the usual enjoyable lighthearted whodunit in which the mystery takes a back seat to the cast. This time the aunt-niece relationship is double the fun as the Japanese equivalent to the Connecticut Yanks invades New England. With several Will Shortz sudoku and crossword puzzles included, readers who enjoy a fluffy entertaining cozy will want to watch the battle of the puzzle warriors with their nieces as their squires.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 13, 2009

If Looks Could Chill- Nina Bruhns

If Looks Could Chill
Nina Bruhns
Berkley, Dec 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780425231524

In Louisiana several odd deaths have occurred that alarm the state law enforcement officials. State police officer Tara Reeves leads the inquiry, but needs a Bayou swamp fox to expertly escort her in and out of the bogs where the corpses have been found.

As her guide she hires Marc Lafayette unaware that he is an undercover special ops agent searching for an apparent terrorist cell working in the Bayou. Marc has mixed feelings about being her escort as he sees her as a cover but also a hindrance while seeking the killers. He also is attracted to her, feelings she shares with him. However, as their two inquiries converge, the terrorists attack the cop and the soldier with the intent to kill.

If Looks Could Kill is an exhilarating romantic suspense that has plenty of goings-on in the Bayou, at times too much, but fans will not be able to put the thriller down until finished. Fast-paced with a strong lead couple, the cop and the black op find their cases and their hearts converge as the audience will seek Nina Bruhns’ previous works (see Shoot to Thrill).

Harriet Klausner

The Bone Chamber-Robin Burcell

The Bone Chamber
Robin Burcell
Poisoned Pen, Dec 1 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9781590583753

Her superior SAC Harcourt cut short her family vacation before it began so that FBI forensic artist Sydney Fitzpatrick can draw in the features of a faceless corpse of a young woman. When the victim is identified as Alessandra the adopted daughter of the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Fitzpatrick accompanies FBI Special Agent Zach Griffin to Rome to assist on the investigation.

They search for something called the “Third key” mentioned to Zach by FBI forensic anthropologist Tasha Gilbert who said she has been cursed by a two thousand year old spell before she died in a suspicious hit-and-run accident in the DC area. The two Feds assume the key will lead to a map buried in the crypts of Rome or Naples. They also think that is a clue to a bioterrorist plot being concocted by Carlo Adami.

This is an exciting action packed FBI Brownian thriller. The story line is fast-paced although Sydney’s constant whine with no cheese (unlike her emotional personal previous case in Face of a Killer) becomes irritating as if she is the first person to have a vacation delayed. Still the mysterious Zach and Sydney make a strong team as they try to break the Third Key code and find out what Adami has planned.

Harriet Klausner

Kisser-Stuart Woods

Kisser
Stuart Woods
Putnam, Jan 19 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9780399156113

Stone Barrington, of counsel at Woodman & Weld, is at Elaine’s restaurant in Manhattan when he notices beautiful Carrie Cox who is in New York with dreams of becoming an actress. After she tells Stone about a great audition she had with a director who tried to rape her afterward so she threw his dinner onto his lap at a gala they both attended separately.

Stone advises her how to handle the situation; she soon gets the part and a great agent. Stone and Carrie like each other’s company, but he has to place his personal life on hold when Bill Eggers wants him to get Hildy Parsons out of trouble. Her father is a client at Woodman & Weld and knows his daughter is involved with a gigolo who anxiously waits for her trust fund to revert back to her control. Stone learns the con artist is also dealing drugs and partnered with Larsen who is managing a Ponzi scheme. They become Stone’s problem when someone he cares about wants to bring them down. Making matters more dangerous is Carrie believes her former husband is trying to kill her; she needs protection that she wants only from Stone until they obtain proof of her assertion.

Although Stone proves there are a zillion stories in New York even in one novel, Stuart Woods provides another exhilarating Barrington tale filled with serial sex, plenty of other action, and several fun investigations. After Key West (see Loitering with Intent), Stone vows divorce cases only, but he wonders how he got so involved in so many other matters though he knows the exhausting answer is women, women, and more women. Kisser is a fun lighthearted Stone Barrington thriller as the lawyer finds the mean streets of Manhattan as both welcoming and dangerous.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Double Trouble-Susan May Warren

Double Trouble
Susan May Warren
Tyndale, Jan 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9781414313139

PJ Sugar roamed the world for ten years, getting in and out of trouble while having fun adventures until she realized that chapter of her life was closed; it was time to go home. She lives in her sister’s house in Kellogg, Minnesota with her brother-in-law, his parents and their child; and works as an apprentice to private detective Jeremy Kane. Detective Daniel “Boone” Buck wants to marry her seeing that the girl he loved a decade ago is the woman he loves now though she has doubts as she has come a long way since then.

Jeremy sees Sugar as she is today with no romantic lens filtering their relationship; though he deems her unready for dangerous work. Instead he assigns her to impersonate free spirited Dally Morrison, who is to testify against gang leader and drug lord Billy Finch. Fearing Finch has sent a hit man to kill her, Dally needs a new hiding place. PJ’s impersonation works too well as she is kidnapped and Dally’s house is broken into. The easy assignment has turned dangerous but PJ feels ready for prime time. She likes Dally’s neighbor and the group who plays on Dally’s softball team and considers deeply how she feels about the two men already in her life.

Susan May Warren has written an intriguing mystery filled with humor and excitement. The heroine is trying to learn just who she is and who she wants without hurting Boone or Jeremy, which makes all three in diverse ways endearing to the audience although Double Trouble for PJ. The whodunit is intricately designed to insure the reader has Nothing But Trouble discerning who abducted Sugar acting as Dally.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thursday Night Widows-Claudia Pineiro, Miranda France

Thursday Night Widows
Claudia Pineiro, Miranda France
Bitter Lemon, Jan 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 9781904738411

As Argentina falls apart due to an economic collapse of incredible proportions just after 9/11, the country seems on the verge of anarchy with no place that is safe. That is except for the well to do living in gated communities that insulate them from what is going on outside except for the TV news and their outside employment.

In the Buenos Aires gated community Cascade Heights, four men (El Tano Scaglia, Martín Urovich Gustavo Masotta and Ronie Guevara) have dinner together every Thursday night. However, this time is different as three lie dead in the swimming pool at the most affluent Scaglia home; only Guevara who left early remains alive. How could this happen especially to someone as influential and powerful as El Tano is on the minds of their family members as all assume a horrific electrical accident occurred. However, Virginia Guevara though curious and shocked fears for her Ronie who behaves strangely since the incident and she believes he knows something more.

This is an interesting look at a Argentina in which the upper class behaved like Nero fiddling away while the country collapsed. The story line is mostly told through Virginia’s eyes as a successful realtor to the wealthy. Although insightful with a strong cast who warn readers to beware of growing exponential gaps between the affluent and the middle class, the mystery of the pool takes a back seat to the discerning look at the gilded life behind the gated community.

Harriet Klausner

Dixie Divas-Virginia Brown

Dixie Divas
Virginia Brown
Bell Bridge, Jun 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9780982175651

In Cherryhill, Mississippi, the infamous Dixie Divas are twelve BFFs who understand the keys to life are mixing chocolate with alcohol. One of them fiftyish Eureka “Trinket” Truevine has recently returned home after divorcing Percival to take care of her elderly parents and her slightly older buddy Elisabeth “Bitty” Truevine Hollander who recently dumped her fourth spouse Senator Philip. That is until Bitty lines up numero five.

Bitty is pushing the annual historical houses tour sponsored by the Holly Springs Historical register committee. She wants reclusive Sherman Sanders to participate so she accompanied by the “giant” Trinket visits him at his 1832 constructed home with a bribe of a pot of chicken and dumplings. Because his mule stole the chicken, Bitty brings a new patch by herself. However, he is not home; but her ex husband is only he is dead with blood seemingly everywhere. The cops think Bitty is the prime suspect for several reasons, but the Dixie Divas know better; so not trusting the rednecks to find the real culprit, the dirty dozen investigate.

This is an entertaining regional amateur sleuth mystery starring steel magnolia middle aged women. Their inquiry causes mass mayhem to the residents of the two Mississippi towns especially the police and Sanders and mass hysteria for the audience who will enjoy every zany mistaken move they make. Fast-paced with a pot of chicken and dumplings and a slice of apple pie, fans will enjoy this jocular Mississippi mud pie whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

The Rook-Steven James

The Rook
Steven James
Onyx, Dec 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780451412812

In San Diego, FBI Special Agents Patrick Bowers and Lien-hua Jiang investigate several suspicious fires in conjunction with the San Diego metro Arson Strike team (MAST). The latest at a naval research center is a change in M.O. but the agents believe the work is by the same perpetrator who does not act like a terrorist, a thrill seeker, or covering a crime until the last one was committed.

A geo-spatial profiler with a great success record, Pat begins to theorize that the earlier arsons were practice for something in the lab. The two Feds soon connect dots from the fire to an abduction, an apparent suicide that looks suspiciously more like a homicide and something called Project Rukh. Behind the scenes is a grandmaster playing everyone including Bowers, his rebellious stepdaughter Tessa, Jiang, and others like a virtuosos moving pawns to do Shade’s bidding.

The sequel to the Pawn is a terrific FBI police procedural with a strong cast including a nasty brilliant villain who makes every move like a chess grandmaster. Tessa helps personalize Pat as each mourns the loss of her mom, his wife one year ago. With some humor adding to the fun of a strong thriller filled with a myriad of story lines that at times feel as if several chess games were going on at once until they converge, fans will relish the exciting action-packed yet character driven the Rook as Pat explains the true importance of profiling to the audience.

Harriet Klausner

Blood Revenge-David Thor

Blood Revenge
David Thor
Cosacinco Press, Oct 2009, $23.95
ISBN: 9780982487709
http://www.cosacincopress.com

In 1974 on Xiamen Island Tan and Jan Yi welcome the ruling Communist Party to their home where they plot to remove their opposition to returning China and back to the glory days of the Maoist revolution. When their two children, fourteen year old Ellen and her older brother Ren almost die in their cleansing, they send them to American where they attend the Leyden Academy in Yakima.

Also in 1974, Lieutenant Suan Moon is conducting biological weapon research in Vladivostok, but still grieving the death of his wife and unborn child, he insures the future of his son Doug in America before killing himself and his project. However, he died in vain as his government watched him closely and obtained copies of his research while his son attends the Leyden Academy in Yakima.

In 2004 the patient plotting of the 1970s begin to prove fruitful. Three years later while a hurricane bears down the Gulf Coast, Providence Hospital sexagenarian Dr. James Bali receives a frantic call from the Coast Guard in which they are bringing in survivors from an accident not yet investigated including someone taken from an oil platform. Dr. Bali meets the rescue helicopter only to find a corpse that had been somehow rubberized. He knows what he is looking at though he prayed he never would see this outside of some horror text book. Biological warfare has come to Mobile.

This is a fast-paced tale with a modern day Manchurian Candidate like spin to the plot. The story line starts off in low gear as the players and their background are provided, but once Bali meets the survivor and the vulcanized corpses, Blood Revenge never looks back as the plot accelerates to ultra speed. The race against the terrorist doomsday clock by the lead character and a few other heroes struggling to prevent a horrific calamity make for a super thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Blacklands-Belinda Bauer

Blacklands
Belinda Bauer
Simon & Schuster, Jan 5 2010, $23.00
ISBN: 9781439149447

Nineteen years ago, eleven years old Billy went to buy cards, but never came home. A year later a man flashed teen Mason Dingle who reported him to the police. Avery is a pedophile serial killer working his horrors in the Exmoor region of England. Caught he takes to police to the graves of his young victims. He never identified his prey but Billy was assumed to be one of them.

Billy’s nephew Steven lives in his Nan’s house with his mom and younger brother in Shipcolt near Exmoor. It is a house of pain and anguish as Nan looks out the window hoping her Billy comes home. Billy’s room remains the same as a holy shrine while Nan suffers from guilt for not watching over him more carefully. Steven wants desperately the loving approval of his aloof mom and distracted grandma so comes up with a plan to achieve it. He sends a letter to Avery asking him for the location of where Billy is buried hoping the remains will provide closure to the grieving adults. Avery receives a picture of Exmoor and sees a reflection of Steven. The convicted killer plots to escape to get to Steven, who has forgotten all about his correspondence as his home life has taken a happy turn.

Blacklands explores the impact of a disappearing child on the surviving family members, even those not born at the time of the violent crime that takes away a loved one. The characters are fully developed including Avery. Fans anticipate the clash between an aging pedophile still following his impulses and the tweener who though he seeks the approval of his matriarchs is no victim; just ask the bullies he eludes all the time.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Wolf at the Door-Jack Higgins

The Wolf at the Door
Jack Higgins
Putnam, Jan 5 2010, $26.95
ISBN 9780399156120

In Quoque, Long island a man waits at a pier for Blake Johnson, security adviser to the POTUS, to dock his vessel the Lively Jane; his mission is to kill the American. The British Prime Minister ordered top operatives Harry Miller and Sean Dillon to attend a U.N. gathering in which Russian Federation Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is speaking. The President wants Blake who will be at the gala to gauge the Russian delegation.

Harry takes a walk in Central Park but is also stalked and attacked. In London, General Charles Ferguson leaves a late-night meeting of ministers only to see his car with the driver inside explode. Although all roads lead to Moscow, none of the operatives realize Putin has hired the best assassin in the world Daniel Holley to eliminate the agents who have interfered with the Russian’s plans for world domination; that is except Dillon who fears his most dreaded enemy has surfaced.

The latest Sean Dillon and company espionage thriller (see A Darker Place) is a super entry that moves on several subplots before converging for quite a climax. The story line focuses with back stories on how each chosen victim was targeted, stalked and attacked with an emphasis on Holly who ironically and fascinatingly holds the plot together; as opposed to Dillon and the other heroes. Jack Higgins proves he remains one of the grandmasters of the international intrigue thriller with this great entry.

Harriet Klausner

Fired Up-Jayne Ann Krentz

Fired Up
Jayne Ann Krentz
Putnam, Dec 29 2009, $265.95
ISBN: 9780399155963

Jack Winters, descendant of alchemist Nicholas Winters, who in the 1660s created the Burning Lamp, which increases psychic powers in a person with paranormal skills and gives them a new one br at a horrible cost. Those with the dominant gene become insane unless they find the Burning Lamp and the female psychic who can work dreamlight produced by that object. Jack fears he is cursed because he can suddenly induce nightmares in people while he suffers blackouts and sleepwalks.

Jack seeks out private investigator Chloe Harper, a high level psi who can work with dream energy. Through her aunt, she locates the Burning Lamp; the owner is happy to get rid of it as it makes him uneasy. The organization Nightshade, made up of paranormal criminals want the Burning Lamp too. While on the run from these thugs, Chloe uses the artifact on Jack who has fallen in love with her; she reciprocates. While praying use of the map turns him into a safe psi, Nightshade capture Chloe, who believe they possess the perfect way to force her to work for them.

This Arcane Society tale is the first book of the Dreamlight trilogy, which occurs in the present; books two and three will be in the Victorian Era and the far future on Planet harmony respectively. The story line is fast-paced from the opening three centuries ago as the rivalry between Nicholas and Sebastian Jones heats up and never slows down as Nicholas and Chloe team up. Fans of this brilliant author will enjoy this romantic suspense as the lead couple is a wonderful pairing and the support cast either quirky or deadly quirky. Readers will enjoy this strong contemporary and look forward to the talent of the author to take her saga historically and futuristically.

Harriet Klausner

The Dolphin People-Torsten Krol

The Dolphin People
Torsten Krol
Harper, Nov 17 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061672965

In 1943 on the Russian Front, Erich Linden’s father died. Two years later, now sixteen years old, Erich, his widow mom Helga and his twelve years old brother Zeppi flee the ruined Third Reich for Geneva; there they board the Stromboli and sail to Venezuela where Uncle Klaus waits for them. He will marry Helga so he can care for her and her two sons while also using them as a front to dodge war crime prosecution for his work at the concentration camps.

In Venezuela the Brandt family, as they are now called, flies into the Amazon to their new home, but the plane crashes. The Yayomi tribe welcomes the lost Brandt family because they believe they are the dolphins wearing human garb prophesied by a tribesman's dreams. German anthropologist Gerhard Wentzler who lives with the tribe to study them assists the Brandt brood in their temporary not so easy adaptation.

The blood (and other liquids too frequently) flows in this deep dark allegorical historical thriller. Each of the Brandt family member has their civilization attire torn off along the lines of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus Clothing theory of man so that the reader can explore deeply their motivations to include growing up too fast, anti-Semitism, and other racial superiority. Not an easy read, The Dolphin People is a thought provoking Post WW II tale told mostly through the biased filtered lens of Erich as the narrator.

Harriet Klausner

Deeper than the Dead-Tami Hoag

Deeper than the Dead
Tami Hoag
Dutton, Dec 29 2009, $26.95
ISBN 9780525951308

In 1985 in Oak Knoll in Southern California, fifth-grader Tommy Crane and Wendy Morgan run away from the class bully Dennis Farman and his flunkie Cody Roach when the fleeing pair trips over over the head of a dead woman. The victim was buried in the woody section of Oakwood Park up to her neck; her eyes and mouth glued shut. Their fifth grade teacher Anne Navarre tries to help the two children cope.

Sheriff's Detective Tony Mendez has just come home from attending an eleven-week profiling class at the FBI Academy. He points out this is the third victim in two years, but Dennis’ father Chief Deputy Frank Farman says it is only two inside their jurisdiction and insists “signatures” have nothing to do with the case. Sheriff Cal Dixon points out the differences in the profile between this case and the previous two. Meanwhile Anne becomes the prime suspect as FBI Agent Vince Leone arrives to lead the investigation.

This is an exhilarating serial killer thriller made fresh by using the mid 1980s as the date so that profiling remains voodoo to some old time law enforcement officials. The story line is fast paced from the moment Tommy trips over the head of the mostly interred victim and never slows down until the climax in a hospital room and a drive on the Interstate. Although too many threads are left dangling even for a sequel or two, fans will relish Tamu Hoag’s enjoyable Reagan Era police procedural.

Harriet Klausner

Impact- Douglas Preston

Impact
Douglas Preston
Forge, Jan 5 2010, $25.99
ISBN 9780765317681

College dropout turned waitress and amateur astronomer Abbey Straw believes she and her BFF Jackie saw a meteor crash near the Maine coast where she lives. The two young females agree to search the nearby barrier islands as Abbey using wave theory believes the meteor struck land. The plan is to sell the finds on E-Bay.

Meanwhile the president's science adviser Stanton Lockwood III asks former CIA filed operative Wyman Ford to investigate the sudden flooding of radioactive gemstones in Cambodia. At about the same time Stanton makes his request that seems more like an order to Wyman,on the West Coast, just before he is murdered Professor Jason Freeman sends a classified file containing proof of abnormal gamma ray activity on Mars to mission technician Mark Corso of the National Propulsion Facility. Soon these three diverse scenarios converge with sixty hours to countdown impact.

This is an engaging science fiction thriller that hooks the audience from the moment Wyman begins his inquiry and never slows down as California, Maine and Cambodia hook up. The story line is fast-paced as fans will welcome the return of Wyman (see Blasphemy), but in many ways the brilliant slacker with her naive innocence makes the tale fresh.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Passport-Herta Muller

The Passport
Herta Muller
Serpent’s Tail, Nov 2009, $12.95
ISBN: 9781852421397

During the brutal reign of Ceausescu, Windisch wants out of his German village in Romania. In fact he wants out of the country that feels everywhere in his mind as the end instead of a beginning or even a middle. The coffin with the Widow Kroner’s name on it symbolizes how he feels as the box remains empty waiting for her to die. Last year to gain a passport to go to West Berlin, he tried bribing the mayor with sacks of flour, but that only left him hungry. The village miller has tried using his daughter and his bitter wife, but so far has been rejected for the passport he needs to go to the west. Amalie with her crystal vase and Katharina who survived five Russian winters by selling her coat and more to make grass soup struggle in the village where women survive by sexual favors to the male elite.

This is a translation of a 1980s indictment of Ceausescu and the Communists who destroyed Romania economically and morally. To survive under the reign even in a tiny remote village, one had to bribe the leaders with whatever one had to include a pretty daughter. The cast makes the tale work while the stark grim brusque writing will stun the audience with its deep message that tyranny at any level destroys.

Harriet Klausner

The Passport-Herta Muller

The Passport
Herta Muller
Serpent’s Tail, Nov 2009, $12.95
ISBN: 9781852421397

During the brutal reign of Ceausescu, Windisch wants out of his German village in Romania. In fact he wants out of the country that feels everywhere in his mind as the end instead of a beginning or even a middle. The coffin with the Widow Kroner’s name on it symbolizes how he feels as the box remains empty waiting for her to die. Last year to gain a passport to go to West Berlin, he tried bribing the mayor with sacks of flour, but that only left him hungry. The village miller has tried using his daughter and his bitter wife, but so far has been rejected for the passport he needs to go to the west. Amalie with her crystal vase and Katharina who survived five Russian winters by selling her coat and more to make grass soup struggle in the village where women survive by sexual favors to the male elite.

This is a translation of a 1980s indictment of Ceausescu and the Communists who destroyed Romania economically and morally. To survive under the reign even in a tiny remote village, one had to bribe the leaders with whatever one had to include a pretty daughter. The cast makes the tale work while the stark grim brusque writing will stun the audience with its deep message that tyranny at any level destroys.

Harriet Klausner

Tragedy at Two-Ann Purser

Tragedy at Two
Ann Purser
Berkley, Dec 2009, $23.95
ISBN: 9780425230060

In Long Farden Josie Meade is considering ending her relationship with her partner Rob. When they have fight leading to his accusing her of an affair with a cop, he runs out and goes to the pub where he gets drunk and acts violently out of character. That night he is found on the road severely battered. He is rushed to the hospital where he lingers for a few days before dying. Josie feels guilty.

Detective Chief Inspector Cowgill leads the investigation in which many of the townsfolk believe gypsies camped nearby killed Rob. Josie’s mom Lois, owner of New Brooms cleaning firm and amateur sleuth consultant to Cowgill thinks otherwise having met the group’s matriarch Athalia Lee. Although this case is personal and her husband Derek the electrician wants her to stay out of the inquiry, Lois assists the DCI by “ferretin”.

This is an entertaining English village whodunit that is very personal for the heroine; so much so Cowgill is hesitant to use Lois as a resource. Much of the first half of the story line focuses on family dynamics inside a small village in which everyone knows everyone so secrets are difficult to conceal, but if the hidden is achieved it becomes more shocking when revealed. Fans of the Lois Meade amateur sleuths will enjoy a deep look at the heroine, her friends and neighbors when a Tragedy at Two occurs.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mr. Monk In Trouble-Lee Goldberg

Mr. Monk In Trouble
Lee Goldberg
Obsidian, Dec 2009, $22.95
ISBN: 9780451229052

He has an intensive form of OCD and has more phobias than can be found in a medical text, but give Mr. Adrian Monk a homicide to solve and he will do it regardless of difficulty mostly caused by his disorders. His friend Captain Stottlemeyer of the San Francisco Police department asks Mr. Monk to come to his office where he informs him that retired cop Manny Feikeman was murdered at the Gold Rush Museum in Trouble, California. He asks Monk to solve the case.

Since his house is being renovated, Mr. Monk agrees to go to the mining town with his assistant and friend Natalie. While in town he finds out about a cold case he decides to solve in his spare time. The famous train The Golden Rail Express was robbed of its gold on its last run in 1962, but what happened to the loot or the mastermind was never revealed and a third robber never found. With brilliant insight and a nod to a gold rush era equivalent with phobias and an assistant Abigail Guthrie keeping diaries of Artemis Monk, Adrian works the train robbery, the murder, and assorted other inquiries until he vanishes leaving an injured Natalie to investigate the case of the missing sleuthing employer.

Nobody does novelizations of TV shows better than Lee Goldberg consistently does. His latest Mr. Monk tale is one of the best due to the intriguing tongue in cheek self mocking subplot involving Artemis who as the assayer who also worked cases in 1852; the local curator insists the two OCD Monks may be a century and a half apart but look like twins separated at birth. Fans will enjoy the stories of the two Mr. Monk’s.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Murder by Artifact: The Murder Quilt-Barbara Graham

Murder by Artifact: The Murder Quilt
Barbara Graham
Five Star, Nov 2009, $25.95
ISBN 9781594148286

Park County Sheriff Marc Antony Abernathy investigates the apparent stabbing death of unpopular “Queen” Doreen, wife of the Silersville, Tennessee Mayor Calvin Cashdollar. Her corpse was placed under a bloodstained “murder quilt”. He also struggles with letters from places like Cincinnati that contain notes and newspaper accounts of vanishings two decades ago; Tony has no idea why he is receiving them. However to the shock of everyone who attends Queen’s funeral, Doreen arrives with a smile and a so what attitude. The victim is her “twin” half sister.

Meanwhile, Tony's wife Theo, owner of Theo's Quilt Shop, finds skeletal remains behind the house of her best friend. Tony receives a tip from a dying man who swears on his death bed that there is a female serial killer who is on the county tax rolls. As he works a homicide and potentially several other murders, the biggest complaints coming into the Sheriff’s Office are the thefts of garden gnomes.

This is a super Smoky Mountains cozy that uses quilts and Quilters to solve the crimes. The story line is fast-paced from the onset as a bewildered Tony leans one thing leads to another; just not what he expected. Fans will enjoy this entertaining mystery and Theo’s quilt Night on the Mountain while also seeking out the previous case (see Murder by Serpents).

Harriet Klausner

Dixie Noir-Kirk Curnutt

Dixie Noir
Kirk Curnutt
Five Star, Nov 2009, $25.95
ISBN 9781594148217

After a decade behind bars for drug trafficking, former Alabama football star Ennis Skinner is freed from prison. He returns home to Montgomery, Alabama hoping to atone for his transgression. His ailing father, who was part of the Civil Rights Movement, welcomes Ennis home.

Even before he can settle in with his dad, former Meth salesman High C asks Ennis to find his missing nineteen year old mentally challenged daughter Caroline called Dixie by her late mom Alice “Faye” James. The request brings back memories Ennis would prefer to forget. On his way to the NFL, he and the late Faye had a heated tryst that led to the jock’s drug ruin. At the same time when the city is divided over race as the white incumbent Amory Justice and African-American Walk Compson vie for the mayor’s position, Dixie somehow seems to be caught in the middle somehow.

Dixie Noir is an intriguing amateur sleuth mystery that focuses on race relations in the Deep South during a heated mayoral election further fueled by Amory’s daughter. The story line is fast-paced but character driven with homage paid to local heroes like the Bear, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Joe Willie. Ennis is terrific as an infamous legend in Crimson Tide football for his “cocaine on the membrane”. Although a final Dixie twist seems more an unnecessary shocker that detracts from an otherwise strong regional drama, fans will enjoy this fine Alabama thriller.

Harriet Klausner

The Poisoning in the Pub-Simon Brett

The Poisoning in the Pub
Simon Brett
Five Star, Nov 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594148903

In Fethering, West Sussex, the Crown and Anchor pub has had some recent problems. First food poisoning with the media all over the establishment forced a temporary shutdown. Then the grand reopening is devastated by an unruly motorcycle gang. However, worse is the cruel stabbing of a mentally challenged kitchen helper Ray. Landlord Ted Crisp is stunned but soon feels like Job being tested when on top of all that a chain has threatened to open in Fethering.

Friends Carole Seddon and Jude investigate taking advantage of their age as no one would believe two old biddies would risk their lives except in a Christie novel. The pair begins to unravel who killed the gentle lad and why as they connect his death to the poisoned scallops.

The latest Fethering amateur sleuth tale (see Blood at the Bookies) is a terrific entry containing a cautionary message warning readers to beware of the chain stores as they may be more efficient, but at a price to the local flavoring. The lead ladies are at their best as they non-intrusively investigate what has been going on at the pub. Readers will enjoy Simon Brett’s fine village mystery as image (not substance) in a pub, a shop, or a person means everything to most people.

Harriet Klausner

The Charm Stone-Lillian Stewart Carl

The Charm Stone
Lillian Stewart Carl
Five Star, Nov 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594147708

For the past several years Texas born forty year old writer Jean Fairbairn has lived in Scotland with her lover former cop Alasdair Cameron. However, she and Alasdair are in Virginia researching an article on Lady Dunsmore, wife of the last English governor of the Commonwealth for the magazine she co-owns, Great Scot. Whereas Jean plans on working, Alasdair plans on enjoying Williamsburg as a welcome respite from his private security company, Protect and Survive.

Dunsmore owned a "witch box" which allegedly contained a charm stone that is on display at the nearby DeWitt Wallace Museum. Meanwhile Alasdair receives a call from home that someone stole a replica of the Dunsmore witch box from Blair Castle, where his firm provides security. Apparently Kelly Dingwall accidentally set off an alarm in the private section of the castle; during the turmoil the box was taken. Alasdair has suspicions that the alarm was deliberate because Kelly is the sister to Tim Dingwall, who along with his wife Sharon, are infamous for their views. When two murders occur, Williamsburg Detective Stephanie Venegas leads the inquiry, but reluctantly allows the out of towners to assist once she checks up on them.

This fascinating romantic police procedural works on two fronts. First the relationship that seemed so strong (see The Secret Portrait, The Murder Hole and The Burning Glass) seems to be unraveling with plenty of deep symbolism and metaphors in which readers will never look at a toothbrush or a hairbrush the same way. Second there is the investigation in which the local detective reluctantly allows the lead couple to help as the theft in Scotland seems tied to the homicides in Virginia. The forth entry is the charm for fans of the series.

Harriet Klausner

Ancient Laws-Jim Michael Hansen

Ancient Laws
Jim Michael Hansen
Dark Sky Publishing, Sep 2009, $13.95
ISBN: 9780976924326

In Denver almost one year has passed since twenty-two years old waitress Amanda Peterson was murdered. The killer ripped out the victim’s eyes and put them backwards into the sockets. The case has gone cold in Colorado but now a second dead female with the same gruesome ritual has surfaced in Paris. Denver homicide detective Bryson Coventry flies to Paris to share what he knows with local authorities in an attempt to prevent further killings.

In Paris, Bryson meets his contact Detective Fallon La Rue and feels he is in love at first sight. However, seeing the corpse of the second person stuns him when Margaux Simon turns out to be Tracy White; she saw the killer in Denver and when Bryson mistakenly gave her name to the killer after being tricked, vanished. He further explains to Fallon that he took a bullet in the stomach trying to keep Tracy safe, but obviously failed. They work together employing his ruse of using a doctored version of the drawing of the killer as provided by Tracy last year, but this time Fallon is the bait. However, neither cross oceanic cop is prepared to the twists they face to solve this case.

The latest Laws police procedural is an extremely complex tale with multiple story lines that cleverly interact and twist. Fallon brings a special freshness that will have fans saying oui oui for more appearances by her and Bryson is his usual terrific self. However, it is the complicated whodunit that grips readers throughout as nothing is quite like it seems.

Harriet Klausner

Who Killed the Pinup Queen?-Toni L.P. Kelner

Who Killed the Pinup Queen?
Toni L.P. Kelner
Berkley, Jan 2010, $6.99
ISBN: 9780425232057

Tilda is a freelance entertainment reporter whose biggest client is the magazine Entertain Me! She is called into a conference when the stars of Cowtown, a 1950s cowboy TV show talk to her about the western resort they want to build in Massachusetts. Brothers Tucker and Hoyt Ambrose and Cynthia Barth want Tilda to write an article about their resort and find guest stars from their show to make appearances at their resort.

Tilda goes to interview 1950s pinup girl Sandra Sschrest known as Sandy Sea Chest. Thanks to Tilda, Sandy has a nice business selling memorabilia on the web from her glory days. Shortly after the interview, Tilda returns to Sandy’s home to pick up the camera she left there, but finds the woman dead with blood everywhere. The photos she showed Tilda are missing but Tilda has gotten the pictures for the Cowtown article on the net but someone shoves her into the street and steals the copies she made. When another person associated with Cowtown is killed, Tilda knows the crimes are obviously related, and Tilda intends to find out who the culprit is though someone is watching her and will take care if her if she gets too close to the truth

Toni L.P. Kelner has written a fascinating amateur sleuth tales that centers around the pinup girls of the 1950s. People at that time assumed these scantily clad young ladies were bad girls and decades later even with the sexual revolution many refuse to place that vocation on their résumé as they are ashamed. This feeling plays a key role in the homicides as the intrepid reporter diligently investigates the murders. Readers will root for the admirable heroine and seek her previous Where Are They Now investigation, Curse of the Kissing Cousins.

Harriet Klausner