Archive for August, 2010

Blue Lightning-Ann Cleeves

August 31, 2010

Blue Lightning

Ann Cleeves

Minotaur, Sep 28 2010, $24.99

ISBN: 9780312384357

Police Detective Jimmy Perez brings his English fiancée Fran Hunter to his home on Fair Isle to meet his parents and the other residents.  A welcoming fete is thrown, but at a bird observatory, someone stabs a woman with a knife to her back and leaving feathers in her hair.

The deceased is a famous BBC ornithologist Angela, alleged guardian of the island’s bird sanctuary.  Perez realizes the victim was universally disliked by those who knew her; even perhaps her husband Maurice.  Suspects are numerous ranging from a myriad of lovers, her stepdaughter, her employee and the bird lovers’ crowd.  Perez struggles on his own due to a hurricane cutting off the island from the mainland.  At the same time just before the storm hit, there is an influx of bird watchers due to a rare avian finding.  As Perez digs deeper and Fran tries to help her beloved though he pleads with her not to get involved, he fears a tie to his family.

The final Shetland Island police procedural (see Red Bones, Raven Black and White Nights) is a super whodunit.  The story line focuses beyond just Jimmy’s investigation and relationship with his fiancée, as the murder haunts the small community although the victim is loathed by anyone who met her.  Jimmy is great as he is cut off from professional help, but though he detests what he is finding, he resolutely stays the course.  With a final twist that will stun fans, The Shetland Island saga is a terrific series and hopefully will have more colorful Fair Isle mysteries.

Harriet Klausner

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Par for the Course-Jennifer Vido

August 31, 2010

Par for the Course

Jennifer Vido

Top Publications, Jun 2010, $14.00

12221 Merit Dr, Suite 950

Dallas, Texas 75251

ISBN: 9781929976720

In Woodlawn Ohio, when her older womanizing wealthy husband Charles is murdered, Piper O’Donnell is the prime suspect as Par for the Course the cops always look at the family.  The townsfolk especially those snooty society ladies at the Woodlawn Golf & Country Club assume she killed her spouse for his money or perhaps another one of his affairs; or more likely both.  For her part, she wished they remained in Manhattan.

Piper and Rusty O’Brien meet and are attracted to one another.  They, accompanied by her sister and her friend, investigate the homicide before the cops replace Piper’s clubs with a murder rap.  However, none of the quartet are prepared for a killer who plans to make a hole in one with their respective heads if they come close to his or her identity.

Lighthearted, this is an enjoyable nineteen holes of golf amateur sleuth.  The story line is breezy as the quartet of tyro detectives follow the sexual escapes of the late Charles as they believe one of his women finally gave him the permanent hook.  Fans who enjoy a facetious sports mystery will want to play the Woodlawn course alongside of Piper and friends.

Harriet Klausner

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End: The Story of a Crime-Leif GW Persson

August 31, 2010

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End: The Story of a Crime

Leif GW Persson

Pantheon, Sep 14 2010, $27.95

ISBN: 9780307377456

American John Krassner is in Stockholm writing a biography on his uncle, OSS agent Colonel John Buchanan just after WW II.  Krassner has found evidence that ties Buchanan to a Swedish politician known as “Pilgrim”, but he is unsure who that is though he has an idea.

Meanwhile the Swedish secret police have become concerned with threats to their Prime Minister Olaf Palme.  They link the noise to the American Krassner, who almost immediately is under suspicion. He apparently commits suicide by jumping from a student dorm window.  He almost kills an elderly pedestrian walking his Pomeranian, but Charlie the dog saves his owner’s life only to have the leaper’s shoe kill the dog.  Soon afterward someone assassinates Palme, but the Swedish manhunt fails to find a killer or a valid group claiming the hit.  However, police superintendent Lars Johansson finds a tie between the dead American, his uncle and the murdered PM.

Constructed around the unsolved cold case murder of PM Palme, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End: The Story of a Crime is an interesting first act of a fictionalized account of the assassination.  The story line has too much going on especially in the first sections of the novel making it difficult to follow.  However, once Johansson takes control of the plot, the whodunit becomes more focused and enjoyable.  Though Lars (so far at least) is no Falck or Wallender, fans of Camilla Lackberg and Henning Mankell will enjoy this opening police procedural that delves deep into the Swedish identity haunted by the homicide a quarter of a century ago.

Harriet Klausner

Me, Myself, and Why?-MaryJanice Davidson

August 31, 2010

Me, Myself, and Why?

MaryJanice Davidson

St. Martin’s, Sep 28 2010, $24.99

ISBN: 9780312531171

In Minneapolis, the FBI Bureau of False Flags Ops (BOFFO) Agent Cadence Jones suffers from multiple personality disorder, which is an asset for the mission of this unit filled with psychotics and an occasional functional neurotic.  She and her partner sociopath George Pinkham are assigned to ending the reign of terror of Threefer Killer, who murders people in groups of three leaving behind newspaper articles and nothing else.

The serial killer begins sending messages to Cadence and her two sisters Shiro and Adrienne.  Depending on which MPD is working determines whether Cadence is concerned or not.  However, anyone who is from the Twin Cities knows better than to mess with the Jones.  More concerned to Cadence as she switches from one personality to another is she falls in love with her best friend’s visiting brother.

Clearly over the top of the Prospect Park Water Tower and Deming Heights Park combined, Me, Myself and Why? Is a zany dark humorous police procedural.  Not for all of MaryJanice Davidson’s fans especially the paranormal shoe lovers, this tale lampoons how easily society conveniently catalogues people to make them fit inside a file drawer.  The strong radically offbeat edgy cast make for a madcap Minnesota mystery, in which ironically MPD sufferer holds the plot together as readers will wonder whether to label her as the main character or characters.

Harriet Klausner

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop-Edited by Otto Penzler

August 29, 2010

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop

Edited by Otto Penzler

Vanguard, Oct 12 2010, $24.95

ISBN: 9781593156176

This compilation of seventeen short stories that were given out as pamphlets to the customers of the legendary store date back to 1993 with one a year since.  The only two stipulations are it takes place at Christmas and the bookstore must be involved at least in one scene.  The contributors are a who’s who of the mystery-suspense genre with most lampooning the classics including those written by the author as Donald E. Westlake did in 1993 with Dortmunder learning to “Give Till It Hurts” and Mary Higgins Clark in 2009 with Alvirah in” What’s In A Name?”.  Lawrence Block satirizes Nero Wolfe in the amusing 1997 “As Dark as Christmas Gets” or the 1995 jocular self-deprecating “I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus” by Ed McBain (is that his ninth plum of an pseudonym?).  With No clinkers, fans who appreciate a strong mostly tongue in cheek anthology in which part of the fun is discovering the insider jokes will want to stop in Manhattan’s Tribecca neighborhood (in person or from the armchair) to visit Otto Penzler’s Mystery Bookshop as this is an entertaining collection.

Harriet Klausner

The Pericles Commission-Gary Corby

August 29, 2010

The Pericles Commission

Gary Corby

Minotaur, Oct 12 2010, $24.99

ISBN: 9780312599027

In 461 BC in Athens, the man fell from the sky.  At least that is how it initially looked to those near the Areopagus.  In fact democratic reformist leader Ephialtes was shot with a myriad of arrows before his dive off the Rock of Areopagus.  He landed dead at the feet of a sculptor’s son Nicolaos.

Ephialtes’s political ally Pericles arrives just after the death.  He is pleasantly surprised by the logical analysis Nicolaos applies to the assassination; as such Pericles hires the lad to investigate the murder.  Knowing the ruling council meets at the Areopagus and the obvious motive is these members refuse to lose power as they would under Ephialtes’ reform, he looks for the killer(s) amidst the leading citizens of the city including his client.

This is an excellent Ancient Athenian mystery in which Gary Corby constructs his deep story line around real persona (including the victim) and events (including the victim’s murder).  The early chapters set the tale of fifth century BC in Athens and once Ephialtes falls, the story line takes off at a resounding speed.  Mindful of Jose Carlos Somoza’s The Athenian Murders, The Pericles Commission is a superb BCE historical.

Harriet Klausner

A Marked Man-Barbara Hamilton

August 29, 2010

A Marked Man

Barbara Hamilton

Berkley, Oct 5 2010, $14.00

ISBN: 9780425237083

In 1774, two and half months have passed since the infamous (depending on your loyalties) Boston Tea Party.  Teenager Lucy Fluckner asks Abigail Adams to help her friend twentyish bookseller Harry Knox, who is in trouble with the Commonwealth law.  The Sons of Liberty printer was arrested for murdering the King’s Special Commissioner Sir Joseph Cottrell.

Abigail supports freedom from the crown and is proud of her husband John who is a major participant in the Sons of Liberty’s endeavors.  As such she agrees to look into the homicide.  Stunningly, Lucy’s chaperone Mrs. Sandhayes insists the victim was her charge’s fiancé; Lucy denies it as she loathed the philandering Tory and though she fails to say so Abigail knows she loves the accused.  Abigail and John, who is a lawyer, investigate and quickly learns that a Negro female servant vanished from the home of their client’s parents and that the victim had many enemies on all three sides of the brewing revolt. 

The key to the strong second Abigail Adams historical mystery (see The Ninth Daughter) is the sense that the reader is in Boston divided between Loyalists, Neutralists, and Rebels just prior to the Revolutionary War.  The story line is fast-paced and the investigation super, but it is meeting the prime real persona and fictional characters representing the divided times in Boston in 1774 that makes A Marked Man a strong late eighteenth century thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Law of Attraction-Allison Leotta

August 28, 2010

Law of Attraction

Allison Leotta

Touchstone (Simon and Schuster), Oct 12 2010, $25.00

ISBN: 9781439193846

In Washington D.C. idealistic rookie Anna Curtis has become an Assistant U.S. Attorney.  She works domestic violence cases that have required her to remain distant and aloof from the brutality she sees on the faces of the victims.  However, on Valentine’s day, Anna loses her detached objectivity when battered Laprea Johnson files a complaint against her boyfriend former con D’Marco Davis, who is defended by Curtis’ Harvard Law School classmate Nick Wagner.

In the courtroom, to Anna’s shock, Laprea, under oath, recants her previous testimony allowing her boyfriend who is also the father of her twin preschoolers to avoid jail.  Not long after the case is dismissed, Laprea’s pregnant corpse is found amidst trash as if someone threw out the garbage.  Assigned to work with chief homicide detective Jack Bailey, in a case against Davis; Anna is shocked that her boyfriend Wagner since the abuse trial, is representing the accused again.  She must choose between her career and her personal life as both teeter; but remains unaware that her life is in peril if she gets to close to the truth.

This is a super legal thriller, which reads very fresh due to the star being a rookie playing in the big leagues.  The story line is fast-paced from the first complaint until the final resolution with a nice late twist that diligent readers will see the clues.  However, even though the men in her life (her lover the opposing lawyer, the homicide chief, and the accused) are fully developed, this is the tyro’s tale as she works the perilous halls of justice.

Harriet Klausner

Roman Games-Bruce Macbain

August 28, 2010

Roman Games

Bruce Macbain

Poisoned Pen, Oct 2010, $$24.95

ISBN: 9781590587751

In 96 AD in Rome, Senatorial Informer Sextus Verpa is found viciously stabbed to death in his home.  The household slaves of the deceased are the only suspects; with no rights they will be executed for his murder once the Ludi Romani Games are over; as no one is killed by the state during the fifteen days of contests.

Meanwhile Emperor Domitian could not care less about slaughtering some slaves in an inferno, but wants to insure his enemies are not behind the stabbing murder.  He orders Senator Gaius Plinius Caecillius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Younger, to investigate. Pliny enlists the help of starving author Martial in order to enter places he would have no cooperation.  Soon the pair begins to unravel a convoluted conspiracy starting with a horoscope reading that predicts the death of the Emperor is near with tentacles reaching from Jewish and Christian sects, supporters of the Roman pantheon, and Egyptian cultists; but the most dangerous locale for the detecting duet is the palace where the brutal emperor wears no clothes.

Ancient Rome has been used as the backdrop for several mystery series by Steven Saylor, Robert Harris and John Robert Maddox for instance and more so Albert Bell whose lead is Pliny the Younger.  However, Bruce Macbain keeps his saga fresh with a strong look at the decadence at the end of the first century in which an ethical hero struggles to keep his morality and his head.  The story line is fast-paced as the two opposite ins status and outlook sleuths unite following clues that are religious and political dangerous as separation of state denotes separation of one’s head.  This is an enjoyable whodunit due to the Roman background interwoven throughout the historical mystery.

Harriet Klausner

Stranglehold-Ed Gorman

August 28, 2010

Stranglehold

Ed Gorman

Minotaur, Oct 12 2010, $24.99

ISBN: 9780312532987

In Aldyne, Illinois Ben Weinberg, the campaign team chief to reelect incumbent Congresswoman Susan Cooper, knows his candidate’s bid for another term is in deep trouble.  He turns to his colleague who got him the job in the first place, former army intel officer turned political consultant Dev Conrad to straighten out the sinking ship.  Dev is concerned because they have worked together for eight years and Ben never asked for his assistance.

Besides the ineffective husband David with his alibis for his wife and rumors of sniffing cocaine, the biggest issue is the money bags, Susan’s stepmother Natalie Cooper, better known as the “Dragon Lady”.  Adding to the problems is the philosophy of the opponent Steve Duffy’s consultants, Monica Davies and Greg Larson who believe the end justifies the mean regardless of who they harm in the process.  Meanwhile in spite of low percentile of public interest concerned with Susan’s mysterious past, she tries to conceal her secrets which hurt her election chances.  However, all hell breaks loose when someone murders Davies.

The whodunit is fun to follow, but what makes the second Dev Conrad political consulting thriller (see Sleeping Dogs) super is the dirty tricks played by so called ethical people.  Ed Gorman nails the concept that adheres diligently to Leo Durocher’s philosophy of “win at all costs” as the innocent are disregarded as expendable pawns as much as the politicians.  For instance Dev points out that the unemployed receiving assistance has paid into the system when they were employed, which is irrelevant when you’re making political points of lazy on the dole people.  Stranglehold is a strong political thriller as Mr. Gorman makes a case that elections are contact sports with no rules except “win at all costs”.

Harriet Klausner