Archive for February, 2013

Hammett Unwritten-Owen Fitzstephen; notes and afterword by Gordon McAlpine

February 13, 2013

Hammett Unwritten
Owen Fitzstephen; notes and afterword by Gordon McAlpine
Prometheus/Seventh Street, Feb 12 2013, $13.95
ISBN 9781616147143

In New Year’s Eve 1959 on Long Island, ailing Dashiell Hammett holds a .38 and his own unfinished (and unpublished thanks to a recovery) New York Times obit from a few years ago ending with the unanswered question of why he stopped writing. In 1922, as a private investigator Hammett solved the Black Falcon murder mystery; ironically his last case as a gumshoe. He also married that same year but later divorced his wife as he began a decades-long affair with Lillian Hellman. At a police auction he bought the statuette that SFPD declared a worthless counterfeit. With the Falcon on his desk, Hammett began writing short stories and ultimately five hard boiled detective novels with his last one being The Thin Man in 1934 when the Black Falcon vanished; leaving behind the mystery of why he abruptly stopped writing. He surfaces in Hollywood and becomes a volunteer victim of McCarthy’s witch hunt.

Hammett Unwritten is a fresh meta-biographical fiction that brings to life the great mystery writer. The storyline cleverly blends known facts and real persona like Ms. Hellman and Senator McCarthy (at the hearings) with allegedly the real role models of key characters from the Maltese Falcon. Although the latter feels somewhat over the top of Nob Hill especially when the talisman seekers return years later into the Hammett’s life, the Black Falcon revisited makes for plenty of fun entertainment. Hammett fans will appreciate this bio-noir as Gordon McAlpine points out in his Afterward that 1920s mystery author and writer of this piece Owen Fitzstephen is the villain in the Dain Curse.

Harriet Klausner

The Night Ranger-Alex Berenson

February 12, 2013

The Night Ranger
Alex Berenson
Putnam, Feb 12 2013, $27.95
ISBN: 9780399159725

Four recent University of Montana graduates (Gwen Murphy, Hailey Barnes, Owen Broder and Scott Thompson) volunteer to work for the Worldcases Children First at the giant Hagadera Refugee Camp in Kenya. Scott’s Uncle James Thompson runs the relief organization out of Houston, but is at the East African site because a Houston Chronicle reporter Pamela Hutchins is writing a story on the camps and the aid groups.

Three months later, local worker Suggs drives the volunteers for an R&R weekend at the Lamu island resort. However, to avoid a police blockade delay, Suggs uses a different route. Somali bandits abduct the four grads, but no one claims responsibility or demands a ransom. Back in the states; clamor for an invasion grows stronger every day.

The last time Evan Wells spoke to his father John, he called him a war criminal. Now a decade later, Evan contacts his dad to ask him to rescue the four hostages as he is good friends with Gwen’s sister Catelyn. Though no longer a CIA vigilante and unfamiliar with East Africa, John leaves his New Hampshire home and his lover Anne for the only person who could get him back into the field.

The latest John Wells thriller (see The Shadow Patrol) is a terrific suspense story with plenty of action. Though an excellent Wells tale, much of the superb fresh storyline focuses on the camp, the plight, the bureaucracy and the various bandit groups. Readers will believe they are on the Kenyan Somali border as Alex Berenson, like a writing wizard, provides a strong twisting rescue mission.

Harriet Klausner

To Brie or Not To Brie-Avery Aames

February 9, 2013

To Brie or Not To Brie
Avery Aames
Berkley, Feb 5 2013, $7.99
ISBN: 9780425255544

In Providence, Ohio, Charlotte Bessette owns Fromagerie Bessette better known locally as The Cheese Shop. Carelessly she causes a grease fire in her kitchen because she was distracted by her delicious latest concoction. As usual, Charlotte has a lot going on as she and her fiancé Jordon Pace discuss marital plans; feed the cast performing in her grandmother’s production of Hamlet at the Providence Playhouse; cater the upcoming marriage between her best friend Meredith and her cousin Matthew; and create with the Igloo Ice Cream Parlor magician a Brie blueberry ice cream.

However, a new distraction pops up when the Tourist is found dead inside the Igloo Ice Cream Parlor cooler. The murder weapon is a carton of Brie blueberry ice cream. Police Chief Urso leads the investigation, but Charlotte identifies the corpse as Giacomo Capriotti, estranged abusive husband of Jacky Peterson; the only suspect. Charlotte conducts her own inquiry starting with who notified the New Jersey resident that his missing wife had become a Buckeye.

The latest Cheese Shop cozy (see Clobbered by Camembert, The Long Quiche Goodbye and Lost In Fondue) is an engaging murder mystery starring a courageous amateur sleuth. Though at times comedic, the female support cast too frequently acts more like WrestleMania participants with their back and forth shrilling rather than small Ohio townsfolk. Still series fans will enjoy murder by cheese ice cream as the Bard arrives in Providence.

Harriet Klausner

Night Moves-Randy Wayne White

February 7, 2013

Night Moves
Randy Wayne White
Putnam, Mar 5 2013, $26.99
ISBN: 9780399158124

In Florida, Doc Ford and his friends Tomlinson and Dan Futch find clues that lead them to believe they can locate the legendary five missing bombers that vanished in late 1945. A pilot, Dan flies them over the remote area where they believe the planes crashed. However, their plane fails forcing an emergency landing.

The trio quickly concludes their crash was caused by sabotage as someone wants them dead. All three have enemies with Tomlinson the most likely target due to his dispute with a Haitian drug kingpin and Tomlinson’s companions are considered acceptable collateral damage. Although Dan’s foe is unlikely a killer rather than a sport’s rival, Doc’s black ops work as a hired gun or his marine biologist environmental stands on Sanibel Island’s Dinkin’s Bay could be the motive. Several more near deadly incidents occurs as Doc and his friends plan a counter attack.

The latest Doc Ford thriller is an engaging tale as someone tries to kill Doc and company. The storyline starts with a fabulous exciting opening; the search for the real lost Flight 19. I would have preferred Randy Wayne White stayed with this premise; as the plot loses momentum when the action becomes swamped with several other subplots including the attempted murder mystery and Doc’s potential love life with Hannah Smith (see Gone). Still readers will enjoy this dangerous chess match with several suspects having powerful motives to kill Doc or Tomlinson.

Harriet Klausner

Out of the Black Land-Kerry Greenwood

February 7, 2013

Out of the Black Land
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen, Feb 5 2013, $24.95
ISBN 9781464200403

In circa 1335 B.C.E. Egypt has flourished under the rule of Pharaohs Amenhotep III and his successor son Amenhotep IV. However, Amenhotep IV begins to suffer from terrifying nightmares and changes his name to Akhnaten while also proclaiming there is one god instead of a pantheon of deities and bans their worship. Egyptians are stunned by their ruler’s heresy fearing the wrath of the Gods their Pharaoh chooses to ignore and anger.

He further angers the inner circle of leaders when he selects young peasant Ptah-hotep to the critical oversight position of the Great Royal Scribe; a job the lad does not want as he prefers to remain with his beloved Kheperren (General Horemheb’s scribe) and their dog Wolf. Meanwhile the Pharaoh marries Nefertiti, whose sister Mutnodjme and other ladies devise a scheme to have their Queen birth the heir in spite of Akhnaten being impotent. At the same time, the Dynasty’s leaders conclude their lunatic leader threatens the well-being of the nation.

The first Ancient Egypt Eighteenth Dynasty thriller is a terrific historical that brings to life the tumultuous reign of the “Heretic Pharaoh” as fans will believe they are visiting the “Black Land”. Action-packed with newcomers at court like Ptah-hotep, Nefertiti and Mutnodjme leaning survival methods amidst those who prefer them to go home or die, fans will enjoy Kerry Greenwood’s strong tale as the author’s Australian leads (Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman) take respites.

Harriet Klausner

Holy Smoke-Frederick Ramsey

February 7, 2013

Holy Smoke
Frederick Ramsey
Poisoned Pen, Feb 5 2013, $24.95
ISBN: 9781464200922

In 29 C. E. Jerusalem, a severely burned body is found behind the Temple’s most sacred inner sanctum the veil of The Holy of Holies; a place no one is allowed to venture except for the Jews’ Chief Rabbi and he only on the Day of Atonement. When news of the corpse floods the city, many irate Jew believe heavenly fire burned the intruder for heresy while political and religious leaders like High Priest Caiaphas, raging over messiah-like Rabbi Yeshua of Galilee rallying the masses, insist on learning how this infidel gained access to the Holy of Holies.

The Chief Rabban Gamliel and Greek physician Loukas doubt that God’s wrath killed the violator as each believes a mortal sinner committed murder. They team up in search of a human murderer in order to calm the populace and quiet down the rabble rousing authorities as dealing with the Romans is enough of a problem for the rebellious Jews.

The latest Jerusalem biblical era mystery (see The Eighth Veil) is an enjoyable whodunit as readers obtain a deep look at troubled Jerusalem during a tumultuous period. The leisurely-paced investigation grips the audience with more deaths dividing a split city further. Fans of ancient detective tales will appreciate touring Jerusalem during a time when Jewish leaders, Romans, Jesus, and traders clash.

Harriet Klausner

Brooklyn Bones-Triss Stein

February 7, 2013

Brooklyn Bones
Triss Stein
Poisoned Pen, Feb 5 2013, $24.95
ISBN: 9781464201202

In the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, Widow Erica Donato works part-time at a museum and attends grad school as a history major; but her prime job is to raise her teenage daughter Chris as a single mom. Family friend Joe leads a team renovating the Donato home. Chris, working with the crew, calls her mom informing her that they found the skeletal remains of a young female cradling a teddy bear inside a wall.

The police act at best perfunctory as they seem to prefer to ignore the interred bones and feel mother and daughter should do likewise. Chris needs to know who the victim was while Erica recognizes items buried with Jane Doe from the 1970s. They obtain information from retired reporter Leary who covered the gentrification tactics of the 1970s. As strangers threaten the pair, family friend retired cop Rick Malone ignores Erica’s pleas and affluent developer Steven Richmond hires the mom for no obvious reason while an unknown adversary will kill anyone looking into Jane Doe.

The key to this solid murder mystery is Park Slope today and during the tumultuous 1970s gentrification. The mother and daughter lead couple is each fully developed as Erica is a young widow with concerns and ambitions, and Chris is a typical mercurial teen; while the secondary characters bring out the neighborhood, the family and the mystery. Although some of the actions and decisions by Erica feels out of a slasher movie (stepping into peril) and thus over the top of the Brooklyn Bridge even accounting for New York shtick, fans will enjoy this amateur sleuth tour of the fourth largest city in America.

Harriet Klausner

The Perfect Scream-James Andrus

February 6, 2013

The Perfect Scream
James Andrus
Pinnacle, Feb 5 2013, $9.99
ISBN: 9780786027705

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Detectives John Stallings and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office handle a missing person’s case that neither wants to investigate. Ten days ago, University of North Florida senior Zach Halston vanished. The pair chats with Halston’s Tau Upsilon Fraternity buddies, and they search his two apartments. In one of them Stallings finds a photo of Halston with his missing teenage daughter Jeanie; the case has become interesting for the veteran cop who conceals the picture from his partner and his estranged wife as he has his first lead in three years on an inquiry that matters to him.

Meanwhile, a diabolical avenge-seeking killer wants to hear the spoiled affluent Tau Upsilon members scream while dying. One at a time they are brutally murdered as the serial killer lives for The Perfect Scream.

The latest Detective John Stallings Florida police procedural (see The Perfect Prey and The Perfect Death) is a taut suspense starring several “damaged” individuals including the cops and the killer. Action-packed, fans will enjoy following Stallings who gets around the Sunshine State seeking clues to his missing daughter under the guise of the Halston inquiry. Although the climax feels rushed, James Andrus provides an exciting psychological thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Sweet 16 to Life-Kimberly Reid

February 6, 2013

Sweet 16 to Life
Kimberly Reid
Kensington K-Teen/Dafina, Jan 29 2013, $9.95
ISBN: 9780758267429

After solving several crimes at her school Langdon Prep (see Creeping with the Enemy and My Own Worst Frenemy), teenager Chanti Evans’ ex quasi boyfriend Marci Ruiz and her mom undercover vice cop Lana demand she stop her investigations though she has saved lives. The relationship between Chanti and Lana is further strained because the teen’s absentee father wants back in the lives of mother and daughter just before her sixteenth birthday.

In her Denver Heights family house, Chanti follows the smell of smoke until she sees a fire two houses over. She calls 911 while grabbing a fire extinguisher as the home of her friend MJ and Big Mama is on fire; no one is inside. Chanti knows the fire was deliberate and probably aimed at MJ by her former gangbanger pals. Unable to ignore the arson, Chanti enlists Marco as she tries to help MJ deal with an angry gang member Lux. However the situation turns nastier when Lux vanishes. The cops and the gang suspect the worst from Chanti and MJ.

The latest Langdon Prep young teen street noir is a super suspense with an extremely complex investigation as the intriguing case is far from linear (young readers and us geriatric boomers will need deep concentration). The support cast is solid and the heroine displays depth as leads the inquiry. Readers will enjoy Sweet 16 to Life.

Harriet Klausner

The Trouble with Charlie-Merry Jones

February 4, 2013

The Trouble with Charlie
Merry Jones
Oceanview, Feb 5 2013, $25.95
ISBN 9781608090747

The divorce ending the decade marriage of Philadelphia elementary schoolteacher Elle Brooks and Charlie Harrison is almost a fait accompli. Elle comes home to their townhouse after a night on the town with her friends. Although Charlie moved out weeks ago, she senses he is here. When she feels a light kiss on her nape, Elle becomes disturbed. However, Elle panics when she sees long-stemmed rose on floor. Grabbing a kitchen knife, she looks for the intruder only to find Charlie dead on their living room couch, stabbed to death by a kitchen knife.

The police suspect Elle murdered her husband especially when she cannot explain what she was doing or where she was at the time of his death. Elle fears she may have killed Charlie as her short-term amnesia may be a repression of a memory she cannot accept; made worse by Charlie’s ghost accusing her of murdering him. After consulting with her friends, Elle looks into Charlie’s activities only to find she never knew her mate who not only cheated on her but had connections with nasty people. Each revelation is another motive for her to have killed him; but also for his amoral associates to kill her and for the cops to arrest her.

This exciting paranormal amateur sleuth is a fun whodunit as the more the heroine learns of her late almost ex-husband, the more danger she places herself in as well as she increasingly begins to conclude she may be his killer. Though the living relationship between Elle and Charlie is not developed enough; fans will enjoy the fast-paced investigative storyline as Elle dodges killers, cops and ghosts.

Harriet Klausner