Thursday, June 29

Are You Afraid of the Dark? by Sidney Sheldon

Review by Pat Brown

This is a really bad book. So bad it's almost entertaining. And I'm quite sure Mr. Sheldon isn't at all concerned. I'm sure he laughed all the way to bank with this one.

Now the funny part: it was really bad but I wanted to read to the end anyway. Why? One, I wanted to know exaclty what the bad guy had done in his quest for world domination. (Why is it always world domination? What would really be so great about ruling the world?) This bad guy, Tanner Kingsley is a billionaire psychopath willing to destroy anybody (including his own brother) to be at the top. He's a real scenery chewer without a single redeeming quality.

You better bring a truck load of suspension of disbelief with you to wade through the excesses here. Kingsley apparently already has absolute power over the world through the Internet and various tools he's built over the years. He can casually destroy someone's credit and make their money disappear, he knows when ever one of his victims calls his company anywhere in the world. He has access to airplane reservation databases, can have NYPD homicide detectives transferred at will and apparently has no problems suborning the entire New York taxi fleet. At least that's the only explanation I can think of to explain how the 2 women he's trying to track down leave La Guardia airport and catch a random cab out front to take them to Kennedy and the cab driver calls Kingsley to let him know where the women are. And the cabbie must recognize them, since neither woman gives their name. So in the space of a couple of days at most Kingsley got the photographs of 2 women out to ever taxi driver who services the airports and bribed them to turn the women in when they showed up. What does this guy need world domination for? He's already got it.

And the women! Well, Sidney Sheldon has made his reputation writing about strong, wily woman who make their own way in the world. Their always gorgeus, naturally and usually rich, though sometimes the money comes from a wealthy and adoring husband. The women here are no exception. One, Kelly, is a supermodel (note, not just a model, but a super model) who marries a nerdy scientist.  Their love for each other transcends all boundaries and he cures her of her frigid state (she was raped as a child) in one night by doing absolutely nothing.

The other woman, Diane, is a world renown artist (natch) who also marries a scientist, though hers is debonair and worldly. Neither marriage is ever marred by fights, or harsh words or the kind of normal complaints that all relationships fall heir to - stop leaving the toilet seat up, stop dumping your dirty clothes all over the floor, put you dirty dishes away, rinse out the shower after you use it... no, with these couples it's all 'darling' this and 'honey' that with every sentence. Gag me.

The story opens with the two scientist husbands being killed, along with two other scientists. All work for the Kingsley environmental think tank, KIG. Apparently Kingsley's dream of world domination is about to come to fruition, so in a fit of pure genius, he kills the scientists who got him there. Umm, what if something doesn't work? What if there's a tiny little bug in the process that needs one of those dead scientists to fix it? But then of course these guys were all geniuses, what could possibly go wrong?

Every aspect of the women and their relationship with their husbands is told in flashback. In fact, you can't read more than a few pages before Sheldon throws you back in time as one character or another remembers in excruciating detail about something in their past. Characters in the middle of fleeing for their lives will suddenly be catapulted into the past.

There's no hint at all what the great scientific breakthrough is or how it will give Kingsley absolute power until the very end. Which is about the only reason I kept on reading. Once it is revealed, all Kingsley plans to do with it is blackmail world leaders into giving him billions of dollars. My head filled with visions of Dr. Evil, pinky raised, cackling 'You will pay me one billion dollars'. The problem never mentioned and one that was a big plot hole for me, is that whenever Kingsley uses his 'world domination weapon' he throws a country's economy into a tailspin. How long will his billions be worth anything if he keeps on using it?

Can I, in good faith, recommend this book to others? No. I can't. If you want a good thriller pick up Michael Crichton, David Balducci or Douglas Preston. They know how to tell a believable story with realistic characters.

Tuesday, June 20

Reviews by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards’ acclaimed Lake District Mysteries are The Coffin Trail (nominated for the Theakston’s prize for best crime novel of 2006) and The Cipher Garden. Both are published in the US by Poisoned Pen Press. His seven novels about Harry Devlin include All the Lonely People, short-listed for the CWA John Creasey Memorial Dagger, and Suspicious Minds, both published by Five Star in the US. The author of a stand-alone psychological thriller, Take My Breath Away, he also completed the late Bill Knox’s last book, The Lazarus Widow. In 2002 he published a book about homicide investigation, Urge to Kill.

He has edited 14 crime anthologies, such as the CWA’s Golden Jubilee collection, Mysterious Pleasures, and contributed to many others, as well as publishing Where Do You Find Your Ideas? and other stories. His story ‘Test Drive’ was short-listed for the CWA Short Story Dagger in 2005. A well-known critic and commentator on crime fiction, he has contributed essays to various reference books, including The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing, as well as to a wide range of magazines.

To find out more about Martin Edwards and his work, visit Martin also writes for Mystery Scene and Deadly Pleasures.

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

Thursday, June 15

47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers by Troy Cook

Review by Andrea Maloney

Tara wasn't raised like other children.  Her life didn't involve Barbie & Ken, instead she was playing with Smith & Wesson at a young age.  Her father raised her to be a bank robber and she has become pretty good at it.  So far they have managed to stay ahead of the law using the 47 rules that her father had come up with. Now she is twenty-two and ready to move out on her own but her lunatic father is not keen on that idea and he will go to any lengths to keep her with him.

If that was the only problem in her life things might be ok but it's not. Her and daddy dearest have scored their biggest heist ever in a little town in the Southwest.  Now they find themselves being pursued by the local sheriff, deadly ex-partners and a task force of federal agents who would love nothing more than to catch Tara and her dad red handed. But as if that wasn't enough that's when Tara falls for the son of the local sheriff and things just go from bad to worse quicker than you can say stick 'em up.

Troy Cook has written a wonderful debut novel with an unusual premise. From the very first sentence the story draws you along on a wild crazy joyride thru the lives of some very quirky characters who are a delight to read about. You'll find yourself cheering for some of these shifty and shady criminal characters in spite of yourself.  For when they are good they are very good but when they are bad they are even better.

47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers is a high speed adrenaline filled crime caper novel of the 1st degree.  The writing is well done, the characters are quirky, unusual and  exceedingly delightful and the plot moves along with the speed of a freight train.  Cook has also done a resplendent job of weaving delightfully droll bits of humor throughout the story with a deft hand. A terrific debut novel from an author I know we will be hearing more from.

Friday, June 9

Blood's Burden by Alex Matthews

Review by Andrea Maloney

In the eighth Cassidy McCabe mystery Bryce Palomar is home with his girlfriend Kit when someone breaks in and kills her.  Or did they?  All evidence points to Bryce with the doors being locked, the gun on the scene and a fight heard just before the killing.  Even his father, Zach, has a hard time believing in his innocence. Zach is married to therapist Cassidy McCabe. Cassidy doesn't believe her stepson is guilty and sets out to prove his innocence along with Zach who is an investigative reporter.

Cassidy and Zach find numerous people who might have had motive to kill Kit including a drug dealing boyfriend and a minister father with something to hide. An unexpected pregnancy also gives someone a motive for murder. They are hindered in their investigation by Zach and Bryce's troubled relationship. They have an ongoing power struggle and any time they get together they just can't seem to stop fighting and arguing.  Along the way there is another murder attempt, skeletons in the closet are rattled and this all leads to a breathtaking conclusion.

Although this is the eighth Cassidy McCabe mystery I didn't feel at all lost not having read the previous books. Matthews does a great job at filling in details from previous books needed to keep the storyline flowing. She has created a believable and likeable character in Cassidy McCabe. Cassidy's ever present inner voice gives insight into her inner psyche while adding depth to the story. Matthews does an excellent job at showing how Cassidy is an evolving character with flaws but one who is working on the flaws to be a better person.  Blood's Burden is deftly written, tightly plotted and filled with delightful characterizations. The mystery itself has many twists and turns and will leave you guessing until the very end.

Friday, June 2

Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

Review by Claire McManus

This was my reading group's book for May.  Our last few books have all been relatively recent books (within the last year or so), so we wanted to try something a bit more "classic."   We like books that are very civilized and urbane, which is how we ended up with this book, which was Caudwell's first.  And you don't really get much more civilized than a Venetian setting and a main character, Hilary Tamar, who is an academic.   Of course, as most of you know, the big question is whether Prof. Tamar is a man or a woman.  While we debated the question a bit, we came to the conclusion that (1) there is no answer, and (2) it doesn't matter.   This is exactly how the author wants it!
Most of us enjoyed the book quite a bit.  A word to the wise: You really must love flowery, and purposefully pretentious, language to appreciate this book.   The love for words (logophilia I think is the correct term) is really key to this reading experience.  If you like a more spare, straightforward narrative (which two of our members do – as you can tell from the books we've read for the club in the past), then this is NOT the book for you.
Something we all liked, though, was the true MYSTERY of the book.  There is a murder to be solved through clues and detective work, with a traditional sense of the narrative taking place, the sleuth doing his (or her) detective work, and the solution being revealed at the end of the book.  The mystery genre has been so expanded recently, that it is nice to read something that plays by the old rules.
We were divided on the characters. In the last few books we read, there were many likable characters.  In this one, there seems to be not much room for middle ground – you either love them or hate them.  They are either educated and witty, or idiotic and pretentious, depending on your perspective.  Still, the majority of us enjoyed spending time around them.  
Overall we liked this book and would probably read more of Caudwell.  We decided we'd have to wait a while to do that, though, because because the consensus was that a little of her goes a long way.   The book is like a very sweet truffle or bonbon; as delicious as it is, we need a little time to recover.  This got us talking about 'series' books with the same characters over and over again, which was a completely different discussion too intricate to put into writing!

Thursday, June 1

Deadly Blessings by Julie Hyzy

Review by Andrea Maloney

Alex St. James is a news researcher for Midwest Focus Television in Chicago. She's been assigned to a once in a lifetime interview with a young Polish immigrant who is pregnant by a Catholic priest.  When the woman is found murdered Alex finds herself reassigned to a fluff piece about hair salons and the murder/Catholic Church story has been given to the station owner's nephew, a good for nothing fellow.

But anyone knowing Alex knows she doesn't give up and soon she is back investigating without authority or assistance.  Another murder occurs and some very powerful people will do anything to make sure that Alex St. James investigation never reaches the eyes and ears of the public. 

With the odds stacked against her, Alex struggles to find the truth and bring justice to a young woman whose only dream was to find a better life in America.

Julie Hyzy's first Alex St. James novel introduces a delightful investigator with intelligence and heart. Well written with a storyline that moves along quickly and a plot that has plenty of twists and turns to keep you involved from the beginning until the surprising end.

Hyzy has written a terrific mystery with appealing characters you will come to care for and want to read more about. I found myself deeply involved in this impressive mystery debut and I'm looking forward to learning more about Alex St. James' intriguing friends and eventful life.