Wednesday, November 22

Hundred-Dollar Baby by Robert B. Parker

Review by Theodore Feit

 

This novel is pure Spenser.  And we thank Mr. Parker for it.  'nuff said.

 

April Kyle has appeared in two previous Spenser novels.  In each, Spenser tried to save her from herself.  It is no different this time.  But she's her own worst enemy, as always.

 

There is no point in recounting the plot line because it would only spoil the reader's suspense.  And when it comes to a Spenser novel, there is always plenty, along with great dialogue and good fun.   So get a copy and enjoy.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Review by Theodore Feit

 

In an intricately plotted novel, the lives of the characters intertwine in a totally unexpected fashion   It took us a while to find and read it, and are we glad we did.   How the author managed to weave it all together is beyond comprehension.  The book begins with a series of what appear to be short stories.  But then, slowly we begin to learn about the lives and circumstances of each character.

 

There is Theo, an overweight solicitor and attorney-at-law who dotes on his 18-year-old daughter, Laura.  He asks her to take a part-time position at the firm, and on her first day there a man in a yellow golf sweater bursts in looking for Theo, who is elsewhere.  He slashes the arm of a partner and Laura's throat.  She bleeds to death.

 

Then we have the Land family—four daughters.  One night three of them sleep in a tent in the backyard and the three-year old goes missing along with her favorite toy, a doll called Blue Mouse, which is discovered many years later upon the death of the father, locked in his desk drawer.

 

Michelle and Shirley are involved in the axe murder of Michelle's husband; Michelle is convicted and sent to jail.  The couple's baby is handed over to the incapable paternal grandparents and when she is 15 she runs away.

 

Finally we have Jackson Brodie, a private detective who is retained in each case, either to discover the murderer or find the missing person.  It is his role to tie all three mysteries together.  Each family and Jackson himself represents dysfunction, insecurity and all kinds of shortcomings.   The descriptions are penetrating and human, with unusual twists.  Yet there is a hint of optimism despite the sordid background as the novel progresses.  Each story probably could have stood on its own as a novel, but somehow the author weaves them together very well.

 

Jackson returns in the author's most recent novel, One Good Turn, previously reviewed.  In that novel, he plays an entirely different, but equally interesting role.

Carbs & Cadavers by J. B. Stanley

Review by Dawn Dowdle 

James Henry is a former English Lit professor.  He has come back home to Quincy's Gap, Virginia, to take care of his father after his mother's death and his divorce.  His father isn't a very nice person.  James was lucky to get a job as the local librarian, and now he has no social life.  He just hides among the books at work and eats cheese puffs. 

When he hears about the supper club, he figures he can stand to lose fifty pounds and he might make some friends.  He jumps at the chance to join.  He meets Lucy Hanover who works in the sheriff's department and is attractive.  She'd like to be a deputy someday.  He also meets Lindy, Gillian, and Bennett.  They decide to call themselves the "Flab Five."  Each of them needs to lose weight, but they all seem to have dreams and aspiration.  I think that's what made me like them so much. 

James and his fellow dieters end up in the middle of a murder investigation when someone mysteriously drops dead in the Sweet Tooth Bakery.  Soon James finds himself looking forward to the next meeting of the supper club.  But can they stick to their diets and find the killer without putting themselves in danger?  And what is James' father doing in the shed all the time? 

I really enjoyed this book.  I read it in two days.  The characters are so much fun.  You might think that a mystery set around dieting would be boring.  Not in this case.  You will laugh out loud at their antics.  The supper club is such a fun idea.  I just wanted to keep reading.  Can't wait until the next one is out!  I highly recommend this book.  I hope she writes fast! 

Sonnet of the Sphinx by Diana Killian

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Grace Hollister is still staying in the Lake District.  She has just sold her first book, and is enjoying her time with the charming antiques dealer and ex-jewel thief Peter Fox.   

Peter recently acquired all the antique furnishings and papers from an old farmhouse.  They begin to sort everything out.  Grace discovers an old letter that refers to a Shelley sonnet, "Sate the Sphinx" that has never been published and is now lost. The writer appears to have disappeared during World War II not long after writing it.  Unfortunately before they can sort the rest of the papers, boxes and boxes of papers, to try to find the sonnet, everything is purchased back by the current owner. 

Hayri Kayaci was a guard in the Turkish prison Peter served some time in.  He shows up at Rogue's Gallery (Peter's gallery).  He demands the return of an item that Peter has no idea how to obtain.  He threatens to extradite Peter if he doesn't cooperate. 

Soon after that, Hayri is found murdered.  Peter is the prime suspect.  Grace is conflicted on whether she thinks Peter did it. 

In the meantime, she is hot on the trail of the sonnet.  She is trying to piece together the life of the man who discovered it and wrote about it.   

Can she find the sonnet and evade the person trying to kill her?  Will she be able to figure out who is the murderer? 

I really like Grace and Peter. They are such fun characters.  The Lake District setting really adds to the story.   

I was sad to learn that this is the last in this series at this time.  I hope the author is able to locate a new publisher fast so that we can have many more adventures with Grace and Peter. 

I highly recommend this book.

Murder in Steeple Martin by Lesley Cookman

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Libby Sarjeant is helping to produce a play at an exciting new venture, the Oast House Theatre, in a Kentish village.  The play depicts true events from Peter's family's past during the hop-picking era.  Some family members are not too happy with this play being produced. 

Some strange things begin to happen with rehearsals.  In the midst of all this, Libby finds herself with a new romance with Ben.  She never expected that to happen.   

Will the stirring up of the old murder bring tragedy to the play and the people in it? 

I really like Libby.  She is such a wonderful character.  She is good with the people in the play.  I only wish the Oast Theatre was a real venue to go watch the play and meet Libby.  I recommend this book.

Deadly Trail by Marilyn Meredith

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Deputy Tempe Crabtree arrests Nick Two John for slashing the tires of a logging truck during a protest.  On the way to the jail, he repeatedly begs for his freedom.  He believes that with her Native American heritage, she should understand she should understand what the loggers represent and not arrest him.  Then he offers to reveal a secret information if she'll release him.  While she is curious to know the information, she does not give in. 

She begins to regret that decision when Andre Donato, owner of the Bear Creek Inn, collapses and dies in the kitchen when Tempe and her minister boyfriend Hutch are there eating dinner.  It is ruled a heart attack until another worker collapses with similar symptoms.  She is saved, but it becomes evident that both people were poisoned. 

The police center their investigation on Nick Two John.  Deputy Crabtree is convinced he didn't do it, but she is soon pushed out of the investigation.  She comes up with other suspects with good motives and begins to investigate on her own. 

When she becomes the target of the killer, she knows she's close, but can she discover the identity of the killer before the killer takes care of her? 

I highly recommend this book.  It is the first I've read in this series.  It won't be the last.  Deputy Crabtree is a very likeable character.  Her son and fiancé really add to the story.  The townspeople do too.  I like the setting.  It is a very fast and enjoyable cozy read.

The Wrong Drawers by Misty Simon

Review by Dawn Dowdle 

Ivy Morris is unsure of this in-home demonstration party her best friend Bella is having.  She offered to help just to get out of the house.  Ever since her dad came to visit, she can't get much time to herself, or for her and her hunky boyfriend Ben.  When she sees the cookies she is to decorate, she begins to understand the type of demonstration they'll be having. 

Not long after she speaks bad of Tarrin to Bella, Tarrin is found murdered, and Ivy was the last one to see her alive.  So, she is the prime suspect.  To make matters worse, Bella refuses to talk to Ivy for some time after the murder.  And her dad refuses to leave town until she is cleared. 

Ivy is determined to clear her name, if for no other reason than to get her dad to leave town so she and Ben can have some time together.  Then strange things begin to happen.  Ivy's store The Masked Shoppe is broken into.  Ivy is attacked and left in the closet.  She gets packages delivered that she didn't order. 

Can she unravel the mystery of who killed Tarrin and what that has to do with her without putting herself in any more danger? 

I really like Ivy.  She is such a enjoyable character.  There is a lot of humor in the book.  One thing I really appreciate is that even with the questionable subject matter, the author keeps the book to a PG-13 rating.   

I can't wait until the next book publishes in this wonderful cozy series.  I highly recommend this book. 

Death by Committee by Carole Shmurak

Review by Dawn Dowdle 

Professor Susan Lombardi vowed when she got tenure that she wouldn't be on any more committee at the college.  Unfortunately she gets asked to be on the committee to decide tenure for Abby Gillette.  Abby is a very controversial teacher.  Susan's will be the deciding vote. 

A group of supporters of Abby's start causing trouble on the campus.  And when a suspicious fire sends one of the committee members to the hospital and then another is found dead in Abby's office, Susan must try to find out who is behind all this.  Could it be the group of supporters? 

Susan begins to dig deeper into everything to try to sort things out.  Can she do so without becoming the next victim? 

I really enjoy this series.  Susan is such a fun character.  The college campus setting is so entertaining.  It's a great cozy and you'll devour it in no time!  I highly recommend this book.

Fools Rush In by Sunny Frazier

Review by Gloria Feit
   

Fools Rush In, the first full-length novel by Sunny Frazier, opens with a moment from the mind of a young man who is dying from a lethal heroin injection:  "Faded green curtains danced in slow motion away from the window.  A spider on the sill hung precariously on the strands of a web.   Time slowed to a dusty crawl.  The young man licked his lips with great effort and relished the sensation of his tongue against the dryness."  The about-to-be-victim has been a confidential informant for the narcotics unit in Central Valley in the San Jacquin Valley of California, and the sear ch for his killer takes the police, and the reader, into the world of narcotics trafficking, its denizens and its victims.  The undercover detective to whom the unfortunate young man reported enlists the aid of his ex-girlfriend, Christy Bristol, a clerk in the Sheriff's Dept., who hobby is casting horoscopes, despite the fact that he is and always has been a non-believer in astronomy – that conflict had led to their breakup - but now that very hobby has brought him back to her door, and will also place her in harm's way.

 

This reader has a small problem with the concept that a drug dealer and head of a gang would say to one of his cohorts: "…but you're not the brains of this outfit.  I was in the lead spot when we rode and I've stayed at the head of the formation all these years because I've got leadership qualities.  Says so in my horoscope."  But I guess that's where the willing suspension of disbelief comes in.

 

Fools Rush In is an enjoyable novel, and Christy an interesting and likeable protagonist.  I must admit to never having been one to follow astrology, but the author makes the subject very interesting.   And I loved Christy's observation that "Pluto was still considered a planet in astrology-speak."  Ms. Frazier gives the book a very satisfying ending.

By the Chimney with Care Edited by Tony Burton

Review by Theodore Feit

 

There are 17 short stories and one poem in this slender volume, all revolving around the Christmas season.  Some have been previously published elsewhere.  There are tales of burglars posing as Santa getting stuck in the chimney attempting to enter a home (and getting arrested), and a missing young woman discovered stuck in a chimney while trying to deliver a surprise gift to her boyfriend.

 

Other stories describe thefts of Christmas gifts from under trees.  And a few murders as well.  One yarn is by the editor (and publisher), a heart-felt description of a young Vietnam-era widow and her small son's stolen Xmas gifts.

 

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, the profits from this book will go to the Toys for Tots Foundation to brighten up some children's Holiday.  So you can read the stories and feel good for an even better reason.

Blinded by Darkness by Tony Burton

Review by Gloria Feit
 

The peaceful calm of a small Southern town and its church members is disrupted when several occurrences take place: 3 dozen parishioners are sickened after a church potluck dinner; the church itself is vandalized; one of the church members, a man who has donated property on which a badly needed new church building is to be constructed, is killed in a suspicious 'accident;' the tires of the Pastor's vehicle are slashed; and someone tries to run him and his wife off the road, and succeeds.  Although Pastor Thomas Wilson hates to suspect any of the church members of being behind these events, it is becoming obvious that that is indeed a possibility.  The church council had approved the building of the new church, but not everyone agreed that the large expenditure entailed was necessary.  And there are some wh ose interests would be better served if a proposed commercial establishment was erected on the site instead.  Pastor Thomas resolves to try to the get to the bottom of these increasingly violent incidents before they escalate further:   "Lord, give me wisdom, and help me to understand this puzzle.  I'm no detective, but if I'm to minister to my flock, I have to know who to trust and who I can't trust.  And I have to know how to minister even to those who are killers."

 

Blinded by Darkness is a quick, eminently readable novel, with all mysteries resolved and an ending that put a smile on my face.


Blood of the Lamb by Michael Lister

Review by Diana Bane

Michael Lister is the real deal and so are his books -- this is a man who writes what he knows and does it well.

THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB is the second of three books so far that Lister has written with protagonist John Jordan, a prison chaplain at a Florida prison. The author himself is a resident of Florida and was a prison chaplain for seven years before he took the leap of writing full-time. He's handling difficult material here on a couple of levels, the prison setting with all its heavy, claustrophobic nature, and the moral/spiritual message inherent to the main character. That Lister manages to walk a narrow line without falling off in both these matters is no small feat.

The plot centers on a visit of an Evangelical Christian preacher to Jordan's prison, a minister who is a born-again ex-con. Although as chaplain Jordan should have been consulted before scheduling a guest minister into his chapel, the warden did not do so, perhaps because the warden's nephew works as a bodyguard to the preacher. The preacher brings his wife and young daughter, Danielle, with him. Little girls inside the walls of prisons are an absolute no-no, and Jordan is incensed … and worried. He is right to worry, because the little girl is killed inside Jordan's locked office during the prayer service. It was obvious on first sight that Danielle was adopted, since both the parents are white and the little girl was black. There is racial tension all the way through the story, and it is a factor in dealing with the child's death. The investigation is closely akin to a classic locked-room mystery, but the prison and the prisoners are so realistically portrayed that the classic elements are far from obvious.

Lister writes well. John Jordan is a moral and spiritual man who struggles with his faith, and struggles too with the stereotype that the word "Christian" has become, particularly in the Deep South. Very seldom does this become tedious, and it is never in-your-face. Nor does the spirituality of the writing get in the way of advancing the plot, particularly since it's integral to the protagonist's character development.

Yet I have some concerns for Michael Lister as an author, precisely because he does this so well that his book is not likely to be carried by the so-called Christian bookstores, yet there is a bit too much of specific spirituality for the mainstream. Because he writes so well, he may be able to overcome this obstacle and I hope he does. The first book in this series is THE POWER IN THE BLOOD. The third, which was just recently published, is The Body and the Blood. I will certainly try to read them all, and I wish him great success.

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

Review by Theodore Feit 
 

This novel is the second in the Detective Inspector Erlendur series, and was the winner of the CWA Golden Dagger Award, with good reason.  It has arrived in the United States to great critical acclaim, also with good reason.  This review is no exception.

 

The mystery opens with the discovery of a bone—a partial rib.  Further investigation results in the discovery of a buried skeleton.  Erlendur enlists the aid of an archeological team to uncover it, which painstakingly takes most of the rest of the novel.   Meanwhile the inspector and his team follow up clues despite the fact that the skeleton appeared to have been buried about 70 years before.

 

This is a grim tale of two dysfunctional families.  We know from the debut novel that Erlendur has his problems, having walked out on his wife 20 years before, and suffers poor relations with his daughter and son.  His daughter is an addict and irresponsible, and early in this book phones her father for help.  After a frantic search he finds her, seven months pregnant, lying in a pool of blood in the street and in a coma.   She remains in a coma after surgery, and in several visits to her hospital room, we learn some of the factors in Erlendur's past which have contributed to his personality.

 

The other family is the heart of this mystery.  The father is an abuser, the mother long suffering from physical and mental torture; there are two sons and a crippled daughter.   They live in a hillside chalet rented from a man whose fiancée disappeared many years before.  Is it her skeleton?  Or is it someone else?

 

Indridason has followed up a most excellent first novel with one of equal quality.  It is a gripping tale from start to finish.  As in the initial novel in the series, the translator has done a more than workmanlike job.

The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

Review by Gloria Feit

 

The Grave Tattoo represents something of a departure for Val McDermid, although admittedly this reader hasn't read everything this author has written.  If memory serves, however, Ms. McDermid's prior works are quite a bit darker than her newest novel, which deals with murders past and present, tho the murders take place off stage.  The former is a body discovered in a bog which apparently is 200 years old, nicknamed Pirate Peat for its location and the fact that the body showed signs of tattoos typical  of the South Sea Islands and thought by some to be that of Fletcher Christian, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, or infamy.  Christian was known to have had relatives in the area whe re the body, or what was left of it, was found.  More intriguing still is the fact that it appears possible that when he returned to the Lake District of England, he told his tale of what had transpired on that fateful journal to his friend, William Wordsworth, who in turn may have committed that tale to a long narrative poem which, if it truly exists, would be worth a fortune, both in money and scholarly fame.  At least that is the line of thought being followed by Jane Gresham, a native of the Lake District herself and a Wordsworth specialist, who is tantalized by such a possibility.  After the body's discovery, Jane takes a study break from her university seminars [and her part-time waitressing job] in London to follow up the possibilities of the existence of such a document.  But when she starts seeking out and interviewing the descendants of the last person known to have had the putative papers, someone appears to be murdering them, though the police are none too sure the deaths are murders as the victims are all quite elderly and their deaths might easily be from natural causes, albeit suspiciously coincidental.  But when attempts are made on Jane's life, that certainly seems to indicate that there is a murderer about.

 

The Grave Tattoo is more of a historical novel than one expects from Ms. McDermid, and a genre this reader generally shies away from.  But the quality of the writing is exactly what one expects from this author, and I soon found myself caught up in the mystery of the long-ago murder victim, a section of whose writings appears before each chapter, as well as the present mystery, and the suspense builds up to the solution of both at the very satisfying conclusion.

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason

Review by Theodore Feit

 

This novel, now out in paperback, was published in hardcover a year ago, and we've been tardy catching up to this wonderful new author.  He's on a par with the best of them, Rankin, Mankell, Connolly, et al. And the setting is different: Iceland.  His protagonist, detective Erlendur, also holds his own with the best of them, Bosch, Rebus and their confreres.   He's moody, intuitive, introspective, dogged and morose:

 

"You think," he muses, "it won't affect you.  You reckon you're strong enough to withstand that sort of thing.  You think you can put on armour against it over the years and can watch all the filth from a distance as if it's none of your business and try to keep your senses.  But there isn't any distance.  And there's no armour.  No one's strong enough.  The repulsion haunts you like an evil spirit that burrows into your mind and doesn't leave you in peace until you believe that the filth is life itself because you've forgotten how ordinary people live.  This case is like that.  Like an evi l spirit that's been unleashed to run riot in your mind and ends up leaving you crippled."

 

The body of an old man is discovered, murdered in his basement apartment, unleashing a series of events and secrets as the investigation unfolds.  It is possible that the victim was a rapist some 40 years previously.  Clues and forensic evidence lead Erlendur forward into revelations that have been hidden for decades.   Jar City was a collection of organ specimens collected and saved at the medical school in the past for research and study.  Among them is the brain of a four-year-old girl who died of a brain tumor.   Genetic coding plays a part in uncovering the truth of her death and provides an essential link to the ultimate solving of the mystery.

 

The sequel to this fine novel, Silence of the Grave, was published last month, and is next on the agenda.  Stay tuned.

The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin

Review by Theodore Feit 
 

The G8 Summit Meeting in Scotland during July, 2005, provides the background for this latest—and perhaps penultimate---Rebus novel (Ian Rankin has been quoted as having started on the last but promising not to kill off the dour detective).  The setting allows the author to sound off on a variety of political topics:   third world debt, arms sales to these needy nations, poverty at home, big business vs. funds and programs for the impoverished.  Additionally, Rankin's knowledge of contemporary music—the combos, albums and songs of the past couple of decades--threads its way throughout.  And in the middle of the G8 conference are the London underground and bus bombings and the Live8 concert.

 

Days before the world leaders are to arrive, on Friday, July 1st, while at Gleneagles, site of the meeting, being briefed on the overwhelmingly tight security, Siobhan (Shiv) Clark , Rebus' Sergeant, wanders off to the woods where local residents hang mementos of their dear departed on tree branches.  There she finds a patch cut from a jacket worn by the victim of an unsolved murder (a bouncer at one of gangster Ger Rafferty's clubs, thus bring Rebus' arch enemy into play).  SOCO and forensics soon find two additional mementos of unsolved murders.  Are they related?  Clarke is given until the following Tuesday to work the situation as head of the inquiry, with Rebus assisting providing a role reversal of sorts and setting t he stage for his usual insubordination.

 

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, a popular MP falls to his death from a rampart on the castle.  Is it an accident, suicide, murder?  Rebus draws the case.  Complicating the time line, Shiv's parents are attending the protests, and her mother gets hit in the face and taken to the hospital.  Believing this may have been an act of police brutality, she wastes a lot of her limited time looking for the culprit.

 

Needless to say, all these factors contribute to a tightly woven tale in the usual Rankin style which somehow drifts to a somewhat unsatisfactory and unfulfilling conclusion.  However, Rebus, being Rebus, provides us with hope that he'll never give up.  And, frankly, we hope that Rankin won't either.


In This Rain by S. J. Rozan

Review by Gloria Feit

In an odd coincidence, having recently finished reading’s S. J. Rozan’s In This Rain, I read an article in that morning’s edition of the New York Times dealing with the new designs just made public for Ground Zero, referring in its opening sentence to “the mediocrity we have come to expect from a planning process driven by political opportunism, backdoor deal-making and commercial greed.” These are precisely the issues with which Ms. Rozan deals in her wonderful new book.

A scandal in New York City involving the ever-burgeoning construction industry following a death at a building site results in a plea-bargain by a bribe-giver and –taker, and a prison sentence for Joe Cole, a cop with the City Department of Investigation who, though innocent, still feels guilt for being too fixated on getting to the ‘top guy’ in the scheme to see the potential danger in shoddy practices that ultimately resulted in death. Now, having served two and a half years in prison and out on parole, and having lost, perhaps forever, his reputation, his wife and his daughter, he is contacted by his former partner, who is investigating [and wants to enlist Joe’s help in] a whole new, but startlingly similar situation involving possible corruption in the construction of a huge new development in Harlem, with some heavy hitters, wealthy and with influence in high places, involving more tha n one death, both ’accidental’ and homicidal. The ensuing probe reaches the highest levels of local government, and threatens careers and, increasingly, lives.

S. J. Rozan is an author who reels you in slowly. Unlike others who try to grab you with an opening sentence, or paragraph, or chapter, Ms. Rozan steadily pulls the reader into her story, and the lives of the compelling characters depicted. The groundwork, and background, and events from which the rest of the story flows, consume about the first 100 pages of the book, by which point the reader is thoroughly ‘hooked,’ and by which point, in her inimitable style, the author has immersed the reader into big-city politics [as well as racial politics], construction moguls, and the greed and ambition that drive them.

The reader is presented with an intricate puzzle, not unlike that created in Absent Friends, this author’s previous stunning standalone novel. And when you think you know where the plot is going, Ms. Rozan throws an unexpected curve that takes the book, and the reader, off in another direction when, in her words, the cat becomes the mouse. The depiction of New York, often in the rain [as implied by the title] in this book, is always a particularly special ingredient of this author’s work. The book has everything – terrific writing, pulse-poundin g, hold-your-breath moments, suspense – S. J. Rozan has another winner.

Ask the Parrot, A Parker Novel by Richard Stark

Review by Theodore Feit 

 

Master criminal Parker encounters  more troubles in this follow-up to Nobody Runs Forever by Richard Stark, better known as Donald Westlake.  It seems that if anything can go wrong, it will.   The story opens with Parker trying to evade a wide search for him and two confederates following a bank heist in Massachusetts that went wrong.  Just as the dogs are about to find him, he is rescued by a man pointing a rifle at him, who takes Parker back to his house.

 

Then the fun begins.  Right off, his rescuer is visited by a neighbor to inform him that the State Troopers are asking everyone to join in the hunt for the fugitives.  So he and Parker join the posse.  One of their team members mistakenly shoots a harmless bum in the belief that he is one of the bank robbers, and Parker has to talk him out of giving himself up to the troopers (since Parker obviously would be exposed).

 

Later, Parker's rescuer tells him he is a whistleblower to whom nobody listened, was fired from his job at a local racetrack and knows how to get his hands on the weekend's take—a couple of hundred thousand dollars, if Parker would help him (the reason he rescued Parker).  Meanwhile twin brothers have come to the conclusion Parker is one of the bank robbers and would like him to share his ill-gotten wealth.  The only problems are that the loot was abandoned and the .serial numbers are known, even if the money were available.

 

The plot progresses and Parker and his rescuer, who is more interested in revenge than the money, undertake the caper—but not without several more mishaps.  The story is a lot of fun, and is a fast read.  Parker certainly is a different type of character than the usual protagonist.  After all, he is one of the bad guys.   Nevertheless, you can't help but liking him—he has principles.

The Collectors by David Baldacci

Review by Theodore Feit
 

The Camel Club has reconvened in this sequel to the book of that name.  The unusual foursome, led by Cemetery caretaker Oliver Stone (nee John Carr, former CIA operative), also includes Caleb Shaw, who works in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Co1ngress, which provides the starting point of this mystery.

 

Caleb comes to work one morning to discover the body of his boss, Jonathan DeHaven, dead, of undetermined but apparently natural causes, perhaps a heart attack (although he had received a clean bill of health the previous day at Johns Hopkins).  This death followed the assassination of the Speaker of the house, and the burning of his home.  These seemingly unrelated events set the stage for a haphazard investigation by the Camel Club.

 

Joined in their effort by Annabelle Conroy, con artist par excellence, the group encounters a master of murder who leads a spy ring selling secrets to foreign terrorists.  Along the way, Oliver is kidnapped, as are Caleb and Annabelle, by the opposition.

 

A couple of side stories provide some amusement.  Caleb is named executor of Jonathan's rare book collection in which he discovers a very rare book—the first ever printed in the United States.  Only 12 are known to exist and this is the 13th.  Is it real or a fraud?  Then there is Annabelle's long con in which she bilks a murderous Atlantic City casino operator out of $40 million.

 

Tightly written, this novel is as entertaining as its predecessor.  After it is all over, Oliver and Annabelle, who was married to Jonathan for a year and gave him the gift of the rare book, are left musing about the past and the future.  She came to Washington to attend Jonathan's funeral, changing her plans to flee the country to avoid capture by the casino operator.  Why is she still there?  Perhaps to set the stage for a third Camel Club adventure?  If so, we'll look forward to it.

Slay Ride by Chris Grabenstein

Review by Gloria Feit

 

The mid-December day starts out for Scott Wilkinson, a 30-year-old MBA advertising executive from New Jersey, in not extraordinary fashion:  he must catch an early morning flight out of Newark Airport to Dallas on a routine business trip, and his limo driver, after arriving late to pick him up, drives in manic fashion in order to get him to the airport within Scott's tightly structured time schedule.  A perfectly usual thing for any young businessman in the NY Metro area to experience.  Except that this limo driver, Nikolai Kyznetsoff, against whom Scott lodges a complaint, is not at all ordinary (ex-KGB among other things), and he vows vengeance against Scott, who he feels has ruined his life – he is fired as a result of the incident.  And, to paraphrase the Hulk, you wouldn't like to make Nikolai an gry – and he is very, very angry - and he knows where Scott lives.

 

Almost precisely one year later, Scott's life intersects with that of Christopher Miller, a 50-year-old FBI legend.  Chris has a wife and a six-year-old daughter he adores, and has been on limited desk duty after a superior exacted his punishment when Scott took the spotlight away from him in a headline-making capture.  Chris has become involved in a police investigation of Russian mob activity in Brooklyn which leads back to the aforementioned Nikolai, and finds he must extricate Scott from a precarious situation, which in turn puts his own life and that of his family in danger.  The action is fast and furious, and the suspense builds to an exciting conclusion.

 

This is the start of a promising new series, with Chris Miller as the protagonist, from Mr. Grabenstein, previously the author of the much-enjoyed Tilt-A-Whirl and Mad Mouse, and in mostly the same light-hearted vein [if one doesn't count the violence and murders] as the previous novels.  Not to be taken too seriously, it's a lot of fun, with just enough suspense, and just in time for the holidays [which play an important part in the plot].

The Second Mouse by Archer Mayor

Review by Theodore Feit 

 

Joe Gunther, veteran Vermont Bureau of Investigations detective, wanders in one day, being in the neighborhood, to the site of an apparent death by natural causes.  The scene already is in the hands of a local cop, but the situation appears to be a little unusual, leading Joe to look into it further.   From this innocuous beginning develops a complex and suspenseful tale.  Although there are no clues or signs of violence, Joe is intrigued, more by instinct than anything else.

 

Although suicide is a reasonable assumption, Joe and his team discover various facts that make them wonder about a few suspects.  Following a trail of false leads and half-truths, they begin to unravel the circumstances of the death, only to uncover a series of other crimes.  Serendipity often plays a part in solving mysteries.  And this novel is no exception.

 

The characters and topography always play a part in this author's writing, and these attributes are no exception in this novel.  From the highways to the Green Mountains, the reader is brought into the atmosphere of New England.   The writing and plotting are superb, and one should only sit back and enjoy the book.

 

Recommended.

Kidnapped by Jan Burke

Review by Gloria Feit

 

The name of the murderer in Kidnapped, Jan Burke's wonderful new novel in the Irene Kelly series, is made known to the reader in the book's first sentence, as Cleo Smith has just killed Richard Fletcher as the book opens.  But lest you think there is no suspense in the ensuing pages, think again.  Though we know the name, the identity and the "why" of the murder s another matter entirely.   And the murder is just for openers.  At the same time Richard is killed, his four-year-old daughter, Jenny, disappears.  A year later, Mason, one of Richard's sons, is tried and convicted of the murder, and sentenced to prison; Jenny has never been found, although her mother is convinced she is still alive.

 

The Fletchers are a well-known family in and around Las Piernas, CA.  The patriarch, Graydon Fletcher, and his late wife adopted twenty-one children over the years, as well are raising others as foster children, and many of their offspring have done likewise.  Fairly self-sufficient unto themselves, they keep their children close, limiting their interaction with other children, establishing private schools which most of the children have attended, or home schooling them.  The members of the Clan, as some of them refer to the family, include members of most of the professions: doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, a policeman, etc., so they can rely on their own for most of their needs.

 

Five years after the Fletcher murder and kidnapping, Irene Kelly, reporter on the Las Piernas News Express and wife of a homicide detective in the Las Piernas Police Dept., has just written a major story on missing/kidnapped children (discovering in the process that nearly 800,000 children were reported missing in just a recent one-year period in the United States-a staggering number).    Meeting one of the many members of the Clan, Caleb Fletcher-who is convinced of his brother's innocence-Irene agrees to help him in his ongoing search for the truth, and for his missing sister.  The search takes Irene into unexpected discoveries, in the process putting her in danger.  She learns that, as one character says, "It has always been about the children."

 

I had one problem with this book:  when the identity of the murderer is made known, it required a big suspension of disbelief on this reader's part – the revelation was fascinating, but somewhat implausible, as was the character itself.   That notwithstanding, the book is very well-written and suspenseful, and another enjoyable entry in this series.

 

Recommended.

Herr Schnoodle and McBee by P. K. Paranya

Review by Dawn Dowdle 

Alexander McBee has become a private investigator.  He has trained by watching re-runs of Magnum P.I., Rockford Files, and other old detective series on the television.  He comes upon a strange dog who becomes his partner.  Herr Schnoodle is not the most attractive mix of schnauzer and poodle, but he knows how to investigate.   

They begin to get more cases as they are able to solve them quickly.  They meet Apple Sally, a local street woman.  McBee is intrigued by her, but he can't figure out why.  Then there's the beautiful Darcy, the gossip reporter out to scoop McBee's cases.   

Soon McBee realizes there is more to Apple Sally than meets the eye.  Can he uncover her past without alienating her or letting Darcy break the story before he's ready?  Can he keep investigating his cases without letting on about Herr Schnoodle's part, especially to Darcy?   

McBee is definitely a quirky character, but that's what makes him interesting.  I really enjoyed this first book in this series.  I look forward to reading many more.  The setting and other characters is well written and I feel as if I've been there and met everyone.  I highly recommend this book. 

The Orkney Scroll by Lyn Hamilton

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Lara McClintoch is asked to look at a rare Mackintosh writing cabinet for one of her wealthiest clients.  On her word, he purchases it.  Only to find out it's a fake.  The dealer who sold it to him is found murdered the next day with an axe in his head. 

They arrest Lara's client, but she doesn't think he did it.  She assists the police and finds a couple of invoices for the cabinet.  She begins to wonder if there might have been two cabinets.  But how can she prove it? 

She ends up going to Orkney Islands to prove her client's innocence.  This is where one of the cabinets was to originate.  She ends up pulled into a Viking saga from centuries before.  Plus there are lots of inconsistencies and mysteries to keep everyone guessing, including Lara.  Can she discover the truth without putting herself in danger? 

I love this series.  Lara is such a great character.  She knows her antiques, and I love the trips she takes.  I get to go to lots of exotic places I'll never see.  So I "see" them through Lara's eyes.  The descriptions are wonderful. 

I highly recommend this mystery, as well as the whole series.

The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library by Alice Kimberly

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Penelope Thornton-McClure and her aunt Sadie own the Buy The Book bookstore.  They head out on a stormy night to look at some old books of Peter Chesley, an old friend of Sadie's.  Turns out to be an extremely rare collection of Edgar Allan Poe's complete works.   

There is a rumor that there is a secret code hidden within the books' leather-bound pages, and that it leads to buried treasure.  Bad thing is that as Pen sells off various valuable volumes, everyone who has bought one is murdered. 

PI Jack Shepard, the resident ghost of the bookstore that only Pen can hear helps her work on solving the case.  The police believe most of the deaths were accidents, but Pen and Jack are certain that isn't the case.  Can they discover the identity of the killer without putting Pen in harm's way?  Plus what about the secret code and buried treasure.  Is there anything to the rumor? 

I love this series.  Pen and Jack are such likeable characters.  Usually I have trouble with mysteries with a ghost, but this series is so well written that it doesn't bother me in the least.  The bookstore setting is so natural and so is the fact that Pen gets involved in unraveling the mystery.  The additional people in the story are well written and add to the story. 

I highly recommend this book and the complete series.

Murder of a Smart Cookie by Denise Swanson

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Skye Denison is organizing the First Annual Route 66 Yard Sale as her new summer job. She got fired from the first two, and is now working for her uncle. The main reason she took this job was to get enough money to purchase the house she's been renting. Bad thing is her uncle rented out her house to Faith Fairchild, tv personality, who has come to film a "Faith Finds Special" during the nine-day yard sale.

Skye ends up jumping through hoops to keep her uncle happy and keep peace with everyone during the yard sale. This isn't easy.

In the meantime, her parents aren't speaking to each other. Skye is staying with them and ends up in the middle. How can she get them back together? And if that isn't enough, a couple of students from the high school where she works are having problems, and one of them goes missing during the yard sale.

Top it all off when Cookie Caldwell, her former summer-job boss, is found murdered. The sheriff suspects Skye, so Skye sets out to clear her name. Along with that, Skye's love life gets more complicated.

Can Skye find the real killer, patch up her parents' relationship, find the missing teen, keep the yard sale going to get her bonus, and figure out her love life all before the yard sale ends?

I love this series. Skye is so much fun. When I read a book in this series, it's like sitting down with an old friend and catching up on the latest. It is so well written and Skye and the other characters in the series are so well crafted that you forget you're reading a book. I always find these books to be hard to put down, and this one was no exception.

I highly recommend this book and the whole series.

The Dead Sea Codex by Sarah Wisseman

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Lisa Donahue is in Israel examining some ceramic object for loan to Philadelphia's University Museum where she is curator.  She is also an archaeologist, and is very interested in some ancient papyrus she discovers. 

She runs into her ex-boyfriend Greg Manzur.  They met seven years ago when she was here during her junior year to study archaeology.  Now she's engaged to a dr.  She doesn't want to revisit her relationship with Greg. 

But, when he tells her about the ancient manuscripts he is searching for and she tells him about the ancient papyrus she has discovered, they join forces.  There are people out to find the manuscripts to destroy them, and they will also destroy anyone who tries to hinder them in their quest.   

Can Lisa keep things professional with Greg?  Can they locate the manuscripts before anyone else and without getting injured along the way? 

This is a great book.  Such a fast read, too.  You won't want to put it down.  Lisa is a well-written character and the fact that the book is told from multiple points of view only enhances the story.  The location is wonderful.  The author has a great way of making you feel like you are there with Lisa.   The search intensifies and you often don't know who is good and who is bad.  I highly recommend this book.

Blood Relations by Rett MacPherson

Review by Dawn Dowdle 

Torie O'Shea is a local historian and genealogist in New Kassel, Missouri.  There's been a drought and as the depth of the Mississippi River lowers, a steamboat wreck, believed to be The Phantom which wrecked in 1919, has emerged.   

There are many rumors, but the most prominent one seems to be that there was a cache of diamonds on board when it wrecked that have never been recovered.  Soon treasure seekers from all over arrive in town.  The sheriff, her step-father, has his hands full trying to keep people away from The Phantom.   

After someone is killed, Torie and her friend, a reporter, dig for the truth.  At the same time, Torie is trying to deal with the news of a half-sister she never knew she had.  The wreck gives her a diversion, but her personal turmoil must be dealt with as well. 

Can she find out the truth about the wreck and the diamonds as well as come to grips with the existence of her half-sister?  What kind of relationship is she willing to have with her new half-sister? 

I really enjoy this series.  Torie is such a wonderful character and New Kassel is a great small town setting for this terrific cozy series.  The townspeople are great, but yet they are very realistic.  I feel as if I have been a visitor in their town by the time I finish a book in this series. 

The steamboat wreck and the turmoil over finding about her new half-sister work well together.  The author has done a great job of interspersing them but yet keeping them separate.  I really enjoyed this book and love the series.  I highly recommend this book!

Death Waxed Over by Tim Myers

Review by Dawn Dowdle 

Harrison Black, owner of At Wick's End, decides to have a table at the Founder's Day celebration in New Conover, NC, to try to increase his business in the face of possibly being run out of business.  Gretel Barnett has recently opened Flickering Lights and had vowed to put At Wick's End out of business. 

At the Founder's Day celebration, Harrison doesn't hear the shot that kills Gretel, but he is soon the prime suspect of the shooting. 

Although Harrison would rather leave the investigating to the police, he is soon pulled in to help clear his name.  In the process he gets pulled in deeper and deeper.  Can he uncover the killer and save At Wick's End? 

I thought was a great installment in the candlemaking series.  I really like Harrison Black.  I don't know anything about candlemaking, so I always feel like I learn something when I read the books in this series.  

This cozy series is wonderfully set in a small town.  The author has captured the feel of a southern small town.  The interaction between Harrison and Eve, his employee who was thrust upon him when he inherited At Wick's End, is progressing at a very believable pace. 

I look forward to reading more in this series.  I highly recommend this book.

On the Run by Lorena McCourtney

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Ivy Malone is on the run in a motor home.  She's trying to hide out from some Mafia thugs who want revenge.  She ends up in a small town in the middle of nowhere.  

Ivy has done some sleuthing in the past, so when she stumbles across two dead bodies, she feels right at home looking in to it.  Only problem is the police don't think it was murder.  They believe it is a murder/suicide.  Ivy is not so sure.   

Abilene, a hitchhiker that Ivy befriends, and Ivy end up working together to try to figure out who the killer is.  Can they do so without putting themselves at risk? 

You will laugh out loud with this LOL (little old lady)!  I devoured this book in two days because I just couldn't put it down.  I wanted to find out what would happen next! 

Ivy is such a fun LOL and Abilene is a great addition.  I hope she'll be in future books.  I think these two characters worked well together, and with Ivy traveling, she needed a "sidekick." 

I hope there'll be many more books in this series.  I can't wait to read the next one!  I highly recommend this book and series.

The Nitrogen Murder by Camille Minichino

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Retired physicist Gloria Lamerino and her homicide detective fiancé Matt Gennaro are in Berkley, CA, to help her friend Elaine prepare for her wedding.  Elaine's fiancé, Phil, is a fellow scientist, but he rubbed Gloria wrong from the minute she met him. 

Phil's daughter's EMT work partner is shot dead by what is believed to be a mugger.  Gloria is soon suspicious because of the information Phil seems to have about the shooting and the patient his daughter was helping transport when her partner was shot. 

Gloria's suspicions of Phil soon alienate Elaine, but when Phil goes missing, everyone joins together to try to locate him.  Plus Gloria is sure that this has something to do with his work and the shooting.  Can she find him in time to save the wedding? 

I really like Gloria.  Even though she is a scientist, I don't feel these mysteries are written so that laymen can't understand even the scientific talk.  I like that.  This is a great cozy series that is such an easy read.   

This one being set in California was fun.  It was Gloria's old stomping grounds from years ago, so she knew people and places.  Made it all more believable.  I highly recommend this book and the series.

Duty Free Murder by Lori Sandys Lapierre

Review by Dawn Dowdle 

Elsa Michaels Mercy has a best selling mystery, and she and her husband Ran decide to take a cruise to celebrate.  They want this to be a quiet second honeymoon.  They've never been on a cruise before. 

They end up paired with some very obnoxious people, and then Elsa is pursued by overzealous fans.  They don't feel they have much privacy on this cruise.  Then when there is a murder and another jewel theft, she is asked to help find the jewel thief.  This puts her in danger more than once.  

Can she discover the thief and murderer before they stop her? 

This is the first I've read by this author.  I really enjoyed this great cozy Christian mystery.  I look forward to reading many more by her.   

Elsa and Ran are such a wonderful couple and the author has done a great job in creating them.  The cruise ship was a fabulous setting for this book. I've never been on a cruise, but I felt like I had by the end of the book.  I think she did a wonderful job with the way she described it. 

I highly recommend this book.