Wednesday, February 28

Let There Be Suspects by Emilie Richards

Review by Dawn Dowdle

It's almost Christmas, and Aggie Sloan-Wilcox's mom, June, and sisters, Sid and Vel, arrive for a holiday family reunion.  Only Aggie arrives with their former foster sister Ginger.  Ginger and Sid get along like vinegar and water.  Ginger is very manipulative and controlling while coming off as sweet to those who don't know her so well.  Unfortunately June has always seen the sweet side of her.  Sid has been Ginger's victim too many times to see the sweet side. 

Sid and Ginger's rivalry surfaces immediately, and when Ginger turns up dead, Sid is the logical suspect.  Aggie knows Sid couldn't have killed her, so she sets out to find the real murderer before the police arrest Sid.  Can she do so without putting herself or her family in danger?  And without putting her husband's position in jeopardy? 

Aggie is a fun character.  The fact that she is a pastor's wife really adds to her sleuthing.  Her family and all their quirks really adds to the story.  Often families get lost in the story as the mother sleuths.  Not so in this series.   And the sub-plots don't detract from the story at all.  In fact they enhance it and make it a well crafted mystery with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing to the end.   I highly recommend this book and the whole series.

Poison Pen by Sheila Lowe

Review by Gloria Feit


The body of Lindsey Alexander is found in her LA-area penthouse apartment, in her bathtub Jacuzzi, with what appears to be a suicide note beside the tub.  Ivan Novak, her close friend and business manager, asks Claudia Rose, a noted handwriting analyst frequently called in by the police, among others, for her expert assistance, to examine the note [not trusting the police to have done a proper job] to prove, or disprove, that it was indeed Lindsey's handwriting.  The note consists of six words, not a whole lot to work with.  There is no lacking for suspects:  Lindsey was a woman who made enemies with ease, and at one point Claudia thinks, "Maybe the world is better off without someone who made a career of hurting others."


At one point in time Lindsey, Claudia, and a third woman, Kelly Brennan, had been best friends.  Lindsey had been following the same path as Claudia in handwriting analysis, but had dropped out to forge a very successful career in public relations, with many high profile clients.  But her sadistic propensities had caused Claudia and Kelly to have maintained only the most superficial contact with Lindsey for at least the past ten years.  Now, with events indicating Kelly may become a suspect in what is increasingly believed to have been Lindsey's murder, and beyond authenticating the 'suicide note,' Claudia determines that "she would have to do everything within her ability to uncover the truth."  She also comes to realize that "personal acquaintances make the worst clients."


The resulting tale is fast-paced and filled with interesting tidbits on graphology [handwriting analysis], one that the author is well-placed to do since that has been her profession for over thirty-five years, having authored books on the subject and testified in court as a forensic handwriting expert.


I must admit to having had a problem when Claudia, before the police arrive, takes two items from a crime scene that might be crucial evidence, even given her determination to get to the truth; admittedly the author makes her 'theft' integral to that part of the plot, but it seemed like something someone that sophisticated wouldn't have done.  Other instances stretch credulity as well, as when Claudia puts herself in harm's way on more than one occasion.  That aside, Poison Pen is a good read, and one that I enjoyed.

Trouble by Jesse Kellerman

Review by Gloria Feit

Jonah is a third-year medical student at a New York City teaching hospital, over-worked and stressed out.  One night, having run out of the hospital on a personal errand, he hears a woman's scream, and comes upon what appears to be a murder in progress.  He instinctively intervenes, and the knife-wielding attacker is killed.  The woman, he later finds, has survived with nothing worse than sixty-two stitches.   Nine days later she shows up in his apartment.  They go for a couple of drinks; he is attracted to her, but the evening ends with his failing to get her phone number.  Then, soon after, she appears behind him in a downtown book store and goes back to his apartment with him.   They start seeing each other every day, and what begins as an exciting, intensely sexual relationship becomes something much darker, as implied by the book's title, but so much worse than merely that.


The author is, at this point in his career [this is his second novel, following "Sunstroke"], known primarily as the son of Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, but now coming into his own with this book.  I had a couple of problems with it, specifically, the writing style, which at times seemed jumpy [for lack of a better word].  Similarly, I found it unsettling and a bit disorienting to read about characters whose identities are not made clear, e.g., when it's discovered that one character, Hannah, is the daughter of someone first mentioned a few pages back but not identified at the time and then, a bit further on, someone else who's been a presence in the novel is identified as being her father.  The use of adjectives such as "normative," "japanned," "acidulated," "bactrian," "gravid," "eructing" and "plastinated," and something described as being a "panjandrum" had me thinking I'd better have a dictionary beside me.  The main characters' surnames, somewhat self-consciously, are "Stem," "like a plant, the root of all goodness, the benevolent earth god," [originally Stein], and "Gones" [originally Jones but misspelled at some point in time and still pronounced "Jones"]   All of which serves to pique the interest while at the same time pulling this reader briefly out of the story.  But these things occur early in the book, and as a whole, this is a fascinating and original story, which I must admit at times had me wanting to look away as when one passes the scene of an accident, horrified but needing to see what happens next, and it's got a shocker of an ending.