Friday, March 16

The Star by David Skibbins

Review by Diana Bane

If it's been a while since you were last in Berkeley, or if you've never been but would like to go, David Skibbins can take you there, no problem. And I can promise that you'll enjoy the time you'll spend with Warren Ritter -- who, if not quite the archetypical denizen of that Alternative City-by-the-Bay, comes very, very close.

Having read the Tarot Card Mysteries from the beginning, this third in the series (following Eight of Swords and High Priestess) struck me as the best yet.  I do recommend reading the books in order. Although it's not completely necessary, and each book stands well on its own for story alone, there is continuing development of the protagonist from one to the next, adding considerable dimension overall. This growth in a character already in his mid-fifties when the stories start (Warren has turned 56 in The Star) is rewarding in an interesting way: If you are over 50 yourself, then you probably have already noticed that people do change, and the most interesting people are still growing, as they age; and if you're younger, you may find that you have more in common with this "older" man than you thought. There is a secret at the core of Warren Ritter, and as it happens, there are even deeper secrets he's been keeping from himself, as well as the big one he's kept from the rest of the world. By the end of this book three, much has been revealed.

The plot of The Star concerns Warren's new-found daughter Fran, who like Warren is bipolar, her baby son Justin, and her husband Orrin. Orrin, a police officer in Santa Cruz, has been shot and killed with his own weapon. Fran is the chief suspect. Frantic to protect her son, she deposits the baby on Warren's doorstep in Berkeley and flees. Enlisting the help of Rose, his psychotherapist -- and after getting babysitting help from close friends Sally and her foster-daughter Heather --  Warren makes one of his exciting high-speed motor cycle runs to Santa Cruz and begins to investigate. The plot moves on quickly from there.

What I enjoy most about these books are the characters and settings, which ring absolutely true to me -- and I grew up in the parts that David Skibbins writes about. His descriptions of Berkeley and of Santa Cruz are pitch-perfect and uncannily insightful. Warren Ritter is among the most appealing mystery protagonists for me, because he's a survivor with a lot of strength and an equal lot of vulnerability. I was happy for Warren at the close of The Star, because after many scares and frustrations came a highly satisfying resolution. Read it for yourself and find out -- I think you'll be happy too.

Dry Ice by Stephen White

Review by Gloria Feit

 

Stephen White's newest thriller is all about secrets:    "We choose secrecy at some point in our lives—presumably it makes sense to us at the time—and we protect the secrecy through the phases that follow.  Do the facts truly remain dangerous later on?  Worthy of all the subterfuge?  Or does the existence of the secrecy become the real danger requiring protection?... Secrets aren't secrets.   They're just hidden treasures, waiting to be exploited."  Alan Gregory, the Colorado psychologist, returns as the protagonist in this wonderful series.  A ghost from his past ha s come back to haunt him, a brilliant, vindictive and seriously disturbed killer who, in Privileged Information, the first book in the series, was his patient before being sentenced to an indeterminate period in a State mental hospital until such time as he is found competent to stand trial.  Now, fifteen years later, he has escaped, and Dr. Gregory's life will be profoundly affected.  A seemingly innocuous enough incident, a patient noticing a woman's purse lying outside the window of his office, triggers a series of events that will put his life, both personally and professionally, in peril.

 

The trademark suspense of Mr. White's books is present here along with a fascinating tale of the price we all pay for the secrets we keep from even our closest friends and loved ones, and the implicit issue of trust that is involved.  The Colorado setting and the characters, dialogue and plot keep the reader involved right through to the end of this gripping novel.

The Pact by Roberta Kray

Review by Theodore Feit

 

The Pact is a book that is very different, with plot changes and character development so unexpected that the reader needs a road map to follow the curves and developments.  It begins simply: Eve Weston's brother is in jail for a six-month sentence, but on a visit she sees he has been beaten.  In return for her promise to do whatever he asks, she makes a deal with another prisoner to protect her brother.

 

Meanwhile, Eve is recovering from the suicide of her father and the loss of her job because of her close relationship (purely platonic) with her married lawyer superior, misconstrued as an affair.  Then the fun begins.  Her apartment is broken into and ransacked, she is followed, her ex-husband's residence is broken into and ransacked, two men are found murdered and other odd occurrences take place.  What's going on?  Who's responsible?  What is at the heart of these misadventures?

 

As the plot moves forward it becomes obvious that someone believes Eve has something they want, but she doesn't know what it is. All the characters, seemingly unrelated, become intermingled and the mystery unwinds in spectacular fashion.

 

It is well worth reading to find out the reasons.

 

Roberta Kray is the widow of the late, legendary London gangster Reg Kray.  Her first book was a biography of her husband.  This is her second novel.

Murder...Suicide...Whatever... by Gwen Freeman

Review by Theodore Feit

 

Fifi Cutter, half black, half white, makes her debut in this novel, along with her Caucasian half-brother, Bosco, and the publisher hints they will reappear in the future.  They are a couple of characters.  She is an insurance adjuster who lives in an inherited house with no furniture.  He is a ne'er-do-well drifter and sponger.

 

When Bosco turns up on Fifi's doorstep after a hiatus of five years, he presents her with a potential murder investigation, one for which neither is qualified.  It seems "Uncle" Ted Hefferman was found in his office, supposedly dead of a heart attack, but one of his co-workers is convinced he was murdered so the firm could collect $5 million in key man insurance, sorely needed to pay off a judgment.  They are offered compensation to find the murderer (although the money is as hard to get as a solution).

 

It would appear that many of the deceased's co-workers, including his two partners, had motives to slay him.  Among the ruses Fifi and Bosco use in their "investigation" in an attempt to garner clues is to pose as grief counselors to employees of the insurance brokerage firm.  Just one of the many quirky characteristics of the two.

 

For a first effort, the novel is fast-moving and interesting.  The plot is different, although the traditional "closed door" mystery is at its base.   The dangers to the protagonist are several, including the bombing of her vehicle, and the police suspecting her of various crimes.  And, of course, the conclusion is unexpected.

Perish by Pedicure by Nancy J. Cohen

Review by Dawn Dowdle  

As if Marla Shore wasn't busy enough, now she's working for Luxor Products as a styling assistant at a local conference and her fiancé's parents of his dead wife are staying at her house to see whether she'll be a good step mom for Brianna.  And her friend Georgia, who helped her get the job with Luxor, will be staying with her through the weekend conference.

She hopes her work with Luxor will bring her salon more business, especially after she moves to her new location.  She's also hoping to gain more experience and possibly travel with them in the future to other conferences.

Luxor director Christine Parks isn't well-liked.  This is quickly evident to Marla as she gets to know the staff while setting up for the conference.  When Christine ends up dead from poison, Marla begins to suspect everyone and works at trying to uncover the truth.  Unfortunately there is another death.  Can Marla discover the identity of the killer without putting herself and others in danger?  Can she get through this week with Dalton's ex-in-laws in her house?

I really enjoy this series.  Marla is such a fun character.  She just can't keep herself from sleuthing.  Dalton isn't the investigator in this mystery, but he still provides some needed data for Marla to unravel the mystery.  I also like the Florida setting.  

The author has done a great job of creating the characters and plotting the story.  And there are plenty of red herrings and twists so that you aren't sure until the killer is revealed who did it.  I highly recommend this book and the whole series.

Saddled with Trouble by Michele Scott

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Michaela Bancroft is a horse trainer in California.  Her husband is divorcing her for a younger woman with whom he had an affair.  To top it all off, Michaela finds her Uncle Lou murdered when he didn't show up for their breakfast meeting.  Who could have done such a thing? 

Soon Michaela is embroiled in finding the killer.  Plus her aunt asks her to look into a problem with the artificial insemination program her uncle was running for horses.   

Michaela isn't sure who to trust any more.  The more she looks into things, the more she realizes who had possible motives. 

Her father has gotten himself into big trouble with gambling.  Michaela works to help him get out of trouble without losing the family ranch. 

Can she figure out who killed her uncle without putting herself in danger? 

I really enjoyed this book.  You don't have to be a horse lover to enjoy it.  It is so well written.  It is a great cozy and you'll find yourself picking it back up constantly to finish it. 

There are so many wonderful red herrings that it will keep you guessing until the end.   Terrific plot and characters really add to the reading experience.  I highly recommend this book.

The Oxygen Murder by Camille Minichino

Review by Dawn Dowdle  

Gloria Lamerino, a retired physicist, and her fiancé, Homicide Detective Matt Gennaro, head to New York City for a vacation with their best friends Rose and Frank Galigani before Christmas.  They plan to visit Matt's niece Lori Pizzano, a documentary filmmaker.  Rose plans to shop and take in shows and to get Gloria to participate with her as much as possible.  Matt is there to attend an NYPD conference. 

Lori is doing a documentary on ozone and environmental issues.  When Gloria goes to her apartment, she stumbles over the body of her camerawoman, Amber Keenan.   

Later Gloria learns that Amber had been scheming, and there is an abundance of suspects.  Can Gloria enjoy her vacation while finding a killer?  And can she help Lori stay safe in the process? 

Before I read my first book in this series, I worried about it being full of science jargon.  It's not.  The author has done a great job of presenting needed information without taking you out of the story.  And all the technical data is in layman's terms. 

I really like Gloria and Matt.  They are a great couple with real problems and issues to deal with.  The New York location of this book adds to the story and provides great ambiance.  I highly recommend this book and the whole series.

Deadly Laws by Jim Michael Hansen

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Kayla Beck is a law student.  Life is going along well until she receives a strange phone call where the voice is distorted.  The caller tells her there's a woman being held in a box car, and she's the only one who can save her and only if she acts quickly and follows the directions exactly.  Kayla does so and is able to save Aspen White, but not before Aspen kills a man.  They become friends and pair up to try to find the serial killer who called Kayla. 

Denver Homicide Detective Bryson Coventry is called to the murder of a man in a box car.  Then later a law student is found dead by the tracks.  Bryson feels in his gut these cases are related, but he can't find what ties them together. 

Tracking down a car seen at the first crime scene, Bryson arrives at Kayla's apartment only to find Aspen White.  He is drawn to her because she is so beautiful, and they become involved. 

When more young women go missing and end up dead, Bryson realizes he is on the trail of a serial killer.  An FBI profiler, who is also Bryson's friend, comes to help with the case.  She's been tracking this guy for years.  What neither of them knows is that Kayla and Aspen are also looking for the same guy.  Can they find him before he kills again and without putting themselves in danger? 

I have to say this is one book you will have trouble putting down from page one.  The author has done a fabulous job of pulling the reader in and keeping them there.  He has a great knack at switching from one part of the story to another at just the right time.  He will keep you wondering what is going on until the last page.  There are lots of twists and turns and suspense. 

This is the first book I've read by this author.  I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more.  I highly recommend this book!  Just remember, start it when you have lots of time to read. You won't be able to put it down! 

Dry Ice by Stephen White

Review by Gloria Feit

 

Stephen White's newest thriller is all about secrets:    "We choose secrecy at some point in our lives—presumably it makes sense to us at the time—and we protect the secrecy through the phases that follow.  Do the facts truly remain dangerous later on?  Worthy of all the subterfuge?  Or does the existence of the secrecy become the real danger requiring protection?... Secrets aren't secrets.   They're just hidden treasures, waiting to be exploited."  Alan Gregory, the Colorado psychologist, returns as the protagonist in this wonderful series.  A ghost from his past ha s come back to haunt him, a brilliant, vindictive and seriously disturbed killer who, in Privileged Information, the first book in the series, was his patient before being sentenced to an indeterminate period in a State mental hospital until such time as he is found competent to stand trial.  Now, fifteen years later, he has escaped, and Dr. Gregory's life will be profoundly affected.  A seemingly innocuous enough incident, a patient noticing a woman's purse lying outside the window of his office, triggers a series of events that will put his life, both personally and professionally, in peril.

 

The trademark suspense of Mr. White's books is present here along with a fascinating tale of the price we all pay for the secrets we keep from even our closest friends and loved ones, and the implicit issue of trust that is involved.  The Colorado setting and the characters, dialogue and plot keep the reader involved right through to the end of this gripping novel.

In Dublin's Fair City by Rhys Bowen

Review by Theodore Feit

 

Molly Murphy fled Ireland two years before, fearful of arrest for the murder of her employer's son.  She came to New York City in 1909, made friends, met Captain Dan Sullivan of the police department in a somewhat romantic way and opened a detective agency.  So much for the backstory from the previous five novels in the serires. 

 

In this book she meets a rich show producer at a party atop the original Madison Square Garden.  He offers her an assignment to return to Ireland to discover whether his baby sister, left behind because she was ill when the family fled the Emerald Isle during the potato famine, survived.  The producer is a very rich man with no real heirs, and his finding her would benefit the sister if she still exists.

 

With trepidation, Molly accepts the job.  However, as she puts it: she doesn't seek trouble, but it has a way of finding her.  And it does.  Molly begins her assignment with a second class passage on a transatlantic steamer.  Before she can even unpack, she is summoned to the first class cabin of a famous actress, who she also met at the party, asking her to switch cabins and identities, including a maid, so the actress could avoid attention.  On the last day of the voyage, Molly discovers the maid dead in "her" bed, suffocated.  Suspicion is cast on Molly when it is found the actress left the ship before it departed, leaving five trunks behind. < /P>

 

Upon arriving in Ireland, Molly finds the trunks in her hotel room.  She begins her investigation and learns the young girl she seeks indeed survived, but each lead turns out to be a dead end.   Meanwhile she receives instructions to forward the trunks to a hotel in Dublin, where Molly eventually visits.  There she inspects the trunks and sees rifles, presumably for the Irish Brotherhood.   At this point the plot becomes complicated.  When a few men come to remove the trunks, one of them is Molly's brother.  Because of her recognition of him as he flees, she i s kidnapped by the Brotherhood and learns that her older brother is in jail awaiting execution.  Molly volunteers to assist the Brotherhood in attacking the jail in the hopes of freeing her brother and other prisoners.   Meanwhile she is being stalked by someone for some unknown purpose.  And she still fears the police suspect her of various crimes.  It all comes to an exciting end, perhaps the most unusual in the series, and one you shouldn't miss.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Review by Theodore Feit

In this debut novel, the author has created a far-out ghost story which creates wonder and suspense.  It may not be a book for everyone, but those who enjoy the genre certainly will eat it up.  Jude Coyne (nee Justin Cowzynski), a 54-year-old rock star, collects all kinds of weird things—a hangman's noose, a cookbook for cannibals, a 300-year-old confession from a witch, a Mexican snuff film.  Then one day, his assistant tells him of an offer on an auction site: the suit of a dead man and his ghost to go with it.  Jude offers $1,000 and snares the bizarre item.

And that's when the tale takes off.  The ghost is the hypnotist-stepfather of a girlfriend who Jude discarded, and she supposedly committed suicide as a result.  The ghost is sent by her sister in an act of revenge and the trials and tribulations mount as the ghost attempts to convince Jude to kill his present girlfriend and then himself, and Jude and his current paramour try to get rid of their nemesis.

The idea and theme of the book is certainly original and will keep the reader on edge throughout—if he or she is up to the terror and eerie goings-on.  The novel raises the emotions and tingles the nerves.