Book Reviews: The Night Season by Chelsea Cain, Shatter the Bones by Stuart MacBride, In Desperation by Rick Mofina, Damage Control by Denise Hamilton, and A Vine in the Blood by Leighton Gage

The Night Season
Chelsea Cain
Minotaur Books, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-61976-3
Hardcover

In this, the fourth book in the series featuring police detective Archie Sheridan, Gretchen Lowell, the beautiful but masochistic serial killer who in previous entries shared the stage with Archie, is little more than backdrop, a recurring theme playing almost entirely offstage.  Gretchen has now been in jail for six months [after having been recaptured].  This time reporter Susan Ward plays a larger role, working almost in tandem with Archie, the cop who lived to tell the tale of the Beauty Killer and has still not quite recovered.  [For the uninitiated, Archie headed up the task force searching for the gorgeous psychopath for ten years before she caught him three years earlier.  She had held him captive and tortured him in ways too lurid to be described here.  It nearly cost him his life; it did cost him his marriage.]  After spending two months in a psych ward, he is now, at 41 years of age, eight months clean of painkillers and six months out of inpatient treatment, and allowed to go back to work in the police department.

The killer which is front and center this time around is the swollen Willamette River in Portland.  But it seems that a human killer is at work as well:  Among those swept away by the flood waters are several who were killed before they were left to drown, poisoned by one of the most bizarre methods one is ever likely to find in a novel.  As the cops investigate, one of their own is an early victim.  There are parallels between the current fictional natural disaster and one which actually did completely wipe out another Willamette River city more than 60 years earlier.

Readers can be reassured that this book does not have any of the graphic descriptions of the pleasures in which Gretchen indulged in the earlier books.  For those that miss the gore, the author notes in an acknowledgement that she will make up for it next time.  With or without those elements the book makes for great reading, as did the others.  It is another suspenseful entry in the series and, as those earlier books, is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2011.

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Shatter the Bones
Stuart MacBride
HarperCollins, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-00-734421-5
Hardcover

[It should be noted that this is the UK edition; the US edition is not yet available]

Alison McGregor and her six-year-old daughter, Jenny, Aberdeen’s huge favorites to win the competition on the hit tv show Britain’s Next Big
Star, have made it to the semi-finals.  Suddenly they are kidnapped, and the ransom note soon received says they will be killed if an indeterminate ransom is not paid within fourteen days.  Contributions are made across the country from their millions of fans.  The police are stymied – there are no witnesses, and no trace of forensic evidence can be found on either the ransom notes or the gruesome videos which the police are examining, and there are absolutely no clues as to who is behind the crime.  Needless to say, the media, and the public, are in an uproar, and the detectives are being hounded by both, as well as by the head of the CID and other investigative agencies.

There is a second story line dealing with a routine drug bust which goes seriously awry, with the drug dealer managing to escape despite handcuffs and the presence of numerous police officers designed to prevent just that from happening.  The ramifications of this are far-reaching and brutal, and very personal for DS Logan McRae.

This latest entry in this wonderful series moves at a slower pace than I remembered the earlier books being, perhaps reflective of the actual way in which serious crime investigations happen in real life.  But trust me, by the time the reader approaches the wrap-up of this well-written tale of celebrity culture run amok, the reader will be turning the pages swiftly to reach the suspense-filled ending as time is running out and the deadline approaches.

Logan McRae, his significant other, Samantha, and the cops on the Grampian Police force who readers have met in the earlier books are wonderfully well drawn.  McRae is a very human and believable protagonist, and I can’t wait for his return in the next series entry. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2011.

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In Desperation
Rick Mofina
MIRA Books, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7783-2948-0
Mass Market Paperback

Before the end of the first chapter of In Desperation, Rick Mofina’s newest entry in the Jack Gannon series, Tilly, the eleven-year-old daughter of Cora Martin, has been kidnapped by two gunmen, who tell her that her boss has stolen five million dollars from them, and that he has five days to return it or Tilly will be killed, threatening the same fate if the police are called in.  In her desperation, Cora calls the only family she has, that person being the brother with whom she has had no contact for over twenty years:  Jack Gannon.

Gannon, a 35-year-old loner from blue-collar Buffalo, New York, is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with a national wire service. And the call he receives from Cora is more unsettling to him than anything he can recall.  When she was seventeen and he was twelve, she was his hero, his big sister protector, until she left some twenty years ago and never returned, leaving her family to embark on a futile search for her over the ensuing years.  Her pleas to Jack to help her find the niece he never knew he had take him from Juarez, Mexico, “one of the world’s most violent cities with a homicide rate greater than any other city on earth, where he has been working on a story dealing with the drug cartels that had taken over every aspect life in that country, and go to the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona where Cora lives. He insists that the police be notified, despite the kidnappers’ threat, which only widens the danger as it appears, as has been widely discussed in the press in the novel as well as the real-life media that surrounds us all, that police agencies in the US have been infiltrated by the cartel members, an acknowledged fact of life in Mexico.

Except for the final few pages, all the ensuing action takes place over a five-day period, hard to believe for all the action that is packed into that time frame.  The reader is teased from the first with references to a secret that Cora will not reveal, something from her past that she convinces herself cannot possibly have any connection with her present crisis.  Cora’s boss, the one who is supposed to have pulled off this rip-off of some very dangerous men, seems to have disappeared, and all attempts to locate him end in failure.

Always engrossing, the book has the high level of suspense typical of Mr. Mofina’s writing.  One quibble this reader had was that I found it less than credible that Gannon, already suspecting that the investigation may have been compromised, approaches a lead, a man with a very unsavory background, giving him full details of the investigation to that point in order to elicit information from him that will give him further avenues to pursue.  But hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.  Jack’s journalistic instincts push him to proceed, and put him in a difficult position – he has a job to do, and a story to write, even as he fights to distance himself from the fact that he is writing about his own family.  Bodies start showing up, killed in gruesome ways, and they must find Tilly before she becomes just one more.  They discover that an assassin, or sicario, has been dispatched to find those missing millions, and to eliminate any loose ends, or witnesses.

Sure to hold the reader’s attention to the very end, the book leads the reader to think he or she knows where they are being taken – but don’t be too sure.  The author has a very sure hand, and surprises are in store.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2011.

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Damage Control
Denise Hamilton
Scribner, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9674-9
Hardcover

On the very first page of the prologue to Damage Control, the terrific new book by Denise Hamilton, the reader meets high school student Maggie Weinstock.  Fast forward sixteen years:  Maggie is now Maggie Silver, divorced, and 33 years old.  The crux of the plot stems from that earlier time frame, when Maggie, in her first two years of high school, met the Paxtons, who became the “golden ones” in her young life.  Before “BFF” became part of the vernacular, their daughter, Anabelle, was that and more – she was everything Maggie admired and, to some extent, envied. And her good-looking brother, Luke, was a Surf God.

Maggie now works for the top crisis management firm in L.A., doing corporate PR.  The newest client to whose case she is assigned is a U.S. Senator with a wife and grown children, a probable candidate for vice president in the next election, whose 23-year-old female aide has been found murdered, in a scenario reminiscent of the one involving Gary Conduit and Chandra Levy a decade ago.  The senator is none other than Henry Paxton, Anabelle’s father, who had been a father figure and a role model to Maggie all those years ago.  Welcome to the wonderful world of “damage control,” or spin.

This novel provides a fascinating glimpse, in a schadenfreude way, into a world about which most readers know little.  Maggie suspects that her past involvement with the Paxton family is what brought the assignment to her desk.  She believes, and tells her colleagues, that no member of that family is capable of murder.  The response is that “everyone’s capable of murder if you give them the right reason.”  But she is determined to prove that no member of the family is guilty. The backstory of Maggie’s friendship with Anabelle, and how it ended, is the lens through which Maggie views the Paxtons.  In the end, it’s all about the secrets we keep from one another.  As with the earlier books by Ms. Hamilton, comprised of the five books in the Eve Diamond series as well as The Last Embrace, a standalone, Damage Control is thoroughly entertaining, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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A Vine in the Blood
Leighton Gage
Soho Crime, December 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61695-004-0
Hardcover

This is the fifth novel in the series, referred to as the Inspector Mario Silva Investigations, and it is every bit as delightful as the others.  “Delightful” might be a strange adjective for a book concerning kidnapping and murder, but it is entirely fitting.

Football [or, as the Americans call it, ‘soccer’] is the most popular sport in Brazil, and the FIFA World Cup the premier event in that sport, and Tico Santos, known as The Artist, is considered the greatest player in the history of the sport.  As the book opens, three weeks before the first game is to take place in Brazil [the only country to have won the Cup five times and hosting the series for the first time in more than sixty years], Juraci Santos, his mother, is kidnapped.  Other victims are Juraci’s servants, two young women brutally murdered.

The effect in the country is devastating – does Brazil have a chance of beating Argentina without their star player?  The headlines speak of nothing else, and the pressure on the police, and on Director Mario Silva, is enormous.  The possibilities are endless: the Argentineans themselves; The Artist’s gold-digging girlfriend; his principal rival, who wants to play in Tico’s place; and a man whose career was destroyed when Tico broke his leg in a match.  Or is it just about the $5,000,000 ransom demand?

The usual complement of background factors of this series is present:  The corruption inherent throughout the justice system and the police [to which Silva, called the “sharpest criminal investigator in this country,” is known as an incorruptible exception], and Silva’s colleagues, including charming Haraldo “Babyface” Goncalves [so called because although he is 34 he looks 22].  There is also Fiorello Rosa, PhD and master kidnapper currently serving a 14-year prison sentence, an unlikely expert consulted by Silva to assist in the investigation, with everyone mindful of the fact that the kidnapped woman is likely to be killed before her abductors can be found.  The terrific writing makes this a fast read, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.