Book Reviews: The Perfect Suspect by Margaret Coel, Stolen Souls by Stuart Neville, The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld, The Fallen by Jassy Mackenzie, and An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

The Perfect Suspect

The Perfect Suspect
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-425-24348-0
Hardcover

When she wrote Blood Memory, featuring reporter Catherine McLeod, Margaret Coel meant it to be a stand-alone novel.  Well, she waited three years before that changed, and now we have what appears to be a series.

The plot of this entry is pretty straightforward, including politics, unfaithfulness, unrequited love and, of course, Catherine’s doggedness in following the story.  From the beginning, the reader knows who murdered the handsome, charming, adulterous gubernatorial candidate, a beautiful blonde police detective he spurned after a torrid affair, following which she attempts to remove witnesses to the murder (while Catherine attempts to find them).

The Catherine McLeod novels lack the charm and detail of the Wind River Reservation mysteries.  They are, of course, being Margaret Coel novels, well-written and tightly constructed. But somehow Suspect remains somewhat predictable.  Nevertheless it is a good read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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Stolen Souls
Stuart Neville
Soho Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-983-4
Hardcover

After two previous harrowing D.I. Jack Lennon novels set in the time of the Troubles in Belfast and Northern Ireland, Stolen Souls centers instead on the subject of sex trafficking.  A young woman lured from the Ukraine with the promise of working with a family, teaching its children English, instead ends up in a brothel from which she escapes only to wind up in mortal danger at the hands of a madman.

To get out of the brothel she murders the brother of a powerful gangster, setting off a chain of events, including three more murders, which brings the detective inspector into the picture.  He finally traces the whereabouts of the woman on Christmas Eve (all the action takes place during that holiday) and the plot involves rescuing her from the thug’s attempt to murder her in revenge.

The novel is written in powerful prose, with increasing tension and vivid characterizations.   It is quite a switch from the previous noir tales of the violence and fragility of the Irish peace.  But it is welcome proof that the author has the wherewithal to continue writing a series beyond its original dramatic theme.  Jack Lennon is a human and sympathetic policeman with plenty of room to grow.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2012.

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The Death Instinct

Jed Rubenfeld
Riverhead, January 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59448-560-2
Trade Paperback

Following the very favorably received The Interpretation of Murder with this ambitious novel using many of the same lead characters, including Dr. Sigmund Freud, and mixing the story with real historical personages and events, the author has  created a historical piece of fiction with several mysteries intertwined.  It begins with the detonation of a bomb-laden horse-drawn wagon at Broad and Wall Streets, the results of which can be seen today in the pockmarked outer wall of the House of Morgan opposite The New York Stock Exchange.

While the perpetrators of the explosion have never been identified, nor the reason for the deed exposed, the plot attempts to propose a rationale, including a cast of characters, behind it.  Along the way, other themes emerge, including the horrors on the World War I battlefront, the emergence of Freud’s controversial theory of a death instinct in humans, Madame Curie and the effects of radium, kidnapping, assassins, and various other developments.

Well-plotted in a grand manner, the novel combines several genres and should appeal to a broad range of readers.  It weaves into its themes mystery, thriller and history.  What more can be said, except to heartily recommend?

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2012.

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The Fallen
Jassy Mackenzie
Soho Press, April 2012
ISBN:  978-1-61695-065-1
Hardcover

P.I. Jade de Jong organizes a vacation to a seaside resort with her erstwhile lover, David Patel, only to get involved in a murder investigation and a potential ecological disaster.  Some vacation, further complicated by the fact that when David does show up he tells her he is returning to his four-months pregnant wife.  So much for a happy trip

Before David’s arrival, Jade was taking scuba diving lessons and attempting to overcome her fear of underwater activities.  Her instructor, Amanda, is soon knifed to death.  Jade and David undertake to assist the local police in the investigation, hindered by an organized crime conspiracy.

A continuing theme in this series is Jade’s attempts to learn more about her mother, who died when she was merely a year old in the very area in which she is now vacationing.  This novel, as its predecessors, is set in South Africa.  But unlike the former entries in the series, there is much less emphasis on that country’s post-apartheid era and more on greed and revenge unrelated to that part of the nation’s history.

As a rip-roaring heroine, Jade is still in the forefront of rugged protagonists.  The book is a careful examination of the subjects and a superb thriller.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2012.

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An Unmarked Grave
Charles Todd
William Morrow, June 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-201572-3
Hardcover

The Bess Crawford series, in which this is the latest entry, takes place during World War I, with Bess serving as a nurse in France, but usually getting involved in all sorts of crimes, including murder. This time, deaths result not only as a result of the conflict, but the Spanish influenza epidemic and at least four murders, including that of a major who served with her father, the Colonel sahib, in India. Unfortunately, the major had no identification and was buried in an unmarked grave before Bess could supply his name.  But first, she falls ill with the flu and is returned to England to recover.  And it’s quite possible that Bess saw the murderer, placing her in jeopardy.

The rest of the book finds Bess, after recovering from her illness, shuttling back to the front and then returning to England in search of the killer. Of course, there are the Colonel’s mysterious capabilities and super-human contacts within the British establishment which are never disclosed, as well as the abilities of his sergeant-major, Simon Brandon, which permeate the novel, as well as Bess always finding just the right help, be it a person, automobile or telephone, just in the nick of time to make the reader scratch his or her head.  And too often, coincidences arise along the way.

Nevertheless, as in previous books in the series, the battlefield descriptions, the medical efforts to save the wounded and the effects of the conflict on both military and civilians are excellent.  Perhaps the plotting is over-developed, but that is typical of this mother-son writing team, which pays great attention to detail.  Characters are well-drawn but the conclusion is sort of forced.  Over all, though, the novel reads well, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2012.

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