Book Reviews: The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan and The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill

The Last Dead GirlThe Last Dead Girl
Harry Dolan
Berkley Trade, October 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-27382-1
Trade Paperback

Billed as a prequel, this novel is a carefully constructed murder mystery which begins one night on a lonely dark road, a chance encounter between David Loogan, riding along in his truck, and Jana Fletcher, a young law student, standing next to her inoperable car. What follows is a brief 10-day love affair. Until one day David enters her apartment to find her lying on the living room floor, murdered.

As usual, the lead detective suspects the boyfriend, but there is no proof. Released, David is fixated on learning the truth about Jana and follows his nose, investigating her past and discovering a death in the past that might be related to hers.

The novel moves ahead straightforwardly, and the mystery unfolds so that it comes as no surprise when the killer is disclosed, but not before red herrings are introduced. It is a well-written story, well worth reading, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Axe FactorThe Axe Factor
A Jimm Juree Mystery #3
Colin Cotterill
Minotaur, April 2014
ISBN: 978-1-250-04336-8
Hardcover

I have enjoyed reading this author’s Dr. Siri series, so approached this new Jimm Juree Mystery with great anticipation. Unfortunately, the mystery alone is what the novel is all about. Jimm, a former high-powered crime reporter in her former habitat, now lives with her nutty family in southern Thailand where she is basically unemployed and at loose ends. That’s how one gets into trouble, and she does.

Basically, the plot is two-fold: how Jimm interviews a farang (European) writer and becomes sexually involved with him and also becomes enmeshed in a conspiracy in which a serial killer plays a part. Naturally this places Jimm in danger, while her love affair raises the suspicion of her grandfather, an ex-cop, who enlists the rest of the family to spy on the author.

Written in a light tone with many witty observances by Jimm, the novel sadly plods along and results in a slow read. It seems very unlike the author’s other efforts (especially the Dr. Siri series), which are delightful. Perhaps the next one will pull it all together.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2014.

Advertisements

Book Reviews: Murder in the Worst Degree by F.M. Meredith and Runaway Man by David Handler

Murder in the Worst DegreeMurder in the Worst Degree
F.M. Meredith
Oak Tree Press, March 2014
ISBN 978-1-61009-145-9
Trade Paperback

Although Murder in the Worst Degree is the tenth book in F.M. Meredith’s Rocky Bluff PD series, you don’t need to have read the nine previous novels to pick up on the action. I believe the several characters would’ve been easier to keep track of if you’d read the earlier books, so this is a hint that you might want to read a couple of those first. It’s not completely necessary, though, and it isn’t long before you learn who is who. And the setting—the California coast—is so vividly depicted you can almost taste the salt air. I loved the foggy scenes.

The story begins with a couple surfer dudes discovering the battered body of an elderly man in the water. Turns out he didn’t drown, which brings a murder investigation to the fore. Suspects are rampant. The men and women of the Rocky Bluff PD are soon knee deep in not only contending with a new chief of police, the murder, and what may be a serial rapist on the loose—when an earthquake hits. Good stuff, for sure.

F.M. Meredith ties up all the loose ends concerning the mysteries, and doesn’t neglect the drama of her character’s lives in this most enjoyable short novel.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Runaway ManRunaway Man
David Handler
Minotaur, August 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-01162-6
Hardcover

Benji Golden is the eponymous protagonist in this newest book by David Handler, so called because since he got his license as a p.i. he has gotten a reputation for tracking down young runaways. His late father was a hero cop, a homicide detective whose exploits were made famous when a movie was done about his capture of a subway serial killer who had terrorized New York City a couple of decades ago. Since his death a couple of years back the p.i. agency he’d founded is run by his widow, Abby, who had the distinction in her youth of being “the only Jewish pole dancer in New York City,” under the name Abraxas (nee Abby Kaminsky from Sheepshead Bay). Baby-faced Benji (nickname “Bunny”) still calls her “boss,” to which she strongly objects. They are ably assisted by Rita, a gorgeous 42-year-old computer wizard who was a lap dancer back in the day, and Gus, their “grizzled office cat.”

When a partner in a white-shoe Park Avenue law firm comes into their office and wants to hire Benji to find a young man, a college senior who has gone missing and who is apparently about to inherit a considerable amount of money from an unnamed client, the very large fee offered makes it difficult to turn down, despite the enigmatic way in which the situation is presented: No names, no clues, and no mention of the law firm’s name allowed. Benji, being the resourceful investigator that he is, and assisted by a cop who was like a big brother to him, his father’s mentee, Lieutenant Larry “Legs” Diamond (I loved that!), does track down the young man in question, but at some cost: Several murders soon take place, the ensuing investigation at one point leading to a gathering of the strangest bedfellows imaginable, including the Police Commissioner. Benji’s own life becomes threatened, but he is determined to find out who is behind these crimes, and hopefully stay alive in the process.

This was one of the most enjoyable reads, and protagonists, I’ve come across in a while. The writing is sprinkled with terrific wit and humor. The author also includes a lot of fascinating New York history, of much of which I, a life-long resident of the city and its suburbs, was unaware. Parenthetically, this Brooklyn-born-and-raised reviewer loved that Benji’s mother and grandmother were raised in that borough (and I forgive him for having a poster of NY Yankee great Derek Jeter hanging on his wall), and that he loves original soundtrack albums of great Broadway musicals. Runaway Man is a quick and terrific read, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2014.

Book Reviews: Accidents Waiting to Happen by Simon Wood, Vanishing Girls by Katia Lief, All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara, and If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

Accidents Waiting to HappenAccidents Waiting to Happen
Simon Wood
Thomas & Mercer, November 2012
ISBN:  978-1-612-18402-9
Trade Paperback

Josh Michaels, a young man with a wife and little girl he adored, while driving back to his home in Sacramento, California, is forced off the highway and into the river in what appears to be an accident born from what he thinks of as reckless stupidity on the part of the other driver.  But the actions of that driver, before he gets back into his car and speeds away, convince Josh that it is anything but. Josh survives the ‘accident,’ but starts to doubt his ability to continue to survive the ensuing events, all appearing to be accidents by increasingly obviously [to him] staged attempts to end his life. Josh is staggered as he comes to this unavoidable conclusion and cannot believe that he is the target of a killer, but has no choice but to accept this fact and attempt to figure out who wants him dead, and why, if he is to survive.  To make matters worse, if that’s possible, past indiscretions and errors in judgment are now coming back to haunt him.

At Chapter 4 the reader meets “the professional,” the man hired to kill another person, a woman, as well as Josh.  Who has hired him?  Is there a connection between the two intended victims [something not readily apparent]?  And what is the motive?  As ‘the professional’ himself muses, “a seemingly motiveless murder was just as hard to solve as a well-planned accident.”

Simon Wood has fashioned an exciting and well-written novel of suspense, with a nail-biting conclusion during which this reader held her breath in anticipation of what new horrors might be in store.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls
Katia Lief
Harper, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-0620-9504-6
Mass Market Paperback

Karin Schaeffer, ex-NYPD and now a private detective, working with her husband at MacLeary Investigations, in the newest book by Katia Lief, becomes embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer dubbed The Working Girl Killer.  As you might guess, the victims have all been killed in the same manner, with the same exact type of weapon, and were all prostitutes.  Seven young women had been found dead across Manhattan, then two in Brooklyn.

At 38, Karin is now seeking an undergraduate college degree in forensic psychology.  She has not had an easy time of it, having survived the murder of her first husband and her daughter six years ago, and just recently had a miscarriage.  She dotes on their little boy, Ben, though still grieving for her losses.  As the book opens, Ben receives a text from Billy Staples, a detective at their local precinct in Brooklyn and Mac’s closest friend, from a crime scene that Billy believes to be where the serial killer has left his latest victim.  Eerily, a little girl is found badly injured several blocks away after what is believed to be a hit-and-run accident.  The cops feel the two things could somehow be connected, as the location and timing seem to rule out coincidence.

Billy had been fighting his own demons.  He has been hunting this killer for over a year. At the same time, Mac and Karin believe he is having hallucinations, suffering from PTSD after a horrifying incident when the woman he loved had tried to kill him, instead leaving him blinded in one eye; he had been forced to shoot her dead.  The current investigation triggers all his symptoms again, and envelops Karin as well to a very personal degree.

It is an interesting plot, telling a very dark tale that stayed with this reader for quite a while after turning the last page.  I have to admit, however, that after having read – –  and loved! – – the author’s two previous books, You Are Next, and Next Time You See Me, I felt this one did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  And though it was an interesting read, in the end I was disappointed.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All Mortal FleshAll Mortal Flesh
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-01855-7
Trade Paperback

All Mortal Flesh, the fifth in the Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series, finds Clare, the parish priest in the small Adirondack, upstate NY town of Millers Kill, and Russ, the local police chief and married man she loves, having just wrenchingly ended their relationship.  The following day, an even more devastating event occurs:  Russ is told that his wife, from whom he had recently separated when he told her of his love for Clare, has been brutally murdered.  Loving Clare, yet still loving his wife, matters are only compounded when both Clare and Russ are considered prime suspects, not only by the police but by the local gossip-loving town residents.

With her usual adroit skill, Ms. Spencer-Fleming has written another wonderful tale of these very human protagonists in this book, available for the very first time in a trade paperback edition.  The sense of place is vivid, and the wintry weather graphically evoked. There is a slam-bang ending with a final unexpected and stunning turn as this suspense-filled tale concludes.  An excellent and fast-paced read, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sacrifice FlySacrifice Fly
Tim O’Mara
Minotaur, October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00898-5
Hardcover

Raymond Dunne is a very dedicated schoolteacher, working with eighth-graders in a middle school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and taking the welfare of his students very seriously.  In particular, one of the most promising, Frankie Rivas, has obtained a scholarship to a private high school on the basis of his baseball skills and the fact that Ray has called in a favor from their coach.  When Frankie fails to show up for school for a couple of weeks, Ray decides to try to find out why.  His visit to the home of the boy’s father results in his discovery of the man’s dead body.

Ray’s involvement at that point derives as much from his concern as his teacher as from the fact that Ray is a former cop.  His feelings when he walks into his old precinct are made palpable to the reader, his emotions roiling as he remembers back five years, when “you fall thirty feet, and your whole life changes.”  Among those changes are the physical ones; Ray has an umbrella with him every day, knowing it has to rain sometime; besides, it means he doesn’t have to carry a cane.

Frankie and his younger sister are nowhere to be found, and Ray follows up every lead he can find in order to locate the two children and ensure their safety.  Then the pace, and the suspense, move into higher gear, beyond the “controlled chaos” of Ray’s classroom, and the stakes go up as well.

When one has a terrific protagonist [with a valuable friend, a wannabe cop, nicknamed “Emo”], a well-developed plot, writing that makes the Brooklyn streets come to life and, as the title might imply, a lot of baseball references, what more could one ask?  [Well, this reader had to get past the fact that Ray is a Yankee fan, although he does don a Mets cap when the situation requires it.]  This is a wonderful debut novel from a writer whose next book I will anxiously await, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If You Were HereIf You Were Here
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-220835-4
Hardcover

In her ninth novel, and second standalone, Alafair Burke introduces McKenna Jordan, a writer for the fictitious NYC Magazine.  Before her marriage five years ago, she was McKenna Wright, who had spent four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, a job she lost in the aftermath of a police officer’s shooting of a 19-year-old youth, there being a question as to whether or not the boy had been unarmed, the gun found nearby planted.  McKenna’s zealous investigation into that incident, accusing the officer of homicide and perjury, ultimately caused her disgrace and ended her prosecutorial career.  This was soon followed by another, only slightly less traumatic event, when one of her best friends, beautiful West Point grad [and daughter of a two-star general] Susan Hauptmann, disappeared without a trace.

Now, all these years later, a cell-phone photo comes into McKenna’s hands showing a mysterious Superwoman, a female crime victim who had plucked her attacker’s body from the subway tracks to safety, who McKenna believes is that same friend, who she had become convinced was long dead.  Susan, an athletic 32 years old who had been deployed in the Middle East prior to the time of her disappearance, could have easily been capable of the feat in the subway station.

There ensue a series of bizarre and seemingly unrelated incidents that this reader never saw coming, including but not limited to a mysterious private operative [hitman?  private detective?  something else altogether?], a dead cop, someone hacking into and forging e-mails, and no clue as to who is pulling the strings.  The author somehow manages to tie them all up in a relentlessly intriguing plot.

Another well-written book by this author [who gives a tip-of-the-hat, without needing to name his completely recognizable protagonist, to Lee Child, which I loved], and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2013.

Book Reviews: Not Dead Yet by Peter James, The Destroyed by Brett Battles, Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman, and Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith

Not Dead YetNot Dead Yet
Peter James
Pan Macmillan
UK: Hardcover, June, 2012, ISBN 978-0-230-74726-5
UK: Paperback, Sept. 2012, ISBN 978-0-33051-557-3
US,  Minotaur, Nov. 27, 2012, ISBN 978-0-31264-284-6, Hardcover

This is a tale of obsession, in all its infinite variety and manifestations, some more lethal than others but mostly just a matter of degree, with neither gender being excluded from its clutches. There are enough seriously disturbed characters here to populate several novels, in a few different story lines.

The main plot deals with the discovery of an unidentifiable body whose headless, armless and legless torso is discovered on a chicken farm in East Sussex.  As if that isn’t enough, the area is faced with an at once wonderful and problematic event:  a major American superstar [think Lady Gaga, in fact the fictional counterpart is named Gaia] is about to arrive from Los Angeles, with her entourage and film crew, to Brighton, England, the city where she was born, to star in a film which will chronicle the love affair between King George the Fourth and his mistress Maria Fitzherbert. Needless to say, her hordes of obsessed fans converge on the city as well.

A second story line revolves around another obsessive, the target of this one none other than DS Roy Grace, in charge of the Major Crime Branch of Sussex CID.  But a resolution, if any, of that one awaits a successive novel, I suspect.  The personal lives of Grace and of Glenn Branson, to whom Grace is a mentor, get a lot of the focus in this, the eighth series entry, as Grace’s fiancée, Cleo, is in her last month of pregnancy, and Branson, who has become a “long-stay lodger” in Grace’s house since the latter moved in with Cleo, is facing child custody problems in the aftermath of his now-dead “marriage-from-hell.”

Cavil:  It bothered me when, as happened frequently, the p.o.v. jumped around, sometimes without identifying the person from whose point of view the chapter was being told.  I assume this was intentional, but it was somewhat disconcerting.  As well, I felt that perhaps the first two-thirds of the book was somewhat bloated and repetitive, causing this reader’s attention to wander, a first for any of this author’s books.  No wandering attention in the approximately last third of the book, I hasten to add, when the plot lines start to come together with more than one climactic scene, with a finish you’ll never see coming. All in all, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The DestroyedThe Destroyed
Brett Battles
Brett Battles, March 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4776-3551-3
Trade Paperback

In my last review of a Brett Battles novel (The Collected, published in October of 2012, and the seventh and penultimate [so far] entry in this series), I noted that Jonathan Quinn, the protagonist whose job it is to discreetly clean up crime scenes, remove bodies and get rid of nasty, incriminating stuff like blood, and his protégé, Nate, had become colleagues, rather than mentor and apprentice.  In this, the sixth Quinn book, the reader finds out how that came about.

The tale opens in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when a man keeps an appointment scheduled through an enigmatic e-mail from what is apparently a non-existent address.  A fateful meeting it is, as the man soon falls [jumps?  is pushed?]  to his death just as he is about to keep his appointment with one Mila Voss, the person who is central to the fascinating plot fashioned here.  [Note that this occurs on page 21 of the book, so no spoiler here.] When security cameras show a disguised but recognizable Mila rushing to the spot where the body landed, a furor is raised in “the secret world”: The woman was supposed to have been killed six years ago, and Quinn was the one tasked with disposing of the body, which he duly reported he had done. Conspiracies, corruption in high places, powerful men who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, all combine to serve up another terrific thriller.

In addition to Tanzania, the story takes the reader to Stockholm, Sweden; Lucerne, Switzerland; London; Rome; Las Vegas; San Francisco; Atlanta, Georgia; Virginia; and, early on, to Bangkok, where Quinn took refuge nearly nine months prior following the events in the prior series entry.  That self-banishment gave rise to Nate becoming “a full-fledged cleaner, running Quinn’s business on his own.”  As Quinn notes when Nate succeeds in tracking him down, “There was something older about Nate, his edges sharper and more defined.  There was a confidence, too.  While Nate undoubtedly had more to learn, he was now a professional who could stand on his own.”

Those who have not yet read the subsequent series entry, The Collected, should waste no time correcting that situation.  Both of these are wonderful, suspense-filled reads, and are highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PotboilerPotboiler
Jesse Kellerman
Putnam, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-399-15903-9
Hardcover

The reader has an inkling of what’s in store from the cover of Jesse Kellerman’s new book, which appears to show a typewriter keyboard of sorts, the various keys or buttons displaying words such as “assassinate,” “coup d’etat,” and “war.”

The first page of the book is filled with what appear to be blurbs by no less eminent writers than Stephen King, Lee Child, Robert Crais and various highly respected reviewers, which on closer inspection are very funny and relate to books written by one William deVallee, “noted author of more than thirty internationally best-selling thrillers” whose protagonist is one Dick Stapp.  The protagonist of Potboiler is Art Pfefferkorn, who had known deVallee longer than anyone, including his wife [with whom, it should be said, Pfefferkorn had been in love].  The two men, best friends, had thirty years ago both been aspiring writers.  While Bill had achieved great fame, Pfefferkorn had only had one book published.

The book takes off in a completely different direction at about one-third of the way through, part satire, part fantasy.  Devious, unsettling and frightening things begin to happen.  There are several memorable lines regarding writing, e.g., “good novels enlarged on reality while bad novels leaned on it” and “If one could not express something in an original way, one ought not to express it at all,” and points out the “similarities between spying and writing:  Both called for stepping into an imagined world and residing there with conviction, nearly to the point of self-delusion.  Both were jobs that outsiders thought of as exotic but that were in practice quite tedious.”

A highly original and delightful read, Potboiler is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bear is BrokenBear is Broken
Lachlan Smith
The Mysterious Press / Grove/Atlantic, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-8021-2079-3
Hardcover

Leo Maxwell has just formally become a member of the California State Bar. He is a man who does not think “ethical criminal defense attorney” is an oxymoron, perhaps putting him in the minority, certainly among the San Francisco police and the District Attorney’s office.  His older brother, Teddy, is a member of that fraternity, a brilliant lawyer and one of the most sought-after criminal defense attorneys in northern California.  As the two men share a lunch while on a break from the trial just nearing its conclusion, with Teddy’s closing argument due that afternoon, a man enters the restaurant and shoots Teddy in the head at point-blank range, then quickly exits before anyone can make a move.

So begins this first novel from Lachlan Smith, apparently the first in a series, and an impressive debut it is.  Teddy lies in the hospital in a coma, and both Leo as well as Teddy’s ex-wife and former law partner, Jeanie, now working at the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office, are left to grapple with the prognosis and the knowledge that they may at some point in the not-too-distant future have to decide whether to remove him from life-support systems.  But the most urgent task for Leo is to find the gunman.  His first move is to examine all his brother’s case files, to see if a disgruntled client, or a victim or witness in one of his headline-making cases has sought revenge.  There are several viable suspects as his investigation continues.

Leo has been haunted most of his life by the death of their mother 16 years before (“the abscess at the center of his life”), apparently at the hands of her husband, the boys’ father.  It was Leo who at age ten had returned from school to find her badly beaten body, the weapon Leo’s baseball bat. Despite having protested his innocence, the father was convicted and is serving a life term at San Quentin.

Leo must prove himself, to others and to himself, having been raised by and stayed in the shadow of his well-known, and in many circles reviled, brother.  In his insecurity, as a youngster he had a Batman symbol tattooed on his upper left arm.

I loved the author’s description of a nurse in the hospital as having “the self-sufficient look of someone who spent most of her time with people who didn’t talk back.”  Deftly plotted, the only flaw this reader found was perhaps too many possible culprits, in what turns out to be three killings, by the end getting a slight case of whiplash as the novel names one, and then another and then another, and the possibility that one, or perhaps more than one, is guilty.  That said, the novel is a fast and engrossing read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2013.

Book Reviews: One Shot by Lee Child, Lassiter by Paul Levine, Kill My Darling by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Boca Daze by Steven M. Forman, and Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

One Shot
Lee Child
Dell, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-345-53819-2
Premium Mass Market Paperback

As I am among those looking forward to the upcoming film simply called “Jack Reacher” [or not, in view of the controversy surrounding the fact that Tom Cruise will play the lead], I thought I’d go back to the book, initially published in 2005 and now with a new “Movie Tie-In Edition,” before seeing the film.  I tried to put everything that’s transpired in Jack Reacher’s life in the years since 2005 in the recesses of my mind to come at this book fresh [so to speak].

The novel jumps right in with a scene fraught with tension:  A person described only as “the man with the rifle” is putting into motion an obviously well-thought-out plan, in a scene that culminates with him using a rifle to kill five people, strangers all, each with one shot to the head, in a business area in the heartland south of Indianapolis, Indiana teeming with people leaving work into the heart of the rush hour, and then escapes scant minutes before all hell breaks loose.

Forensics give the police enough data to name a suspect, a 41-year-old US Army veteran, an infantry specialist [read “sniper”] who they quickly, in the early hours of the following morning, take into custody.  Ironically, a newly minted attorney who just happens to be the daughter of the District Attorney handling the case agrees to defend the accused man at the behest of his sister.  The man himself has refused to speak with anyone, prosecutors or defense attorney, other than to say “Get Jack Reacher for me.”  Enigmatic, to say the least, since their past encounter had been less than friendly.

Reacher himself is en route, having seen and read all about the massacre.  As the author describes it:  “Mostly he had rocked and swayed and dozed on buses, watching the passing scenes, observing the chaos of America . . . His life was like that.  It was a mosaic of fragments.  Details and contexts would fade and be inaccurately recalled, but the feelings and the experiences would weave over time into a tapestry equally full of good times and bad.”  And as we all now know, Reacher is an imposing man, in mind and body, and doesn’t let anything stop him when on a mission, having been honorably discharged seven years ago as a major in the army, and for fourteen years an MP.   (He’s also a man who knows every stat about every professional baseball player who ever played for the NY Yankees.)  And to steal a line from an old James Bond movie, nobody does it better.

The same could be said for Lee Child.  Ingeniously plotted, wonderfully well-written, terrifically entertaining, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lassiter
Paul Levine
Bantam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-553-80674-8
Hardcover

Lassiter is prefaced with a quote from Lenny Bruce:  “In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.”  A very realistic assessment of the US legal profession and justice system, one which comes alive in the ensuing pages.  The newest novel from Paul Levine moves along in a very entertaining manner, until suddenly it evolves into something much tighter and delivers a dramatic courtroom scene a la Perry Mason or, more contemporaneously, Law & Order.  Which I really should have expected from this author, having read many of his thirteen previous books and enjoyed them all.  Presented with wry humor and a very likeable – well, perhaps I should say ‘sympathetic’ – protagonist, and with nary a[n explicit] lawyer joke included!

The past of Jake Lassiter, Mr. Levine’s criminal attorney protagonist, self-styled ‘follower of his own rules,’ who refers to his clients as ‘customers,’ comes back to haunt him on the day he is hired by a lovely woman who introduces herself as Amy Larkin, in jail in Miami on a charge of First Degree Murder, who swears her innocence.  He soon realizes that she is the sister of a teenage girl he had very briefly known [and with whom he was even more briefly intimate] nearly two decades earlier, who seems to have disappeared and is presumed dead. The man Amy is accused of killing had presumably been mistaken for her true target:  The man quite likely to have been the one responsible for her sister’s fate; a man who in those years was involved in the making of pornographic movies, among other even sleazier operations, and the last person Lassiter himself had seen her with before she disappeared.

Since that man has in the intervening years become quite a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, having been known to contribute quite heavily to the coffers of some prominent politicians and office-holders, proving him complicit in the earlier events will be quite a difficult task. Jake, who has himself evolved from the jock he had been [a linebacker with the Miami Dolphins, and whose dog is of course named Csonka], after which the night-school lawyer has become a somewhat successful criminal attorney with an office in South Beach and a strong sense of justice, no matter how that end must be achieved.  The ensuing investigation goes down many unexpected roads, to a stunning conclusion that left this reader riveted.  The book sort of sneaks up on you, until suddenly you’re hurtling through an incredible and thrilling tale with all the ingredients: a good mystery, funny dialogue and great characters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kill My Darling
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Severn House, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8137-3
Hardcover

In the newest [and very welcome] Bill Slider mystery, the Detective Inspector is presented with a missing persons report:  Melanie Hunter, a young woman who is a paleontologist at a prestigious Kensington museum, has not been seen in a day, and though that is normally not a matter for the police at that early stage, there is a hint of Sherlock Holmes in the fact that her dog, usually a very quiet animal, has been left alone in her apartment and has been barking a lot.  When her downstairs neighbor lets himself into the apartment with the key he had been provided for just such purpose, he takes the dog back with him and reports the incident to the police.  The worst fears are realized in short order when the woman’s dead body is discovered.

Suspicion first falls on that self-same neighbor, who is found to be a convicted murderer, though out of prison for several years.  Although everyone who knew Melanie says she was very friendly and loved by all, there are soon several serious suspects, and no real proof or evidence to narrow it down.  Slider, always a sensitive soul, finds the girl’s death haunting him.

Slider is a wonderful protagonist, and his colleagues in Shepherd’s Bush cop shop are delightful creations all, including D.S. Porson, king of the malapropisms and mixed metaphors, described variously as having “the looks and charm of a bunion,” wearing a “greatcoat, the folds of which were so voluminous a Bedouin could have kept his entire family in there, and several of his favourite horses as well.”   The author’s trademark evocative descriptions of people and places are terrific as always; the writing throughout is wonderful in its humor and poignancy, and the mystery thoroughly satisfying, with a fascinating resolution that is truly unexpected – – though all the clues are there.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Boca Daze
Steven M. Forman
Forge, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2876-2
Hardcover

Eddie Perlmutter, a 61-year-old p.i. in Boca Raton, FL, is still a crusader who cannot, it seems, help himself:  He has to save whatever otherwise lost causes present themselves, from homeless people living on the streets, beaches or wherever else, to the endangered sea turtles with nests on the shores. A former Boston cop who, as he says, was that city’s “most decorated and demoted policeman in my prime and best marksman on the force,” he retired to Boca three years ago. Widowed for many years, he is now living with his gorgeous [and much younger] Haitian-born girlfriend [whose own claim to fame includes cutting a man’s head off with a machete before leaving Haiti], still working with Louie Dewey, computer genius extraordinaire.  Eddie having been dubbed the Boca Knight, and attained not a small bit of celebrity, by a young newspaper reporter, following an anti-Nazi rally in Palm Beach, among other things, he runs the Boca Knights Detective Agency, with Louie’s invaluable assistance.

Louie is only one of many other quirky characters with equally quirky names, e.g., “Three Bag Bailey,” a homeless woman, and Liam Michael “Mad Mick” Murphy, a journalist from Key West.  Although brutal and violent in many spots, the book is filled with humor, as were the two earlier entries in this series.  He is obviously very fond of his adopted State.  Eddie mentions in one instance that “over a thousand endangered species live in South Florida.  The Early Bird is not one of them, and in another, when about to drive after sustaining a serious head injury, and asked if he is fit to drive, he responds “I’m in better condition than most drivers in Boca.”

Always a crusader and “a sucker for a good cause,” Eddie promises to look into an attack on a homeless man dubbed “Weary Willie” [after the sad-faced clown of many years ago] – – apparently the homeless problem in Florida just as bad as, if not worse than, any other part of the country – – and uncovers several other criminal activities along the way, including political corruption, and erstwhile pain clinics, really “pill mills,” apparently another blight in Florida, with millions of pills sold annually in strip malls and office parks by non-medical corporations.  But the worst crime uncovered is one reminiscent of the Bernie Madoff affair [with the latter even making a cameo appearance].

Don’t let the fact that Eddie is on speaking terms with a particular body part be off-putting; it’s really just another aspect of this very funny book with a wonderful protagonist who has a tendency toward random philosophical musings.  It is a terrific and fast read, and I look forward to the next book in the series.  Parenthetically, I loved the tip of the hat to the Mystery Bookstore in Pineapple Grove as well.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ghost Hero
S. J. Rozan
Minotaur, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00693-6
Trade Paperback

Lydia Chin, young New York private investigator, although she is what she refers to as an ABC [American-Born Chinese], cannot imagine why a new client wants to hire her for an investigation dealing with contemporary Chinese art [what he refers to as a “cutting edge collecting area” in the West], freely admitting that she has no clue about art.  Despite her reluctance, she agrees to accept his retainer to check out rumors of some new pieces of art by one Chau Chun, known as the Ghost Hero.  This despite the fact that Chau is believed to have died 20 years ago in the uprising at Tienanmen Square.

This particular artist’s work was known to contain “hidden” political symbols, and the putative new work contains current political references. There is a suspicion, then, that the work is contemporary, not created over two decades earlier.  But the potential value of the Ghost Hero’s “ghost paintings” is enormous, since in the past his work was worth half a million dollars, give or take.

As always with work by this author, there is a full quotient of clever, witty dialogue from clever, witty people – well, a few people in particular: Lydia; her cousin, Linus, tech geek [read “hacker”] extraordinaire; Bill Smith, a mid-fifties white guy [referred to by Lydia’s disapproving mother as the “white baboon” – can you tell she doesn’t like him?], also a p.i. and over the past few years Lydia’s partner; and Jack Lee, a  2d generation ABC from the suburban Midwest and art expert as well as a p.i., in this case having also been hired [by an unnamed client] to investigate the possibility of the existence of the self-same paintings.  The stakes are raised when the investigation sparks the interest of the wrong people, and bullets and threats start to fly.

Parenthetically, I have to admit to some small confusion on my part keeping the Asian names straight, but ultimately that is of small moment, as in the end the author makes everything clear.  Brilliantly plotted, and with protagonists the reader cares about and roots for, the book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2012.

Book Reviews: Stagestruck by Peter Lovesey, Ringer by Brian Wiprud, Infernal Angels by Loren Estleman, No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie, and The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman

Stagestruck
Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-947-6
Hardcover

What a pleasure to find a book which includes two of my favorite things:  a crackling good mystery, filled with humor, and a tribute to the theater. As the title might imply, the author obviously has much respect for the theater, with both a lower case “t” and upper case as well [see below].  His protagonist, on the other hand, not so much. In the newest book featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, head of Bath’s CID, the reader learns that Diamond has always suffered from a phobia, what the author terms a “deep unease’ and resulting in what can only be described as panic attacks where the theater is concerned.

Diamond is forced to confront his fear when he is called to the 200-year-old Theatre Royal, in Bath, which some refer to as “an itsy-bitsy provincial theatre” and others as “the prettiest theatre in the kingdom,” when on opening night, the celebrity pop star with the unlikely name of Clarion Calhoun who has been cast as the lead in a production of “I Am a Camera” is stricken, just after the curtain goes up.  She is apparently the victim of something which has caused third degree burns to her face and upper chest, precisely where her stage makeup had been applied some moments before, effectively destroying her career, not to mention her looks.  Things get even dicier when two days later a dead body is found in the theater.

The novel is thoroughly enjoyable, with the last twenty or so pages keeping the reader in great suspense as the culprit is unmasked.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ringer
Brian Wiprud
Minotaur, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-60189-8
Hardcover

Ringer is a sly tale revolving around an encounter between a 65-year-old billionaire and a Mexican man of less than savory background.  A caper novel with a plot arising out of a stew comprised of an ancient ring which may or may not be blessed and/or cursed, a spoiled and willful 19-year-old girl, a Greenwich Village palmist and her assorted relatives, and a smattering of several truisms purportedly from the mouth of Abraham Lincoln, among many other things, make up this consistently delightful concoction.

The protagonist is Morty Martinez, introduced to readers in the author’s Feelers, Brooklyn native and former house cleaner, who now considers himself as La Paz gentry now that he is living in Mexico again and he has a few million in the bank.  The aforementioned teenager is [ironically] named Purity Grant, who has a mutually hateful relationship with her stepfather, the billionaire.  Their toxic dynamic fuels thoughts of murder as the easiest way out of matters financial and emotional, by both parties, and somehow Morty becomes the designated hit man of each.  The mantra invoked from time to time, by each of the major players, is Earn Destiny, and they all go about trying to achieve that end in a manner which seems most logical to those involved, as opposed, perhaps, to anyone in the ‘normal’ world, such as, e.g., the reader.

Purity’s speech is regularly peppered with acronyms, as though her mind is permanently in text-speak.  [Being in the minority that is not thoroughly conversant with that particular mind-set, I have to admit to being unable to decipher them all.  Typing this, it only just dawned on me, e.g., that “ITWYT” means “if that’s what you think.” “NHNF” and “YGAGA m9” still elude me, as does in general the concept of people actually using these in everyday, that is to say verbal, speech.  Hopefully there is nothing profane in any of that.]  But that only contributes to the enjoyment of this zany tale, which had me smiling or laughing aloud throughout.  I have to admit I have not yet read Feelers, but will try to correct that without much further ado.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Infernal Angels
Loren Estleman
Forge, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-1955-5
Hardcover

In the twenty-first novel in the wonderful Amos Walker series, Loren Estleman once again captures the spirit of Detroit, as much a character in the novel as it is the mise en scene.  As the author describes it, it is a city which “continued its slug’s crawl toward bleak oblivion.”   Although the tale begins innocuously enough, when Walker is hired to recover 25 stolen cable-TV converter boxes, it is soon apparent that there is more going on than meets the eye, when two people with whom Walker has spoken turn up dead, within hours of those meetings.

Walker is undaunted, and pursues the case with even greater zeal.  He is no longer invincible, he admits:  “In the pursuit of my profession I’d been shot, beaten, coldcocked, drugged, and threatened with death. . . It would be a good joke on a lot of bad people if it was a heart episode that took me.”  The title derives from the line, soon after the second body is discovered, that of a man Walker had known for years:  “Once you’d made the decision to live on the dark side of the moon, all your friends were infernal angels at best.”

His descriptions of several characters are exquisite portraits.  Of a detective:  “He’d lost flesh from age and the weight of the world, pasting skin to bone like shrink-wrap.  His boys were grown and married, one of them was still speaking to him, and his wife, who earned more money than he did working shorter hours, was often away on business.  Home for him was just a place to change horses between shifts;” of a colleague:  “His face was the same vintage as mine, but he ironed his more often and packed it in ice overnight;” a building caretaker “an ambulatory dandelion gone to seed.”  The prose is equal parts elegance and street.

There are perfect fleeting references on such eclectic topics as jazz musicians, politics and politicians past and present, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, as well as little-known facts on historical figures as diverse as Black Bart and Marcus Garvey, and nostalgia for Tigers Stadium.

A fast-paced and consistently witty entry in this terrific series, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No Mark Upon Her
Deborah Crombie
William Morrow, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-199061-8
Hardcover

In the opening pages of Deborah Crombie’s 14th novel, DCI Rebecca [“Becca”] Meredith, an Olympic contender and a senior officer in West London’s Major Crimes unit, is found dead in the waters of the Thames near her home in the town of Henley, 35 miles from London.  The events that follow take place, amazingly, over a period of about a week.  I say ’amazingly’ because so much happens, in a terrifically plotted novel.  The case falls to Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, of Scotland Yard’s Murder Investigation Team, with some aspects of it falling to his bride, Gemma James, DI with the Notting Hill Police.

The book is filled with wonderfully drawn characters, including not only both the protagonists but also Kincaid’s partner, Sgt. Doug Cullen, about to become a first-time homeowner and nervous at the prospect; Gemma’s colleague, Melody Talbot; Becca’s ex-husband, Freddy; Kiernan Connolly and Tavie Larssen, members of the SAR [Search and Rescue], or K-9, team as well as its four-legged members, Finn, a Labrador retriever and Tosh, a German shepherd, every bit a part of the plot as are their human partners.

The common thread among several of the characters is a love of – in fact, a passion for – rowing or, to be more specific, sculling, a very specific skill employing the use of sleek racing shells, apparently a world of its own.  Just how much so is made very clear through the author’s use of quotes, preceding the start of most chapters, from various publications on the subject, as well as Ms. Crombie’s own prose in the early pages, describing the victim shortly before she is killed:  “she sat backwards on a sliver of carbon fiber narrower than her body, inches above the water, and that only her skill and determination kept her fragile craft from the river’s dark grasp.”

The James/Kincaid family dynamic of ‘his’ [Kit], ‘hers’ [Toby – – their respective 14-year-old sons], and ‘theirs’ [Charlotte, the mixed-race 3-year-old foster child they are planning to formally adopt], is a constantly active one that makes the protags’ personal lives every bit as engaging as their professional ones.

The author comments “Things were always so much more complicated than they appeared on the surface,” and employs mini-cliffhangers throughout, maximizing the suspense, as well as some shocking revelations, producing several OMG moments.  But I’ll leave those discoveries to the readers of this highly-recommended novel.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Most Dangerous Thing
Laura Lippman
William Morrow, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-170651-6
Hardcover

The new standalone novel from Laura Lippman was, to this reader, unlike anything this wonderful author had written to this point. [Among her more recent ones, I’d Know You Anywhere and What the Dead Know still stand out in my memory and resonate with me.]  The present work is not really a mystery [although there is a death early on in the book] nor procedural, but instead a series of in-depth character studies which will be difficult to match.

The author takes her time recreating and juxtaposing scenes from the past with those of the present, from the time when “everything was perfect until the moment it wasn’t,” in the lives of five youngsters in their early teens, three brothers and two young girls.  Ultimately each of these, along with their parents and siblings and extended families, will have their own chapters, describing events which took place in 1980, in their native Baltimore, with p.o.v. changes from one character to another and from those early years to the present time, when most of them have grown children of their own, all of it shaped by one pivotal ‘incident’ [insert your own euphemism] which changes all of their lives forever.  The reality of the events of that night is different for each of them, children and parents alike.  And ultimately it is about secrets kept, or not.

One of the three brothers, Gordon (“Go-Go”) Halloran, nine years old in 1980 and always the most reckless of the three, although presently two years sober, leaves the bar at which he has just fallen off the wagon and does not make it home alive, crashing into a wall at about 100 mph. There is a question about whether it was a tragic accident, or something somehow worse.

I found this book [in which, btw, Tess Monaghan makes a cameo appearance] a departure for this author, and very thought-provoking. I suspect it too will stay in my memory for a long while. Parenthetically, I loved Ms. Lippman’s description of one perpetually angry character who, when counting to ten, started at nine.  But there are many memorable moments, and personalities, here.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

Book Reviews: The Affair by Lee Child, Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman by Thomas J. Fitzsimmons, Disturbance by Jan Burke, Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan, and Fallen by Karin Slaughter

The Affair
Lee Child
Delacorte, October 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-34432-6
Hardcover

The first dozen pages of Lee Child’s newest Jack Reacher book lays everything out in precise detail, as one would expect from Reacher, and from Mr. Child, as he enters the Pentagon on March 11, 1997, on what is to be “the last day I walked into that place as a legal employee of the people who built it.”  Reacher, the recipient of a Purple Heart and a Silver Star, is at this point in time 36 years old, and a major in the US Army Military Police.  He is given a delicate undercover assignment following the death of a 27-year-old woman in a small town in Mississippi several times referred to as the “back of beyond,” whose major source of income is the local Army base, and whose sheriff is a stunningly beautiful woman about the same age as Reacher.  Not surprisingly, though the latter and Reacher start off as antagonists, that situation changes pretty quickly.

Reacher’s background, for which fans have been clamoring for years, is finally given to them:  The circumstances surrounding his sudden departure from the armed forces which shaped everything that is to follow, much of which has been described in the fifteen previous
novels in this always exciting series.  The reader immediately knows the immense pleasure of starting a new Lee Child book, and a smile spread across my face as when entering any favorite place.

The author always provides small tidbits of new information, e.g., “most right-handed people have left legs fractionally shorter than their right legs,’ and “you can learn a lot from shoes,” and backs up these statements, of course.  Almost unexpectedly, the writing provokes smiles as much as tension, which is saying a lot.  Reacher says of a friend, “He fancied himself a raconteur.  And he liked background.  And context.  Deep background, and deep context. Normally he liked to trace everything back to a seminal point just before random swirls of gas from the chartless wastes of the universe happened to get together and form the earth itself.”

Meticulously plotted, and with stunning twists, the book provides just what Reacher and Mr. Child always do:  All you need, and nothing you don’t.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman
Thomas J. Fitzsimmons
Thomas J. Fitzsimmons Inc., June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9789762-5-51-7
Trade Paperback

As with the earlier novel by Thomas Fitzsimmons, Confessions of a Catholic Cop, which introduced readers to Police Officer Michael Beckett, the current book’s authenticity is immediately apparent. With good reason:  Following his service in the Navy during the Vietnam War, the author was an NYC cop for a decade in the notorious section of the South Bronx known as Fort Apache.  Not surprisingly, Michael Beckett has a similar background, which also includes acting on tv, the fictional aspect having Beckett portray – what else? – a cop, on the show “Law & Order”.

He brings some emotional baggage with him this time around:  His girlfriend, with whom he worked while doing the tv show, is showing signs of discontent, and he fears the relationship might be coming to an end.  In addition, he is still dealing with the emotional aftermath of his sister’s death, of a drug overdose, at the age of 18, with all the attendant guilt and desire for revenge against the drug dealers who’d sold her the poison that had ultimately killed her.

That desire for revenge is perhaps what leads Beckett to become involved with some former and current members of the NYPD known as “rockers” – a group of vigilantes who, for a price, do what the “legitimate” cops can’t do – among other things, rid houses of the drug dealers who inhabit them, “evicting” them by whatever means necessary, violent or otherwise.

Beckett’s former partner and best friend, Destiny Jones, returns as well.  The two are not working together any more, as Beckett, an armed robbery specialist and former Medal of Honor winner, had been suspended after drugs were found in his car, and although he was ultimately cleared of all criminal charges and reinstated, he is now assigned to the Building Maintenance section of Police Headquarters at One Police Plaza. To say that he was chafing under that assignment would be to strongly understate the case.  Destiny is having her own problems, with a marriage that is about to implode, and medical problems with an as-yet unknown cause.  The chapters alternate p.o.v., Beckett’s in the first person, Destiny’s in third.  Complications ensue when Beckett accepts a job moonlighting as part of a security detail for a Rupert Murdoch-like mogul, although he suspects there is more there than meets the eye.

The prose is a little rough around edges – but hey, so is Beckett, and he is a terrific protagonist.  The plot is an engrossing one, and the reader has to wonder how much of it, e.g., the existence of the “rockers,” is more than an urban myth, so realistically are they drawn.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Disturbance
An Irene Kelly Novel
Jan Burke
Simon & Schuster, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5284-3
Hardcover

There are disturbances of the atmospheric kind, and then there are the other kind:  Mental disturbances, the reverberations of their manifestations can last for years in their victims.  As Jan Burke’s long-awaited new book in the Irene Kelly series opens, that journalist’s only real concern is about her employment status:  she is “fully occupied by the distinct possibility that I would be out of a job within a few months.  That didn’t make me different from ninety-nine out of a hundred of the country’s newspaper reporters.” But those worries, real as they are, pale in significance when she learns that the vicious serial killer from whom she had barely escaped with her life in an earlier book in the series, Bones, Nick Parrish, now in his fifties, has escaped from a maximum security prison.  Known to have had as many as fifty victims, including a number of members of the Las Peirnas Police Department – – colleagues and friends of Irene’s husband, detective Frank Harriman – – and as awful as is the prospect of him being at large in general, Irene is the one against whom he has sworn vengeance, holding her responsible for his suffering and his incarceration. Irene is an investigative journalist at the Las Piernas, California News Express.

Irene has finally recovered from the PTSD which her kidnapping and torture at Parrish’s hands – – well, except for the nightmares she still experiences.  Which only return again after his escape and threats from his online fan club, the Moths, serial killer groupies whose members include an unknown number of his born-out-of-wedlock sons, and who all appear to be nearly as deranged as the man they idolize.

After the threats, three things happen in rapid succession:  A young woman named Marilyn Foster is reported missing; her car is discovered parked on Irene’s street; and the body of another woman whose identity cannot be determined is found in the trunk of that car.  When Irene insists there is a connection to Parrish and the police fail to believe that’s possible, Irene sets out on a personal mission:  to find out who the woman is and who is responsible for her murder.  To that end, Irene enlists the aid of her colleague Ethan Shire and Ben Sheridan, the forensic anthropologist who had also been one of Parrish’s victims.

The ensuing investigation results in a book in which the suspense is constant, to which is added the very real possibility of the sadistic violence and sexual assault for which the killer is known.  The novel is fast-faced and tightly plotted.  Plus I came away from reading it with an appreciation of a known truth in astrophysics:  The universe is expanding.  [Read the book.]

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ghost Hero
S. J. Rozan
Minotaur, October 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-54450-8
Hardcover

Lydia Chin, young New York private investigator, although she is what she refers to as an ABC [American-Born Chinese], cannot imagine why a new client wants to hire her for an investigation dealing with contemporary Chinese art [what he refers to as a “cutting edge collecting area” in the West], freely admitting that she has no clue about art.  Despite her reluctance, she agrees to accept his retainer to check out rumors of some new pieces of art by one Chau Chun, known as the Ghost Hero.  This despite the fact that Chau is believed to have died 20 years ago in the uprising at Tienanmen Square.

This particular artist’s work was known to contain “hidden” political symbols, and the putative new work contains current political references. There is a suspicion, then, that the work is contemporary, not created over two decades earlier.  But the potential value of the Ghost Hero’s “ghost paintings” is enormous, since in the past his work was worth half a million dollars, give or take.

As always with work by this author, there is a full quotient of clever, witty dialogue from clever, witty people – well, a few people in particular: Lydia; her cousin, Linus, tech geek [read “hacker”] extraordinaire; Bill Smith, a mid-fifties white guy [referred to by Lydia’s disapproving mother as the “white baboon” – can you tell she doesn’t like him?], also a p.i. and over the past few years Lydia’s partner; and Jack Lee, a  2d generation ABC from the suburban Midwest and art expert as well as a p.i., in this case having also been hired [by an unnamed client] to investigate the possibility of the existence of the self-same paintings.  The stakes are raised when the investigation sparks the interest of the wrong people, and bullets and threats start to fly.

Parenthetically, I have to admit to some small confusion on my part keeping the Asian names straight, but ultimately that is of small moment, as in the end the author makes everything clear.  Brilliantly plotted, and with protagonists the reader cares about and roots for, the book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fallen
Karin Slaughter
Delacorte, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-345-52820-9
Hardcover

In her eleventh novel, Karin Slaughter brings us back to Georgia. Agent Faith Mitchell, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, finds that what started out as a normal workday becomes something else entirely.  [A bit of background:  A cop for 15 years, Faith is a single mom, diabetic, 34 years old, and a former detective with the Atlanta homicide squad; her mother has helped care for Faith’s four-month old baby for the past two months, since Faith went back to work.]  When Faith drives up to the house, she immediately sees a bloody handprint on the front door.  Before the ensuing confrontation is over, three men have been shot to death – two at Faith’s hand; she finds her baby locked in a shed; the house has been ransacked; and her mother is missing.  Faith’s mother, a decorated police officer, had been in charge of the narcotics division, and two of the three dead men appear to be members of a local Hispanic gang known to control the drug trade in Atlanta.

Will Trent, Faith’s old partner in the GBI, is handling the investigation; there is a bit of a conflict of interest at work here: Amanda Wagner, the deputy director and his boss, had been the BFF [before the term existed] of Evelyn Mitchell, Faith’s mother, a 63-year-old widow and a cop for nearly forty years, who had been implicated in a sting operation that had been headed by Will, to weed out dirty cops, part of the upshot of which was her forced retirement.

Will has a complex relationship with Sara Linton, formerly a county coroner and now a pediatric attending physician in the emergency department of a local Atlanta hospital.  Widow of the county’s former police chief, at 5’11”, with red hair, Sara is a striking woman.  The ‘complexity’ of her relationship with Will is due to the fact that he is still married, sort of.  The relationship between him and his wife is strange, to say the least.

The plot is intricate, the main characters each strong yet vulnerable; the book is a wholly satisfying, fast read, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.