Book Reviews: Blessed Are the Dead by Malla Nunn, Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon, All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley, and Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

Blessed Are the DeadBlessed Are the Dead
Malla Nunn
Emily Bestler Books/Washington Square Press, June 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-1692-7
Trade Paperback

The iconoclastic South African detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper returns in this excellent third installment in the series, replete with poignant observations on the effects of the rigid apartheid system in the country in 1953.  Cooper, who remains in the dog house for past transgressions, is plucked by his superior to solve a murder in an attempt to resurrect his status.

Accompanied by black Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, he finds the body of a 17-year-old Zulu girl, daughter of a chief.  There are no clues at the scene, and the two have to scrounge for leads and face obstacles from the natives and landowners, each with their own agenda. The victim herself was involved in both the white and native African worlds, so that the detectives have to cope with the guarded secrets of both communities.

The characters drawn with deep accuracy to depict the characteristics of the South African society at the time are real and flawed.  The novel brings the reader into the corrupt atmosphere of the country with careful descriptions and sharp prose.  Another welcome addition to the adventures of a colorful detective, and it is most highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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Let the Devil SleepLet the Devil Sleep
John Verdon
Crown, July 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-71792-4
Hardcover

In his third appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney probably wishes he never answered the telephone.  By doing so, he ends up in a most precarious situation when a journalist who had written a laudatory profile of him when he was a top homicide detective asks him to look over her daughter’s shoulder.  The daughter has a chance to have her thesis idea converted into a TV series: “Orphans of the Murder,” a series of interviews with the families of the victims of a killer known as The Good Shepherd.  The homicides had taken place a decade earlier.

Gurney reluctantly agrees, but then becomes more and more involved in the case, which he believes was mishandled in the original investigation.  Of course, as he continues to look into it and raise questions, he makes no friends in the establishment, especially the FBI which had assumed control of the case.  And complicating his efforts is the Good Shepherd’s attempts to forestall and kill the TV series.

The novel begins as Gurney is slowly recovering from three gunshot wounds, one to his head, as a result of his last exploit.  And, of course, no Gurney story would leave him uninjured as a result of his determination to solve a case.  While the plot is logical and straightforward, a lot of the writing is repetitive, especially Gurney’s relations with his second wife, Madeleine, and his son, Kyle. That said, the story moves forward at a swift pace and has an unforeseen conclusion, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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All I Did Was Shoot My ManAll I Did Was Shoot My Man
Walter Mosley
NAL, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-4512-3916-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter (“LT”) McGill is a 55-year-old African-American man, a former boxer, con man, fixer and over-all reprobate turned [relatively honest] PI is one of the more unusual characters in mystery fiction. Married, he has little if anything to do with his wife.  As far as his three children are concerned, he acknowledges that two are not his, but he loves and nurtures all.  His collection of friends and associates are as unconventional as he is.  And so are the books in the series, all somewhat bizarre but very enjoyable.

The plots of the series books, while intricate and complicated, tend to be odd.  And the present installment is no different.  In the past, LT framed a young woman who shot her boyfriend three times, when she came home to find him in bed with her best friend.  Since she was destined to go to jail anyway, he planted evidence in her locker of complicity in a $548 million heist from an insurance company.  Some years later, LT finds the “false” information that led to her conviction following which his lawyer gets her released from prison. As a result, a number of events take place, including an attempt on LT’s life, along with the murders of several others.  Of course, it’s up to him to solve the case.

Written in a style that sometimes defies belief, the complexity and insight of the novel and, especially, the LT character, are overwhelming.  With each book, development of LT as a person deepens, and the reader gains substantial knowledge of the man.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

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GuiltGuilt
Jonathan Kellerman
Ballantine, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-50573-6
Hardcover

The team of psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD homicide detective Lt. Milo Sturgis has been solving cases for a long time.  But not like the crimes described in this latest installment.  It starts out with the discovery of a child’s bones, which appear to be old, perhaps dating to the 1950’s.  Soon, however, a fresh set of bones is found in a nearby park.  And on the other side of the park, a murdered young woman.  Are all these connected?

Following the familiar plot line, the detective follows procedure, and the psychologist thinks off the wall.  And together they find the path to solving the mysteries, a tough road.  Looking into the history of ownership of the first site provides little guidance.  And there isn’t much more to go on in the case of the new set of bones or of the murder victim.

The hallmark of the series is the interchange and quips between Alex and Milo, and Guilt is no exception.  The author has perfected the novels, plotting and characters to such a high degree as to make each new entry a joy to read.  And the newest book conforms to that ideal, and certainly is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2013.

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.

Book Reviews: The Burning Soul by John Connolly, Trackers by Deon Meyer, What It Was by George Pelecanos, A Mortal Terror by James R. Benn, and A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

The Burning Soul
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6527-0
Hardcover

John Connolly’s Charlie Parker Thrillers usually combine an element of the supernatural with basic detective work.  In this, the tenth in the series, the eerie aspects are slight, while the hard work of solving a case winds its way through the pages with realism and power.  It is a twisted story that begins when an attorney asks Charlie to assist a client, and unfolds with a ferocity of dynamic proportions.

It appears that the client, Randall Haight, as a 14-year-old, and with a friend, murdered a young girl in an incident with sex-related overtones. Following long jail terms, both men were released with new identities to give them a chance at rehabilitation.  Randall is now an accountant leading a quiet life in a small town on the Maine coast. And then a 14-year-old girl goes missing and Randall starts receiving reminders in the mail of his past transgression from someone who apparently has discovered his true identity.  He asks the attorney and Charlie to protect his anonymity by finding the source.  And this leads Charlie into a labyrinth of complications.

It is a gripping story, one in which the author throws red herrings into the reader’s path before unveiling a completely unexpected conclusion. Tightly written and plotted, the novel is a most welcome addition to an outstanding series and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Trackers
Deon Meyer
Atlantic Monthly Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1993-3
Hardcover

Bringing back two characters from previous novels, the South African author has written a complicated story with three separate plots which are related both in circumstances and the people involved.  One theme involves what appears to be a Muslim plot, which a government intelligence service suspects at first to be a tradeoff between the smuggling of diamonds in exchange for weapons.  A second, an offshoot of the smuggling operation by a man seeking to recover a large sum of money he claims was stolen from him by gangsters (who incidentally are involved in the smuggling operation).

Then there is free-lance bodyguard Lemmer, who makes his second appearance in a Deon Meyer novel  [the first being The Blood Safari], who becomes involved indirectly in the smuggling operation when he accompanies a truck bearing two black rhinos into South Africa from a neighboring country which the gangsters believe is the method for bringing in the diamonds.  And finally Mat Joubert, the enigmatic South African detective, now retired, on his first day working for a private detective agency, who manages to bring all the threads together.

This stand-alone thriller aims high, and largely achieves its ambitions.  Adding to the spice is not only the author’s ability to portray the social, economic and political background of South Africa in depth, but a chilling look at how it is also a place where terrorists can run rampant.  And, icing on the cake, a first-rate mystery to keep the reader enthralled.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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What it Was
George Pelecanos
Reagan Arthur Books/Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-316-20954-0
Paperback, 246 pp., $9.99

The year was 1972.  Derek Strange was out of the Metropolitan Police Dept. for four years and struggling to build up his PI agency.  Nixon was in the White House, but not for long.  Watergate was just up ahead.  The riots that tore the nation’s Capitol apart were some years ago, but unrest and attitude still ran strong.

Against this background George Pelecanos has written about Strange’s early career as a 26-year-old and his relationship with Detective Frank Vaughn.  It all starts when Strange is retained by a good-looking babe to find a missing ring of little “value” but “great” sentimentality.  This takes him on a journey, which enables the author to describe the crime conditions – – including a one-man murder wave – – and population and living conditions of D.C., along with almost a catalogue of the music of the era.

Written with the usual vernacular and tight prose as displayed in the previous novels in the series, the graphic details of the characters are mesmerizing.  Highly recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the novel is available in three different forms: the paperback, as well as a limited hardcover edition and an eBook version.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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A Mortal Terror
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-994-0
Hardcover

The Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries follow the progress of that conflict in this, the sixth installment, albeit it with a different twist.  It brings Billy his first murder case, either as a Boston detective (in his previous civilian life) or as “uncle” Ike’s special investigator.  But the horrors of the war in Italy, and especially the Anzio beachhead invasion, provide the backdrop for the tale.

When two officers are found murdered with clues left behind, one a ten of hearts on the body of a lieutenant and a jack of hearts on that of a Captain, the signs of a possible serial killer bent on revenge against the brass emerge, causing concern back at Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters.  So Billy is recalled from a three-day pass during which he met with his girlfriend in Switzerland and sent to Naples to begin an investigation into the crimes.  Then he has to face the fact that his younger brother is arriving as a replacement in the very platoon in which he suspects the killer is a member.

The author, a librarian, writes with accuracy of the difficulties and what would today be called PTSD endured by the GIs, as well as the physical hardships and psychological manifestations of infantry warfare.  His plotting is taut, descriptions graphic.  All in all, the series just keeps on getting better and better.  And the Second Front hasn’t yet been opened.  The series has a long way to go, and that’s a good thing.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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A Bitter Truth
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-201570-9
Hardcover

This Bess Crawford mystery, set during World War I, finds her on a short leave from the front, intending to spend the Christmas holidays with her parents.  When she arrives at her apartment in London, she finds a young woman huddled on her doorstep, cold, hungry and distraught.  In sympathy, Bess takes her up to her room and learns that she has run away from her husband and home because he has abused her, and her disfigured face is proof.

From this improbable beginning, Bess becomes involved in a family’s secrets and along the way in a few murders, since she accompanies the young woman back to her home and family.  The novel rambles on, as the plot unfolds and the police fumble in an effort to solve one murder after another.  Bess returns to France, only to be recalled by the police for additional inquiries.

There are some excellent aspects to the novel, including insights into the lives of upper crust Britons of the period.  But it appeared to this reader that to bring the plot to a conclusion, the mother-son author duo reached out to contrive a solution that has little if any foundation. Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

Book Reviews: Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James, Sixkill by Robert B. Parker, and Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Thirteen Hours
Deon Meyer
Grove Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-4545-1
Mass Market Paperback

Post-Apartheid South Africa has undergone many traumatic changes.  But for homicide detective Benny Griessel, nothing much changes except for the murder victims, the politics, unsettled race relations and his own personal problems.  Benny is saddled with “mentoring” newly promoted black, or “colored,” detectives.  Of course, he is the only experienced white.

The plot involves two murders and a kidnapping, each a potential PR disaster for the SA government.  It is up to Benny and his untested troops to save a captive American girl who witnessed the murder of her fellow tourist.  Meanwhile, a well-known music executive is found shot in his home with his pistol lying at his feet, his alcoholic wife asleep in a chair.

Deon Meyer has written six novels and Thirteen Hours is probably the best (not taking anything away from its predecessors).  It is taut, moving and deeply memorable, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Dead Man’s Grip
Peter James
Macmillan, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-230-74724-1
Trade Paperback
Released in the US by Minotaur Books, November 2011
ISBN 978-0-312-64283-9
Hardcover

This is the seventh in the Roy Grace series, detailed police procedurals that take place in the Brighton area of Great Britain.  The tightly written plots carry the reader from page to page wondering what comes next.  And the nearly overwhelming [in a good way, to be sure!] detail keeps the reader from guessing the next step.

This novel begins with the gruesome death of a young man, who defies his mother, the daughter of a mafia don in New York City, to study at a Brighton university and live with his English girlfriend.  One day, on the way to school, riding his bike on the wrong side of the road, he is narrowly missed by a car driven by Carly Chase [who swerves onto the sidewalk to avoid him], but is hit by a tailgating white van [which leaves the scene], then rolls under a truck’s wheels and is killed.

The plot stems from this incident, with the mother hiring a hit man to torture and murder the three drivers.  When two of them are found dead, it behooves Carly to attempt to protect herself and her young son.  And thereby hangs a tale, a rather detailed description of the killer’s movements, and the efforts of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and the entire Sussex police force to capture him.

By all means get a copy and read it!  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Sixkill
Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15726-4
Hardcover

To quote some of the immortal words of the Bard, “I come to praise” Robert B. Parker, and, of course, the work that he has left behind obviously will “long live after him.”  In this, the last, Spenser novel, he once again provides an outstanding example of his talent and creativity.

Spenser is enlisted by his sometime buddy, police captain Quirk, to investigate the death of a young woman, who died after apparently having sex with a repulsive movie star in his hotel room.  The obvious conclusion is that the man is responsible for her death, but Quirk is not so sure and asks Spenser to find out what happened.  And Spenser goes about the task in his usual manner, this time accompanied by a brand new character (Hawk is in Asia), a “wasted” Cree Indian who Spenser takes under his wing to rehabilitate and train.

Enough has been written about Parker, his unparalleled ability to write sharp and amusing dialog, create funny barbs and unusual stories.  So such comments are really unnecessary here.  All one can say is, Mr. Parker, we’ll miss you.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Kiss Her Goodbye
Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-15-101460-6
Hardcover

When Mickey Spillane died, he left behind a treasure trove of manuscripts, plot notes, rough outlines, character notes and drafts of final chapters.  He told his wife to give everything to Max Allan Collins who “would know what to do.”  And this Collins has done, three times so far [with a fourth due out in October].  In this novel, he combined two partial manuscripts and shaped and expanded them from an unfinished version that was a false start.

In this entry, the death of his mentor, officially termed a suicide, brings Hammer back to New York City from Key West, where he has been recuperating for a year after a shootout in which he killed a Mafia don’s son.  He returns to the Big Apple with a jaundiced eye, denigrating everything he sees and hears, determined to return to Florida quickly following the funeral.  Instead, of course, he becomes enmeshed in investigating the death, which he believes to be a murder, as well as four others, and committing the usual bloody mayhem of his own.

It is pure Spillane, and Collins as usual has performed a service to those who ate up the millions of copies of Mike Hammer novels sold in the 1960s and ‘70s by keeping the flame alive.  How much is Spillane, and how much is Collins, is really not important.  The book is vintage Spillane, and is a tribute to both authors.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

Book Review: Random Violence by Jassy Mackenzie

Random Violence
Jassy Mackenzie
Soho Crime, April 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-911-7
Trade Paperback

Jade deJong , the headstrong protagonist of this terrific new novel, is a p.i. who has left her native South Africa, but following a ten-year absence has returned after, most recently, doing surveillance work in England.  Her father, before his death, had been police commissioner in Johannesburg, described as a city filled with crime and brutality.  The tale opens with the brutal murder of a young woman in what initially appears to have been an attempted carjacking, the first but hardly the last violent act in this novel.

Jade, thirty-four years old, has long-standing relationships with two men, who couldn’t be less alike:  David, a cop who trained under her father’s mentorship and is now a Superintendent in the Johannesburg Central police headquarters, with whom she has a chaste friendship which she would like to see evolve into something more intimate; and Robbie, a small-time gangster whose own attempts at intimacy she rejects, but who serves a purpose.  She has timed her return home with the expected release from prison of a convicted murderer who she blames for her father’s death.  Ultimately, her sense of justice, and her determination to see it done, provides her motivation despite some narrow escapes and the continuing jeopardy in which she finds herself.

The author, who was raised in South Africa, has written a debut novel which brings the country to gritty life, a fast-paced and gripping tale with memorable characters.  Readers, including this one, can look forward to her follow-up entry in the series, Stolen Lives, due out in April in hardcover.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2011.

Book Reviews: G.I. Bones by Martin Limon, The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, and Stolen Lives by Jassy MacKenzie

G.I. Bones
Martin Limon
Soho Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56947-863-9
Trade Paperback

Seoul, South Korea, is one of the more exotic locales for a murder mystery, and the C.I.D operatives, Sgts. Sueno and Bascom, are two of the more different protagonists around.  This is the sixth entry in the series, but the first this reader has undertaken.

The setting is not only Seoul, but Itaewon, the red-light district, ruled by the Seven Dragons, a mafia-like group born during the Korean Conflict and following the truce in 1953, where they ran all the night clubs, prostitution and other enticements for the 50,000 American troops stationed there.  The heart of the plot is a simple one:  Sueno and Bascom undertake to find the bones of a “sainted” soldier who played a key role in rebuilding the district after the war before he was murdered, presumably by the Seven Dragons.

All other side issues seem irrelevant, but take up space and time, as the dynamic duo wander around, from time to time attempting to accomplish their main purpose.  It is a perfectly acceptable “police procedural,” however it seems at times to drag on and on.  That said, much of the writing and observations about military life are pungent, oft-times witty, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

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The Devotion of Suspect X
Keigo Higashino
Minotaur Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-37506-5
Hardcover

Cleverly pitting the logic of a mathematician against that of a physicist, and then the physicist vs. an intuition-leaning detective, this Japanese novelist has written a clever murder mystery with an innovative ending.

There is no mystery as to the murderer:  A single mother, aided by her daughter, strangles her abusive ex-husband.  What then follows provides us with a chess match between her next door neighbor, a mathematician, who undertakes to create a scenario to provide the two women with iron-clad alibis, and a detective and his logic-leaning physicist friend, who analyzes each possible clue.  It is an interesting technique, and one that works well.

This is the author’s first major English publication (he is a big seller in Japan, where more than 2 million copies of the book have been sold), and the translation seems to have been made with the formality of the original language in mind.  “Devotion” won the Naoki Prize for Best Novel, the Japanese equivalent of the National Book Award.  Deservedly.  And it is, here, heartily recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

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Stolen Lives
Jassy Mackenzie
Soho Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-909-4
Hardcover

Four subplots coalesce in this second novel featuring Jade de Jong, the South African PI who makes her home in Jo’burg, where it all comes together.  However, the story begins in Great Britain, where a Scotland Yard raid on a brothel finds six victims of kidnapping later forced into prostitution. Unfortunately, the brothel owner is not present as expected, and remains at large, and the manager escapes as well, setting off a manhunt for the two.

At the same time, Jade is retained by the wife of the proprietor of an “upscale” strip joint called Heads and Tails as a bodyguard when her spouse goes missing.  And the woman also wants Jade to protect her daughter, who manages one of the clubs.  This draws Jade into a series of situations involving the human trafficking scheme.

There is some violence in the novel, especially with Jade’s predilection for committing murder, but it is relatively unobtrusive. The writing is vivid, and the character development solid.  The plot moves forward at a steady and interesting pace, so that the novel is an excellent follow-up to Random Violence, its predecessor in the series.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

Book Reviews: Gloria Feit X 3

Trick of the Dark
Val McDermid
Little, Brown, 2010
ISBN 978-1-4087-0201-7
Hardcover

[This book is presently available only in/through the UK and Canada, not available in the US at this time]

As the book opens, Dr. Charlotte [“Charlie”] Flint finds her professional life as a forensic psychiatrist in tatters, her reputation destroyed, and awaiting a hearing by the General Medical Council to will decide whether or not she can be reinstated as an expert in her field.

Magdalene [“Magda”] Newsam, a pediatric oncologist, is a 28-year-old woman whose husband was killed on their wedding night, attending the trial of her husband’s partners for his murder.  One of the two hubs of this book is Magda’s mother, Corinna Newsam, who was Charlie’s tutor while an undergraduate at St. Scholastika’s College, Oxford University, which is the other point around which all else revolves. Each of the characters’ ties to Corinna and Oxford have shaped their lives to this point.  As is the case also with Jay Stewart, wildly successful businesswoman in the throes of writing her second memoir following her first bestseller, the point of view throughout the book variously that of the three younger women.

Corinna asks Charlie to investigate whether, as she suspects, Jay Stewart had something to do with her son-in-law’s death, mostly due to the fact that Jay is now romantically involved with Magda.  Seeking redemption, Charlie agrees. As the solution drew near, the feeling that I knew what lay ahead didn’t diminish the suspense or the intricacy of the plot.  And, of course, I was completely wrong in my expectations.

Few of the characters in the book are male; few of the romantic relationships/entanglements are heterosexual, a fact noteworthy only in the prejudices thereby aroused in others which are essential to the plot.  The novel, though somewhat lengthy, is an absorbing and worthy addition to Ms. McDermid’s past novels, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

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Thirteen Hours
Deon Meyer
Translated by K. L. Seegers
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-8021-1958-2
Hardcover

Post-Apartheid South Africa has undergone many traumatic changes.  But for homicide detective Benny Griessel, nothing much changes except for the murder victims, the politics, unsettled race relations and his own personal problems.  Benny is saddled with “mentoring” newly promoted black or “colored” detectives.  Of course, he is the only experienced white.

The plot involves two murders and a kidnapping, each a potential PR disaster for the SA government.  It is up to Benny and his untested troops to save a captive American girl who witnessed the murder of her fellow tourist. Meanwhile, a well-known music executive is found shot in his home with his pistol lying at his feet, his alcoholic wife
asleep in a chair.

Deon Meyer has written six novels and Thirteen Hours is probably the best (not taking anything away from its predecessors).  It is taut, moving and deeply memorable, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

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The Immortals
J.T. Ellison
MIRA Books, 2010
ISBN 978-0-7783-2763-9
Mass Market Paperback

This newest entry in the Taylor Jackson series could be termed a procedural with a twist.  It includes elements of the occult: Goth, Wicca, Satanic and Pagan rituals and beliefs.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that in general, “woo woo” is not my favorite genre.  This novel, however, does not ask readers to believe in the occult, merely to accept that there are those that do.  And on that basis, I had no problem with it at all.  More to the point, I found it equally as enjoyable as the earlier books in this series, of which this is the fifth.

All events transpire over a four-day period, beginning, significantly, on October 31st [usually known as Halloween or, if one follows the occult, Samhain, which is the Wiccan New Year.]  As the book opens, Taylor Jackson has just been reinstated as a Lieutenant in the Nashville Metro Police Department, heading up the Murder Squad.  The squad assembles hurriedly when there are reports of multiple victims and multiple crime scenes, at least seven dead in five different houses, all victims between fourteen and eighteen years of age.  The persons responsible seem to be the eponymous, if self-styled, Immortals.  Is this, as it starts to appear, a case of vampires and witches running amok in Nashville, Tennessee?

Paralleling this investigation in the novel is one that revolves around events which began in June of 2004 with the discovery of the fifth victim of what the media dubs The Clockwork Killer, which involved Dr. John Baldwin, Supervisory Special Agent and Taylor’s fiancé, and which he must revisit when a hearing into the matter is being held at FBI headquarters at Quantico.  In each case, the present and the past, there is an inherent threat of further loss of young lives, both aspects of the book equally suspenseful.  [I couldn’t help but note that Dr. Baldwin displays good taste in writers, reading a copy of a John Connolly book in one scene.]  The occult aspect becomes just another part of the background and not a deterrent to this reader’s enjoyment of the book.  As is pointed out to Taylor, “Everyone needs something to believe in.  Pagans just look to things that are a bit more tangible than what you and I are aware of.”  The Immortals, as were the other books in the series, is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.