Monday, December 31, 2007

Change of Heart-Jodi Picoult

Change of Heart
Jodi Picoult
Atria, Mar 2008, $26.95
ISBN: 9780743496742

Her spouse drove the vehicle with his wife June and their daughter Elizabeth inside when they were blindsided by a drunken driver; her husband died in the crash. Kurt Nealson, the police officer who pulled the two females out of the wreckage, became a frequent visitor of the widow and her offspring and eventually he and June married. Seven moths pregnant June hires carpenter Shay Bourne to make some needed home repairs. He kills her second husband and Elizabeth. At his trial, he is convicted and sentenced to state execution, but never explains why he committed the homicides.

Eleven years later Shay is on death row about to die as his appeals have run out. June’s daughter Claire needs a heart transplant and Shay offers his as their hearts are compatible. On the day he arrives in Concord in the 1-tier Secure Housing Unit strange things happen to those around him. He brings a bird back to life and a man with AIDS is miraculously healed while a piece of bubblegum turns out to be enough for every inmate.

His lawyer, who opposes the death penalty, works overtime to get Shay’s conviction changed so that they can use his heart. Crowds gather outside the prison wondering outside if the Messiah has returned and if so why inside a murderer.

Every book that Jodi Picoult writes seems to reach her audience on a primal level. There are things readers do not know about the homicides especially why Shay committed them or if he is a healer or a con artist. Readers want to believe he is the Messiah because there is something compelling about him in which those who know him insist he is not evil. The author evokes strong emotions and opinions from her fans as much as those displayed by Shay’s lawyer, June and Claire.

Harriet Klausner

Charley’s Web-Joy Fielding

Charley’s Web
Joy Fielding
Atria, Mar 2008, $26.95
ISBN: 9780743296014

Charley Webb has a column in the Palm Beach Post; she has two beautiful children sired by men she never intended on marrying. Her mother abandoned the family when she was eight years old leaving her to be raised by an angry acrimonious and emotionally abusive father. Since her mother came back into her life, her father refuses to speak to her ; her two sisters barely acknowledge her and her brother Brian is destroying himself with alcohol and drugs.

When she gets a letter from Jill Rohmer, who is on death row for kidnapping, torturing and killing three children, Charley arranges for her lawyer to arrange a meeting. He tries to discourage Charley, but she wants to meet the killer. After meeting Jill, Charley wants to write the woman’s biography; over the next month she spends time with Jill at the prison and on the phone. The only information that Jill refuses to reveal to Charley is the name of her accomplice whom she calls “Jack”. While she works with Jill, she receives a series of emails threatening her and her children. She turns to Alex whom she has become romantically involved with for help, but someone is watching her family waiting for the right moment to strike.

Charley has few friends because she has closed herself off emotionally to avoid hurt; she uses people as fodder for her column and knows there are may people angry at her, which leaves readers to wonder who threatens her kids to get at her. Joy Fielding is fabulous at writing psychological suspense with her latest being a strong affirmation of her skills. Although the threat to her children adds tension, the key to this powerful character driven thriller is Charley whose relational web is made up of people who loathe her before the Rohmer book; her writing the biography of a children’s’ killer adds more people who believe she is a despicable a-hole.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sleep Softly- Gwen Hunter

Sleep Softly
Gwen Hunter
Mira, Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780778324646

ER Nurse Ashlee Davenport Chadwick either makes or finds a home on her family farm for retired K-9 dogs. Currently besides her college student daughter Jas, Big Dog, Cheeks, and Cherry live with her. They bring to her a smelly child's red sneaker, which she is about to toss in a game of fetch only she knows the odor reeks of “old death”. She looks inside and sees tissue. Although she knows it is dumb, she labels and protects the “evidence” as she has learned in her forensic courses. Hesitant as she does not want her peers at Dawkins County Rescue Squad nicknaming her, she still calls the Sheriff’s Department. Afterward Cheeks, an experienced tracker dog, takes her to the sight where she finds a toe.

Over the objection of the locals, Ashlee’s boyfriend, FBI Violent Crime Squad Coordinator Jim Ramsey of the nearby Columbia office, leads the investigation. He is already looking into a serial killer whose victims are young girls, which probably means Cheeks’ find fits his case. Soon they discover several young buried on or just off Chadwick land; making the family including Ashlee the prime suspect.

SLEEP SOFTLY is a tense exciting police procedural that readers will devour in one sitting. The story line is fast-paced especially when the culprit targets the heroine. The romance is kept somewhat on the back burner so that subplot does not intrude on an engaging whodunit. Mostly told from Ashlee's perspective, sub-genre readers will enjoy this suspenseful thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Victim- Gayle Wilson

Gayle Wilson
Mira, Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780778323945

Sarah Patterson's life ended three years ago when someone tortured and murdered her beloved son Daniel. The police arrest Samuel Tate for that murder and others as they find concrete evidence in his van during a routine accident. However, Orleans Parish Criminal Court Judge Marlene Wexler, who always rules in favor of defendant’s rights in an exact interpretation of the law, throws out the “murder kit” that uniformed Police Officer Gateau found in Tate’s vehicle as the cop had no probable cause to search the van. She frees Tate.

As Tate leaves the courtroom, Sarah takes out a gun to kill him, but cop Mac Donovan prevents her from doing so; he warns her she would have been held on murder charges, but she says so what as she died three years ago. Tate smirks at her as he leaves by taxi.

Soon after that encounter, Sarah receives strange phone calls that she and Mac believe are from Tate, glorying in his freedom. Not long after that back door encounter, her former husband (the marriage ending when Danny died) is murdered. Once again Sarah and Mac feel Tate killed her spouse. Mac tries to protect Sarah while the FBI sets up a sting using her as bait to finally catch this diabolically clever serial killer; as they fall in love; she now has a reason to live.

VICTIM is a superb serial killer chiller that grips the audience from the moment the Judge frees Tate and never frees the reader until the final anticipated Bayou confrontation. The story line is action-packed with most scenes adding tension to this taut thriller. The cast is strong especially the lead couple and Tate. Although the romance seems out of place and reduces the spine tingling expectation of High Noon between a grieving mom and her son’s killer, fans will appreciate Gayle Wilson’s powerful novel.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Death Was the Other Woman-Linda L. Richards

Death Was the Other Woman
Linda L. Richards
St. Martin's, Jan 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312377700

In 1931 Los Angeles cynical private investigator Dex Theroux runs a two person office. Whereas he does the leg work and takes the beatings, Kitty Pangborn runs the office and occasionally does safe field work. Dex is unsure why Kitty remains with him, as paying jobs are infrequent and he knows he is an alcoholic though with good cause.

Wealthy Rita Heppelwaite hires Dex to report on what her married boyfriend, Harrison Dempsey is doing. Thinking this is an easy case and needing help on surveillance, Dex brings Kitty with him. However, their prey proves to be someone else’s prey as the sleuth and his assistant finds the murdered corpse of Harrison. Dex wants to make money from his affluent client so he tells Kitty to say nothing about the dead body for now. Kitty is appalled by her boss’ disregard of the deceased so she defies Dex and calls the cops. However, to her shock she soon learns that Harrison is alive making her wonder what is going on.

With Madeline Carter on temporary hiatus, Linda L. Richards introduces readers to a new fascinating detective team in a fine historical mystery. The story line is fun, but not so much due to the mystery of Harrison and the corpse or depression Era L.A., but instead because of the bickering relationship between unethical Dex and the moralistic Kitty. They make the tale entertaining.

Harriet Klausner

Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues-Blaize Clement

Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues
Blaize Clement
St. Martin's, Jan 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312340933

Former Florida Deputy Sheriff Dixie Hemingway remains on administrative leave as she struggles with the deaths of her husband Todd and their daughter Christy. She earns a living as a pet sitter in Siesta Key, a barrier island off Sarasota, in an attempt to remain as far away from law enforcement as she can. Although she has not been as successful as she would have liked having recently been forced to kill an assailant.

Although she would prefer to hide in bed from the world for two reasons: that killing even if the Grad Jury ruled self defense and worse the loneliness of Christmas without Todd and Christy. However, she pushes herself to go to work and quit the self pity. At the gatehouse to a client’s mansion, Dixie spots a dead body. Deciding she wants nothing to do with a corpse, she leaves without informing anyone. However, whether it is guilt or concern over the mad scientist who owns the mansion, Dixie, in between caring for his pet iguana, investigates the homicide.

Readers will appreciate the third Dixie Hemingway whodunit (see CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT SITTER and DUPLICITY DOGGED THE DACHSHUND) as the reluctant former cop works a case that she would prefer not to get involved. Besides sleuthing, Dixie struggles with her feelings of guilt that she should not feel attractions for Police Lieutenant Guidry and attorney Crane. Thriller elements due to her client, the mad scientist not the iguana, enhance an entertaining mystery.

Harriet Klausner

Bring Your Own Poison-Jimmie Ruth Evans

Bring Your Own Poison
Jimmie Ruth Evans
Berkley, Mar 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780425219058

Wanda Nell Culpepper is the waitress serving the Trevor Blakely bachelor party at the Kountry Kitchen in Tullahoma, Mississippi. Rumors abound that Trevor’s two wives died of suspicious “accidental” circumstances and that both of his spouses had large life insurance policies with him as the benefactor. At his gala, Trevor is a loudmouth, making ugly remarks about women especially his fiancée. When he reaches behind him, grabs a drink from a table and sips it; he suddenly dies.

The police assume he was poisoned with his younger brother Gerald as the prime suspect since he loves his future sister-in-law. While drunk at the party, Gerald picked up a vial containing a liquid. The police take him in for questioning. State Police officer Bill Warren heads the investigation; he believes Gerald did the MURDER OVER EASY crime as he had motive, means and opportunity. Bill tries to blackmail Wanda into signing a statement that she knows is false. She decides to conduct her own inquiry as Bill has convicted Gerald.

Life in a small Mississippi town especially in a trailer park turns interesting when the eccentrics are determined to help. In addition to her investigation, the heroine contends with a situation concerning her oldest daughter, come to terms with her feelings for Jack who wants to marry her, and keep his niece safe from a stalker. Wanda Nell assumes all this is a piece of cake as she is a waitress and deals daily with a lot worse. Character driven, BRING YOUR OWN POISON is an entertaining regional amateur sleuth.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Night Following-Morag Joss

The Night Following
Morag Joss
Delacorte, Mar 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 9780385341189

The woman is stunned to learn her spouse the handsome doctor is having affair. Distracted as she drives a winding back road, she fails to notice the woman on a bike in front of her as she comes out of a turn. The driver hits sexagenarian Ruth Mitchell, but instead of stopping, she drives away.

The police fail to find the culprit who murdered Ruth in a hit and run vehicular homicide. However, the driver knows what she did and how she fled the scene. She feels haunted by her action and guilty by her reaction. She begins to watch the victim’s husband Arthur from a distance. His raw grief rips her stomach further as he no longer cares about himself or anyone else. He cannot sleep as the nightmares wake him and he cannot take care of his home or himself. She serendipitously enters his home cleaning it. She becomes more brazen as she meets Arthur in person demanding he clean up his act, which he does as he believes a miracle has occurred; his Ruth has returned to him.

Two marriages were shattered with that car accident, but it is the aftermath that digs incredibly deep into the convoluted human condition that makes for a haunting complex psychological thriller. Arthur and Ruth seem real as they react shockingly similar to what connects them, the death of his spouse by her. Yet that almost identical response feels genuine and makes for a powerful saga of loss, deception, and redemption.

Harriet Klausner

Of All Sad Words-Bill Crider

Of All Sad Words
Bill Crider
Dunne, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780312348106

When C.P. Benton moved to Clearview, Texas he never expected his neighbors to run meth lab. Irate he informs Sheriff Dan Rhodes that his neighbors the Crawford brothers are cooking meth in their home. Besides doubting the accusation, Rhodes is busy with a homicide investigation, but promises Benton he will act on his complaint as soon as possible.

Rhodes cannot put it off any longer when the Crawford trailer explodes, killing of the siblings. The sheriff investigates only to find the brothers were cooking bathtub hooch not meth in the trailer. The surviving Crawford blames his late brother, but Rhodes arrests him anyway. However, when a second illegal still surfaces, Rhodes wonders what is going on that has turned Clearview into the crime capital of the Lone Star State.

The latest Sheriff Dan Rhodes police procedural is a superb small town amusing mystery. The fun in the tale is with the eccentric townsfolk whose antics keep Dan hopping as he mumbles humorous asides to the crime wave that is devastating Clearview. Bill Crider captures the essence of a tiny Texas town using irony and humor dryer than a martini to the delight of readers.

Harriet Klausner

Bone Machine-Martyn Waites

Bone Machine
Martyn Waites
Pegasus, Jan 15 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781933648354

In Newcastle, the body of the mutilated Ashley Malcolm was found in a burial ground. Her eyes and mouth were sewed shut apparently when she still lived and cuts are all over her body. DS Turnbull and DI Nattrass believe her boyfriend Michael Nell killed her, as he has a history of violence against women. Janine Stewart thinks otherwise although she knows her client is a flash tempered lout. She refuses to believe he would perform a ritual killing; if Michael murdered his girlfriend she would be battered not stitched. Michael also claims an alibi.

Janine hires Joe Donovan to affirm Michael's alibi. The case seems simple to Joe until he and his team start tracking the alibi. This leads them to an evil world where vicious thugs run a child-trafficking ring and a prostitution ring with kids as the merchandise. Shook to his core, Joe still wonders what happened to his six-year-old son who vanished three years ago and could have been for sale by these punks. Soon a second death occurs as the serial killing Historian taunts the cops with clues from the city’s heritage.

Though the culprit comes out of serial killer casting, BONE MACHINE is a tense gritty Noir that deeply explores human trafficking to the point that the hero and the Historian are left out much of the first half of tale. Readers who appreciate an extremely dark crime thriller that looks at the evil people do to those vulnerable is interred in their bone marrow will want to read the BONE MACHINE and other Donavan thrillers like MERCY SEAT, not reviewed by me.

Harriet Klausner

What Are You Wearing to Die-Patricia Sprinkle

What Are You Wearing to Die
Patricia Sprinkle
Obsidian ,Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780451223258

Hopemore, Georgia has its share of vicious crimes; usually Magistrate MacLaren Yarbrough is in the middle of the investigation to the horror and fear of her spouse Joe Riddle. This time when someone dies, Joe handcuffs her leg to her desk in Yarbrough Feed Sed and Nursery. A car went over the bypass bridge with Star Knight inside. At first the police think it is an accident until when they bring the vehicle up; the victim was beaten to death with broken bones and black and blue marks everywhere.

Star had her life together when she was pregnant but she became addicted again to crystal meth. The Sheriff knows there is a lab in the area, but can’t locate it. Star’s father Trevor demands custody of his grandson and they later learn Star was going tothe DEA to inform them who was running the lab with plans of going straight. MacLaren and others believes the meth lab operatives killed Star to prevent her from ratting them out. When another death linked to Star occurs, MacLaren tries to find the killer who ran the meth house, but the murderer remains free with plans to murder the nosy magistrate who ruined his business.

This is a poignant character driven police procedural that makes the case that amoral people can live in the open yet hidden anywhere even a pristine small town. Joe’s handcuffing his wife shows how much he cares and worries about her investigating activities, but unless he plans to do this 24/7, his scheme is doomed to fail as MacLaren’s soul is to uncover the truth. The inquiry is fun to follow, but it is the meth lab in a small town Georgia that makes this cozy feel real.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Leading Lady-Heywood Gould

Leading Lady
Heywood Gould
Five Star, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146480

Thieves Jerry Lang and Gloria Pavlich are doing one last caper before retiring. They are to steal a five million dollar painting “Self Portrait” by Isaac Leviathan from a private collector; then they will give it to their fence Albanian expatriate Hanif “Mittens” Gallega who will sell it. They succeed in taking the painting, but when they get to their hotel, thugs greet them. In the melee that follows, Jerry shoots one of his assailants, but watches his beloved leading lady vanish. He later learns he killed a cop and is convicted of such.

In prison, Jerry escapes four assassination attempts. His last one has him sharing a hospital room with a corpse that he uses to escape his incarceration. He is coming for Hanif while remaining unaware someone has assigned Delta Force Domestic Major Cliff Hartung to insure he does not get close to one of his agency’s “toys”. At the Casbah, Jerry meets college student dancer Letitia Hudson, who gets caught in the middle of a local war.

This exhilarating crime caper is not for the cozy crowd as Jerry, feeling guilt for accepting one last job over Gloria’s objection, proves quite efficient in dispatching enemies in a violent manner. The story line is fast-paced as Letitia becomes Jerry’s new LEADING LADY and Hanif his crash dummy. Although how Hartung and his two deadly soldiers fit into the plot comes very late with quite a revelation, readers will appreciate Heywood Gould’s wild Noir.

Harriet Klausner

The Whiskey Killing-H.R. Williams

The Whiskey Killing
H.R. Williams
Five Star, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146626

After midnight in Medford, Arkansas, a man carrying a 22 caliber rifle walks up to liquor store owner seventy two year old Edwin Mayhew and fires four point blank range shots into his chest. Before leaving Mayhew’s front yard, the killer pours whiskey onto his face. The victim’s older sister Lavonnie sees his corpse and calls the cops.

Medford Police Department CID Captain Billy Walker leads the murder investigation assisted by CID 2 Sergeant Cordelia Hull and CID 3 Bob Claggert. The obvious suspects are those with an interest in the town’s gambling as Mayhew was heavily involved with that. Billy and Cordelia start with Hawaiian Nightclub owner Earl “Uh Oh” Gilby who provides him three sharks wanting the action. However, the case meanders much more than just who will run the illegal gambling business as others die too; Billy works hard to eliminate the obvious until he realizes the killer waits for him.

Billy makes this police procedural so much fun to follow as he methodically seeks clues while training Cordelia; the latter enables the audience to better understand the logic CID 1 applies to the homicide. Filled with twists that occur just when it seems case solved, sub-genre fans will appreciate THE WHISKEY KILLING even if Billy never received admin time for justifiably killing crazy dangerous Eddie Partee.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Vicky Hill Exclusive-Hannah Dennison

A Vicky Hill Exclusive
Hannah Dennison
Berkley, Mar 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780425220481

After her parents fled the country because her father was a notorious jewel thief, Vicky Hill moves to the quiet town of Gipping-on-Plym where she lands a job as a reporter for the Gipping Gazette. She wants to cover the crime beat, but her adversary Annabel takes the plum assignments while leaving the newbie covering funerals. She intercepts an informer with a scrap for Annabel who tells her that he found three chickens in the town dump where he works drained of its blood and minus their legs.

Not knowing what to make of his story, Vicky covers the funeral of Sir Hugh Trewallyn when a handsome man crashes the somber ceremony and kisses the widow. Vicky also sees her landlady Mrs. Paultry sneaking around the mausoleum. She get the autopsy report, which states that Hugh was poisoned and chicken legs were found in his mouth. Vicky believes the bloodless chicken and the death of Trewallyn are linked so she investigates, but stumbles across secrets that some people will kill to keep them concealed.

This is an intriguing journalist investigative mystery because the heroine has such a vivid imagination that is not always anchored in just the facts. Vicky is an innocent sweet person whose naivety has her believe people are innately good in spite of her parents proving otherwise when they deserted her. She trusts everyone even her rival; their relationship is hilarious as Annabel goes to the sublime level of Ted Baxter (of the Mary Tyler Moore show) to keep her name on the front page and Vicky’s on the obit column. Fans will enjoy Hannah Dennison’s front page whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

Turn Up the Heat-Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant

Turn Up the Heat
Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant
Berkley, Mar 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780425219478

Chloe Carter is preparing for her grad school exams and writing papers for her classes as she pursues a Masters degree in Social Work. She chose this subject in order to earn her inheritance from her late uncle who added caveats to his will. Chloe believes to her shock that she will be a good social worker because she likes helping people. She only wishes that her boyfriend Josh, the executive chef at his Bostonian restaurant Simmer was not working 12-14 hour shifts as she would like to spend more time with him.

One day Chloe visits Josh at Simmers only to find the corpse of waitress Leandra in the back of Owen’s fish truck. Apparently she was strangled by the strings of her apron. Owen is engaged to Chloe’s pregnant best friend Adrianna; she also knows him well enough to believe he is not a killer. However, the police label Owen as a person of interest because he lied about his accounts, the restaurants where he had them, and that he bought the camping truck when he told everyone it belonged to the company. Chloe theorizes who the killer is and almost becomes the next person on ice.

This is an excellent creative mystery due in part to the eccentric support cast that enhances the story line with an insider’s look at the kitchen of an upscale restaurant. The protagonist is a bright energetic person who treats her lover the way she wants him to treat her. Josh shows his feelings to Chloe every chance he gets, which endears him to the audience. At times poignant, while at other times humorous, TURN UP THE HEAT is a terrific whodunit repast.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Stark-Edward Bunker

Edward Bunker
St. Martin's, Dec 2007, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312374945

In 1962 in Oceanview, Los Angeles, Ernie Stark knows he has done a lot of so called terrible things in his life, just ask any of his friends, if he had any, but the "two-bit hustler” has never ratted out on anyone. However, he finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place (or at least the ocean and the continent). The rock is abusive LAPD Detective Lieutenant Patrick Crowley who demands Stark help him catch small time Hawaiian drug dealer Momo Mendoza or else.

Giving Mendoza to the cop is the hard place as that means cutting off his own drug supply; not giving Mendoza over to the cop means several horrific beatings and doing time on trumped up charges. Adding to his concern is the way the mute Dummy watches him as Stark wonders if he is being paranoid or if Mendoza’s runner and perhaps enforcer, who did time for manslaughter, knows something. He has two days to do something, but how to out hustle a cop, a drug dealer, a killer and make it with Dorie Williams will require on hell of a scam.

Crime caper fans will devour this STARK historical tale (actually it was written in the 1950s) as everyone involved is playing a game of poker with scams, bluffs and calls being the norm in a winner take all environs. The key quintet bring alive the streets of early sixties Los Angeles as each seems genuine with personal motives and flaws. With a fabulous final Caddy spin, the late Edward Bunker provides a terrific DOG EAT DOG Noir starring cold nasty NO BEAST SO FIERCE as these players.

Harriet Klausner

The Chameleon's Shadow-Minette Walters

The Chameleon's Shadow
Minette Walters
Knopf, Jan 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307264633

On 24 Nov 2006 the convoy drives the highway that links Basra and Baghdad led by a Scimitar Reconnaissance Vehicle when roadside bombs explode. The destruction of the RV became a top DVD seller in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the commander of the RV, British Army Lieutenant Charles Acland survived the blasts with facial and brain injuries; everyone else inside died. Two days later the Light Dragoon Guards’ officer is flown unconscious to Birmingham, England to begin reconstructive surgery of his disfigured face.

Back home, Charles is filled with rage especially towards women, and rejects the facial surgery, but initially accepts the psychological treatment offered by Dr. Robert Willis. Charles is incredibly angry at his former fiancée Jen Morley who insists even before his war trauma he was a chameleon. To her he was a woman’s man; to his unit and his male friends he was a man’s man; to his mom he was the adoring son. Charles abruptly moves to London at about the same time a serial killer is murdering people. He remains reclusive and angry yet accepting. His rage at Muslims leads to a brawl in a bar with Pakistani-English and a rescue by a three hundred pound female lesbian weight lifter Dr. Jackson and the bar’s owner Daisy, who try to help him afterward.

This is an interesting look at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in which the medical profession is unsure of whether Charles’ injuries changed his personality especially since Jen convinces them he hid his killer instincts behind a nice guy chameleon. Charles seems genuine and his two female saviors also, but it is the plot focused on whether he is a serial killer or not that grips readers. Although a late spin that answers the question of is he seems off kilter, fans of Minette Walters will enjoy this psychological thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Demons Are a Ghoul’s Best Friend-Victoria Laurie

Demons Are a Ghoul’s Best Friend
Victoria Laurie
Obsidian, Mar 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780451223418

Psychic Karen “Teek” O’Neal hires her friend M.J. Holliday and her Ghost Hunting associates computer guru Gilley Gillespie and Dr. “Delicious” Steven Sable for help. Teek’s fourteen years old niece Evie was attacked by a demon at the Northelm Boarding School she attends. The three Ghost Hunters agree to travel to the school off of Lake Placid, New York.

M.J. quickly learns the school bully is Hatchet Jack, but counseling him will not work as he is a demon who came through a portal she must locate if she is to send him to the hell hole he calls home. She also knows he is not going to cooperate like the ghost of the late police office Randy Donaldson did on their way up. Worse the school’s faculty, the dean, and Evie’s dad think she is either a psycho or a teen prankster while the dean thinks Evie’s aunt hangs around lunatics; which he assumes is probably where the kid gets her unbalance; M.J. expects hindrance from that quarter.

The follow up to WHAT'S A GHOUL TO DO? is an entertaining lighthearted paranormal thriller that grips the audience early on when M.J. assists lost soul Randy to move on and never slows down until the final nail is hammered home. This time Dr. Delicious is part of the investigative team from the onset rather than just a client as he was in the first entry. High school teens and up will appreciate the latest Ghost Hunter Mystery as M.J. and associates prove that DEMONS ARE A GHOUL’S BEST FRIEND, not.

Harriet Klausner

The Tea Rose-Jennifer Donnelly

The Tea Rose
Jennifer Donnelly
Dunne, Jan 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780312378028

In 1888 the Finnegans live in the London neighborhood Whitechapel. The family patriarch Paddy and his daughter Fiona work for corrupt tea merchant William Burton. Fiona wants much more than toiling for a crooked person while living in a slum. She saves her pence in hope of achieving her dream of marrying her beloved Joe Bristow and opening up a shop.

However, her dream turns nightmarish when Joe is forced to marry someone else; Burton arranges for a hitman to kill her dad in retaliation for Paddy supporting the development of a labor union; the Ripper murders her mother; and finally the corpse of her deeply depressed brother is found in the Thames, an apparent suicide. Fiona visits Burton to obtain some money for her father’s death, but instead hears the odious braggart lauding his killing of Paddy. Desperate especially to keep her other sibling five-year-old Seamie safe, she tries to obtain passages on a ship heading to New York, but fails until wealthy homosexually inclined Nicholas Soames pretends she is his wife. In America Fiona and Seamie live with their alcoholic Uncle Michael; she keeps his West Side grocery store open and soon becomes wealthy ironically working with tea; but revenge remains for her on the other side of the pond.

This is a reprint of a superb historical thriller that brings to life the underside of late Victorian London and Gay Nineties New York. The story line is fast-paced yet readers will feel they walk the gaslight streets of Manhattan and the Ripper dark cobblestones of Whitechapel by the Thames. Sub-genre fans will appreciate this wonderful late nineteenth century epic.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 24, 2007

Freefall-JoAnn Ross

JoAnn Ross
Signet, Mar 2008, $7.99
ISBN 9780451223203

Having served in the Afghan War, former SEAL Chief Petty Officer Zach Tremayne returns to his hometown Swann Island, South Carolina; he hopes the barrier island will enable him to move past his recent appalling experience of seeing the deaths of his brothers in arms. Sabrina Swann also returns to her hometown Swann Island, South Carolina; she hopes the barrier island will enable her to move past the appalling deadly terrorist attack on the Florence, Italy Paradiso Angeli Hotel where she was a waitress.

Zach and Sabrina were teen sweethearts so with both coming home and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they naturally come together. As they help each other move forward, they begin to fall in love. However, the serene Swan Island of their youth is no more as a serial killer stalks, tortures and kills women with Sabrina in his sights.

The Coastal Carolina barrier island makes for a perfect setting for the first High Risk romantic suspense thriller. The romance is the more fascinating subplot as two walking wounded struggle to relate in spite of falling in love; as PTSD does not lead to trust; both knows the issues are inside them not their beloved. Although the serial killer element adds suspense and enables Zach to way too easily shed his PTSD crippling illness to try to save Sabrina, fans will enjoy the exciting FREEFALL with its unique romance.

Harriet Klausner

A Flaw in the Blood-Stephanie Barron

A Flaw in the Blood
Stephanie Barron
Bantam, Mar 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 9780553805246

In 1861 Windsor Castle, the Prince Consort Albert is dying from typhoid, a disease he has battled with for several months. His wife Queen Victoria of England is beside herself with grief as she wonders how she will survive and continue to rule her empire without him at her side; he has always been there for her and their children since they married two decades ago.

Victoria sends her royal coach for Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald to see her as she has need of his service. Twenty years ago when she was a shaky ruler of just a few years, he, as a legal clerk, exposed a murderous conspiracy intended to dethrone her. Fitzgerald accompanied by his ward Dr. Georgiana Armistead has no idea what her Highness wants of him, but when the coach containing them is attacked, he fears for their lives as he knows the assault was precisely planned by a royal insider. He refuses to risk their lives so he plans to hide the niece of the late Dr. Snow, physician to the Queen. However they are the prey of predators seeking a secret that goes back to his first royal encounter although he remains ignorant of that truth; if revealed those who want the queen deposed will have a perfect rationale at a time the grief stricken Victoria is too weak to fight back.

In many ways this exhilarating thriller is more a historical novel than a mystery. The audience obtains a taste of greater London at a critical time in the reign of Queen Victoria when the monarch is vulnerable. Fitzgerald keeps the tale focused with his realistic attempts to hide rather than die facing his unknown adversaries. Readers will appreciate Stephanie Barron’s fine mid nineteenth century Victorian suspense saga with nary an Austen or any Jane in sight.

Harriet Klausner

The Iron Tongue of Midnight-Beverle Graves Myers

The Iron Tongue of Midnight
Beverle Graves Myers
Poisoned Pen, Mar 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9781590582503

In 1740, German composer Karl Johann Weber invites renowned singer Tito Amato to play the lead in a new opera he is producing. Tito is euphoric although his brother in law Gussie Rumbolt points out the role of Tamerlano the lusty Mongol conqueror seems off note for a castrato, but Tito insists the exorbitant fee will cover any shortcomings.

Gussie, who also has been hired to paint scenes, accompanies Tito to the isolated Venetian Villa Dolfini where Weber is leading rehearsals in stark secrecy. That night as Gussie and Tito share a room in the villa, soprano Carmela Costa screams. The bloodcurdling screech wakes everyone up. Lying at her ankle is a corpse apparently beaten to death with a nearby clock pendulum. No one can identify the victim and a check of his pockets does not help as they are totally empty. They send for the High Constable Captain Forti, but he is away. As other midnight killings follow, Tito investigates not knowing when he made that decision his inquiries will turn introspectively personal.

The latest Baroque Mystery (see INTERRUPTED ARIA, PAINTED VEIL, and CRUEL MUSIC) is an excellent historical whodunit that uses an eighteenth century villa to serve as a sort of locked room. Tito is terrific as an amateur sleuth struggling with a case in which motive seems impossible to find since the first deceased is unknown. Besides an entertaining mystery, the story line brings to life the musical side of Venice and to a lesser degree Constantinople through the writings of Tito’s brother Alessandro. Readers will sing the praise of Beverle Graves Myers who makes a night at the opera fun.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Now You See Him-Eli Gottlieb

Now You See Him
Eli Gottlieb
Morrow, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780061284649

In Manhattan, writer Rob Castor could have starred in one of his tales when he kills his girlfriend and himself in a murder suicide. The media goes manic with the deaths of two writers especially since Rob is a cult favorite for his dark tales and “experts” search for clues to this tragedy. His childhood best friend Nick Framingham is stunned when he hears the news and needs to know why over the objection of his wife.

Nick visits Rob’s sister Belinda to offer his condolences and to also learn more about Rob’s final days especially his relationship with the woman he murdered. Seeing Belinda reminds Rob how much he desired her even as his own marriage is apparently tanking. Still he looks back at their childhood for clues and tries to track Rob’s final days to seek an explanation as he like Belinda need closure; instead he finds each step he takes seems to bring him deeper into an abyss.

This is an exciting thriller as Nick struggles to learn why, but also begins to realize the roots of the tragedy lies in their childhoods. Readers will empathize with Nick and his need for closure his way. However the key to this superb suspense story is the slow revelations that ultimately tie together in an incredible ending.

Harriet Klausner

Next of Kin-John Boyne

Next of Kin
John Boyne
Dunne, Feb 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312357979

In 1936, Hitler is becoming the rage on the content; in England, the public affair between King Edward VIII and the commoner widow Mrs. Simpson holds the public’s attention, but not Owen Montignac. Instead he believes his prayers have been answered with the timely death of his wealthy Uncle Peter. Owen owes £50,000 to casino boss Nicholas Delfy that must be paid in full by Christmas or he will spend the New Year and beyond with his deceased relative. However, to his dismay Owen learns his prayers went unanswered as dear Uncle Peter left him out of the will as deserving cousin Stella got everything. Desperation calls for desperate measures.

Gareth Bentley’s responsible father a judge is outraged at the irresponsibility of his son as he only pursues pleasure ever since Stella imitated him when she was sixteen and he fifteen. Dad, a lawyer, considers cutting off funds to his son. However, before his parents consider leaving him without a pound to his name, the police suspect Gareth killed Stella’s beloved Raymond. Stunned he pleads with his father to help him; insisting he is a victim of a clever frame from someone who knows him intimately and took advantage of his escapades. Desperation calls for desperate measures, but who would go that far.

This is an interesting historical mystery that uses King Edward’s final days on the throne as a backdrop to a fascinating murder mystery that has its roots back a decade ago. However, Owen and Gareth are despicable individuals with no redeeming qualities. It is Gareth's parents who struggle with their conscience as they go out of their way to save their son; Judge Roderick especially hurts thinking back to those he condemned for hanging without an ounce of pity as he must choose between his values and his son. Readers will enjoy NEXT OF KIN as the past haunts their present.

Harriet Klausner

The Skeleton Man-Jim Kelly

The Skeleton Man
Jim Kelly
St. Martin’s, Jan 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312377816

The military exercise focuses on the abandoned small village of Jude’s Ferry off of Whittlesea Mere. Reporting on the war games is The Crow journalist Philip Dryden, who has learned the ghost town had never reported any official crime in its millennium of existence. Following the artillery shelling, a shocking sight surfaces when a grave underneath the cellar of what had been a pub has been opened. The skeletal remains of a person hung to death are found.

Not expecting much from the police on this cold make that frozen case, Dryden cannot resist learning the truth about the ancient skeleton and who uncovered the tomb and why. However, the former residents are not only scattered those he interviews remain reticent not offering him much in the way of useful information. However, Dryden obstinately keeps digging until someone begins to think he is getting to close and plans on him being the second victim in the history of Jude’s Ferry.

This complex somewhat convoluted investigative tale is a superb whodunit as Dryden struggles with finding a nano clue at a time. The support cast is in the quadrillions with most providing cameo appearances in response to the reporter’s inquiry. This makes it difficult to keep score yet for those who relish solving the case, they are each critical in what may seem incognizant as a puzzle part, but the whole is needed for lucid resolution. Although how Jim Kelly kept track is beyond me, THE SKELTON MAN is a terrific look at rural England where local talk is not a repression but a depression.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Silver: My Own Tale as Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder

Silver: My Own Tale as Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder
Edward Chupack
Dunne, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780312373658

After a relatively successful life as a pirate, Long John Silver has been caught and is being brought back to England under 24/7 watch to be hanged like the dirty dog he is. However, as he sails home a prisoner he may yet cheat the gallows as Long John is also extremely ill with a raging fever that could kill him before the noose does. Although sick, Long John has a tale to tell to pass time; at least that is what he says to his guard. However, long John has a hidden agenda with relating his saga; he hopes to con his young companion into freeing him in exchange for revealing where his treasure is buried as no one understands human greed better than this slick pirate.

As he behaved in TREASURE ISLAND, Silver retains that sly roguish genius while telling his life’s tale to his guard yet plotting his escape. He is terrific seemingly several steps ahead of those who want him to hang. Jim Hawkins plays a role in Silver’s “autobiography”, but this is not a rehash of the Stevenson classic; instead it is a chutzpah expansion that Edward Chupack brilliantly makes his own fascinating pirate saga.

Harriet Klausner

Criminal Paradise

Criminal Paradise
Steven M. Thomas
Ballantine, Mar 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780345497819

In California Robert Rivers and Switch rob the Cow Town restaurant. However when the two thieves open the safe to take the cash from inside of it, they find a fascinating photograph of a naked underage Vietnamese female; they assume that the restaurant owner Orange County business mogul Lewis McFadden is using and perhaps selling teenage girls.

Rivers enlists his biker friend Reggie England to help him break into McFadden's house. However they find a shocker; tied to the bedposts is a Vietnamese girl who says her name is Song. They liberate Song taking her to Switch's home while he is out of town. Rivers and nineteen year old Song share a sexual encounter. McFadden recaptures her with plans to sell her at a slave auction, but also owes Rivers for his stealing of his merchandise and as an example for other such petty thieves.

This is an interesting crime caper that loses some of its charm with the transformation of River from a likable heroic thief to a disappointing user-predator when he has sex with Song even if she is a consenting adult; he becomes the serpent in CRIMINAL PARADISE turning off many readers. Still this is a deep look at the sex slave market alive and thriving, just ask River’s Orange County landlady.

Harriet Klausner

The Silver Needle Murder-Laura Childs

The Silver Needle Murder
Laura Childs
Berkley, Mar 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780425219461

Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning is elated with the Charleston Film Festival because the event means large profits although it also means long hours and hard work for her and her staff as they cater parties. Her first client is at the opening night celebration at the famous historic Belvedere Theatre where the rich and famous will attend.

As Theodosia makes the rounds insuring everyone is pleased with the Indigo Tea Shop offerings, she notices how different the atmosphere seems between those in the lobby having a good time and those backstage loudly argue when they are talking to one another. Worse the backstage war leads to two judges abruptly quitting and the festival director drafting a reluctant Theodosia as a replacement. Still she assumes the bickering was due to nerves until famous director Jordan Cole begins the walk to provide remarks to the gathering. Before he reaches the lectern, he is shot dead. Theodosia knows she should mind her business, but she has had success solving homicides so she starts asking questions of those she saw back stage squabbling.

The latest Indigo Tea Shop mystery is an entertaining amateur sleuth mystery starring a courageous likable lead protagonist. Theodosia is at her simmering best as she calmly investigates the shooting death witnessed by many yet no one can tell her who and why. Although the amateur sleuth paradox is apparent, fans will not care as readers prefer tasting the various concoctions that Laura Childs offers in her wonderful Charleston based series.

Harriet Klausner

Enemy Combatant-Ed Gaffney

Enemy Combatant
Ed Gaffney
Dell, Mar 2008, $6.99
ISBN 9780440243748

In Phoenix, the jury selection in the case against Hispanic Muslim Juan Gomez accused of being a terrorist mass murderer is an injustice as the public defender appointed to represent the indicted does nothing. In the gallery watching the proceedings, a disgusted attorney Tom Carpenter opens his mouth that the proceedings are a travesty as no objections to obviously biased people have occurred. The judge assigns Carpenter to represent the seemingly already convicted Gomez.

During the trial Carpenter finds justice is not blind it is dead in this case as everything is set for the prosecution to gain a conviction. In the courthouse bathroom a hooded attacker holding a gun to his head warns Carpenter that if he is overly zealous in his defense, meaning acquittal, his family will pay the price. When he sees the same person working for the defense, Carpenter realizes he needs to learn who his adversary is and what he really knows as he begins to believe that the bathroom incident was a warning to protect his family not a threat.

This interesting legal thriller raises the question whether justice in American can be blind when it comes to a radical fundamentalist Muslim. The story line is fast-paced from the moment that Carpenter opens his mouth in court and never slows down as the audience is captivated by his defense of his client, who fascinatingly he does not like. Although the support cast on all sides of the courtroom and elsewhere seem more caricature than developed, readers will appreciate this entertaining thriller in which entitlement to a lawyer is not entitlement to a reasonably good defense.

Harriet Klausner

Murder Melts in Your Mouth-Nancy Martin

Murder Melts in Your Mouth
Nancy Martin
Obsidian, Mar 2008, $22.95
ISBN: 9780451223111

There is never a dull moment in the Blackbird family and Nora the pragmatic one has to hold things together. Her sister Libby was hit by a Rolls Royce driven by a mysterious millionaire who is putting her up in the Ritz Carleton so she can fully recover from her trauma. She cajoles Nora into watching her five kids. Their other sibling tough talking, hard drinking Emma is pregnant and considering an abortion.

To add to Nora’s angst, her parents are back in town and they have a way of getting the government to investigate income tax evasion and by helping them their crimes which forced them to leave the country will be dropped. Nora’s best friend Lexie Paine’s partner Hoyt Cavendish was discovered to have embezzled funds from the firm, which is now close to declaring bankruptcy. Lexie and Hoyt Cavendish have a huge public argument just before he falls from an office ledge. The Philadelphia police suspect Lexie killed Hoyt leading to Nora to investigate as she knows her pal is not a murderer as several people had a motive and opportunity to push him off the ledge. Although her mob related boyfriend Michael Abruzzo broke off with her, he remains steadfast in being there when she gets in trouble, as she does with her inquiry.

The latest Blackbirds Sister mystery is a delightful amateur sleuth tale in which the audience is hooked throughout from the first Libby incident to the last altercation. Nora is incredible as she proves chaos theory as the hub of the Blackbird family is pure extended bedlam. Interestingly with Libby recovering, Emma considering an abortion, and Nora watching five kids and investigating a homicide; each most fears the return of their parents to the City of Brotherly Love. Amusing, farcical, and satirical, Nancy Martin provides a wonderful chocolate lover’s tour of Philadelphia.

Harriet Klausner

Murder Melts in Your Mouth-Nancy Martin

Murder Melts in Your Mouth
Nancy Martin
Obsidian, Mar 2008, $22.95
ISBN: 9780451223111

There is never a dull moment in the Blackbird family and Nora the pragmatic one has to hold things together. Her sister Libby was hit by a Rolls Royce driven by a mysterious millionaire who is putting her up in the Ritz Carleton so she can fully recover from her trauma. She cajoles Nora into watching her five kids. Their other sibling tough talking, hard drinking Emma is pregnant and considering an abortion.

To add to Nora’s angst, her parents are back in town and they have a way of getting the government to investigate income tax evasion and by helping them their crimes which forced them to leave the country will be dropped. Nora’s best friend Lexie Paine’s partner Hoyt Cavendish was discovered to have embezzled funds from the firm, which is now close to declaring bankruptcy. Lexie and Hoyt Cavendish have a huge public argument just before he falls from an office ledge. The Philadelphia police suspect Lexie killed Hoyt leading to Nora to investigate as she knows her pal is not a murderer as several people had a motive and opportunity to push him off the ledge. Although her mob related boyfriend Michael Abruzzo broke off with her, he remains steadfast in being there when she gets in trouble, as she does with her inquiry.

The latest Blackbirds Sister mystery is a delightful amateur sleuth tale in which the audience is hooked throughout from the first Libby incident to the last altercation. Nora is incredible as she proves chaos theory as the hub of the Blackbird family is pure extended bedlam. Interestingly with Libby recovering, Emma considering an abortion, and Nora watching five kids and investigating a homicide; each most fears the return of their parents to the City of Brotherly Love. Amusing, farcical, and satirical, Nancy Martin provides a wonderful chocolate lover’s tour of Philadelphia.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 21, 2007

Who Creamed Peaches, Anyway? -Stevi Mittman

Who Creamed Peaches, Anyway?
Stevi Mittman
Harlequin Next, Jan 2008, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373881505

The prime suspect in the murder of Peaches "Hooker Housewife" Lipschitz is Nassau County Police Department police detective Hal Nelson; as such the brass removes Hal’s partner Detective Drew Scoones from the case. Drew’s on and off girlfriend “Long Island's Most Dangerous Decorator" Teddi Bayer is off even though he proposes.

Teddi has decided to investigate the Hooker Housewife homicide, which will steam Drew who once again tells her to stay out of it. However, in between inquiries, she has to keep control of her mother and children while keeping her business going. Still as she uncovers clues that she quietly gives to her on again but secret boyfriend, Teddi follows up with Peaches’ clientele as she assumes one of them gave the hook to the hooker.

“Long Island's Most Dangerous Decorator” is back causing havoc but this time her boyfriend has mixed feelings re her inquiries unlike her previous investigations in which he wanted her to stay out, but she ignored him anyway. The story line is lighthearted fun as Teddi B works the case, keeping Drew in line, and struggling as always with her mom June. However, what makes Teddi consider jumping into Long Island Sound is her daughter has decided her mother should reconcile with her dad and be a Gallo again in spite of his trying to commit her and her trying to kill him. Life in Nassau County is as crazy as ever.

Harriet Klausner

Dark Horse-Mike Langan

Dark Horse
Mike Langan
Five Star, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146640

In Syracuse, New York personal injury lawyer Nicky Rigopoulos wants no problem cases interfering with his efforts to become a judge; thus he settles for less than his clients deserve when even his partner Lottie Magnarella argues with him that he behaves unethically. Although married to the trophy wife that a hot shot attorney wannabe judge needs, Nicky is a first class womanizer to include at one time Lottie. His spouse knows what he is and does not mind as long as he keeps her in a luxurious lifestyle as she is a man-eater.

Nicky’s chances of landing on the bench sink totally when Lottie is found dead; he is the prime suspect as just a few hours earlier they had a public brouhaha over his settling a case for her. Not trusting cops or lawyers as he knows both groups too well, Nicky investigates only to have the police believe he also killed his spouse and one of his lovers.

Once you get past the amateur sleuth paradox compounded in this case by the protagonist having strong connections and money, DARK LADY is a terrific whodunit. The story line is fast-paced as Nicky struggles to stay one step ahead of the police while feeling one step behind the culprit. Adding to the fun is that the lead character is the epitome of sleazy lawyer so that readers have mixed feelings as he deserves the worse though he is innocent.

Harriet Klausner

Dark Horse-Mike Langan

Dark Horse
Mike Langan
Five Star, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146640

In Syracuse, New York personal injury lawyer Nicky Rigopoulos wants no problem cases interfering with his efforts to become a judge; thus he settles for less than his clients deserve when even his partner Lottie Magnarella argues with him that he behaves unethically. Although married to the trophy wife that a hot shot attorney wannabe judge needs, Nicky is a first class womanizer to include at one time Lottie. His spouse knows what he is and does not mind as long as he keeps her in a luxurious lifestyle as she is a man-eater.

Nicky’s chances of landing on the bench sink totally when Lottie is found dead; he is the prime suspect as just a few hours earlier they had a public brouhaha over his settling a case for her. Not trusting cops or lawyers as he knows both groups too well, Nicky investigates only to have the police believe he also killed his spouse and one of his lovers.

Once you get past the amateur sleuth paradox compounded in this case by the protagonist having strong connections and money, DARK LADY is a terrific whodunit. The story line is fast-paced as Nicky struggles to stay one step ahead of the police while feeling one step behind the culprit. Adding to the fun is that the lead character is the epitome of sleazy lawyer so that readers have mixed feelings as he deserves the worse though he is innocent.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Prepared for Rage- Dana Stabenow

Prepared for Rage
Dana Stabenow
St. Martin’s, Feb 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780312369736

Most Americans take for granted the launching of the space shuttles from the Kennedy Space Center; yet when something goes wrong like with Challenger the entire nation grieves. Thus a Pakistani terrorist with a personal grudge against the United States understands what blowing up a shuttle would do the country’s psyche. He has lined up a loyal team of zealots willing to die for success and begins the alternate countdown as NASA prepares for the next launch.

The FBI has heard message trafficking of a major attack soon, but not sure how or where; they and the US Coast Guard led by intrepid Captain Cal T. Schuyler want to keep the Cape Kennedy area safe as that is a prime target especially with a VIP on board the shuttle.

Leaving Alaska for the waters off Florida’s east coast, Dana Stabenow proves she is as good at a suspense thriller as she is at a Kate Shugak crime saga. The story line is action-packed whether the readers follow the astronauts especially Kenai Munro preparing, the terrorists, or the Coast Guard. Readers will enjoy this strong tale as Ms. Stabenow’s second Coast Guard thriller (see BLINDFOLD GAME) may occur in warmer waters, but the danger seems as plausible.

Harriet Klausner

Paris Noir: Capital Crime Fiction-Maxim Jakubowski (Editor)

Paris Noir: Capital Crime Fiction
Maxim Jakubowski (Editor)
Serpent's Tail, Feb 2008
ISBN: 9781852429669

Like London before it (see LONDON NOIR) Paris is a great city for Noirs to occur and some of the eighteen contributors like Cara Black (“The Redhead“) know the dark side of the city with her Aimee Leduc tales. However, the problem is with the title as some of the entries are not classic Noirs like Michael Moorcock's paranormal sleuth Sexton Blake appearing in “The Flaneur of Les Arcades de l’Opera”; a sleuth I enjoyed reading in his anthology (see THE METATEMPORAL DETECTIVE), but does not fit the theme. Thus purists might be a bit upset to find PARIS NOIR is 200-proof “Capital Crime Fiction”, but only 100-proof Noir. The stories are all new, fun to read with no clinkers and a few are Noir Excellence such as Romain Slocombe's "Guy Georges' Final Crime" confrontation between a serial killer and the next victim and the rotating perspective of “The Lookout” by Marc Villard.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

DeKok and Murder on Blood Mountain-A.C. Baantjer

DeKok and Murder on Blood Mountain
A.C. Baantjer
Speck, Nov 2007, $14.00
ISBN: 9781933108131

The corpse of Hendrick-Jan Assumber was fished out of the Scheldt River harbor in Antwerp, Belgium. The victim actually died from poisoning not drowning; since Hendrik-Jan known as Henry is a Dutch citizen, the Antwerp Police request Amsterdam Inspectors DeKok and Vledder to assist on their investigation.

The body is sent to Amsterdam for burial. Attending the funeral, DeKok notices another mourner Ronald Kriusberg who legally died over two years ago, but the very alive man flees before DeKok can detain him to learn why he is at the funeral as much as why he faked his demise. Not long after that incident Hendrik’s widow is stunned to learn her late spouse’s savings have been emptied. Nothing makes sense to DeKok who concludes that all roads lead to the Antwerp neighborhood of Bloedberg (Blood Mountain) where the Holy Pact for the Dying might include the victim as a signer.

In his twenty-third case, DeKok is at his best trying to find the ties between “dead” men in which every new clue makes the investigation seem fuzzier not lucid. DeKok seems so genuine and for an example when he chases after Richard he runs out of breathe rather quickly. Vledder enhances the inquiry especially with his continual questioning of why they are working a Belgium murder case. Fans of the series know this is always a super police procedural; newcomers have a lot of catching up to do.
Harriet Klausner

The Devil’s Bones-Jefferson Bass

The Devil’s Bones
Jefferson Bass
Morrow, Feb 2008, $24.95, 352 pp.
ISBN: 9780060759858

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton has built up the anthropological department at the University of Tennessee to the point it is one of the best in the country. He is beginning to heal from the murder of his lover his beloved Dr. Jess Carter at the hands of a medical examiner Dr. Garland Hamilton who hated Jess because she was going to be the next medical examiner for the state. He loathed Bill because the pointed out a major error in Hamilton’s findings that could have put an innocent on death row.

The Body Farm is involved in solving on going investigations in which people need answers. Bill’s lawyer wants to find out what happened to the remains of his aunt because what the crematorium gave him back was not her ashes. The lawyer wants to learn the truth of what happened to the bodies sent there. He also has to figure out how a man who was in Las Vegas could have had his car explode with his wife sitting in Tennessee. Overlaying all this is the fact that Hamilton has escaped from prison and when the cabin he was staying in blow up, Bill somehow has to find a way to know if the skeleton that is there is the escaped criminal or an unidentified body that Hamilton used to throw the police bill off his scent.

THE DEVIL’S BONES is a fascinating look at how forensic anthropology helps the police solves crimes. The protagonist is a brilliant person who likes to solve it because he is as much a police investigator as a college instructor. Although the escape from emergency room Hamilton was in seems overkill (no pun intended) fans will love reading about these investigative techniques that is opening new avenues in solving crimes.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War

Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War
Pete Earley
Putnam, Jan 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780399154393

The Wall and the Curtain are down as the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union break apart. However, Russia continued its espionage efforts in America even as Yeltsin and the West became allies of a sort. Pete Early (author of true espionages like FAMILY OF SPIES) provides the biography of Russian spy Sergei Tretyakov, code-named Comrade J, who ultimately defected to the West in 2000. In the late 1990s until he defected Tretyakov was assigned to the Russian embassy in New York; from there he led covert operations across the United States, but became disenchanted with Yeltsin and Putin, who he blames for saddling him with inept political cronies (sounds familiar) and a "corrupt political system" that made Communism seem pure. He also had a personal selfish rationale; desiring a better life for his daughter. Tretyakov became an American double agent before finally publicly defecting. The fascination with this memoir is with the more questionable allegations that Tretyakov makes in his numerous interviews with Pete Earley including accusations inside the State Department that probably brings smiles to Nixon and McCarthy; many as far as this reviewer knows have been verified by an independent third party. Well written and entreating with no shockers as Tretyakov’s message is that Putin, after looking into the eyes of Bush to see his soul, believes America is no friend of Russia and reacts accordingly.

Harriet Klausner

Con Ed-Matthew Klein

Con Ed
Matthew Klein
Grand Central, Jan 2008, $7.99, 368pp.
ISBN: 9780446617741

He was once the king of the Grifters, but after spending several years as a guest of the state, Kip Largo stays clean as he fears a return engagement. Instead he lives in a dump in Palo Alto, has no friends or family who will talk to him, and ekes out a meager living at a dry cleaner and selling vitamins over the net.

When the femme fatale blonde approaches him with her scheme, Kip thinks beauties like her ignore guys like him except as expendable pawns. She offers him a plan to con her spouse Las Vegas casino owner Ed Napier out of $20 million. Kip’s share will save his offspring Toby from further beatings and eventually death from Russian mafia enforcers who demand he pay back his debt of several hundred thousand dollars and growing. Well aware of the risk, Kip obtains investment money from the mob, puts together a team including a programmer, and offers Pythia, a program that predicts stock price changes especially with the dot-com mania though as he sets in motion the game he fears he is being out-conned by a drop dead gorgeous blonde and her husband

This is a terrific cautionary tale warning about repeating stock market bubbles and corrections and not to trust the media to play hard-boil at the start (not after the horse has left the stable). The subplots involving other stings, the investment mania, and the reporters failing to investigate the '90s investment craze (Iraq is media déjà vu) add fascinating depth for a fun prime story line. Modern day Noir readers will wonder whether Kip can pull off the scheme and train his son in the art of the con while wondering along with the hard boiled hero whether he is being set up by the beautiful blond.

Harriet Klausner

City of the Absent-Robert W. Walker

City of the Absent
Robert W. Walker
Harper, Dec 2007, $7.99
ISBN: 9780060740122

The night brings an end to the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and with its closing two murders occurs separated by miles and class. Mayor Carter Harrison who thought he was invincible and had an open door policy even at his home was killed there. Across town Vanderfn and Philander Rolsky are seeking a nonentity that no one will miss. They set their sights on a grandmotherly looking prostitute to harvest her organs for use at a medical college.

However, this time the brothers picked the wrong person because the victim was a Pinkerton Agent Nell Harrington in disguise and on the trail of a doctor who buys corpses and organs. Police Inspector Alastair Ransom was Nell’s friend and he obsesses with finding her killer, but he also has enemies in high places like Police Chief Kohler. The Chief collaborates with a senator who hired Pinkerton to find evidence to lock Alastair up as a felon. Alastair knows the police chief and the senator are murderers, but lacks evidence to convict them. He does not make life easier for himself when he goes to castrate a priest defiling children, but was too late as someone took care of the ungodly father. Alistair’s boss plans to nail him for the crime.

Robert W. Walker is a master at evoking atmosphere; in this case the gaslight era that enables fiends and lunatics to hide in its shadows. Alastair uses the services of a homeless child as a snitch just like Holmes used the Baker Street Irregulars. In fact the protagonist reminds readers of Holmes as he laconically refuses to give up on a case in which the political and police brass of Chicago are corrupt and willing to hang this dedicated cop instead of seeing justice served.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lifelines-CJ Lyons

CJ Lyons
Berkley, Mar 2008, $7.99
ISBN 978042522082-5

Dr. Lydia Fiore left Los Angeles to work as an emergency physician at Pittsburgh’s Angels of Mercy Hospital. Her first night on her new job is the infamous Transition Day, the deadliest day of the year in the American health system as July 1 is when the graduated newbies begin their internship. Her first patient is a fourteen year old male in arrest in which she defies protocol and her team (fourth year medical student Amanda Mason, third year emergency medical resident Gina Freeman and charge nurse Nora Halloran), and saves his life.

The second emergency is Jonah Weiss, the son of the chief of surgery, who was hit by a car, but he dies. One day on the job and she is suspended pending a review of Jonah’s death. However, when the autopsy implies a homicide occurs, Lydia decides to investigate after consulting with her team, who agrees with her assessment. More deaths follow as Lydia continues her unofficial inquiries.

LIFELINES is an exciting medical thriller that provides readers with an insightful look at standard operating procedures and protocol in an inner city emergency room. The whodunit is fun to follow and a side of medical romance between Lydia and medic Trey Garrison enhance the trauma of working ER graveyard shift. Except for those with an aversion to blood, readers will appreciate this entreating tale, but those considering the medical field as a vocation will reconsider.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shades of Blue-Bill Moody

Shades of Blue
Bill Moody
Poisoned Pen, Feb 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9781590584859

Back from Europe (see LOOKING FOR CHET BAKER), jazz pianist Evan Horne and his girlfriend FBI agent Andie Lawrence move in together in Monte Rio in Northern California. Life is great until he learns his teacher-friend, pianist Calvin Hughes died; Calvin left his entire estate to his favorite pupil.

Grieving though he had not seen Calvin in ages, Horne travels to Hughes’s Los Angeles home to sort through the estate. When he finds an odd note with a photograph of Hughes standing next to a baby carriage, taped to the bottom of a drawer, Horne wonders what the picture means and why did Calvin conceal it. Horne also discovers some very old handwritten sheet music, two famous Miles Davis recordings. More interested in the music than the baby, Horne investigates how Hughes ended up with the treasures.

The investigation seems superfluous lacking the usual crescendo of a Horne inquiry. Still jazz fans will appreciate the tidbits especially the Mile Davis subplot as the references to music is cleverly used to enhance the tale as the music is the magic. More for jazz lovers than mystery fans, SHADES OF BLUE is entertaining but far from Bill Moody’s usual concerto.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Murder in the Rue de Paradis-Cara Black

Murder in the Rue de Paradis
Cara Black
Soho, Mar 2008, $24.00
ISBN 9781569474747

In 1995 Paris remains shell-shocked from the recent bombings at the St.-Michel Metro. In that milieu of distrust, private investigator Aimee Leduc is elated to see her former boyfriend, investigative journalist Yves Robert. They share an incredible evening together topped off by his proposal, which she accepts.

The next morning the Paris police call Aimee to come to the city morgue in order to affirm the corpse is her fiancé of not even one day. Stunned and unable to let it go especially since the official police report is more interested in remaining politically correct preferring to blame an unknown male prostitute during these harrowing times rather than solving a murder, Aimee investigates. She believes that Yves was working undercover and with her partner Rene Friant make inquiries that tie Yves’ last assignment to bitter enemies Turkey and its Kurdish populace.

As always with an Aimee Leduc French mystery (see MURDER ON THE ILE SAINT-LOUIS), readers obtain a tour of Paris that the government and the tourist bureaus prefer to hide. The current case is very personal as Aimee and Rene follow clues that bring Paris to life. Readers will appreciate her obsessive need to know answers to whom and why as the MURDER IN THE RUE DE PARADIS is another outstanding French private investigative thriller.

Harriet Klausner

The Blue Door-David Fulmer

The Blue Door
David Fulmer
Harcourt, Jan 2008, $25.00
ISBN: 9780151011810

The year is 1962 and in Philadelphia, welterweight boxer Eddie Cero is depressed as the throbbing cut over his eyebrow still bleeding which means the probable end of his boxing career as he lost to cheap shot artist T-Bone’s head butt. When he leaves the Southside Boxing Club where he trains, Eddie wants to avoid everyone he knows until he has at least two drinks; one to numb the physical pain; the other the mental. He cuts across a dark alley only to come across two street punks roughing beating up an elderly man. Unable to stay out, Eddie intercedes and prevents Sal Giambroni from receiving a horrific beating.

Sal buys Eddie a drink at the Corner Bar & Grill explaining he is a professional private-investigator. He offers Eddie work and although he thinks snooping is lower than boxing on the employment ethics scale, he needs to eat so he accepts with great reluctance case work with SG Confidential Investigations; his prime tasks being surveillance and occasional muscle. He proves quite good, but soon becomes involved with the cold case disappearance in 1959 of Johnny Pope, lead singer of the Excels over the concern of Sal. As he remains their biggest fan, Eddie meets group member and Johnny’s sister Valerie and investigates what happened to the lead singer of the Excels.

THE BLUE DOOR is an exciting historical private investigative tale. Eddie is terrific as he holds the story line together; his hunk lit asides add depth to 1962 when Bandstand ruled Rock and Roll. Readers will enjoy Eddie working the case, but it is the underbelly of the short-lived Camelot era that comes to vivid life that makes this a strong Philadelphia Noir.

Harriet Klausner

Plum Lucky-Janet Evanovich

Plum Lucky
Janet Evanovich
St. Martin’s, Jan 2008, $17.95
ISBN: 9780312377632

Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and her sidekick and sometimes assistant Lula are driving to the fat food joint for a Lucky Clucky shake when they see Grandma Mazur fighting with a little man in green pants over a duffle bag. Stephanie breaks up the fight before grandma hurts the smaller man, but fails to learn what is inside the bag. The next morning her mother calls to tell her Grandma disappeared. Diesel who has a magic touch visits Stephanie to tell her is seeking a horse thief. Stephanie goes to Atlantic City to find her Grandma.

She finds her gambling using money she found inside the duffel bag for the slots. She describes the man and the bag to Diesel who says it was taken by Stubby from mob boss Lou Delvina to take care of a former race hose that needs surgery. Stubby also needs the money to get mob boss Lou Delvina off his back. Delvina kidnaps the horse and Grandma; he informs Stephanie he will exchange them for his loot. However she has a slight shortfall problem as she and her friend who accompanied her spent $250,000 of the cash and has no way of replacing it.

PLUM LUCKY, a between the numbers interlude, is a hilarious action-packed tale filled with quirky characters. Although the plot is not as deep as the numbered thrillers, readers will be intrigued by Diesel who seems to have magic as part of his makeup and Stubby who believes he is a leprechaun. Throw in battling Grandma, the mob, and gambling to the mix so that fans will feel PLUM LUCKY to read Stephanie’s latest zaniest caper.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Blood of the Wicked-Leighton Gage

Blood of the Wicked
Leighton Gage
Soho, Jan 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 9781569474709

In a classic sh*t rolls down hill, the Pope calls the Brazilian president twice; in turn the president pressures the Director of the Brazilian Federal Police Nelson Sampaio to resolve the matter ASAP; in turn Nelson orders Chief Inspector Mario Silva to uncover the identity of the person who assassinated Bishop Dom Felipe Antunes at a church mass in front of a crowd at Cascatas. Mario understands he is to drop everything else and personally handle the investigation in the remote town and capture the felon yesterday.

Silva travels immediately to Cascatas only to find angry townsfolk as the affluent landowners and the reform minded Landless Workers’ League are in a brawl over sharing the wealth. Each side’s leaders demand Silva investigates a local case that has raised tensions to a point that hostilities seem imminent if he wants any cooperation on the Bishop homicide. The son of a local landowner, Orlando Muniz Junior vanished without a trace. His father and his allies believe the league abducted and probably killed him. The League believes the lad is on holiday.

Silva is a fascinating character as he has enough personal issues and a difficult case without getting involved in the local tsunami, but cannot keep out of it as more kidnappings and murders occur. He makes little progress on either investigation and what he does learn like the church is involved in protecting its own when pedophile accusations surface make him wonder if the Bishop’s death is related. Although extremely violent as the title is not false advertising, fans who have a strong stomach for gore will enjoy this Brazilian police procedural.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Platypus Ploy-Claire McNab

The Platypus Ploy
Claire McNab
Alyson, Dec 2007, $13.95
ISBN: 9781593500269

Formerly from the Outback Kylie Kendell moved to Los Angeles and became a private investigator. She and her lover Ariana Creeling are into a long term exclusive commitment. However, as Kylie still struggles with Americanization she learns what a "kunahura" is when she thinks how good her life is with Ariana. Soon afterward, Ariana vanishes with no sign of an intruder at their house, no hint of violence; just poof; Kylie knows she jinxed their relationship when she thought how good it is.

Despondent Kylie decides to try to follow the trail of her significant other. The few clues she has lead to Clarice Turner Evenstar Home for elderly show business stars. To get inside, Kylie becomes a volunteer at the Home, but soon realizes that the residents are not going gently into the night. She follows other clues that lead her to a prime suspect, but not to her beloved Ariana.

The latest Kylie investigative thriller (see DINGO DILEMMA) is a wonderful mystery as THE PLATYPUS PLOY is personal with the heroine’s lesbian partner going missing. The story line is fast-paced as Kylie follows the clues, but also loaded with angst as she worries she will be too late to find her lover and feels illogically guilt for thinking how good the relationship is. Readers will appreciate Claire McNab’s delightful tale of the missing mate.

Harriet Klausner

Murder in the Rue Chartres-Greg Herron

Murder in the Rue Chartres
Greg Herron
Alyson, Nov 2007, $14.95
ISBN: 9781555839666

Private Investigator Chanse MacLeod has finally gone home to his beloved New Orleans, but though he has seen the news clips as the mass destruction of Katrina, he is still stunned with what happened to the city. Not long after returning he learns that his last client Iris Verlaine before the Hurricane was murdered on the same night she had hired him.

Chanse feels obligated to accomplish Iris’ assignment to find her long time missing father. He also feels obsessed to find out who killed Iris. However, not only is the city different; his late client’s family oozes charm that makes the detective feel welcome and therefore wary.

Chanse is terrific as he sees the horror of Katrina in many ways while traveling the city. Little thinks like street signs and known landmarks are gone. The two mysteries are cleverly designed to bring out post Katrina New Orleans in a way few tales have been bale to do. To fully comprehend Chanse’s shock compare MURDER IN THE RUE CHARTRES to his previous Big Easy cases (see MURDER IN THE RUE DAUPHINE and MURDER IN THE RUE ST. ANN).

Harriet Klausner

Sticky Fingers-Morgan Hunt

Sticky Fingers
Morgan Hunt
Alyson, May 2007, $14.96
ISBN: 9781593500030

In San Diego Tess Camillo is taken aback to find a rattlesnake in her bedroom. Animal control takes the snake away without Tess or her roommate Lana getting hurt. The police do a cursory inquiry, but conclude the incident was not deliberate.

Not long after her serpentine encounter, Tess meets Darlene Nealson in the lesbian community. They swap reptile stories, as Darlene explains that a rattler killer her lover Belle in their home. Uncomfortable with the police explanations of her incident even before Darlene’s revelation, Tess makes inquires trying to find a link between her and Belle beyond just being lesbians although she has not written off hate crimes.

This is a terrific amateur sleuth tale as Tess learns first hand about snakes not in a plane but seemingly everywhere else she goes. Tess makes the tale work as she also struggles with breast cancer, but that only strengthens her resolve to find the snake trying to kill her. Readers will root for this middle aged woman who strengthens her resolve to find the snake trying to kill her. Readers will adore this middle aged "Criminitlies" woman whose noble significant other of the moment is her Welsh terrier, Raj.

Harriet Klausner

Below the Surface-Karen Harper

Below the Surface
Karen Harper
Mira, Feb 2008
ISBN: 9780778324966

Twin sisters Briana and Daria Devon are diving together as they have for twenty years in the Gulf of Mexico off South Florida to check the health of the waters when a storm arrives much faster than expected with Bree under the water. When she reaches the surface she is stunned; not only is Daria missing, but their boat Mermaid II is gone. Panicky Bree swims to the safety of barrier island Keewaden.

The storm came too fast for Cole de Roca too who beaches his boat on Keewaden to wait it out when he sees Bree and helps her. Later she tries to learn what happened to her sibling, but as she begins to unravel the secrets, Bree begins to believe she was the intended victim not Daria and begins to doubt her heroic rescuer, whom she is falling in love with even as she wonders if Cole helped kidnap her sister.

BELOW THE SURFACE is a tenser thriller from the very first page when Bree surfaces in the stormy sea to find her sister and their boat missing. The story line never slows down from that exciting onset until the final confrontation at seas. Readers will finish in one sitting to learn what happened to the missing “Mermaid” Daria and whether Cole is Bree’s knight in shining armor or a betraying pirate. Karen Harper provides a terrific romantic suspense.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Spy Game-Sue Swift

Spy Game
Sue Swift
Five Star, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9781594146589

A decade ago the parents of half-French, half-Algerian Ani Sharif were murdered while attended a girls' school in Algiers. Wanting to enact vengeance, but not knowing how, she obtains undercover work for the United States Security Agency, who knows her background makes her perfect for the SPY GAME.

Ani is initially assigned low skill non classified office work until now. Her first field assignment is to learn who is betraying the country by selling Department of Defense cyber secrets to foreign agents. Her superiors have firm evidence that the traitor works for defense contractor Rexford Inc. in Silicon Valley with the prime suspect being Richard “Baby Rex” Rexford. Ani obtains a programming position at Rexford and begins her efforts to hack into Richard's laptop where the proof is expected to be found. However, she finds much more as she falls in love with the man she believes is committing seditious and potentially deadly acts against the United States.

This is an entertaining espionage romantic suspense in which the cyber crime brings freshness to the plot. Ani is terrific as she wonders whether she could have fallen in love with a traitor as all the evidence points towards Richard as the seller of DOD secrets. Swift pacing and starring two strong lead characters, SPY GAME is a fun enjoyable thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Strangers in Death-J.D. Robb

Strangers in Death
J.D. Robb
Putnam, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780399154706

In 2060 New York City, everyone believes that affluent businessman Thomas Anders is an upright moral person. He gives away sports equipment to needy children; has set up sports camps and special programs for the kids. He wants to give impoverished children a chance and his lovely wife Ava helps by creating successful fundraisers. Thus it comes as quite a shock when he is found dead in his bed with his hands and feet tied to the posts with black velvet ropes and one around his neck.

NYPSD Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas catches the case and quickly believes certain evidence does not make sense. Only someone who knew the security codes could get in, but that limits the suspects to the victim’s wife, nephew and few others; all have air tight alibis. Morris the medical examiner finds a trace of barbiturates in Thomas’ system, which means he was unconscious when he was killed. Eve has an idea who did it, but lacks proof to prove it.

Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb consistently provides quality entertaining futuristic police procedurals; her latest “in death” thriller keeps her readers attention throughout as the suspense remains high while the audience wonders how Eve will prove who the killer is as fans know early on who she suspects. Eve continues to grow so that she remains fresh adding to the fun of observing her seek evidence to affirm who done it.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Ghost War-Alex Berenson

The Ghost War
Alex Berenson
Putnam, Feb 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780399154539

The CIA knows the best way to insure that North Korea’s nuclear weapons aspirations is slowed down considerably is to abduct leading scientist Dr. Sung Kwan from the rogue state. The snatch plan is perfect and the team succeeds in a grabbing Kwan; however, the CIA unit and the Korean scientist are killed during the escape. Someone from within the intelligence community sold out the mission. Agent Jennifer Exley is assigned to find out whom.

As she works the impossible task of uncovering the mole her lover CIA Agent John Wells returns to Afghanistan where he previously uncovered an al-Qaeda plot to destroy Times Square (see THE FAITHFUL SPY). This time his assignment is to determine who are the outsiders abetting the Taliban return to power as the political answer of blaming Iran makes no logical sense after being brutal enemies for years.

Uncovering a mole has been used many times, but Alex Berenson keeps it fresh due to the plausibility of the North Korean gambit; the Afghan subplot also feels possible. Thus readers obtain a great espionage thriller as Mr. Berenson uses international headlines to write an exciting action-packed novel focusing on two CIA operations.

Harriet Klausner

Oscar Season-Mary McNamara

Oscar Season
Mary McNamara
Simon & Schuster, Feb 2008, $24.00
ISBN 9781416539919

As always when the countdown to the Academy Awards gala begins, much of Los Angeles is caught up with the glitz, but many prepare for the event. For instance the ritzy Pinnacle Hotel Director of Public Relations Juliette Greyson knows how important the Oscar month is to her hotel and works accordingly expecting zaniness as the norm as she hosts the Oscar Season Summit and explains the Oscar Might Survivor Kit excludes cyanide to the employees.

However, this season is different as the “Oscar Curse” seems to be haunting the participants. British actor David Fulbright is shot dead in the hotel’s pool. A reporter covering the event, a starlet nominated for best actress, and a screenwriter also nominated were murdered. For Juliette the curse would be curious but no more than that except for Fulbright’s death that seems connected to her outside the hotel; however the third victim is more linked to Juliette as he is her former husband Josh Singer. She and superstar Michael O’Connor investigate the “Oscar curse” although she worries how their amateur sleuthing will harm her beloved battling cancer.

Jackie Collins’s fans will enjoy this up front and personal look at the Oscar persona filled with egomaniacs who would do anything to get the edge including killing the competition. The investigation is fun but more so because it enables the audience to see deep into the lives of Hollywood much further than the Rivers’ duet ever escorted fans. Not for murder mystery purists, OSCAR SEASON is a fun astute glimpse into Oscar Nation.

Harriet Klausner

The Anatomy of Deception-Lawrence Goldstone

The Anatomy of Deception
Lawrence Goldstone
Delacorte, Feb 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 9780385341349

In 1889 at the University Of Pennsylvania Medical School, chief of clinical medicine Dr. William Osler glances at the corpse of a beautiful woman in the Dead House, but decides no autopsy is necessary. His young students and subordinates are stunned by Osler’s decision.

Not long afterward one of the shocked physicians Dr. George Turk dies from what loks like cholera. Osler sanctions an autopsy that reveals the late doctor’s body had traces of arsenic. Another doctor training under the great Osler, Dr. Ephraim Carroll believes George and the Jane Doe were murdered. Disobeying his superior, Ephraim investigates the deaths and bounces between Philadelphia’s debauched upper crust and the deviant decadent waterfront alienating the medical establishment every step of the way.

This is a terrific medical historical thriller that is anchored by the real persona of Dr. Osler and a document he wrote and had sealed for fifty years. The story line is fast-paced but belongs to the naive hero who believes medicine should use all tools including the only recently legalized autopsy. He is counterbalanced by the experienced pragmatic Osler, who wisely understands that medicine needs to judiciously use new legal techniques to avoid a backlash of indignation leading to losing their authority. The investigation is cleverly handled, but Lawrence Goldstone’s superb thriller belongs to his physician cast.

Harriet Klausner

Absolution-Caro Ramsey

Caro Ramsey
Pegasus, Nov 2007, $25.00
ISBN: 9781933648415

Glasgow Detective Chief Investigator Alan McAlpine returns to his police cadet roots in Patrickhill Station to lead the official inquiry into the murders of two women by the serial killer dubbed Crucifixion Killer by the media. Alan avoided the town for two decades ever since he was assigned to keep safe the dying pregnant woman named Anna whose face was erased by acid and no longer could talk. Anna killed herself shortly after giving birth; no one involved in the heinous crime was ever caught, but Alan never forgot the woman he considered his beloved angel.

Still Alan focuses on the current serial killer homicides in an attempt to prevent more gruesome murders from this vicious predator. However, he begins to link the current investigation to the cold case that haunts him. His subordinates Detective Sergeants Anderson and Costello are confused by Alan’s actions and directions as he makes a difficult case that much more convoluted because he sees ABSOLUTION as his objective.

Mindful of Ian Rankin’s dark Glasgow thrillers, Caro Ramsay provides a strong psychological police procedural that grips readers once Alan begins connecting the past with the present. Readers along with the two DS will wonder whether Alan has gone over the edge or found a real connection; which premise makes this a deep read. Although the climax takes the audience back inside the sub-genre’s norm, fans will appreciate the dark background that mirrors Alan’s even darker revelations.

Harriet Klausner

The Murder Game-Beverly Barton

The Murder Game
Beverly Barton
Kensington, Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780821776902

Pudge knows the old murder game of hunt and kill is over since his long time companion, cousin, and competitor Pinkie died; one does not just advertise for a cunning sadist to compete in THE MURDER GAME. Thus he has had to start a new contest as the old DYING GAME ended with Pinkie’s death. Pudge’s new competitor is the victim. He will hunt and stalk them, but give them the opportunity to escape and perhaps even outthink his brilliant sinister mind. However, in the end he will terrorize them before killing them; just ask Kendall Moore when you cross over.

Adding to Pudge’s personal entertainment is that part of each hunt includes outwitting private investigator Griffin Powell and FBI agent Nicole Baxter, who joined forces to take down Pinkie. Making them look foolish makes the game fun as he leaves them clues and calls them to insure they play. However, he knows the superbowl contest begins when he stalks Nicole while toying with the psyche of her lover Griff.

Although Pudge seems surreal as he describes the new game and more, readers will enjoy the tense sequel. Nic and indirectly Griff are the ultimate targets not out of vengeance, but because the psychopath assumes they will provide strong competition having taken down Pinkie. The romantic subplot takes somewhat a back seat to the fast-paced cat and mouse game with the betting line on Pudge.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Skull-S.D. Tooley

The Skull
S.D. Tooley
Full Moon, Dec 2006
ISBN: 9780978540210

Thirteen year old Remy Bauer is a highly intelligent teen who lives with her single mom and her paternal grandmother while her absentee dad travels the world gambling just like his late father did. Remy enjoys her lifestyle as the other females in the household encourage her to be all she can be. She especially enjoys forensics.

At the Sycamore Mansion estate sale, Remy buys a monkey’s skull with plans to construct the animal. She asks Rob “Roadkill” Haislett who photographs dead animals and orphaned Andy the runaway to help her learn how the animal died. As they become friends, they obtain summer work at Sycamore Mansion. This enables them to seek clues to the monkey’s death. However, instead of learning that, Rob proves the skull belonged to a newborn human. The three young teens tries to learn what happened and when, but someone has other ideas as to what to do with three nosy thirteen years old youngsters

This excellent young adult forensics mystery is fast-paced yet provides a discerning look at social issues facing tweeners such as peer pressure, youth gangs, and abandonment. The three amigos are unique eccentric protagonists who make this a fun amateur sleuth for readers of all ages.

Harriet Klausner

Last Call-James Grippando

Last Call
James Grippando
Harper, Dec 19 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780060831165

Miami criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck still worries about his former client bar owner Theo Knight as he knows his best friend has lingering resentment, rightfully so. When Theo was a teen raised by kind Uncle Cy (after his mom was killed) in the roughest hood, he was arrested and convicted for murder. He became the youngest person on death row and was only saved when Jack proved he could not have committed the homicide; even then he still almost was executed.

Jack learns that someone tried to kill Theo in his old hood. Apparently, convict Isaac Reems promised to provide Theo with the name of his mom’s killer in exchange to helping him elude the law. Instead the escaped con leaves evidence that Theo abetted his escape while setting Theo up for the failed shooting. Theo has always wanted to avenge his mother’s murder, but the case went cold for the cops and him as the trail was outside the hood. While Jack joins Theo on his investigation, he hopes to keep his buddy from committing a homicide, but that may not matter when Isaac is found dead with proof that Theo killed him. Meanwhile an affluent unknown adversary wants the son as dead as the mother so that a two decade old murder stays unsolved.

LAST CALL is an excellent South Florida mystery as the key players bring the Greater Miami area to life in a fast-paced tale. Isaac and whoever hired him cleverly use the past that haunts Theo to get at him while Jack is there for him. A touch of two romances and a bit of humor adds depth to a great cat and mouse thriller.

Harriet Klausner

A Pale Horse-Charles Todd

A Pale Horse
Charles Todd
Morrow, Dec 26 2007, $23.95
ISBN: 9780061233562

In 1920 five kids arrive at abandoned Yorkshire’s Fountains Abbey with an alchemy book they stole from their school. They plan to perform a ritual to raise the devil, but instead flee in fear leaving behind the purloined tome. The next day a corpse wearing a gas mask is found near the book.

Scotland Yard sends troubled Inspector Ian Rutledge to identify the victim as the War Office has an interest in the body too. Although the Great War to end all wars may be over, Ian still suffers from battle fatigue feeling guilty for what he did and saw. His inquiries of the nearby villagers are met with suspicion as each seems to have something to hide. The alchemy book belongs to a conscientious objector schoolmaster, but he also offers little. As deceit seems the norm, Ian struggles to learn the truth while the pale horse of the Apocalypse reminds the shell shocked detective that death is the final frontier.

A PALE HORSE is a fantastic whodunit due to the mentally battered hero whose only respite from the ghost that disturbs him is investigating as this is what he did before he became an unrecognized war “casualty”. The story line is fast-paced, but totally owned by Ian even as the audience obtains a deep look at an English village still reeling from the war. This haunting post WWI series remains one of the best historical police procedurals on the market today.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 7, 2007

Pushing Up Daisies-Rosemary Harris

Pushing Up Daisies
Rosemary Harris
Dunne, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312369675

After the buyout of the production company she worked for, Paula Holliday moved from the Big Apple to Springfield, Connecticut where she opened up a landscaping business, PH Factors, Garden Solutions. When Dorothy Peacock died, she left her estate Helepin to the Historical Society, but the grounds desperately need a good landscaper. Paula applies and gets the contract.

Her euphoria turns to horror when she digs up a box containing a mummified baby inside. Unable to forget or ignore her grisly find, Paula asks questions of those locals who lived in the area for decades in an attempt to identify either parent of the unfortunate child. She upsets someone who sends her a threatening email to back off or else, and someone knocks her out when she was in a deserted area. Paula learns that a young female Mexican who worked nearby decades ago mysteriously vanished although most people assumed she went home. The newbie ponders whether the interred baby and this woman are related like a mother and child. When another landscaper is murdered, Paula knows she has to stay involved even though she risks her life by still snooping.

This “Dirt-y Business” mystery by first time writer Rosemary Harris is an exciting well plotted (pun intended) amateur sleuth due to a quirky heroine and an eccentric Connecticut support cast. There are two mysteries that Paula feels must connect and has her theory how, but struggles to affirm her supposition. The novel also contains gardening tips and flora lore that enhance the appeal especially for fans of China Bayles.
Harriet Klausner