Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Serpent’s Daughter- Suzanne Arruda

The Serpent’s Daughter
Suzanne Arruda
Obsidian, Jan 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780451222947

In 1920, photojournalist Jade del Cameron reluctantly agrees to meet her prim and proper mother Inez in Tangier, Morocco in hopes they can reconcile their contentious relationship. However, Jade is realistic as she loves globetrotting explorations into out of the way trouble spots while mother is a perfect lady who never perspires let alone sweats.

In Tangier, someone kidnaps Inez. An anxious Jade may feel the planet is not big enough for both of them, but she still loves her mother. She begins a frantic quest to find and rescue Inez with clues taking her to Marrakech and from there to a remote mountainous Berber village. Every step she takes step since starting in Algiers is dangerous especially eluding slave traders who want to sell her and the most dangerous person of all Lilith Worthy.

This terrific action-packed thriller will grip readers from the moment Inez is abducted and never let’s go until the final confrontation. The story lien is fast-paced especially when Jade is on mission. However, the plot slows down a bit as Suzanne Arruda packs the tale with a deep look at 1920 Morocco especially the Berbers. Fans of historical thrillers will want to read Jade del Cameron third adventure although the previous two contain more of a mystery (see STALKING IVORY and MARK OF THE LION).

Harriet Klausner

Capitol Conspiracy-William Bernhardt

Capitol Conspiracy
William Bernhardt
Ballantine, Jan 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9780345487568

President Franklin Blake and the First Lady attend a special ceremony honoring those who were killed at the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City. However, terrorists attack the First Couple and others killing the First Lady.

The Democratic Junior Senator from Oklahoma, Ben Kincaid, is put in an awkward position of either backing a proposed constitutional amendment to increase emergency powers while suspending civil liberties or committing political suicide. As Ben considers between the end of his career or the end of freedom, his new wife and chief of staff Christina investigates who caused the latest Oklahoma City tragedy; her preliminary findings imply DC power behind the assault.

Except for conspiracy buffs who believe Jimmy Hoffa is buried in Texas Stadium or President Bush flew one of the 9/11 planes, CAPITAL CONSPIRACY will require a Mount Everest leap of faith. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the First lady is killed and never slows down as Secret Service agents and other Feds try to prevent Christina from learning the truth. She would be labeled a CAPITOL THREAT and under the proposed amendment and dispatched accordingly. Still William Bernhardt provides an exciting thriller; just have your Patriot Act identification card with you to prove you can legally read the novel.

Harriet Klausner

Capitol Conspiracy-William Bernhardt

Capitol Conspiracy
William Bernhardt
Ballantine, Jan 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9780345487568

President Franklin Blake and the First Lady attend a special ceremony honoring those who were killed at the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City. However, terrorists attack the First Couple and others killing the First Lady.

The Democratic Junior Senator from Oklahoma, Ben Kincaid, is put in an awkward position of either backing a proposed constitutional amendment to increase emergency powers while suspending civil liberties or committing political suicide. As Ben considers between the end of his career or the end of freedom, his new wife and chief of staff Christina investigates who caused the latest Oklahoma City tragedy; her preliminary findings imply DC power behind the assault.

Except for conspiracy buffs who believe Jimmy Hoffa is buried in Texas Stadium or President Bush flew one of the 9/11 planes, CAPITAL CONSPIRACY will require a Mount Everest leap of faith. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the First lady is killed and never slows down as Secret Service agents and other Feds try to prevent Christina from learning the truth. She would be labeled a CAPITOL THREAT and under the proposed amendment and dispatched accordingly. Still William Bernhardt provides an exciting thriller; just have your Patriot Act identification card with you to prove you can legally read the novel.

Harriet Klausner

A Bucket of Ashes-P.B. Ryan

A Bucket of Ashes
P.B. Ryan
Berkley, Dec 2007, $6.99, 277 pp.
ISBN: 9780425218730

As a child Nell Sweeney lived in the poor house and lost her family to disease and when she got out she made a living working as a pickpocket. Now she has a respectable job working for the wealthy Hewitts as a governess to their adopted daughter Grace. Only she and the family know that Grace is Will Hewitt’s biological child, born on the wrong side of the blanket. He is unable to care for her because of his opiate and gambling addictions.

When the family goes to Cape Cod for the summer Nell runs into her ex-lover Dr. Greaves who tells her that her brother was murdered after hiding out in a shed that caught fire. He was wanted for the murder of Susannah Cunningham a woman who he worked for as a gardener. Besides needing a divorce because her abusive husband is in prison and will remain so for thirty years, and she is carrying Will’s baby, Nell with the help of Will and Dr. Greaves investigate the death of James because an autopsy shows he was knifed and did not die from smoke inhalation.

P.B. Ryan writes a heartwarming mystery that capture the ambivalence of the rich on the east coast five years after the civil war ended. The protagonist leads a troubled life but she rises above her upbringing to become a solid citizen who loves the responsibility of caring for her young charge. Will comes back from France where he was applying his medical skills and is there for Nell when she needs him most. Readers will care about him because he feels he is unworthy to love someone as pure as Nell.

Harriet Klausner

Getting Old is to Die For-Rita Lakin

Getting Old is to Die For
Rita Lakin
Dell, Jan.2008, $6.99, 320 pp.
ISBN: 9780440243878

Gladdy Gold and her sister Evie Markowitz have lived in phase II in LanaiGardens in Ft. Lauderdale for over a quarter of a century. They are very active and with their friends Ida, Bella and Sophie have an informal detective agency. Their latest case involves parents who want their daughter, who they have a close relationship with, to attend their seventieth wedding anniversary. Gladdy, who doesn’t know where her boyfriend Jack is, decides to take the case.

The daughter refuses to answer her calls but they find a way to get her to meet with them. When they see her, they understand and so accompany her for moral support to see her parents. Unknown to Gladdy, Jack is in New York trying to find out who killed his girlfriend’s husband over five decades ago. He is delighted that his family and Gladdy’s family get along so great but he is scared of what Gladdy will do when she finds out what he is up to.

GETTING OLD IS TO DIE FOR shows readers that senior citizens can have rich productive lives filled with fun and romance. Jack is a real hero, putting his needs on the back burner so that Gladdy can gain a sense of closure. It is fun reading how he conducts his own investigation while Gladdy is worried that her refusal to commit to him ruined their relationship. This humorous mystery has protagonists and a secondary cast that is easy to understand what motivates them.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Precious Blood-Jonathan Hayes

Precious Blood
Jonathan Hayes
Harper, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780060736668

Following the 9/11 tragedy, Manhattan forensic pathologist Dr. Edward Jenner retires from the medical examiner’s office unable to cope after having witnessed for weeks afterward the results of the calamity. Edward conducts occasional consulting work.

The uncle of East Village resident Ana de Jong pleads with his close friend Edward to help her for she fears for her life. As she explains to him someone brutally murdered her roommate Andrea nailing the Hutchins College law student to a crucifix. Reluctantly Edward takes on the case even while he fears that a ritual serial killer is surfacing and that he mentally may not be able to deal with the horrific deaths that he expects to see. Still more for Ana’s sake than his morbid curiosity, he digs deeper into the investigation and realizes the killings follow a pattern with each new ritual homicide crueler than the previous ones occur.

Fans of serial killer investigations that emphasize forensic science will appreciate Jonathan Hayes’ fine entry as the whodunit inquiries dominate the tale. Jenner is a fabulous protagonist as he suffers from post traumatic fatigue syndrome caused by the 9/11 nightmare; however Mr. Hayes fails to dig deep into the demons eating at his soul. Still PRECIOUS BLOOD is a fine mystery that sub-genre readers will welcome.

Harriet Klausner

The Serpent’s Tale-Ariana Franklin

The Serpent’s Tale
Ariana Franklin
Putnam, Jan 2008, $25.95, 354 pp.
ISBN 9780399154645

Henry II is King of England and is estranged from his wife queen Eleanor, who he has imprisoned for fear she and their sons will try to overthrow him. The king’s mistress Rosamund Clifford gives him much pleasure; so when she is poisoned by mushrooms, The Bishop of St. Albans Rowley Picot goes to Cambridgeshire to fetch Adelia Aguilar so that she can investigate and find out who killed her. Adelia is forced to stay in England because she is a doctor having studied at the School of Medicine at Salerno.

The bishop says that it is the king’s order that she investigate the murder and find out if Eleanor, who escaped her prison, had anything to do with the murder when they arrive at Rosamund’s home. Adelia finds evidence that someone is trying to frame Eleanor for the death of her husband’s mistress. Adelia saves the queen’s life when she suddenly appears but also learns that Eleanor is at the center of the plot to overthrow the king. The bishop wants Rosamund’s murder solved and Eleanor exonerated because the country can’t go through another civil war. The one woman who could have shed some light on the identity of the killer was murdered and her death made to look like a suicide. Trapped in the nunnery of Godstow with the queen, Adelia continues her investigation certain that at least one killer is somewhere with Eleanor and her entourage.

Fans who love the historical mysteries of Sharon Kay Penman are going to thoroughly enjoy THE SERPENT’S TALE, a strong whodunit with a deep glimpse into a bygone era. The protagonist wishes to go home where she has some rights though she is unhappy that she is not allowed to overtly practice medicine; instead she and her Arab friend pretend he is the doctor and she his assistant following his instructions. She is a bright intelligent woman who uses her knowledge to conduct a thorough investigation. Ariana Franklin is a gifted storyteller who provides historical fiction mystery fans with an exciting who-done-it. This tale is also targeted for historical fiction lovers who will thoroughly enjoy this unputdownable tale.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chile Con Corpses-J.B. Stanley

Chile Con Corpses
J.B. Stanley
Midnight Six, Jan 2008, $13.95, 288 pp.
ISBN: 9780738712598

James, Bennett, Lindy, Lucy and Gillian are members of the Flab Five, a club who supports the members concerning proper diet and exercise so they can lose weight. It is a diverse group with Lindy trying to get up the courage to tell the high school principal she likes him. James and Lucy are an entry but the two are drifting apart and the relationship ends when he sees her with another man who is helping her pass her test to be a police officer.

James is drafted into being a chaperone at the Luray Caverns where art students can paint after hours. While everyone is in a different area, one of the students finds the body of Parker Willis who they later find out is an heiress who was in practice with veterinarian Collin Crabtree. Her twin sister Kinsley is distraught so the group members try to console her. They once again start sleuthing to find the killer while Kinsley lets her ex-boyfriend Gary console her.

CHILI CON CORPSES is as much a tale of friends with common interests as it is an amateur sleuth mystery. The five members of the support group know each other’s strengths and faults, but like each other despite of their weaknesses. James is the glue that holds the story together as he takes care of his father, tries to remain friends with Lucy while pursuing another relationship and guiding the investigation so that nobody is in danger.

Harriet Klausner

Blood Dreams-Kay Hooper

Blood Dreams
Kay Hooper
Bantam, Jan 2007, $25.00, 336 pp.
ISBN 9780553804843

A serial killer has tortured and brutalized at least twelve women in Boston and the police don’t have any evidence that would lead to his identity. The last woman he killed was a senator’s daughter and the notoriety he brought upon himself gets him to move to Ventura, Georgia in Prophet County. Meanwhile the new director of the FBI orders Agent in Charge Noah Bishop and his team to keep hunting in Boston because he doesn’t believe in psychic powers especially those that point to the serial killer leaving the area.

Bishop is forced to work with Haven, the civilian group of psychics that were organized by a wealthy businessman married to an empath. Dani Justice returns to Ventura to help law enforcement since she is a psychic and part of Haven. She has the ability to dream walk and pull others into her dreams. The sheriff believes in her powers because he has seen them demonstrated and because he loves her even though she ran away from the town and him. Now she is connected to the danger from a monster who relishes tearing his victims apart.

The latest Bishop/Special Crimes Unit thriller is a powerful, energizing and enthralling police procedural that fans will be unable to put down. Both Bishop and his wife Miranda make appearances and Hollis who appeared in several previous books in this series plays a pivotal role as she grows as a medium. The heroine is a strong independent woman who is determined to catch the killer through her way while also deciding whether she wants to be part of Haven.

Harriet Klausner

Sizzle and Burn-Jayne Ann Krentz

Sizzle and Burn
Jayne Ann Krentz
Putnam, Jan 207, $24.95, 368 pp.
ISBN: 9780399154454

After her aunt died, Raine Tallentyre returned to Shelbyville, Washington to arrange to have Vella’s house sold. Raine is a psychic, a clairvoyant who hears the voices of evil people who have touched something she has touched. That is how Raine knows that a young woman is locked in a padlocked closet in her aunt’s basement. When the police arrive and open the door she is still alive. The victim tells the authorities the man thought she was a witch and all witches had to die.

Parapsychic Zack Jones is a private investigator for the Arcane Society, an organization dedicated to doing research on psychic powers; he is not repulsed by Raine’s powers because he has visions too. The Arcane Society is in a fight with Nightshade, an organization of criminal psychics, who stole the original formula of the founder of the Arcane Society to enhance paranormal abilities. The drawback is that every dose the person takes leads to insanity and finally suicide. Zack wants Raine to help him locate missing scientist Dr. Lawrence Quinn who was working on the formula to enhance para powers without going insane. The missing scientist was last scene in Oriana near the home of Raine’s late aunt. Zacl wants to rescue the researcher or deal with him if he is a traitor and she wants to find out if her aunt was murdered. Together they make a great team in and out of the bedroom.

Jayne Anne Krentz has written another best seller that is going to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. This latest Arcane Society novel is full of action, intrigue, romance and double agents who keep the protagonists busy trying to figure out who they are. The support cast is quirky, a Krentz trademark and add a degree of beauty to a fast paced thriller. Readers get a fascinating inside look at the Arcane Society.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam-Chris Ewan

The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam
Chris Ewan
St. Martin’s, Nov 2007, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312376338

Charles Howard is the successful author of a suspense series starring a suave courageous cat burglar detective, Faulks. However, fiction imitates real life as Charles supplements his income and creative juices by being a successful burglar just like his Faulks is.

Howard is currently completing his latest Faulks thriller in Amsterdam when on his web site he receives an enigmatic summons that peaks his interest. He meets with an American who knows the truth about Howard’s moonlighting extravaganza; the American offers him 20,000 Euros to steal two monkey figurines. Reluctantly, as he wonders how his client knows the truth about his nocturnal activities, he carries out the assignment. However, when he returns to deliver the items, he finds his client almost dead from a vicious assault and the matching third figurine missing. As the Dutch police investigate the beating with Howard as a suspect, he makes inquiries that link back to a diamond robbery over ten years ago while his London based editor suggests plot changes, not realizing her recommendations might be tested in real life not a novel.

THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM is a humorous crime caper that pays homage to the classic To Catch a Thief, but does so in a lighthearted satirical tongue in cheek way. Charles is a unique impish rogue who finds himself in a dangerous encounter with a killer. The subplot involving his editor is creative and amusing as she offers advice to make his latest story line seem plausible and genuine, but not understanding that the escapade is real. Readers will enjoy this fine look at Amsterdam through the eyes of a cat burglarizing author struggling to keep his nine lives in tact.

Harriet Klausner

Down Into Darkness-David Lawrence

Down Into Darkness
David Lawrence
Dunne, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312347420

In London, the naked body of a murdered female is left hanging from a tree with the words “DIRTY GIRL” engraved on her back. Police Detective Stella Mooney of the Area Major Investigation Pool is assigned to investigate this brutal killing.

However, she and her AMIP team make no progress as the motive remains unknown. Not long afterward, a naked male corpse of a researcher whose neck was sliced to near decapitation with another etched message “FILTHY COWARD” is found on a bench. Anxious that a serial killer is on the loose although the two homicides have not been linked, Mooney and her AMIP team desperately work to uncover the motives behind the crime before a third victim surfaces.

The forth Mooney English police procedural is a fabulous cat and mouse investigative thriller. The story line is action-packed from the moment the first message appears and never slows down as the cops struggle with solving a case that terrorizes the city (similar to what Son of Sam did to New Yorkers in 1977). Sub-genre fans will appreciate David Lawrence’s latest masterful Mooney tale as this is a gripping winner; just like its predecessors (see COLD KILL, NOTHING LIKE THE NIGHT and THE DEAD SIT AROUND IN A RING).

Harriet Klausner

Salamander Cotton-Richard Kunzmann

Salamander Cotton
Richard Kunzmann
Dunne, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312360344

In Johannesburg Police Detective Inspector Jacob Tshabalala investigates the homicide of elderly former mining boss Bernard Klamm. The murder was extremely brutal and Jacob wonders if the violence ties back to the victim’s extensive pornography collection. He also learns that the divorced Klamm was once married to a Henrietta Campbell and their daughter vanished without a trace three decades ago making the sleuth ponder if that is the key clue or just a coincidental red herring.

As the official investigation goes slowly, Henrietta hires private investigator Harry Mason based on Jacob’s recommendation re his former partner, to dig deep especially in the Northern Cape where Klamm owned a remote farm. Mason checks into the three decade old disappearance of their daughter to see if the present killing is linked. He is unprepared for corporate cover-ups of asbestos mining effects on the workers and angry acrimonious people seeking vengeance to what has occurred to them due to avaricious irresponsibility.

This starts off as an exhilarating South African police procedural, but turns into an exciting private investigative tale that ties the 1960s with the 1990s. The whodunit is fast-paced and filled with twists and red herrings. The contrasts between the two eras are incredibly striking and enhance a strong murder mystery that like the first Tshabalala-Mason team-up (BLOODY HARVEST) will enthrall the audience with its insightful look at South Africa through the eyes of the two sleuths.

Harriet Klausner

Salamander Cotton-Richard Kunzmann

Salamander Cotton
Richard Kunzmann
Dunne, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312360344

In Johannesburg Police Detective Inspector Jacob Tshabalala investigates the homicide of elderly former mining boss Bernard Klamm. The murder was extremely brutal and Jacob wonders if the violence ties back to the victim’s extensive pornography collection. He also learns that the divorced Klamm was once married to a Henrietta Campbell and their daughter vanished without a trace three decades ago making the sleuth ponder if that is the key clue or just a coincidental red herring.

As the official investigation goes slowly, Henrietta hires private investigator Harry Mason based on Jacob’s recommendation re his former partner, to dig deep especially in the Northern Cape where Klamm owned a remote farm. Mason checks into the three decade old disappearance of their daughter to see if the present killing is linked. He is unprepared for corporate cover-ups of asbestos mining effects on the workers and angry acrimonious people seeking vengeance to what has occurred to them due to avaricious irresponsibility.

This starts off as an exhilarating South African police procedural, but turns into an exciting private investigative tale that ties the 1960s with the 1990s. The whodunit is fast-paced and filled with twists and red herrings. The contrasts between the two eras are incredibly striking and enhance a strong murder mystery that like the first Tshabalala-Mason team-up (BLOODY HARVEST) will enthrall the audience with its insightful look at South Africa through the eyes of the two sleuths.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Book of Old Houses-Sarah Graves

The Book of Old Houses
Sarah Graves
Bantam, Jan 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 9780553804300

Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree seems to always be fixing up something in her 1823 Eastport, Maine home yet finds the time to solve a murder or two. However, this time she gets spooked when she finds a book in the foundation of her basement. It seems written in blood and contains names of people who have lived in the house through the almost two centuries including the current spooked occupant. She sends the book to rare book expert Horace Robotham for authentication.

Horace is murdered and the book vanished. His friend David DiMaio arrives at Jake’s house introducing himself as the late Horace’s friend. He also insists he drove to Eastport because someone he went to school with Bert Merkle had a motive to kill Horace. Dave asks questions of the household and the townsfolk. Horace’s lonely friend Jason Riverton is killed and in a separate incident so is wannabe author Ann Talbert. The police claim the latter two deaths were coincidental misfortunate accidents; Jake refuses to believe the probability of so much coincidence as winning the lottery has better odds. She risks her life to prove a killer is working the book beat.

Jake is a strong independent woman, who does most of the repairs and renovations to her fixer-upper; she also worries about her son Sam who just got out of jail while planning a poster for the town patriarch. Dave is the catalyst who sets much of the events in motion, but Jake is the tough broad trying to fix the problem. Sarah Graves latest “home repair” cozy is a grand regional amateur sleuth.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Time to Die-Beverly Barton

A Time to Die
Beverly Barton
Harlequin HQN, Dec 2007, $6.99
ISBN: 9780373772490

A decade ago, journalist Lexie Murrough was covering a story overseas when Deke Bronson led his special-ops team on an assassination of the dictator mission. She was severely hurt in the confusion. Several years past before she physically recovered; mentally Lexie knows she has not as she no longer is a reporter. Instead she is president of Helping Hands, a charity based in Chattanooga.

When someone threatens her harm, the Dundee Agency assigns private security expert Deke as her bodyguard. Although he knows he can never mitigate what he did to her, he sees this as an opportunity to somewhat make up for what happened to her on his mission even though she does know his involvement in that fiasco; his bullet paralyzed her leading to years of physical therapy. Deke muses that guilt and love are two powerful emotions and he knows he willingly would die to keep Lexie safe, but fears his feelings may fog his judgment.

The latest Protectors’ tale (see MOST LIKELY TO DIE and DANGEROUS DECEPTION) is an action-packed romantic suspense thriller that never stops to let the audience catch our breath whether the lead couple is kissing, trying to stay alive, and much more. Lexie is stronger than she realizes as she struggles to cope with the return of the nightmare; Deke is the more interesting protagonist as Lexie tears his insides apart. The twists especially at the end will have readers thankful that they took the time to read Beverly Barton’s taut thriller in one sitting.

Harriet Klausner

Winter in Madrid-C.J. Sansom

Winter in Madrid
C.J. Sansom
Viking, Jan 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9780670018482

By 1940 the brutal Spanish Civil War has finally ended, but much of the country remains devastated with people worried about basic sustenance needs like food, clean water, and shelter. As neutral Spain struggles to recover, the Germans blitzkrieg continues its rapid conquest of Europe and their air force daily bombs the last foe Britain. The leader of the winning side General Francisco Franco and his Fascist party considers joining the Nazis like Mussolini and Italy did.

England sends reluctant Harry Brett to spy on his old peer Sandy Forsyth, a dishonest Madrid businessman, who has close toes to Franco. Brett has doubts he is the man for the job, but journeys to Madrid to win the confidence of Sandy and through him what Franco’s plans re the war with Hitler are. However, he finds Madrid nothing like the energized vibrant city that it was just a few years ago under the short lived republic when he and his close friend Bernie Piper visited the city. Instead he finds distressed hopeless people starving and dying; he wants to go home where the Nazi bombings have only increased the fortitude of his fellow Brits to defeat the German monster.

WINTER IN MADRID is a terrific historical thriller that is part espionage and part political. The storyline provides an insightful look at the aftermath of Franco’s victory in the Civil War especially the political turmoil of a divided Fascist Party debating whether to join its two allies or recuperate from the bloody internal fight. C.J. Sansom places a powerful spotlight on battered Spain as WW II has devastated much the rest of the continent while the Battle of Britain seems inevitable and would enable Franco to claim like Mussolini he was on the victorious side.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Divorced, Desperate and Delicious-Christie Craig

Divorced, Desperate and Delicious
Christie Craig
Love Spell, Dec 2007, $6.99
ISBN: 9780505527301

In Houston his partner of two months Zeke Duncan points the gun at detective Chase Kelly’s head. He informs him that he is already considered a dirty cop as he has been set up with cocaine planted under his bed and now will be accused of killing police officer Stokes, a father of two. Of course Chase will not be ably to defend himself in court, with his peers or the media as he will be dead and Zeke a hero.

Chase manages to escape, but not before Zeke’s ally drug dealer Bruno shoots him in the shoulder. Fabio the dog with reindeer ears takes Chase home. The canine’s owner photographer Lacy Maguire wants nothing to do with men due to a cheating ex, but she has no choice as Chase holds her hostage while Fabio turns traitor and likes the hunk. Soon Chase convinces Lacy he is innocent and as they fall in love, she decides to abet his efforts to prove he is clean and Zeke is a dirty homicidal cop.

Romantic suspense fans will appreciate the fast-paced DIVORCED, DESPERATE AND DELICIOUS in which the story line effortlessly switches back and forth between a tense drama and lighthearted sexual banter. The lead couple is a likable pair as they go from a hostage hostile relationship to love with several steps in between. Her pets and her matchmaking mom along with several other secondary players add fun while Zeke is a cold hearted SOB who will have no compunction killing Lacy or Fabio. Readers will enjoy Christie Craig’s pleasant tale.

Harriet Klausner

Murder on K Street-Margaret Truman

Murder on K Street
Margaret Truman
Ballantine, Oct 30 2007, $24.95
ISBN 9780345498861

U.S. Senator Lyle Simmons is considered by the pundits as one of the leading candidates for president. However, he soon has a different problem outside of politics to deal with when he comes home following a fundraiser. His wife Jeanette lies on the floor of their foyer; someone brutally murdered her. Capital Police Detective Charles Chang leads the official investigation with the media spotlight following every step he makes.

Clues send Chang in the direction of K Street where the senior senator from Illinois has close ties with lobbyists who provide him with plenty of campaign funding. However Chang also finds the street is close lipped to outsiders, even cops on official inquiries and corruption and lies are the norm. Under the press’ persistent digging, the perfect Simmons’s marriage suddenly has cracks and holes that make it look as if it was tied together by White House ambition only. Meanwhile Simmons’s friend, retired detective Phil Rotondi wonders whether he should come clean with what he knows about the relationship between Lyle and Jeanette; although he admits to himself he still has sour grapes having lost her to him when they attended college together.

When the story line focuses on K Street, readers obtain an interesting look at how much influence is bought and sold as there is a lobbying stock market selling and buying specialized commodities. However, the constant flashbacks to college are a distraction that slows down the present murder mystery, which is too bad as this Capital Crimes entry had possibilities for an insightful relevant thriller if the plot concentrated on MURDER ON K STREET.

Harriet Klausner

Killer Focus-Fiona Brand

Killer Focus
Fiona Brand
Mira, Dec 2007, $6.99
ISBN: 9780778325635

DC based FBI Agent Taylor Jones knows how close she came to being another death statistic of Alex Lopez, but instead of cowering she is invigorated with energy to take the SOB down. However, when a fresh attempt to kill her occurs; her superiors take her off the case and place her in the protected witness program in Vermont.

Taylor becomes a personal trainer and soon meets Steve Fischer. They are attracted to one another, but a wary distrusting Taylor refuses to follow up on her feelings. When someone murders her elderly neighbor, Fischer informs Taylor that he is a former SEAL working as a personal security agent. When another attempt to kill Taylor occurs, Fischer stands by her to protect her, but fails to inform her that he needs to take down Lopez for personal reasons.

KILLER FOCUS clearly has the unique brand of romantic suspense that make up a Fiona Brand tale. The lead couple is a strong caring pair with secrets and doubts. However, as with DOUBLE VISION it is the villain Alex Lopez who steals the show again; few characters are as cold efficient and deadly as he is.

Harriet Klausner

The Murderers' Club-P.D. Martin

The Murderers' Club
P.D. Martin
Mira, Dec 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780778324416

Although six months have past since Australian expatriate FBI profiler Sophie Anderson nearly died while working on the D.C. slasher serial killer case (see BODY COUNT), she still remains shook up. Part of it is because she has psychic skills that come in the form of disconcerting often ugly nightmares. Although at the time considered the top profiler, Sophie has not been able to do any field work.

Sophie looks forward to her vacation in Tucson where she will spend time with Detective Darren Carter. However, when he goes to a murder scene, Sophie comes with him. Upon seeing the corpse, Sophie has a vision. Soon more bodies and visions follow. However, what Sophie sees is not lucid as each killing seems slightly different as if more than one culprit is at work. The FBI assigns Sophie to the investigation, but as she suffers nightmares she begins to uncover the truth that will shake her more than the Slasher’s case did.

THE MURDERERS’ CLUB is a chilling police procedural that has the beleaguered and bewildered heroine wondering how many culprits are out there. The villains will chill the readers’ bones as few can. As with BODY COUNT, P.D. Martin provides an excellent thriller that has her audience on the edge of their seats with what happens next.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Con Artist of Catalina Island-Jennifer Colt

The Con Artist of Catalina Island
Jennifer Colt
Tessera Books, Nov 2007, $22.95
ISBN: 9781604612677

In Los Angeles, identical twins Kerry and Terry McAfee are tall red-heads who enjoy riding their respective pink bikes on the highways. The two professional sleuths own and operate Double Indemnity Investigations. However they are as dissimilar a pair of sisters one can find. Whereas Terry is a former cocaine user who has done time for possession Kerry is a college grad who appreciates men with a sense of humor.

The siblings look forward to vacationing with family members on Catalina Island for their Christmas holiday. However, upon checking in at the hotel, they learn their room was previous occupied by newlyweds, who were publicly arguing until the bride vanished along with her apparently valuable rare green diamond ring. Soon afterward the murdered corpse of diving instructor is found floating in nearby Avalon Bay. Unable to resist, the twins begin investigating only to find the sheriff angry with their intrusion into the official inquiry, a stalker turning up everywhere yet just out of reach, and a death threat for intruding in a situation that has its roots in an African diamond mine. That is when they are not hunting for a toothless poodle that ran away from the family.

This fourth McAfee investigative tale (see The Vampire of Venice Beach, The Butcher of Beverly Hills and The Mangler of Malibu Canyon; none read by this reviewer) is an amusing young adult combo whodunit family drama. The siblings are fabulous to follow as they seek romance in their own way while dealing with their relatives especially Aunt Reba’s tryst haunting everyone, and finally a missing person and a homicide. Life is normal for Kerry and Terry as their vacation turns out the way their work time is, handling a difficult case that will most likely not help their bank accounts.

Harriet Klausner

What Lies Within-Karen Ball

What Lies Within
Karen Ball
Multnomah, Nov 2007, $12.99
ISBN: 9781590524152

Kyla Justice’s construction company has been a great success, but though she is making money she feels unfulfilled as she has not given anything back to society. However, an opportunity arises to do so when a church asks her to convert a dilapidated mess into a youth center. She readily agrees though she did not realize that even Job would be pressed to remain a believer.

The Blood Brotherhood gang does not want a youth center in their territory. The owner of the site does not want a youth center built on his property as he has other avaricious plans if the construction fails. Her boyfriend Mason does not want her building a youth center in the dangerous slums. The suppliers do not care one iota about a youth center as they want top dollar for shabby material. Three previous contractors were run off or paid to leave. Now Kyla faces sabotage and worse as she remains persistent in her mission though someone targets her for harm. Only former Army Staff Sergeant Rafael “Rafe” Murphy, a local coffee shop owner, supports her quest but he has an agenda to keep her safe; he is falling in love with Kyla.

The latest Family Honor tale (see SHATTERED JUSTICE) is a terrific inspirational thriller that subtly conveys the biblical message of good deeds are important but one must give oneself to God to be with the Lord. Kyla is a fabulous center holding the plot together as she is a combination of fortitude and despair. She makes the tale as Karen Ball brings her biblical theme to life in a modern day urban gangland setting.

Harriet Klausner

Friend of the Devil- Peter Robinson

Friend of the Devil
Peter Robinson
Morrow, Jan 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780060544379

Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot is on work loan to another precinct struggling with a brutal serial killer. The latest victim is a paraplegic woman whose throat was sliced by a nearby but remote cliff. Cabbot is frustrated as she wants to bring the animal to justice, but her investigation seems to be going nowhere.

At the same time that Cabbot struggles with the brutal atrocities of a psychopath, at home in North Yorkshire, her sometimes lover Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and his unit work a vicious rape and murder case too in the sleazy Maze where no one cooperates with coppers. When Cabbot learns the identity of the paraplegic victim, she connects her investigation to that of Banks; as both realize they are dealing once again with the cruel AFTERMATH of Terry and Lucy Payne.

Peter Robinson is at his best with this incredibly exciting English police procedural. The lead pair struggles with their relationship and where it is going while also seemingly going nowhere on their two seemingly separate cases. Readers will want to know what happens professionally and personally as Banks and Cabbot finally realize they are dealing with two perverted demons in human clothes.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Crazy School- Cornelia Read

The Crazy School
Cornelia Read
Grand Central, Jan 2008, $23.99
ISBN 9780446582599

In 1989 in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, twenty-six year old Madeline Dare obtains a position as a history teacher at Santangelo Academy “therapeutic boarding school”. The former Long Island debutante and married Syracuse fluff reporter knows she will have problems adjusting to her new environs, but is unaware how much.

Headmaster David Santangelo runs the academy with an iron fist allowing no room for mistakes; offenders are sent to “the farm” for punishment. Madeline’s distressed student Mooney LeChance informs her that he believes his girlfriend, Fay Perry is pregnant. Although she knows she is expected to report this to Mr. Santangelo, Madeline agrees to keep the couple’s revelation secret for now especially as the teen duo is serving time at the Farm. However, Mooney and Fay die after drinking party punch. The police arrest Dare as she allegedly prepared the poisoned drink.

THE CRAZY SCHOOL is an interesting amateur sleuth tale that reads like two novels in one. The first part of the book provides insight into those at the Santangelo Academy as if the story line is an exposé character study of the negative elements of a private school. Somewhere towards the middle of the novel, the plot veers into a murder mystery. Although distinct, the parts ultimately blend together as Dare dares to prove her innocence while exposing A FIELD OF DARKNESS that engulfs the school.

Harriet Klausner

Stone Cold-David Baldacci

Stone Cold
David Baldacci
Grand Central, Nov 2007, $26.99
ISBN: 9780446577397

With their recent escapades (see THE COLLECTORS and THE CAMEL CLUB), the DC based Camel Club members have gained some powerful friends who support the revealing of government official wrong doing and avarice; but also some equally powerful adversaries who prefer secrets remain that way. However, the club’s associates are like the Three Musketeers when it comes to protecting one another. When honorary assistant Annabelle Conroy get in trouble after conning about forty million dollars from Atlantic City casino king Jerry Bagger (started in THE COLLECTORS), the Camel Club protects her from him; he plans to do to her what he did to her mother, kill her.

However, Camel Club leader Oliver Stone has a new greater threat to contend with. Homeland Security Agent Harry Finn, a loving father and spouse and highly regarded patriot, is methodically killing the survivors of a CIA Cold War cell Triple 6 out of retaliation for arranging the death of his father, an alleged traitor Raymond Solomon. Oliver when he was the late John Carr was part of that unit. The other club members (Reuben Rhodes, Caleb Shaw, Milton Farb and honorary member Secret service Agent Alex Ford) are divided over whom they need to protect as both threats are deadly serious.

The speed of this thriller is incredible as both subplots move out at an extraordinary pace yet the key players seem fully developed and plausible especially Harry and the Camel Club members. Both Oliver and Annabelle recognize the problems they respectively face as each knows they are in trouble, but in some ways welcome the confrontation. Underlying this strong thriller is a caution that government secrets are rarely security issues, but more likely the hiding of embarrassments usually caused by a lack of adequate checks and balances on arrogant imperial power.

Harriet Klausner

Try Dying-James Scott Bell

Try Dying
James Scott Bell
Center Street, Oct 2007, $21.99
ISBN: 9781599956848

Los Angeles attorney Ty Buchanan prepares for a defamation of character defense in which he claims the plaintiff has NO LEGAL GROUNDS to sue his client. However, as he prepares for the case, he suddenly is hammered with a tragedy, the death of his fiancée Jacqueline Dwyer. What makes her demise even more difficult to cope with is the randomness of the event that killed her. Spousal killer Ernesto Bonilla committed suicide on an overpass and plunged off it landing on Jacqueline’s passing vehicle, killing her.

At her funeral an unkempt out of place male demands Ty give him money in exchange for the truth behind Dwyer’s death; the stranger insists she lived after the Bonilla dive. Perhaps looking for a different explanation, Ty needs to know the truth; but when he tells the cops, they assume he is a grieving person who has been conned. Although he understands he could harm his rising career, Ty investigates finding a conspiracy of the powerful concealing something, but what and how it ties to Jacqueline remains elusive.

Though there is a solid legal thriller subplot, TRY DYING is more an investigative tale as Ty works Los Angeles seeking whether his late fiancée was murdered by someone else after the Bonilla incident. The story line is action-packed, but in every sense of the word is owned by the mourning young lawyer who cannot understand how this could happen and recognizes he may be reaching for a less random incident even if it is homicide. Fans will appreciate Ty’s efforts to learn the truth at the cost of his career.

Harriet Klausner

Skate Crimes-Alina Adams

Skate Crimes
Alina Adams
Berkley, Dec 2007, $6.99, 220 pp.
ISBN: 9780425218037

Bex Levy is a figure skating researcher for 24/7 Television Network. What she really wants to do is poduce a show and she gets her chance when her boss assigns her the Lucian Pryce special, a tribute to a great figure skater and coach who still practices with champions at the age sixty five. At the skating rink, they watch Lucian on the ice when he suddenly trips and falls, which proves to be a DEATH DROP as he is dead almost immediately; Bex thinks he is murdered.

His blades on his skates are in bad shape something Lucian would never let happen. Bex makes her belief known to everyone close to Lucian and find they all have a motive. His daughter Sabrina blames him for the death of his first wife. His present wife holds him accountable for ending her promising career. His star pupil made the moves another pupil of Lucian’s so she wouldn’t be nervous before a performance but he dumps her. Dr. Gabriel Cassidy a former student tried to commit suicide because Lucian pushed her too hard. Even though nobody believes Bex’s theory, she is determined to investigate until she is proven right.

The point of changes form chapter to chapter, each one dedicated to a specific character as they relate their feelings and relationships to the victim. It is a good technique in Alina Adams’ capable hands as the audience sees why there are so many suspects with so many different motives. Readers will enjoy Bex stubbornly question the suspects while deciding whether to accept her boyfriend’s proposal of marriage.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Big Boned-Meg Cabot

Big Boned
Meg Cabot
Avon, Nov 2007, $13.95
ISBN 9780060525132

Former teen pop star Heather Wells attends New York College. To pay for her tuition, Heather works as an assistant dormitory director at the Fischer Hall residence dorm better known by the residents as the “Death Dorm” following some recent murders there. Heather is also serendipitously dating her remedial math instructor Tad Tocco although she admits only to herself she still loves private investigator Cooper Cartwright.

Someone murders Fisher Hall's temporary manager Dr. Owen Veatch. The police immediately suspect graduate student Sebastian Blumenthal, a protest leader, who had public run-ins with the deceased. When Heather receives a tip that insists Ted is innocent, she begins to investigate, but ends up in trouble from a murderer who would not mind killing the somewhat slimmed down but still BIG BONED Heather.

The third Heather Wells’ big is better amateur sleuth (see SIZE 14 IS NOT FAT EITHER and SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT) is an entreating New York murder mystery due to the antics of the precocious heroine. Heather is at her best as she squeezes into dangerous situations that are to tight for comfort yet continues to do so. Sub-genre fans will enjoy this big woman’s escapades as she makes inquires that concern the two men in her life.

Harriet Klausner

Clear Blue Sky-F.P. Lione

Clear Blue Sky
F.P. Lione
Revell, Aug 2007, $17.99
ISBN: 9780800718862

With the Labor Day weekend and its feasts over, the overworked NYPD police know they can catch a breath after tons of overtime mostly involving crowd control. Police officer Tony Cavalucci did his job, but crowd control is a part of his patrol work he hates as he dreams of getting “out of the bag” and into a plainclothes anti crime unit.

He and most of his peers fear the new mayor will return the streets to the perps as his aids are not impressive; still he does his job of patrolling the streets. Following a graveyard shift on the morning of 11 September 2001 on a warm clear day he stops for coffee and muses unhappily about the demands his family have placed on him. His brother wants him to host a wild last fling bachelor party to remind him what he is giving up by marrying. His extended Italian family especially his mother hates his fiancée Michelle as she is ethically and religiously incorrect and had a child Stevie out of wedlock. They insist he drop her or else. As he ponders whether he will have to give up one of the two families he loves, all that changes when he notices smoke coming from one of the Twin Towers.

CLEAR BLUE SKY continues the insightful look at the life of a New York City cop (see the previous three Midtown Blue novels: not read by me - THE DEUCE and THE CROSSROADS; read by me SKELLS). 9/11 is important to the plot, but comes towards the latter part of the novel as readers follow Tony’s personal and professional life in the days just before the tragedy (much of the setting), during the rescue attempts, and immediately after. Fans of police procedurals will appreciate this series that focuses on the cop on the job and off the job as readers obtain a perceptive glimpse of the work pressures and family demands on a police officer.

Harriet Klausner

Remain Silent-Jamie Denton

Remain Silent
Jamie Denton
Kensington Brava, Nov 2007, $14.00
ISBN 9780758210142

In Los Angeles the police arrest art restorer Laurel Jennings and charge her with the murder of her business partner Jonathan Linton. The evidence against Laurel is overwhelming as she had the motive, means and opportunity and her fingerprints are on the murder weapon.

Ex Los Angeles County District Attorney Damon Metcalf returns home to represent his former lover at the bail hearing and subsequently at the trial when no defense lawyer would agree to handle the case. Damon realizes that the powerful Linton family is pushing for her conviction and made it clear to the legal profession to stay out or face the consequences. When someone breaks into Laurel's business facility, Damon fears for her life especially as they begin to uncover an apparent deal Jonathan had arranged that appears nebulous especially with the amount of money exchanged. Soon more homicides follow with Laurel as the prime suspect although she has an alibi, Jonathan and the danger to both of them mounting.

Jamie Denton provides readers with a terrific romantic legal thriller filled with plenty of suspense. The lead couple is a nice pairing as they still love one another and though both agreed to professional and platonic, can’t help but jump each other’s bones. The whodunit is cleverly devised so that the audience will wonder who and why. Sub-genre fans will not REMAIN SILENT as to how entertaining this tale is.

Harriet Klausner

Pyres-Derek Nikitas

Derek Nikitas
St. Martin's, Oct 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312363970

Fifteen years old Lucia Moberg gets her dad to take her to the nearby mall. Once there Lucia steals a CD from a store for her friend, but almost was caught. In a bit of a panic, she convinces her dad that it is time to leave so they go to the car. However, a man with a gun demands her dad turn over his wallet and the car keys. As she horribly watches her dad refuse to cooperate, the man shoots her father in the head splattering his brains all over the windshield and elsewhere.

Rochester PD Detective Greta Hurd interrogates the teen and quickly rejects the carjacking scenario as a lie. Instead she widens the investigation to Lucia’s frightened mother, the neighbor, and the Skeleton Crew gang. As Lucia struggles with her guilt, Great keeps prodding at her to tell the truth as she assumes this was crime of passion caused by a dysfunctional family; sort of like her own.

This is a dark character study that grips the audience as the two lead protagonists, the cop and the teen, struggle with person demons that intrude on the case. Lucia is overloaded with guilt as she goes through one what if drill after another, but always comes back to same reality that she can depend on no one especially not her mom as she accepts culpability and tries to move on although the cop won’t let. Greta sees the case through the myopic lens of her own dysfunction family so assumes either the teen or the mom killed the dad. PYRES is a well written depressing atmospheric psychological crime thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Deadly Shoals-Joan Druett

Deadly Shoals
Joan Druett
St. Martin’s, Dec 2007, $24.95
ISBN 9780312353377

In 1839 U.S. Exploring Expedition ship Swallow reaches Patagonia. However, in Patagonia, an outraged whaler Captain Stackpole demands the Shallow’s sheriff’s representative, navigator and “linguister” Wiki Coffin arrest trader Caleb Adams. Stackpole claims he bought a schooner from Adams, but the scoundrel vanished with his money without handing over the vessel or a bill of sale.

Wiki makes inquiries into where Adams may have gone. However, when he catches up to the trader, he meets a dead man. Someone murdered Adams and a clerk working at the trader’s store. The bill of sale remains missing. As Wiki continues his expanded investigation into what happened to the receipt and who killed Adams and the clerk, he remains ignorant to the fact that the killer is observing his every move in case he gets too close to the truth.

This is a terrific nineteenth century mystery that brings to life Patagonia through the various people the half Maori hero meets on his navigating work but especially his investigation. Wiki in his fourth appearance remains a strong fascinating protagonist who is amazed to learn how diverse the world is. Although the historical aspects at times supersede the whodunit forcing an abrupt climax, fans will enjoy sailing with Wiki as he RUNS AFOUL of his employer, Gauchos, and Indians.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Kind One-Tom Epperson

The Kind One
Tom Epperson
Five Star, Dec 2007, $25.95
ISBN 9781594146176

In 1930s Los Angeles, Danny Landon struggles to recall his recent history having suffered an injury. He has been told by cohorts that he is a hired gun working for malicious gangster Bub “The Kind One” Seitz and that he has a bloody no nonsense past. In fact he is respectfully called “Two Gun Danny” for his homicidal skills.

However, Danny struggles with the descriptions of his violent nature as he finds it difficult to harm anyone. His boss assigns Landon to watch Darla to make sure she is not cheating on him. Landon finds the task despicable as he likes Darla and believes she deserves better than someone spying on her, but challenging Seitz would be suicidal.

Although the plot is a bit thin, readers will enjoy this Depression Era urban noir due to Two Gun Danny; who is a believable protagonist struggling between the description others have of him and what his gut says he is. Tom Epperson also provides a wonderful sense of time and place as 1930s L.A. comes vividly alive. Americana historical mystery fans will enjoy this fine tale wondering which Danny will surface.

Harriet Klausner

Houston Homicide-Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson

Houston Homicide
Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson
Five Star, Dec 2007, $25.95
ISBN 9781594146039

In 1969, Houston Police Detective Sergeant Ted “Steve” Stephens has had wild mood swings since his wife walked out on him; at times he rages at her while at other moments he wallows in self pity. He fears he will never move on and prays his humiliation is not impacting his work or locker room talk.

Steve finally receives a welcome distraction from his personal depression. A professional hitman executed prominent Houston attorney Ralph Parker, his wife Dorothy and his mob-connected mother. Rival detective Wetsel, who detests Steve, insists that the victim’s hippie son killed his parents and grandmother after they removed him from their respective wills. However, Steve thinks otherwise and with the help of Clive, a private investigator, seeks the truth that the brass prefers closed.

This is an interesting historical police procedural starring a cop who is at his best when he goes through a diatribe about his wife that runs the gamut from self incrimination to holding her culpable to a macho fear that his peers will think he is a wimp. The rest of the cast especially the cops are two dimensional stereotypes. Although an improbable and out of nowhere late spin resolves the case, sub-genre fans will enjoy Houston as Armstrong is about to take a giant step.

Harriet Klausner

Curse of Al Capone’s Gold-Mike Thompson

Curse of Al Capone’s Gold
Mike Thompson
Five Star, Dec 2007, $25.95
ISBN 9781594146343

In North Dakota rogue cop Andy Larson supplements his income by stealing from criminals especially bootleggers. He and four of his friends plan to hijack a truckload filled with illegal booze, but to his dismay everything turns ugly as bullets fly. The four bootleggers and one of Larson’s allies are dead. When the dust settles, the four survivors look inside the truck to find a cache of gold coins.

Andy knows he needs to cover up the disaster from his work peers and elude the owner of the coins, mobster Al Capone. As he struggles with both, Andy tries to figure out how to dispose of bodies, alcohol, and coins without the cops or the Chicago mob knowing it was him.

Except for the illegal booze and names like Capone, this prohibition crime caper could take place in any twentieth century era as the action-packed story line lacks a distinct 1920s flavor to it. The story line is fast-paced and filled with gunfights that make the Valentine’s Day massacre look like a cozy. With the blood flowing and the audience wanting Andy to get his comeuppance as a bad cop, readers will be reminded of marihuana busts in the south and southwest in the 1960s as Mike Thompson provides a graphic shoot out.

Harriet Klausner

The Medium -Noelle Sickels

The Medium
Noelle Sickels
Five Star, Dec 2007, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146183

Helen Schneider has a gift that frightened her when it first surfaced. She can envision disasters. Although her parents feared for her and preferred their child not be a freak, her grandmother nurtured her and taught Helen to learn to use her skill to benefit people. She does, but years later still resents being different and in her way worries about failing.

When an Angel first visited Helen to help her adjust and cope, she rejected the heavenly being out of anger of being different. However, the angel kept trying to help her until Helen accepted her gift as divine since she became a medium channeling thoughts between the dead and their living loved ones. When WWII broke out, Helen uses her ability to help soldiers and civilian who know first hand the horrors of war although each time she does this she feels as if part of her has been ripped out even as the American government begins to think she is a Nazi agent..

This is a strange but exhilarating paranormal historical thriller starring a fascinating lead character who as THE MEDIUM holds the story line together. Although she hates her talent as she just wants to be normal, readers will admire her as she tries to help victims of the war. In fact Helen’s accounts are so accurate she is considered a spy placing her in further trouble. Noelle Sickels provides a strong unique twentieth century tale that readers will fully appreciate her talent.

Harriet Klausner

Fifty-Seven Heaven-Lonnie Cruse

Fifty-Seven Heaven
Lonnie Cruse
Five Star, Dec 2007, $25.95
ISBN 9781594146008

In Metropolis, Illinois, grandparents Kitty and Jack Bloodworth enjoy living in the city with the only negative being her odious cousin Will Ann Lloyd. As Jack points out when Kitty feels guilty about ill thoughts towards her blood everyone feels that way about the most loathed person in town. Will Ann went so far as telling the world that Kitty's daughter Sunny is a tramp.

However though she wanted the worst for her cuz, Kitty is stunned to learn that someone carried out her wishes and strangled Will Ann before stuffing the corpse in the trunk of Kitty's '57 Chevy. The police believe the animosity between the relatives was so strong that Kitty, Jack and Sunny as well as Will Ann's son Craig are the prime suspects; in fact they do not look at any possibility but a family homicide. Kitty begins the clean up of Will Ann's possessions and finds a promising clue, but is run off the road; the not-accident leaves her with amnesia.

This is a fun cozy that looks closely at family relationships especially as people grow old. Although the culprit is obvious, readers will enjoy cruising along with Kitty in her 57 Chevy as she refuses to allow amnesia, old age, a killer, or cops from stopping her amateur sleuth investigation. Fans will enjoy this spin and want to read Lonnie Cruse's sister series Metropolis mystery (not reviewed by me).

Harriet Klausner

Murder by Serpents-Barbara Graham

Murder by Serpents
Barbara Graham
Five Star, Nov 2007, $25.95
ISBN 9781594145902

Sheriff Tony Abernathy left the big city to move to the small Eastern Tennessee town of Silervsille in Park County; a place where serious crime just never takes place. That is until now. Tony is called to the parking lot of Ruby’s Café where he finds the bloated body of a man handcuffed to the steering wheel with a rattlesnake and a copperhead loose inside the vehicle. A driver’s license identifies the victim as John Mize, who is a shirttail relation to local Quentin Mize, a part-time resident of Tony’s jail.

The victim turns out not to be a choir boy having a record as long as the nearby mountains. John also preached at an abandoned motel; insisting he found Jesus in prison. He used snakes to affirm his faith in the Lord. However, Tony finds the cages contain false bottoms filled with Oxycontin and plenty of money. He also believes that the deceased is really Harold Usher Brown, John’s cellmate in prison, who had a connection with Ruby; now that he is dead she believes she will never know the location of what he took from her. This not the only homicide Tony investigates; body parts have been all over town making identification extremely difficult. Tony knows the eccentric townsfolk break the law all the time, but their crimes are so minor law enforcement doesn’t even blink, just ignores them for the most part. However, someone has turned to MURDER BY SERPENT and more but who remains a mystery.

Anyone who enjoys reading a different kind of police procedural will appreciate this fine regional murder mystery filled with quirky characters like a man in love with a vending machine and the mom and aunt of the protagonist driving him crazy with their secrets. The cast makes MURDER BY SERPENT entertaining besides those already mentioned; there is the hero’s wife ready to help him because she worries about him getting hurt; her quilters ready to stitch the clues together at her command, and the deputy who compromises crime scenes by puking. Barbara Graham provides an entertaining Tennessee tale with one question not answered – any ties to Johnny “the Big Cat” Mize?

Harriet Klausner

The Crows-Maris Soule

The Crows
Maris Soule
Five Star, Dec 2007, $25.95, 263 pp.
ISBN: 9781594146053

CPA P.J. Benson moves away from Kalamazoo into a small house she inherited from her paternal grandfather in Zenith Michigan, a farming community where nobody locks their doors. This proves to be a mistake as P.J. discovers when she is taking a walk in the woods and she hears shots ring out. She rushes home finding a blood trail that leads to her kitchen until she reaches a dead man.

Detective Wade Kingsley is put in charge of the case and feels that P.J. is a possible suspect even though she doesn’t know the man. Her closest neighbors John and Julia think they know who the victim was and they believe he stole bioengineered lady bugs from a lab. They can’t tell the police because John brought them home from work without permission. Several times P.J. feels someone has been in her home but the police think she is crazy (a sore spot for her because her mother is a schizophrenic) but she knows where each pf her belongings are supposed to be. When certain evidence comes to light, Wade believes her and wants her to stay at his sister’s house until they can figure out what is going on. P.J. refuses and almost gets them both killed from a ghost out of her past.

Since mental illness runs in her family, P.J. ponders if the things that are happening to her are hallucinations like a jealous lesbian poisoning her food or her hearing the voice of someone dead for eighteen years over the phone. She comes to realize she is as sane as anyone else and somebody is playing mind games with her. The mystery is well constructed with different neighbors at different times coming under suspicion. THE CROWS is a creative well written psychological suspense thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Preaching to the Corpse-Roberta Isleib

Preaching to the Corpse
Roberta Isleib
Berkley, Dec 2007, $6.99
ISBN: 9780425218372

Psychologist Dr. Rebecca Butterman is woken up in the middle of the night by her minister of the Shoreline Congregational Church. He asks her to come over to the emergency medical clinic off exit 59. Dr. Meigs takes the phone from him and explains that the minister was with parishioner Lacy Bailes when she died. He refuses to talk to the detective unless Rebecca is with him. When she arrives at the clinic, the minister is more interested in having Rebecca on the committee to find a new pastor than he is of being a murder suspect because he doesn’t believes the victim who was a good person was poisoned like the doctor suspects..

Rebecca agrees to serve on the committee, but finds the group is not even close to a selection. There are two candidates: a woman from out of town and Reverend Wesley’s choice Paul a divinity student graduate who the pastor demands they choose immediately. Paul and Rebecca fall down a flight of stairs that have been greased by Crisco. This adds credence to the theory that Lacy was poisoned. That conclusion is solidified when someone fires a bullet that whizzes past Rebecca when she is near her front door. She believes someone fears that her questions are leading her to identifying the killer of Lacy, but instead of taking the safe “smart” road, she intensifies her investigation.

Rebecca Isleib has written a fantastic amateur sleuth tale in which it seems everyone except the detective and the heroine’s sister and niece have something to conceal and thus push personal agendas to guard against revealing their secrets. Although some will question why a psychologist would turn to sleuthing especially of a homicide (besides needing it for the plot), the protagonist is ideal for the job as she is an expert on human nature and will need her reading of people skills to determine who are the most likely suspects. Sub-genre fans will enjoy accompanying Dr. Butterman has she makes her inquires.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Knitting Bones-Monica Ferris

Knitting Bones
Monica Ferris
Berkley Dec 2007, $23.95
ISBN: 9780425217528

The Embroiderers Guild of America (EGA) local chapter members feel great that their stitching efforts earned $24,000 for the Heart Coalition charity fund raiser. However, after handing over the check to a man sent by the coalition to the EGA banquet, they since learn he vanished without turning in the money. Betsy Devonshire, owner of Crewel World, is apartment-bound, after breaking her leg from falling off a horse while riding with friend and customer Jill Cross Larson. The store manager make that Vice President of Operations Godwin still believes she should investigate what happened to the check raised by their clients the EGA, but Betsy insists she is immobile and drugged so cannot follow clues nor think of solutions. Still he makes the case that she can run the case from her home while he follows her orders with the street work. As they work in tandem to learn what happened to the check Tony Milan laid up also with a broken leg caused by a drunken driver running a light wonders about the same check.

Having Betsy lead a distant investigation makes for a refreshing amateur sleuth as the heroine has to go over every step one stitch at a time. Series fans will enjoy the inquiry as Godwin fumbles to be Betsy’s field operative while she is his handler. The missing person mystery is cleverly designed, but it is the Betsy-Godwin sleuthing combo that makes KNITTING BONES a terrific tale

Harriet Klausner

Third Strike-Phillip R. Craig & William G. Tapply

Third Strike
Phillip R. Craig & William G. Tapply
Scribner, Dec 2007, $24.00
ISBN :9781416532560

The drivers who operate the ferry entering and leaving Martha’s Vineyard are on strike stranding vacationers who have to pay higher prices for goods and services. The first death having to do with the strike is Eduardo Alvarez who got killed when he supposedly blew up the Trident that was crewed with scabs. Alvarez’s wife tells Zee Jackson that her husband was a militant pacifist who would have nothing to do with blowing up things. Zee asks her husband detective J. W. to investigate what really happened.

In Boston, lawyer Brady Coyne gets a call from client Larry Bucyck asking him to come to the Vineyard because he needs help. When he gets there, Brady is shown a house where Larry saw a boat running without lights unloading crates and the men were carrying uzis. Brady sleeps over at Larry’s house and the next morning leaves the house with his client still sleeping. When he returns, Larry is gone; he finds him in the pigpen, a bullet in his body and obvious signs of torture on the corpse. Brady stays at the home of his friend sleuth J.W. The two men working separately realize both investigations are linked by terrorists who have the same goal. Now J. W. and Brady have to figure out the logistics, the target and the location and then stop them using deadly force if necessary.

Due to the recent death of Phillip R. Craig this is probably the last J.W. Jackson-Brady Coyne collaboration, but this superb tale pays homage to the great author. Readers will feel the loss because this was an exceptional series and THIRD STRIKE is a fantastic who done it. The regional mystery captures the ambience of Martha’s Vineyard and makes readers aware that not all who live on the island are rich. The natives who live there year round get much of their bounty from the sea. The pairing of Brady Coyne and J.W. Jackson is well done as each brings something special to the investigation.

Harriet Klausner

In for a Pound-Richard Marinick

In for a Pound
Richard Marinick
Kate’s Mystery Books (Justin, Charles), Dec 2007, $24.95
ISBN 9781932112-511

After spending three year behind bars at Norfolk State Prison on a wrongful conviction of assaulting a DEA agent, former Massachusetts state trooper Delray McCauley is free. However, freedom is a relative term as he has no prospects in his former line of work as no law enforcement agency will hire an ex convict. Instead he returns to his South Boston roots and tends bar.

However, his former occupation brings suspicion that he is a plant by the Southie gangs who roam the neighborhood with alacrity; they simply distrust anyone who was in law enforcement even one who spent time in prison. Boston Police Captain Conway Lilly asks “Statie” Delray to help him on a case involving a friend, lawyer Esmond Cotter, whose safe was stolen from his office. If the cops recover it first, Cotter might face embarrassment at a minimum; although he detests attorneys, McCauley he agrees to investigate out of friendship for Lil. However, by volunteering to help a buddy, he learns a friend in need is a pest as he soon finds plenty of vicious Boyos wanting him dead; some over the safe, but most because he was a cop.

This is an exciting urban noir that brings to life (and death) Southie especially the street thugs who stroll the neighborhood. The story line is action-packed with plenty of blood as Delray works the mean streets with gang members ready to pound him for the fun of it. Although the afterward is too perfect, Richard Marinick writes a bruising Boston brouhaha even with the presence of a Wellesley grad turned feline sleuth that readers will appreciate.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Shallow Grave-Lori G. Armstrong

Shallow Grave
Lori G. Armstrong
Medallion, Nov 2007, $7.95
ISBN: 9781933836188

In Bear Butte County South Dakota private investigative partners Julie Collins and Kevin Wells freeze their butts off observing Langston Everett for Rushmore West Insurance who believes he is pulling an injury compensation scam. After feeling colder than a frozen popsicle, the surveillance team snaps into action when Lang leaves his home to ride an ATV; Julie and Kevin follow filming his activity until his vehicle suddenly flies into the air. He is dead and there is a big hole in the ground that Lang apparently drove partly in before flying over a nearby embankment. Kevin calls the sheriff’s office.

As Sheriff Al Richards and his team check the crime scene, Lang’s spouse June arrives to learn of her husband’s death. She asks Julie to say nothing about the hole that was covered, but is back sans the bones of humans that were buried there. Al asks Julie to help on the case as he lacks manpower, but that leads to issues with the Standing Elk family. They hid information related to her brother Ben as Abita Kahlen arrives from Arizona accompanied by her three years old son Jericho who has a face that could only mean he is Julie’s nephew.

The third Collins private investigative mystery (see HOLLOWED GROUND and BLOOD TIES) continues to provide insight into what happened to Ben with a few side shockers. The current case causes additional strain on Julie, but courageously she keeps digging in an effort to learn what was in the SHALLOW GRAVE that was re-dug leading to Lang’s demise and much more as a simple insurance fraud case turns deadly and personal. Lori G. Armstrong lives up to the last syllable of her surname with this superb whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

Goodbye, She Lied-Russ Hall

Goodbye, She Lied
Russ Hall
Five Star, Nov 2007, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146022

In Fearing, Texas Boose Hargate asks septuagenarian Esbeth Walters to uncover the identity of the con artists who bilked his elderly momma; she was tossed out of the posh retirement home due to a lack of funds.

Adele Kilgore does not need the insurance money nor cares about it, but has a need to know who killed her husband Vance. The police said it was suicide, but he was obviously bound and tortured before driving himself to his death. She turns to Esbeth to uncover the truth. Esbeth receives help from retired forensic pathologist Gardner Burke even as two hitmen search for the same con artists that Esbeth seeks. As everyone converges at Boose’s booby trapped isolated cabin, law enforcement remains several steps behind Esbeth and her adversaries.

Although everything ties together too perfectly like a mathematical equation, fans will enjoy the senior citizenry amateur sleuth as Gardner the retired pro assists former math teacher Esbeth on her investigations. Her work on both cases is fun to follow as she finds the sum of the parts (her two cases, a tie in serial killing, and a previous con) equals the whole mystery.

Harriet Klausner

The Man Who Killed Shakespeare-Ken Hodgson

The Man Who Killed Shakespeare
Ken Hodgson
Five Star, Nov 2007, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594145988

Thirty nine years old con artist Sam Ransom leaves California in a hurry before he is locked away or beaten to death by a hitman hired by a swindled investor. Besides he has his next scheme set in depression dying Shakespeare, New Mexico where the silver mines no longer work. The townsfolk look at Sam as a savior.

Also new to town is widow Lett Halsy, a former minor, who inherited the Roxy Jay bar and brothel and Wesley the dog from his late brother Howard. The bartender Jason has allowed locals to run up a tab while the brothel has one woman left fortyish Delight Jones. Sam hires Lett to run the mining operation. However, as Lett falls in love with Delight and takes two kids under his wings, he begins to have doubts about Sam’s operation even when they find a rich vein of gold and silver.

This is an enjoyable Depression Era romantic crime caper. Lett is a likable person who struggles to tell Delight how he feels about her; she shares his love, but also feels unworthy of such a kind soul. The support cast is strong as they provide refreshing insight into how desperate people became during the Depression in a small out of the way place as normally big cities have been featured in most books and movies. Although Sam is rotten to the core, fans will enjoy his operation as THE MAN WHO KILLED SHAKESPEARE with his Hoover prosperity is around the corner mining ruse.

Harriet Klausner

London Frog-Joseph Pittman

London Frog
Joseph Pittman
Five Star, Nov 2007, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594145896

After pulling off a sting of lottery winner Donald Birdie in upstate New York, Todd Gleason returns to his Manhattan home base to work on his next scam; also involving a lottery winner, the Procopio couple. Married ten years, Henri is the CEO of Looking Great Cosmetics while his wife Elise has just won the big prize. They are off on a honeymoon in London to celebrate her winnings.

Over the Internet Todd rents a flat in South Kensington from realtor Vance Timberlake. When he arrives at his temporary lodging, Todd finds the murdered corpse of Vance. He flees the scene only to be picked up in a taxi by Dobo and Larry, who were conducting surveillance of Vance for their boss hitman and speed slapper Clive Remington. After Clive slaps him around, Todd stays at the home of American expatriate Beth Simon, sister of his “partner” who is taking care of Todd’s pet Toad. As he begins the latest sting, Clive demands a piece of the action, Birdie is coming and soon everything seems to spin out of control with police, his new partner, the thug’s girlfriend and an American heiress tugging at Todd, whose latest name does not matter.

LONDON FROG is a wild crime caper starring a rogue who finds his latest caper totally out of control from the moment he steps inside his temporary lodging and spins further into chaos. The support cast enhances the zaniness as they take Todd on quite a rowdy ride. Fans who appreciate something offbeat in their thrillers will enjoy Todd’s tale as he struggles with who is conning whom.

Harriet Klausner

Cat Deck the Halls-Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Cat Deck the Halls
Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Morrow, Nov. 2007, $16.95
ISBN 9780061123955

In the garden of a plaza in Molena Point, California, the assailant kills the man by the Christmas tree while a little girl clings to the victim. After the culprit fled the crime scene, Kit prowling the rooftop of one of the buildings in the plaza smells the blood and cordite. She traces the odor to the dead human and sees the frightened five or six year old (hard to judge specific age in humans as they all look the same) clinging to the dead man.

By the time the cops arrive, the killer hid the corpse and Kit and her feline pals concealed the child to insure that the culprit did not come after the only witness. While his cat pals hide the little girl, ace detective Joe Grey investigates. Meanwhile the killer and perhaps some allies seek the child so they break into Kit's home and the studio of a famous artist at the Home for Orphan Children. However, these dangerous humans have never dealt with felines as clever as Joe Grey, Kit and the rest of their meowing carol singers.

Shirley Rousseau Murphy proves that cats have at least fourteen lives as Joe Grey works his later caper while his partners keep the human girl safe. The whodunit is cleverly designed to keep the audience, the cops and the cats off balance until the final paw step. Fans of the series will appreciate this fun personification holiday mystery as the felines of Molena Point deck the halls with an entertaining mystery

Harriet Klausner

Monday, October 15, 2007

Diamondback-Phil Bowie

Phil Bowie
Medallion, Nov 2007, $7.95
ISBN: 9781933836430

In 1838, soldiers forced the Cherokees to leave the Great Smoky Mountains on the Trails of Tears to Oklahoma Territory. However, before they were forcibly removed form their homes, the shaman hid the gold mines. Almost one hundred and seventy years later, slow-witted prospector Mose Kyle discovers one of the hidden gold mines.

When Mose fails to attend church, his elderly friend Hattie becomes concerned as he always shows up. She asks local pilot John Hardin, who she thinks is her son and lives with her and her spouse Hank, to check on Mose. John goes to Mose’s isolated cabin, as he would do anything for Hattie and Hank. He finds things not quite right, but assumes nothing of it as Mose is slow until he meets and shares notes with part Cherokee biker Kitty Birdsong. As they continue to search for Mose, the sheriff does nothing as Mose is strange and dimwitted while the deadly snake Preacher, the Cagle brood, and the rest of the flock keep an eye on the pilot and the biker in case they get too close to the truth.

DIAMONDBACK is an exciting suspense thriller with a touch of romance between the lead couple that for the most part remains in the background at the same level as the Hollywood western trivia questions that Hank asks John; each enhances the overall tale. The amateur sleuth investigation is cleverly devised so that John and Kitty slowly find clues of foul play, but the novel belongs to silent cold femme fatale Sis Cagle, the ultimate sadistic sexual torturer.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Last Striptease- Michael Wiley

The Last Striptease
Michael Wiley
Dunne, Oct 2007, $23.95
ISBN 9780312372507

During a surveillance project, Chicago private investigator Joe Kozmarski sees a murder that he calls in over 911. His former police crony, Bill Gubman follows up on Joe’s call, but is shot by the killer who escapes.

When his employee Bob Piedras is suspected of killing his girlfriend, Le Thi Hanh, former judge Peter Rifkin asks family friend Joe to investigate; the judge assumes Piedras is innocent although he and Le had a public argument. Joe does not like these types of cases in which a friend with a presumption hires him because the truth may not be what the person wants, but a$15K retainer supersedes any doubt. Besides Joe has a grudge with the Judge, who was forced to retire for behavior unbecoming a court official. As Joe makes inquiries, Le’s angry violent brothers follow his every move because they plan their own form of justice including keeping a PI straight anyway necessary. However, the toughest project is his eleven year old nephew who has been dumped on him to straighten him out, but the lad insists on doing field work instead of schoolwork.

Joe is terrific in this bruising (to the characters that is) action-packed urban noir. The story line is fast-paced as it seems everywhere that Joe goes; a corpse either greets him or follows after him. Readers will appreciate his joy ride of Chicago even as his wise guy not precocious nephew insists on leading the investigation.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Sword of Venice-Thomas Quinn

The Sword of Venice
Thomas Quinn
Dunne, Dec 2007, $25.95
ISBN: 9780312319106

In Venice the rivalry between the powerful Ziani and Soranzo clans seems over after generational feuding that hurt both families by enabling lesser adversaries to almost surpass each of them and came close to allowing the Turks to take the city. Instead the respective patriarchs Antonio Ziani and Giovanni Soranzo buried the hatchet and came together to defend Venice (see THE LION OF ST. MARK). They both believe the deadly feud is a thing of the past as the two families need each other to thwart the Turks, other city states, and new upstart Venetian clans wanting to claim the top rung from them by dividing these enemies who have become allies.

However, neither Antonio nor Giovanni understood the deep hatred they educated their offspring with. Soranzo's adopted son Enrico loathes Ziani’s heir the war hero Constantine. When they compete for the affection of the daughter of a senator, Maria Mocenigo, the dispute regains momentum especially when she chooses Constantine. Outraged by her rejection and selection, Enrico hires an assassin to kill Constantine at a time that the league of Italian city states is angry with the Venetians over their peace treaty with the Turks. As the other city-states attack, the two families must come together at land and at sea or face destruction once again.

The second book of the Venetians is a fascinating Renaissance tale that provides the audience a deep look at one of the more powerful Italian city-states at a time when invaders from the Ottoman Turks and the rival city-states threaten Venice. The storyline is fast-paced and quite deep in a historical context; however, the key family rivals, Enrico and Constantine seem one dimensional especially when compared with the “greatest generation” of their fathers and for that matter Constantine in the first tale. Readers who enjoy traveling to a long ago setting will appreciate the rich historical texture of THE SWORD OF VENICE as the history comes before the cast.

Harriet Klausner

Third Degree-Greg Iles

Third Degree
Greg Iles
Scribner, Nov 2007, $24.95, 385 pp.
ISBN 978043279504

In Athens Point, Mississippi, special education teacher Laurel Shields takes a home pregnancy test and is horrified to learn she is pregnant; for eleven months she was having an affair with Danny McDavitt, the father of one of her students. He ended it because if he couldn’t file for divorce because his wife would gain custody of his beloved autistic son even though she finds their child is a burden.

aurel leaves the house for a parent-teacher conference, while her husband Dr. Warren Shields searching the books in the library. When she returns home, Warren points a gun at her. He found a love letter Danny wrote to her even though he didn’t sign his name; Warren is furious demanding to know who her lover is. She doesn’t tell him but he has an idea that will crack her password on the computer and she knows that there are emails with Danny’s name on them. When the children come home, he frightens them by acting crazy but Laurel is able to get her son out of the house. He tells the neighbor who tells the sheriff and pretty soon the house is surrounded by police who know that there is a good chance that the good doctor will kill his wife if and when he discovers who the father of her children. In an ironic quirk the only person Warren trusts to talk to is Danny.

When one thinks of a great thriller writer Greg Iles naturally comes to mind. The tension begins on the very first page and just keeps on escalating as Warren becomes more and more out of control. There is no reasoning with him yet Laurel desperately tries to reach him. Readers will admire her as she deftly handles him but will also sorry for the couple who have lost so much and stand to lose even more. THIRD DEGREE is the appropriate title because that is what Warren does to Laurel throughout this terse domestic thriller.

Harriet Klausner

The Watcher-Jeanne C Stein

The Watcher
Jeanne C Stein
Ace, Dec 2007, $7.99, 304 pp.
ISBN: 9780441015467

Bounty hunter Anna Strong never knew vampires existed until she was bitten by one and was turned. Now she is taken under the wings of two different kinds of men. The San Diego Chief of Police is a century old vampire who formed the Watchers; vampires who police the supernatural community keeping humans safe from the ones that are evil. She gets her human drug supply in a small desert Mexican town when the local bar is run by Culebra. It is the meeting place for vampires who need to drink human blood and humans who want to donate it.

She sees her lover Max there but he looks frazzled because of the bounty on his head by a Mexican drug lord. When she returns to San Diego, a FBI agent tells her that Max, a DEA agent, has gone rogue. She believes the agent is lying; and assumes the agent has a personal and evil vendetta. She intends to find Max but when she returns to Beso dela Muerte she discovers the witch Ms. Burke and her coven are going to summon a demon in the one minute window of opportunity on Halloween. She has to stop her not only because the demon will kill all the good supernaturals and because she intends to sacrifice Culebra. While she is battling the forces of darkness the drug lord kidnaps Max and intends to abduct Anna in order to torture her in front of him.

Everyone has plans for Anna but she has her own ideas of what she wants to do with her life and she is strong enough and independent enough to choose her own destiny. No human, including Max, knows Anna is a vampire and she fears if Max finds out he will leave her. This action paranormal thriller is full of unexpected twists, red herrings and the occasional wild goose chase. Jeanne C. Stein writes an enthralling vampiric mystery that has a lot of suspense, a touch of magic and a bit of romance so that readers of multiple genres are satisfied.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 12, 2007

Vendetta-Meredith Fletcher

Meredith Fletcher
Silhouette Athena Force, Nov 2007, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373389759

The leaders of the Athena Force know how to best use the talents of their academy graduates. So when someone arranged the murder of Marion Gracelyn and the kidnapping of two Athena students, they turn to investigative writer Winter Archer to learn who; few people can obtain information better than she can.

Using the guise of writing the biography of the Athena Academy’s late founder, Winter asks David if she can look at his mom’s papers. However, David, the U.S. Attorney General, rejects allowing an author look at his late mom's papers. Winter persuades him that her interest lies in uncovering the real culprit behind the homicide. David grants her access, but soon finds himself working to keep her safe from a killer who wants to remain the anonymous star of a soon to be cold case.

More a suspense thriller than a romance as the latter takes a back seat to the former, the latest Athena Force tale continues the delightful saga with a past and present thriller. The story line is fast-paced in both periods so that readers are caught up with the non-stop action. The lead couple is fully developed although the romantic interest between them seems forced, as a requirement rather than a plot enhancer. Still fans will enjoy VENDETTA.

Harriet Klausner

Not Quite Dead-John Maclachlan Gray

Not Quite Dead
John Maclachlan Gray
St. Martin’s, Dec 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312374716

In 1848 on a cargo ship sailing from Liverpool to the United States, Irish stowaway Finn Devlin steals a package containing worthless papers “David Copperfield, Final Four Numbers, by Charles Dickens.” Although the Irishman sees no profit, he plans to visit Dickens’s American publisher to see if they might pay him anyway. Angry with his treatment Devilin kills the publisher.

In 1849 in Baltimore, infamous author, journalist and critic Edger Allen Poe collapses and is rushed to a hospital where he insists he has proof of a mob hit. Allegedly dying, he arranges with his childhood friend Dr. William Chivers to fake his death so that he can elude the Irish mob that wants him silent. Charles Dickens begins an America tour by having as a roommate in a dive, the maniacal Poe, who hides from the Irish mob. Soon all the players on this stage will collide in a final chapter worthy of both writers.

Although well written and very insightful into mid nineteenth century Baltimore and Philadelphia, NOT QUITE DEAD loses some speed by rotating perspective from the first person accounts of harassed Chivers and a third person viewpoint of Devilin’s crossing and lethal time in the States where he seems more like a character from a Corman movie version of a Poe novel. Poe and Dickens play key roles, but are secondary to the prime duet.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Girl in a Box-Sujata Massey

Girl in a Box
Sujata Massey
Harper, Oct 30 2007, $13.95
ISBN: 9780060765156

Underemployed Japanese-American sleuth Rei Shimura needs work so she accepts a job with some nebulous alphabet soup federal agency that is either a rival to the CIA and NSA or somehow connected to one of them. To know requires a top secret need to know clearance.

Her superior Michael Hendricks assigns Rei to go undercover as a clerk at a Tokyo department store whose profits are mind-boggling to learn how that can be. Besides struggling with why the Feds would care, she likes the assignment as she can purchase the latest in fashion using her employee discount. However, besides sexual harassment, Rei overhears the store's top manager make a death threat, which she reports to Michael. Worried about her as he is attracted to her, Michael rushes to Tokyo to allegedly protect her back. As Rei bungles with hiding her identity until she is exposed as either a CIA or espionage agent, Michael arrives in time to share a kiss.

This is a terrific espionage thriller as Rei changes occupations from sleuth to spy. Readers will enjoy her antics as she takes Tokyo like a typhoon hitting the city. Rei provides a strong anchor to the wild story line as an assimilated American struggling to adapt in her ancestors’ homeland as a spy who to a degree is in the cold. The support cast is as good as they get whether it is store management harassing her naval, her agency boss kissing her, her store peers cursing her (and the customers) and the city as a whole. GIRL IN A BOX is a terrific fresh entry in this top rate Japanese American detective series.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Dark Aura-Diana O'Hehir

Dark Aura
Diana O'Hehir
Berkley, Dec 2007, $23.95
ISBN 9780425217535

In Stanton’s Mill, California many of the New Age residents believe in the prophecies foretold by the Indigo child, fifteen years old Tamina Kerry. Whenever Tamina spoke in her Oracle like metaphors, people heeded what she said. So everyone waited breathlessly for she has told them she has something significant to say.

However, before she can relay her message, Tamina falls off a nearby cliff to her death. In her last moment she mentions a missing Indigo child. Still no one thinks about it as the Indigo are strange and others like her have died young or vanished abruptly to never be seen again. Encouraged by her boss sly blonde bombshell Sheriff Cherie Ghent, part-time deputy sheriff Carla Day investigates whether Tamina’s death was an accident, a suicide or a murder. She uses her skills honed from obtaining information from her Alzheimer’s suffering father to inquire of the eccentrics who live there. When a man is found dead with his throat cut, Carla believes there is a link to the Tamina death and fears more will follow.

The key to this entertaining whodunit is the fullness of the prime characters especially the heroine, who works the case amidst an eccentric crowd that orates in riddles when asked a straight question. Her caring for her father, a professor losing his memory except when it comes to Egyptology, enables her to work through the odd responses she receives. Cherie is terrific as her boss as she plays the police version of Reese Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde but more as a ploy to fool the rubes into giving her whatever she needs. Fans will appreciate Diana O'Hehir's enjoyable third mystery as no clues are straightforward. They require New Age translation into police English (see ERASED FROM MEMORY and MURDER NEVER FORGETS).

Harriet Klausner

The Remains of the Dead-Wendy Roberts

The Remains of the Dead
Wendy Roberts
Obsidian, Dec 2007, $6.99
ISBN: 9780451222688

When her brother committed suicide five years ago, Sadie Novak was the one who cleaned out his house in order to spare her parents the pain. Immediately afterward, she quit her teaching position to open up Scene-2-Clean, a firm that performs crime scene cleanups in the Seattle area. She gains immense satisfaction from her work because she saves the victim’s family from the trauma of performing the difficult deed, which can include blood splattered seemingly everywhere. Sadie also has another ability that gives her in some ways even greater satisfaction. She meets the ghosts who were killed in the house and helps them pass on.

Her current assignment is the Toth residence where a murder suicide occurred. There she meets Kent Lasko who she assumes is a ghost. Instead she learns he was a friend of the couple and then she wants to know why he was in the house. He explains that he came to retrieve a piece of jewelry that belonged to his mother that he gave to the victim; he also says he was having an affair with Trudy Toth. Not long afterward, Grant Toth’s mother claims a piece of jewelry is missing and the police find it on Sadie. She believes Kent planted it and this makes her wonder why as she postulates whether he was involved in the two deaths. She begins an investigation that leads to her being shot at twice which makes her dig all the deeper.

This is a breezy paranormal mystery filled with witty at times graveyard dry dialog inside a fascinating yet foreboding plot. Sadie is an amateur sleuth who never quits whether it is cleaning a place or investigating a crime. Her associate Zack Bowman is a disgraced ex-cop; although they have never kissed there is a strong attraction between them. The whodunit is cleverly executed with the heroine obtaining help from Zack and Trudy’s ghost who want the truth known by identifying their killer.

Harriet Klausner

Shattered-Jay Bonansinga

Jay Bonansinga
Pinnacle, Dec 2007, $6.99
ISBN 9780786018772

In Northern Virginia FBI profiler Ulysses Grove receives his latest major field assignment: stop the Mississippi Ripper, a serial killer, who murders in pairs before the culprit slices up his victims. His grotesque portrait of death is to have two people facing one another. Grove methodically follows the clues and believes he is unlocking his opponent’s psychopathic mindset, yet the rampaging killer continues his vicious homicides seemingly ignoring the Fed trailing in the murderer’s row.

However Grove and his FBI compatriots will underestimate their elusive vicious foe. Using his paranormal skill, he targets Ulysses’ wife, Maura and their infant son Aaron as a pair to disembowel. Meanwhile Grove keeps on digging applying his mother's supernatural visions to guide him.

The third Grove FBI police procedural (see FROZEN and TWISTED) is an exciting thriller that cleverly balances the varying elements from the paranormal to profiling to old fashion sleuthing foot work. The key cast members seem genuine even when using special psychic like power as Grove does because he is a loving family man and the terrifying Mississippi Ripper feels like a Headlines News killer. SHATTERED is a taut cat and mouse tale with the hero’s family as the cheese.

Harriet Klausner