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SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane: Book Review

Into the mix:  a manipulative mother, an unknown father, world-wide fame, world-wide fall, marriage, divorce, perfect second husband, suspicion of same–they all make for a thrilling ride in Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, Since We Fell.

Rachel Childs grows up desperate to know the identity of her father, a man whose presence in her life she barely remembers.  Her mother, noted author and professor Elizabeth Childs, steadfastly refuses to give her the information, taking his name to her grave.  After Elizabeth’s death, Rachel finds her mother’s journals containing notes on her father that could help in the search.  She goes to the office of Brian Delacroix, a private investigator, whom she had tried to hire several years earlier in her attempt to find her father.  At that time he had refused to take the case, saying that there was simply not enough information for him to even begin the search.  Now, with the journals giving possible clues, he agrees to look.

However, he has no luck now even with the journals to help him.  Rachel continues with her life, graduating from college and getting a job as a reporter with several small papers before landing at the Boston Globe.  But along with her professional success come more personal problems–intermittently-occurring panic attacks and agoraphobia.   Doing her best to ignore them, she leaves the Globe and becomes an internationally-known television reporter until she has a very public breakdown while reporting on the aftermath of the huge earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

Now Rachel is almost never seen in public.  She has become virtually housebound, partly because of her agoraphobia and partly because she is still recognized in public as the reporter who had had an emotional meltdown in front of millions of viewers.  Either way, inside is safer for her than outside.  Her career in shambles, her marriage over, Rachel’s runs into Brian at a bar where she has gone to “celebrate” her divorce. They had been in touch sporadically, once a chance meeting on a Boston street and then through an email or two.  But now she recognizes her attraction to Brian, and the two become a couple.

The first half of the book is deceptively straightforward, but the suspense quickly builds in the second half when you least expect it.  After Rachel finds out the truth of her father’s disappearance, the novel veers into new and unexpected territory.

Since We Fell has more twists and turns than a roller coaster, each one blindsiding the reader and making it compulsory to continue reading.  The plot is spellbinding, and if I tell you that I’ve described less than one-third of the novel, you can see how complicated the story is.  Rachel is a fascinating protagonist, capable and bright on one hand, struggling with terrifying insecurities and fears on the other.

Dennis Lehane has written another outstanding novel about people searching for the truth, for happiness, and all the other meaningful things in life.  We learn how crippling an unhappy childhood can be and the difficult steps Rachel tries to take to overcome her past.  Life isn’t easy for her, but, as the song says, she’s doing her best, movin’ on down the road.

You can read more about Dennis Lehane at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

KNIFE CREEK by Paul Doiron: Book Review

Did you know that there’s really an invasion of feral hogs coming up the east coast from the south?  It has reached the woods of northern Maine, beginning to impact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and most particularly game warden Mike Bowditch.

Mike and his girlfriend Stacey, a biologist for the same state agency, are in the woods hoping to kill a sow and her piglets.  Feral hogs are huge, often weighing over two pounds and are extremely destructive to the environment, tearing up whole whole forests and polluting streams with their waste.  They also carry several diseases and parasites, which is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture has advised killing them on sight.

Stacey quickly dispatches the two sows in the group, and when she and Mike go over to get a closer look they find the remains of an infant buried in the mud.  Near the baby’s body the initials KC have been scratched into the bark of a tree.  Two days earlier, Mike had been at this very spot looking for the swine and neither the corpse nor the initials had been there.

Returning to the area the next day, Mike talks to the owner of the local convenience store, Eddie Fales.  Eddie tells him he knows everyone who lives in the area and that no one is living in the woods.  He sounds convincing, but still Mike decides to drive a bit farther down the road and check things out.  Just about at the end of the road there’s a house, almost abandoned-looking but showing tire marks that someone has tried to brush away from the driveway.  Calling the state police detective in charge of the case, he is told she’ll send a trooper in the morning to look into who might be living in the house and that Mike should stay away in the meantime.  But, Mike being Mike, he’s not able to leave the puzzling question unanswered.

Thus starts the harrowing adventure that is Knife Creek, the eighth in the Mike Bowditch mystery series.  Mike is a great protagonist, dedicated to his job, caring and compassionate to his friends, definitely not afraid to break a few rules when he thinks it’s necessary.  The latter is what got him into trouble early in his career, and it’s something he’s still dealing with–when to follow his superiors’ orders and when not to.  And in this novel there are plenty of occasions he decides to go his own way, for better or worse.

Paul Doiron has written another powerful book in this series, one that will keep you on edge until the very end.  The setting, the plot, and the characters are all first-rate; of course, by this time I expect nothing less from the author.  FYI, I’ve chosen Trespasser, the second Mike Bowditch novel, to represent the state of Maine in the course on New England mysteries I’m teaching in the fall at Brandeis University’s BOLLI Program.

You can read more about Paul Doiron at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

THE GRAVES by Pamela Wechsler: Book Review

Assistant district attorney Abby Endicott is facing a number of personal challenges in her life.  There’s her mother’s refusal to deal with alcohol abuse, Abby’s out-of-control financial debts, the two-edged sword of possibly being named district attorney now that the current one is running for mayor, and her confused feelings about her live-in boyfriend.  Then the perfect storm–all these challenges come together when a body is found.

Still on a leave of absence following a homicide, Abby simply can’t stay away from the action.  So when she gets a call from Boston police detective Kevin Farnsworth that a corpse has been found in an alley in the city’s Eastie section, Abby is on her way.  The victim is a young woman with what look like strangulation marks on her neck, a death that is very similar to that of a Boston University student whose body was found a few weeks earlier.  Both women had similar bruises, both apparently had been raped and their bodies moved from where the murders took place.

There’s no identification with the second body, but there is an ink stamp on the back of one hand.  It’s the design of a bar in Cambridge that Abby knows from her days at Harvard Law School, so she and Kevin head over to the Crazy Fox to see if someone knew the woman.  The bar’s manager says he can’t identify her from the cell phone video that Kevin shows him, but the bar’s security camera confirms that she had been there that night.  She apparently entered the Crazy Fox alone, but she left with a man, and when the manager tells Abby and Kevin that man’s name, Abby knows the case has just entered dangerous territory.  The man is Tommy Greenough, the son of a senator and a member of one of Boston’s richest families.

What makes Abby a particularly interesting heroine is the mix of positive and negative attributes she has; she’s most decidedly not a one-dimensional character.  On the positive side:  she’s bright, determined, not awed by authority.  On the negative:  she’s deeply in debt, spoiled by the life she’s led thus far, and facing attractions to other men besides the one with whom she’s living.  At times you will admire her, at other times you’ll want to shake her into recognition of how the real world works for most people.  There are a great couple of sentences near the end of the book that encapsulate my point:  “On the way home from work, I stop by Macy’s,  I’ve walked past the store a million times, but have never been inside.  I’m desperate since I had to let go of my housekeeper….”  You get the point.  But so does she, and she’s working on changing her life to fit her new circumstances.

The Graves is an excellent follow-up to Mission Hill, the first book featuring Abby Endicott.  I’m looking forward to the third novel in the series to see where Abby’s next case takes her.

You can read more about Pamela Wechsler at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK by Kristen Lepionka: Book Review

Still recovering from her father’s death and the mixed feelings she has about him, private investigator Roxane Weary takes on a new case.  She’s called by Danielle Stockton, the sister of a man on death row who’s two months away from being executed, to search for the person Danielle believes can prove her brother’s innocence.

Danielle is convinced that Brad was unjustly convicted of killing his girlfriend’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cook.  Brad has always maintained his innocence despite the fact that the police found the murder weapon, a Kershaw folding knife, in his car.  The Cooks’ daughter, Sarah, disappeared on the night of the murder and hasn’t been seen in the fifteen years since.

The police consensus is that Brad killed Sarah as well, moving her body and disposing of it, something he also denies.  But when his attorney suggested that he name Sarah as the possible killer at the trial, Brad refused, vehemently denying she could have done any such thing.

Now Danielle tells Roxane that she saw Sarah the previous week walking out of a gas station; by the time Danielle was able to cross the busy intersection Sarah had driven away.  Danielle is certain Sarah would be able to exonerate Brad if Roxane could find her.   But Roxane has a lot of questions.  Can it be that Sarah has really reappeared after so long?  If it’s really Sarah, why didn’t she come forward at the trial to save her boyfriend, assuming his story is true?  What if Sarah doesn’t want to be found?  Or, if found, she says that Brad is in fact guilty?

At her mother’s house shortly after accepting the case, Roxane jimmies the lock on the door of the study, a room no one in the family except her father was allowed to enter.  Once inside she starts looking through the logs of cases he investigated while a police detective and comes across the one she herself is investigating.  She discovers that Sarah was not the only missing teenage girl in town, that there were at least two others.  Does this help or hurt her case?  Does it help to validate Brad’s story, or does it mean that he had killed before?

Roxane’s persistence in looking into the case is getting her in trouble with the police in Belmont, the town where the Cooks were knifed to death.  One officer after another pulls her car over or requests that she talk to them about why she’s in Belmont, and each one tells her he is convinced that the actual killer is in jail.  Even though Roxane brings up the unsolved cases of the other missing girls to the police chief, she’s not convincing anyone that Brad may be innocent or that Sarah may still be alive.

Roxane, as the popular saying goes, carries a lot of baggage.  There are the difficulties she’s had with her parents, her often out-of-control drinking, and her confusing sexual relations.  All of those things impinge on her personal life but not on her ability to investigate Brad’s case.  She’s tough, determined, often reckless, and you will be rooting for her success every step of the way.  The Last Place You Look is a terrific debut that will keep you mystified until the final chapter.

You can read about Kristen Lepionka at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

 

FALLOUT by Sara Paretsky: Book Review

The case moves from Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas, but V.I. Warshawski is the same.  She’s as tough, persevering, and smart as ever.

The Windy City has been V.I.’s home base since the beginning of Sara Paretsky’s series, but an unusual missing persons case is drawing her to Lawrence.  Bernadine Fouchard is the goddaughter of V.I.’s cousin Boom-Boom, and Bernadine and her friend Angela ask V.I. to look into the disappearance of Angela’s cousin August Veriden.  August is a young man who works as a trainer at a Chicago gym while trying to make a living as a filmmaker, but he has taken a leave of absence from the Six-Points Gym and isn’t answering Angela’s calls or texts.

To make matters worse, the gym has been vandalized and it’s possible that drugs are missing from the medical-supply closet.  August is the only missing employee who has a key, so he is a person of interest to the police.  When V.I. goes to his apartment house she finds that he hasn’t been there in several days and that his apartment has been searched.  V.I. doesn’t know if the intruders found what they were looking for, but her concern is intensifying.

Searching August’s website, V. I. comes across a personal message written by Emerald Ferring, a black actress with a brief career in movies and a longer one in television.  V. I. goes to Emerald’s house, and after talking with neighbors she finds out that Emerald left Chicago with August ten days earlier.  Emerald had told them that she and August were going to her home town of Lawrence to film a documentary about her life.  No one has heard from them since.

Now truly worried, V.I. drives to Lawrence.  Her essentials packed (picklocks, gun, ammunition, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, laptop, iPad), she and her dog Peppy begin the search that takes them from an Army base, the city’s police station, its historical society, and the University of Kansas campus to the desolate bomb site outside the city where a Titan missile once stood in possible preparation for a war against the Soviet Union.  Making the search more difficult is the race factor–she’s white, Emerald and August are black–and Kansas, even the liberal city of Lawrence, has a mixed and contradictory racial history.

V.I.’s loneliness away from her home and her friends, her growing awareness of the physical and emotional distance between herself and her lover who is in Europe, and the invisible line that still separates whites from blacks in both Chicago and Kansas all add to the gravitas of the book.  One comes away from every Paretsky book feeling the depth of the protagonist’s and the author’s feelings about social injustice, whatever forms it takes.  More than simply a mystery, Fallout is a book that explores social issues, racial tensions, and family relationships.

You can read more about Sara Paretsky at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

THE ICE BENEATH HER by Camilla Grebe: Book Review

As The Ice Beneath Her opens it’s winter in Stockholm, and homicide detective Peter Lindgren gets a call that brings him to the site of a particularly gruesome murder.  The victim, a young woman, has been found beheaded in the home of Jesper Orre.  Not only is the death scene macabre, but the detective realizes that it’s eerily similar to one that took place ten years ago in the city; that murder was never solved.

The novel’s second chapter takes place two months earlier.  There we meet Emma, a young woman who works in Clothes&More, the chain that’s owned by Orre.  She arrives at work wearing a huge diamond ring, but she won’t tell her co-workers the name of her fiancé or anything about him.  The reader learns that her fiancé is Jesper and that she’s promised him she won’t give anyone any information about him because it could cause trouble for him and herself. 

Emma goes to her apartment to prepare a dinner to celebrate their engagement, but Jesper never shows up.  She calls and texts him several times that night to no avail, and she still hasn’t heard from him by morning.

As the book returns to the present, Hanne is introduced.  She’s a psychologist who worked with the police years ago on the unsolved murder case, and she’s called now by Peter’s partner to help with this death.  What the partner doesn’t know, and Hanne doesn’t have any intention of telling him, is that during the course of the previous investigation she and Peter fell in love despite the fact that she was married.

So now Hanne is dealing with two very stressful issues.  One is the extremely unhappy marriage she’s been in for twenty years, the second is the knowledge that her memory is deteriorating and that at some future time she will be completely helpless.  Disregarding her husband’s instructions not to get involved with the present case, she goes to the police station and must confront her former lover there.

The Ice Beneath Her goes back and forth between these three protagonists.  We learn about Peter’s failed marriage and his inability to connect with his teenage son, with Hanne’s controlling husband and her beginning dementia, and the dysfunctional childhood that Emma survived.  All this is portrayed realistically and with empathy, leading the reader to understand the reasons for the present-day behaviors and motivations of these characters.

Camilla Grebe’s novel will keep the reader on a roller coaster ride, with many twists and turns that are all believable.  It’s a book that’s almost impossible to put down.

You can read more about Camilla Grebe at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

 

 

SONG OF THE LION by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

Song of the Lion brings the reader to to Navajo country again, to beautiful New Mexico.  The novel opens with what should be a peaceful scene, a high school basketball game.  Police officer Bernadette Manuelito, herself a former player, has come to the gym to cheer the local teams.

Noise from the parking lot causes the building to shake, and Bernadette runs outside to see what’s happening.  A car is in ruins, debris spread on the concrete. 

A few minutes later another officer finds a badly burned young man near the car.  Federal officers arrive to help direct the investigation, and the victim is taken by ambulance to the hospital.

The owner of the car that was bombed is Aza Palmer, a former high school basketball star and now a successful lawyer in Phoenix.  He’s in town because he will be the mediator at a major conference to be held in nearby Tuba City, Arizona.

There’s a proposal that will be discussed at the conference about the possibility of building a luxury resort on land near the Grand Canyon that is owned by the Navajo tribe.  There are many conflicting points of view about the wisdom of going ahead with this, and a plethora of groups will be meeting to give their input, pro and con, about it.

Given the possibility that the bombing of Aza’s car may have been an attempt to kill him or at least dissuade him from going to the meeting, Jim Chee, Bernadette’s husband and a fellow officer in the Shiprock Police Department, is assigned to be Aza’s bodyguard during the conference.  Aza doesn’t want a bodyguard, and Jim doesn’t want to be the one who guards him, but the two men are given no choice.

The Shiprock police captain explains that there could be real danger for Palmer since he’s also been receiving threatening emails and that a similar conference in California had erupted in violence caused by one of the groups that will be attending this meeting.  So, very reluctantly, Palmer and Chee acquiesce and drive to Tuba City the following day to get ready for the conference.

Song of the Lion brings Bernadette, Jim, and their mentor Joe Leaphorn together to investigate.  Was the injured young man the one who set the explosive, or was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Was the car chosen randomly, or was the perpetrator trying to kill or injure Aza Palmer?

In spite of the blast and the threats against him, Palmer simply refuses to believe he’s in danger.  He would seem to be the perfect man to mediate the conference featuring such a disparate group of attendees and speakers–people from the Navajo Nation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, and Save Wild America, to name a few–but apparently not everyone thinks so.

You will be transported to Shiprock and its environs as soon as you open this novel.  Everything is described in loving detail, and Anne Hillerman’s love for this section of the country shines through.  Whether her characters are talking about the differences between “Indian food” and “American food,” telling Navajo or Hopi stories, or describing the grandeur of the various landscapes, you’ll feel a part of the scene.  And you’ll probably never meet three more delightful protagonists than Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and Joe Leaphorn.

You can read more about Anne Hillerman at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

THE DAUGHTER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Leonard Goldberg: Book Review

It’s 1914 London.  A young woman, dressed in deep mourning, gets out of a hansom cab and hesitantly makes her way up the stairs to the flat that was for many years occupied by Dr. John Watson and the late Sherlock Holmes.  She has come to ask Dr. Watson for help in investigating the death of her brother, Charles Harrelston, who was found dead on the sidewalk in front of a building where a close friend of his was living.

Mary Harrelston tells Dr. Watson and Dr. John Watson Jr., who is visiting his father when she arrives, that her brother, a soldier during the Second Afghan War, would never have committed suicide and left his family to deal with what would be viewed as a terrible scandal.  However, the testimony of an eyewitness, a gardener working nearby, has been enough to convince the investigating officer, Sgt. Lestrade of Scotland Yard, that Charles jumped.  A somewhat different version, given by a young boy who also saw the man plunge to his death, has been ignored.

Dr. Watson and his son agree to look into the case, and the next morning finds them at the home of Sir Henry Blalock and his daughter-in-law Joanna.  Joanna, a widow, is the mother of the extremely observant and precocious youth Johnnie, the other eyewitness.  He insists that the gardener was mistaken in his interpretation of the event.  Johnnie tells the Watsons that the man did not fall from the window but rather from the roof and that he did not try to stop his fall in any way, two details that differ from the gardener’s account.  After hearing the boy’s version, father and son decide that it’s quite possible that Charles was dead before he hit the ground.  That would make his death murder, and they decide to continue investigating.

When Dr. Watson and John return to 221B Baker Street, the senior Watson tells his son an almost incredible story.  Joanna Blalock is actually the biological daughter of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler.  The brief liaison (actually it was a one-night stand) between the celebrated detective and the woman, as Holmes always referred to Irene, resulted in the pregnancy.  Aware that neither one of them could take care of an infant, they arranged for the baby to be adopted and never told of her true lineage.  Irene died immediately after her daughter’s birth, and Holmes, once he was convinced that his infant daughter was in a loving home, made no effort to see or contact her.

Now, more than two decades later, three descendants of the original Holmes’ stories are brought together.  The first two I’ve already mentioned:   Holmes’ daughter Joanna and Sgt. Lestrade, a Scotland Yard detective like his father.  The third descendant is the man from whose window or roof, depending on whom you believe, Charles Harrelston plunged.  He is none other than Christopher Moran, son of Colonel Sebastian Moran, an arch-criminal and colleague of Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty.

Leonard Goldberg puts all these characters into a clever, delightful mix.  His characters are true to their ancestors in both positive and negative ways.  In this study of nature vs. nurture both sides win, as does the reader.  The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes is an engaging story that, with its many smart deductions, will remind one of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tales.

You can read more about Leonard Goldberg at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

PROVING GROUND by Peter Blauner: Book Review

When Nathaniel “Natty Dread” Dresden returns from the Iraqi War, he’s not the same man he was before he was deployed.  Every loud noise is a mortar shell, every crowd on a Brooklyn street is a group of terrorists, every young boy has the face of the small Iraqi child he killed by mistake.  He’s trying hard to hold it all together, but it’s not working.

It doesn’t help that as Proving Ground opens, Natty’s father is murdered and found dead on the ground of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.  David Dresden was, according to one’s political leanings, either a champion of the poor and disadvantaged or, in the words of the police captain at the scene, …”the lawyer every cop in the city hates.”

New York City police detective Lourdes Robles is partnered with Kevin Sullivan, the man she privately calls The Last of the Mohicans.  Kevin is only a few months away from retirement but he’s a cop who doesn’t quit, and Lourdes is attempting to pick up some of his tricks to try on her own.  Sensing that there’s going to be a lot of coverage of the murder, Kevin tries to give Lourdes the opportunity to keep her distance from it.

But Lourdes is determined to pursue every option to solve Dresden’s killing and prove herself to her colleagues.  She’s a woman who grew up in the projects, whose father is serving a life sentence in an upstate New York prison, whose mother locks herself in the bathroom so she can smoke even though she’s using an oxygen tank.  “You want me off, do whatever you have to do,” she says.  “But I’m not going willingly.”

At the time of David Dresden’s death he was trying to get reparations for an Egyptian man, suspected of being a terrorist, who was deported by the FBI and tortured.  David’s law partner, known to all as Benny G., invites Natty to help with the lawsuit against the federal agency, saying that’s what his father would have wanted.  But Natty wonders whether he will be able to help, given his emotional state, and wonders what is truly motivating Benny.

Is it because Benny thinks Natty can add to the defense, having been a prosecutor in Florida before he joined the Army?  Does Benny simply want to keep an eye on his former partner’s son because he’s worried about another violent episode that Natty might have?  Or is there a more sinister motive that Natty can’t quite figure out?

Peter Blauner is the author of Slow Motion Riot, which won the 1992 Edgar® for best first mystery.  Proving Ground, the author’s first mystery novel since Riot, is well worth the wait.  It’s a thrilling story that will have you emotionally involved from the first chapter, with nearly every character strongly imprinting his/her presence:  the tormented Natty Dresden, realizing that it’s too late to work through his complicated relationship with his father; the determined Lourdes Robles, wanting to overcome her disadvantaged background and follow in the footsteps of her aunt and mentor, another member of the New York City Police Department; Benny G., an attorney who brags that he’s never lost a case; Alice Ali-Dresden, David’s widow and Natty’s mother, feeling bereft after a long marriage that ended so violently, acknowledging that her writing career is over.

All these characters and several more will keep you turning the pages of Proving Ground faster and faster.  Peter Blauner has written a marvelous mystery that contains deep insights into what makes people do what they do.

You can read more about Peter Blauner at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

A SINGLE SPY by William Christie: Book Review

A Single Spy is an outstanding thriller.  Actually, more than simply a thriller it’s a novel about history, war, trust, loyalty, and a young boy’s determination to survive.

The novel begins in 1936 Azerbaijan, with a teenaged Alexsi Ivanovich Smirnov at the head of a mule train in the desert on the Soviet border with Iran.  He’s leading a group of Shahsavan tribesmen, Azeri-speaking Iranian nomads, who are smuggling goods across the border.  But a troop of Russian soldiers is waiting for them, guns ready.  Ever alert to danger and to treason, Alexsi manages to evades both the tribesmen and the soldiers, but after his escape he’s still a lone boy on the streets of Baku.

Two weeks later Alexsi is picked up by the police and transported “somewhere in the Soviet Union,” which turns out to be Moscow and the infamous Lubyanka prison in particular.  Proving the total control and observation that the authorities have over the populace, Alexsi’s interrogator knows nearly everything about him–his orphaned state, his ability to speak and understand German, and his need to take care of himself in any way he can.

The interrogator, Grigory Petrovich Yakushev, has Alexsi sign a note promising to spy for and to be true to the Soviet Union.  He’s told to pick a code name, known only to the GUGB.  Alexsi chooses “Dante” because he’s familiar with the Divine Comedy, although he tells Grigory he’s only read the Inferno completely and didn’t finish the other two parts of the epic poem.  When the agent asks why he didn’t continue reading, Alexsi tells him, “Hell was much more interesting than heaven.”

Alexsi is a protagonist who will quickly get you on his side.  He does things you won’t approve of, but you understand why he does them.  He’s always looking out for number one because if he doesn’t look out for himself, who will?  He’s alone in the world, with no family or friends to protect him, and certainly the government wants him only for his abilities–his brains and his facility with languages–and would murder him in a minute if his death were deemed necessary to the powers-that-be.

A Single Spy takes the reader from Azerbaijan to Moscow to Berlin to Iran.  Alexsi is always in danger, whether from the Afghani tribesmen, the Nazi military, or the Russian secret police.  He can count on no one’s loyalty or permanent protection and must depend on his own sharp wits to keep alive.  As he discovers during his days in Berlin, even the people who supposedly want to hear the truth from him really don’t; they simply want to have their own ideas and prejudices supported.  Over and over again the message is brought home–you can’t trust anyone but yourself.

William Christie has written a fascinating book, a look into both the mind of a young man forced into the most dangerous situations possible and the looming nightmares of the twentieth century personified by Stalin and Hitler.  A Single Spy is a tough, graphic read and well worth your time.

You can read more about William Christie on many internet sites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

AUGUST SNOW by Stephen Mack Jones: Book Review

A poet, a playwright, and now a novelist–Stephen Mack Jones is an amazing literary talent.   August Snow is an excellent debut.

Snow, the son of a Mexican-American mother and an African-American father, followed the latter as an officer in the Detroit police department.  Following August’s reluctant exposure of a scandal that reached into city and state governments, he was fired; in a trial that found his firing unjust, he received a twelve million dollar settlement.

Obviously that changed August’s life, but it didn’t help him deal with the deaths of his beloved parents and the murder of his fiancée and their unborn child.  He left the United States for a couple of years, did some heavy drinking while he was away, and has now returned to his familial home in Mexicantown, a rundown neighborhood in the Motor City.

Soon after August returns home he’s approached by Ray Danbury, a captain in the city’s police department and one of the very few friends the ex-cop still has in Detroit.  Ray gives him a piece of paper with the phone number of Eleanor Paget, a mover and shaker in all areas of the city thanks to the affluence of her ancestors, and tells him to call Eleanor at once.  August knows her and knows she’s a woman with a volatile temper and shaky self-control, but he reluctantly agrees to see her.

When he goes to Eleanor’s house, she informs him that there’s something “wrong” at her family’s bank.  Although August promises to look into the matter, he tells her he’s not optimistic about his ability to find out anything since he’s no longer on the force nor is he a private investigator.  Not surprisingly, given her temperament, Eleanor becomes enraged at this and tells him not to bother.

However, August feels some compassion for Eleanor, due to his involvement in a case involving her late husband.  He tries, without success, to do a little detective work for her despite her abrupt dismissal of him.  A few days later, Captain Danbury comes to August’s home with the news that Eleanor has been found dead, an apparent suicide.  It seems an open-and-shut case, but it’s being investigated because of Eleanor Paget’s place in the community and the fact that the gun found next to her body is the same one that her husband used to kill himself and his teenage mistress years earlier.

At the autopsy, August thinks to himself, “It was difficult looking at Eleanor lying on a metal slab….It was even harder to look at her and know that maybe I could have done something.”  So he begins investigating again.

Stephen Mack Jones has written an engrossing mystery featuring a compelling protagonist trying to make a difference in the tough city that he calls home.  All the characters, major and minor, are totally realistic; your attention will be captured from the first page.  August Snow is a book that’s outstanding from beginning to end.

You can read more about Stephen Mack Jones at several web sites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

DYING ON THE VINE by Marla Cooper: Book Review

It might seem that being a wedding planner is all fun and games, with nothing for the planner to do but eat and drink at the expense of hopeful vendors and travel to wonderful sites to choose the appropriate ones for weddings.  That might be true for most planners, but trouble seems to follow Kelsey McKenna wherever she goes.  The first book of this series took place in Mexico, and there it was the tyrannical mother of the bride who made Kelsey’s life difficult; even the murder of one of the bridesmaids at her daughter’s wedding didn’t slow down the mother’s sarcasm and manipulative behavior.

In Dying on the Vine, Kelsey is closer to home, in beautiful Napa Valley, California.  Helping her friend Brody Max with his photography booth at the Wine Valley Faire, she is approached by Haley Bennett and Christopher Riegert, desperately in need of someone to help with the final details of their wedding, only four weeks away.

The next day, meeting in Kelsey’s office, Haley and Chris confide that they had had a wedding planner, the famous Babs Norton.  Haley’s father, who is paying for the wedding, got into an argument with Babs over expenses and fired her, thus the couple’s entreaty to Kelsey for help.

Wanting to be professional, Kelsey calls Babs to explain the situation.  Babs is understanding and offers Kelsey the necessary files for the wedding, the ones that contain catering, florist, and DJ information.  They make an appointment for the following day, but when Kelsey goes to Babs’ office the woman’s corpse is lying on the floor.

Although the police investigating the murder apparently believe Kelsey’s account of her discovery of the body, Babs’ assistant, Stefan Pierce, doesn’t.  For some reason Kelsey doesn’t understand, Stefan has never liked her and takes the opportunity of Babs’ wake to do all but accuse her of the murder in front of the people there, including her colleagues.  Determined to regain her good name, Kelsey, her assistant Laurel, and her photographer friend Brody band together to find out who was responsible for Babs Norton’s murder.

There’s a great sense of place in Dying on the Vine, with insights into both wine and wedding cultures, and Kelsey is an engaging heroine.  She and her two friends are portrayed realistically, as are their responses to the events around them.  Marla Cooper has written an enjoyable second novel in the Kelsey McKenna series.  Perhaps it’s the author’s own varied background, which includes writing copy for advertisers and travel guidebooks, that makes her writing so entertaining to read.  In fact, it was Ms. Cooper’s ghost-writing a guidebook for wedding planners that sparked the idea for the Kelsey McKenna series.

You can read more about Marla Cooper at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

I really don’t know how Lisa Scottoline keeps writing one excellent mystery after another, but she does.  Her latest had me completely fooled until the author revealed the secret she’d kept for more than a third of the book.

One Perfect Lie opens with Chris Brennan interviewing for a position at the high school in Central Valley, Pennsylvania.  He’s made it his business to know exactly the type of substitute teacher the school administration wants, and he presents himself accordingly.  He’s observed the male high school staff and is dressed the way they are in what might be termed “school casual”; he’s even had his hair cut locally so that nothing about him will stand out or seem unusual.

His resumé is perfect, and the reasons he gives for the many moves he’s made in his life ring true.  It also helps that the school needs a substitute Government teacher at once, as the regular teacher left suddenly due to a family emergency.  Chris gives the principal, the only member of the school’s administration he hasn’t met previously, all the answers she wants and needs to hear, and so he gets the job.  Then he thinks to himself, “It was time to set (the) plan in motion, commencing with step one.”

Step one is finding out about renting a truck from a local man who’s not too fussy about legalities.  The man assumes the vehicle is needed for a move, but Chris knows that the available twelve footer is the perfect size for transporting an ANFO bomb, an explosive with ingredients that are easy and safe to assemble.

During his first class Chris sets out to win over all the students, especially the boys.  He’s already deciding who are the leaders and who are the followers, and he’s narrowed down the ones he’s interested in to just a handful.  He plans to cull the handful even more until he finds the perfect boy.  Between his teaching assignment and agreeing to be the assistant coach of the school’s baseball team, he expects to find just the right one; he’s in a hurry because the bombing is only six days away.

Lisa Scottoline is a master storyteller.  She brings to life the three teenagers in whom Chris shows the most interest.  There’s Evan Kostis, the handsome, smart student from a wealthy but unhappy family; there’s Raz Samatov, bereft over the recent death of his father; there’s Jordan Larkin, whose single mother is guilty over how much time she needs to work in order to provide for the two of them.  So what exactly does Chris want from the boy he decides to choose?

All of these characters, and many more equally well done and believable, inhabit the pages of One Perfect Lie.  Ms. Scottoline has written one more thriller that will keep you guessing until the end.

You can read more about her at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

MISSION HILL by Pamela Wechsler: Book Review

Abby Endicott is not your typical assistant district attorney, not by a long shot. Probably not too many ADAs carry Prada bags, receive a monthly $15,000 allowance from their family’s trust fund, wear floor-length Armani gowns, and walk around in Jimmy Choos.  But all that’s surface, because the protagonist of Pamela Wechsler’s debut novel, Mission Hill, is incredibly serious and professional about her job.

As Mission Hill opens, Abby is awakened by a phone call from her close friend, Boston police detective Kevin Farnsworth.  Abby knows that only a murder would cause Kevin to call her at 3:00 a.m., and within ten minutes she’s dressed and ready to walk out the door.  Quiet as she tries to be, her movements awaken Ty Clarke, her significant other.  Although the two don’t technically live together, Ty spends most of his time at Abby’s, whose two-thousand-square-foot apartment is a good deal nicer than his own.  Reluctant to make their relationship permanent or even talk about the reasons she feels this way, Abby is content to continue things as they are.

When Abby arrives at the crime scene in Mission Hill, she is horrified to discover that the victim is Tim Mooney, her colleague in the district attorney’s office and her former lover.  Their affair began while both were single but, in fact, continued for months after Tim’s marriage until he finally told Abby it was over.  Abby has never gotten past her love for Tim, which is one reason she cannot commit to Ty.  Another reason, although she’s reluctant to admit it even to herself, is her concern about how her family will view them as a couple; Tim is a black musician with hippie parents, one white and one black, while Abby’s parents are movers and shakers in Boston society.

Tim was about to begin the murder trial of Orlando Jones, a member of Boston’s notorious North Street Posse.  Abby has some history with Orlando, going back to her teenage years.  He tried to rob her best friend, Crystal, and to get away from him Crystal ran into the street and was run over.  Orlando contended that she tripped, but Abby remains convinced that he pushed her.  In any case, a case for murder or even manslaughter could not be proven against him; he went to juvenile detention and was released when he was eighteen.  In the following years, he’s committed multiple crimes, but due to his violent reputation the witnesses against him either changed their testimony or disappeared.

Now Abby wants to take over Tim’s case.  She persuades her boss, District Attorney Max Lombardo, to appoint her as the prosecutor, although he tells her it’s against his better judgment because she’s too personally involved; that was the reason she didn’t get the case originally.  But Abby is persistent, and finally it pays off.  However, Max warns her, “It’s a tough case.  If you lose, you’ll never forgive yourself.”  Abby’s response–“Then I won’t lose.”  Thus the murder trial begins.

Pamela Wechsler, a former Boston prosecutor herself, knows the ins-and-outs of the city as well as she knows the Massachusetts legal system.  Her novel is tough, realistic, and intense, and so too is her heroine.   I can’t wait for the next Abby Endicott novel.

You can read about Pamela Wechsler at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA by Nicolás Obregón: Book Review

Hideo Akashi was the most successful homicide detective in Tokyo, well-known for his ability to solve crimes that had other policemen stymied.  So what would have made him jump off the Rainbow Bridge to his death?

Inspector Kosuke Iwata, the protagonist of Blue Light Yokohama, is called in to the busy Tokyo police station to replace Hideo.  At first Senior Inspector Shindo appears reluctant to add Kosuke to his force, wondering aloud if his previous experience in a small district far from the capital, plus his leave of absence from the police for unspecified reasons for more than a year, make him the right choice to fill the famed detective’s shoes.  But manpower is low, Kosuke has the necessary qualifications, at least on paper, so his transfer to the Tokyo Homicide Squad is approved.

Kosuke is partnered with a young woman just transferred from the Missing Persons Bureau, Noriko Sakai, and the two are immediately assigned a case of multiple murder.  The four members of the Kaneshiro family were murdered in their home, their throats slit; even more disturbing, the father’s heart is cut from his body and taken away.  And a strange symbol appears on the master bedroom’s ceiling, that of a black sun.

There’s an immediate lead to a man with several arrests for sexual harassment, a man who was a coworker of Mrs. Kaneshiro.  Masaharu Ezawa takes one look at the two policemen who have come to question him and takes off, throwing a rock behind him that hits Kosuke in the face.  Kosuke runs after Masaharu, stops him with a body tackle, and the two detectives and the suspect head to the precinct.

Masaharu admits to a sexual obsession with Mrs. Kaneshiro, but Kosuke doubts he’s the murderer for whom the police are searching.  However, his superiors seem satisfied that the criminal has been caught, not believing, as Kosuke does, that this is a ritual killing, something that would require a different kind of man from Masaharu Ezawa.  After all, Kosuke reasons, this killer murdered four people without leaving a single fingerprint or clue, something he’s certain would have been impossible for Ezawa.

The police are more concerned with the murder of Mina Fong, a famous screen star, and are looking to complete the investigation of the Kaneshiro murders as quickly as possible.  Kosuke, however, is convinced that the family’s murders have a deeper, more obscure motive than simply the brutal crime it appears to be.  He underscores to Shindo the things that don’t fit:  a black sun sketched on a bedroom ceiling, turkey blood smeared on one of the bodies, incense in each body’s lungs discovered during the autopsy.  Reluctantly, Shindo agrees to give Kosuke one more day to investigate.

Blue Light Yokohama is a novel covering decades.  It opens with with a knife attack on a cable car, delves into Kosuke’s abandonment by his mother and his childhood in a Catholic orphanage, and follows him to his visit with his wife, a patient in a mental hospital.

Nicolás Obregón’s debut mystery is a strongly compelling story about the many layers of life in Tokyo, a deep look into the Japanese psyche.  Whenever the seamy top layer is exposed, another, equally dirty, lies beneath it.

You can read more about Nicolás Obregón at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.