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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.

A CAST OF VULTURES by Judith Flanders: Book Review

If I may start this post by lifting part of a quote from the Daily Mail (UK) on the book’s back cover–“You want Samantha Clair to be your new best friend.”  That’s how I felt when I read A Cast of Vultures, the third mystery in Judith Flanders’ series featuring her engaging protagonist, a London book editor.

Samantha has become a go-between for her reclusive upstairs neighbor, the mysterious Mr. Rudiger, and Viv, her friend who lives a few blocks away.  The two exchange seeds and cuttings, with Samantha dropping Mr. Rudiger’s offerings at Viv’s and returning to Mr. Rudiger with Viv’s offerings.  The elderly Viv is a tiny force of nature, never hesitant or shy, always sure of the right thing to do, but this time when Sam stops in to see her she finds her friend distraught and uneasy.

Viv’s upstairs neighbor, Dennis Harefield, hasn’t been home in several days.  A man of regular habits, he and Viv had made plans to have dinner together at Viv’s a few days earlier but he never turned up.  Viv had been keeping alert for sounds from the flat upstairs, but she’s heard nothing for three days.  Now she insists that she and Samantha go there to check on whether Dennis might have fallen or become ill, unable to call for help.

The next thing Samantha knows, she’s climbing over another neighbor’s balcony and illegally entering the missing man’s flat.  Dennis isn’t there; it’s hard to tell whether he left willingly or not, and Samantha leaves an unhappy Viv to continue her vigil.  Then, a few days later, there’s a middle-of-the-night fire a few houses away from Samantha’s, not the first in the area.  It’s an old, decrepit building that several people have been squatting in for years.  At first it appears that all got out safely, but then a body is discovered.  It turns out to be Viv’s missing neighbor, Dennis Harefield.

In addition to her worries about the series of fires in her neighborhood, Sam’s anxious about an organizational change at work, concerned about a book scheduled to be published by her firm that may be an exercise in fiction rather than the non-fiction memoir it purports to be, and upset that her effort to help one of the men who lived in the burned-down building is meeting with resistance from her significant other, Jake, a London police detective.

Judith Flanders has written another delightfully witty mystery, one that will keep you smiling while you are turning the pages faster and faster to learn the truth of what has been happening around Samantha.  Samantha, her lover Jake, the agoraphobic Mr. Rudiger, Sam’s newly promoted assistant Miranda, and Harriet, Sam’s brilliant mother, all combine to make A Cast of Vultures a novel that will leave you anxiously awaiting Ms. Clair’s next adventure.

You can read more about Judith Flanders at this web site.

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

 

AMONG THE RUINS by Ausma Zehanat Khan: Book Review

Esa Khattak, a detective in the Canadian Community Policing Department, is away from his job in Toronto.  He’s making his first visit to Iran, partly as a pilgrimage to his Muslim roots and partly to escape for a while from his recent past.

His previous case led him to kill a man and although the shooting was justified, he was placed on administrative leave.  So here he is in Iran, visiting its many beautiful gardens and mosques, but feeling all the while as if someone is monitoring him, watching his every step.

Then, after three weeks in the country, his feeling is confirmed.  At the guesthouse where he is staying in Esfahan, a package is left for him, a book on the Alborz Mountains with his name inscribed in it.  The owner of the inn tells Esa that he has no idea who left the book on the doorstep, and when Esa opens the book a one-page letter falls out.  “We are bound together, chained,” it reads.

Told by the owner of the guesthouse that he needs a change of scene, Esa takes a bus trip to tour the historic city of Varzaneh, known for its dovecotes and the white chadors that women wear while praying in the city’s mosque.  Sipping a glass of tea in the chaikhaneh (tea house) across from the mosque, Esa becomes aware of a middle-aged woman who obviously has been searching for him.  His feeling was right, someone has been following him.

His “watcher” is Helen Swan, called Touka.  She presents herself as someone who purchases souvenirs for resale but admits she also runs errands for the Canadian government.  She explains that she is speaking on behalf of Zahra Sobhani, a world-renown Iranian/Canadian journalist and filmmaker who returned to her native country after the release of the documentary she filmed about the stolen Iranian election of June 2009.

During her visit, Zahra went to the infamous Evin prison with two objectives:  to obtain the release of her stepdaughter, Roxanne Najafi, an anti-government agitator, and to get photographs and videos of the conditions in the prison.  Days after Zahra was seen at the prison’s entrance, her mutilated corpse was left at her family’s Tehran home.

Touka insists that Esa help in getting proof that Barsam Radam, a senior official at the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, was involved in the murder.  When Esa is resistant, Touka puts on the pressure.  Help us, she says, and we can make some of the problems you’ve had in Toronto following the shooting vanish; don’t help us and we can make things worse for you.

Among the Ruins is the third in the Esa Khattak series, and it is as well written as the two previous ones.  What makes it outstanding is the Iranian setting, with its sense of the many beauties and cultural history of the country as well as its many political upheavals.  You will feel as if you are traveling with Esa as he’s torn between his admiration of the young people who are trying to reform the government and his fears for their lives.

Ausma Zehanat Kahn is an international human rights lawyer and former law professor.  You can read more about her at this web site.

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

 

WHAT YOU BREAK by Reed Farrel Coleman: Book Review

Gus Murphy is a man trying to regain his equilibrium.  He was a policeman in Suffolk County, New York, on the tip of Long Island.  He had a wife whom he loved and two teenage children who made his life complete; everything was going well until his son John died suddenly while playing basketball.  In What You Break, the second in the series, this happened in the recent past–some three years ago.  Gus’ world was turned upside down by his son’s death, and it hasn’t gotten any easier with time.

Now Gus drives a van for the Paragon Hotel as well as working as security for the hotel and its on-site club.  Although Paragon may sound upscale, the hotel is anything but; it’s simply a place for a weary traveler to stay for a night while waiting for the next morning’s flight or for a businessman/woman to stay while visiting clients in the area.  In other words the hotel is hardly a destination, more of an enforced stop.

Although he is no longer a cop, Gus still has a cop’s instincts, and when he picks up two passengers at Suffolk County’s MacArthur airport in Islip, his attention is drawn not to the annoyingly chatty man he’s transporting but to the man in the rear of the van who says nothing at all.  “…he was a runner, that I knew.  A street cop…knows a runner when he sees one.”  Not surprisingly, he is right.  This feeling of something “off” about the stranger is confirmed when the man enters the Paragon.  When Slava, the night bellman, and the man exchange glances, Gus can see there’s a history between them and it’s not a happy one.

The next morning Gus is still thinking about the new guest when he gets a call from Bill Kilkenny, an ex-priest.  Father Bill, as Gus still thinks of him, is probably Gus’ closest friend, a man who has kept the compassion of his former vocation but not the faith.  He asks Gus to come to his apartment but gives no reason.  Shortly after Gus’ arrival, another man comes in.  He’s introduced as Micah Spears, and the ex-cop takes an immediate dislike to him.  He knows it’s irrational, but there’s something about the man that rubs Gus the wrong way.

Micah explains that his young granddaughter, a recent college graduate, was killed, stabbed twenty-three times.  He doesn’t want Gus to find the murderer; the guilty man is in prison for life.  No, what Micah wants is to find the reason Linh was killed because he can’t think of any motive for her death.  Gus refuses the job, but Micah has an inducement that’s hard to turn down:  a fifty thousand dollar check to establish a foundation in the name of Gus’s late son plus a two hundred thousand dollar donation to a local hospital for research in the area of Gus’ choice.

So, reluctantly, because he can understand the pain of a man who has lost someone he loves without a reason, Gus accepts the case, little realizing it’s a first step into a maelstrom of violence and revenge.

Reed Farrel Coleman continues his winning streak with What You Break.  It’s a hard-boiled novel featuring a protagonist with a broken heart.  The characters are realistic, the setting is vivid, and the plot will keep you on edge until the end.

You can read more about Reed Farrel Coleman at this web site.

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

 

LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint: Book Review

If a woman drinks too much, has multiple affairs with married men while she herself is married, and leaves her children alone at night while she’s at work, she’s definitely not a candidate for Mother of the Year.  But does that make her a murderer?

Ruth Malone is simply too attractive, too sensual for her own good.  She married young in order to leave the unpleasant home she shared with her mother, had two children in quick succession, and now realizes she wants more out of life.  Her part-time job as a cocktail waitress makes it easy for her to attract men, and she has no scruples about wearing provocative clothing and lots of makeup to enhance her already sultry looks.  She does love her young children, Frankie and Cindy, but their neediness is often more than she can handle.  Sometimes she has to take long walks at midnight or sit on the front step smoking, just to breathe and get some time alone.

As Little Deaths opens, Ruth is in prison, trying to deal with the overcrowding, dirt, and smells that overwhelm her every day.  So right from the beginning we know that she’s been convicted of a crime, although we’re not certain what it is.  But that knowledge comes along quickly, as Ruth wakes one morning and the children’s bedroom is empty, the screen pushed out of their first-floor window.  She calls her husband Frank, from whom she is separated, the police, and then her mother, and a search is begun.

It’s not difficult to see that Ruth is desperately unhappy with her life.  She dislikes her mother, has little respect for her estranged husband, can barely make ends meet, and feels overwhelmed by the demands that her children place on her.  She also has no sense of how she appears to others, at least to others she is not trying to seduce.  She ignores her neighbors, dresses very differently from the lower-middle-class women around her, and smokes and drinks way more than is good for her.  Her only outlet is the men she meets while working, men who tip big, buy her drinks, and are happy to take her to a motel for a couple of hours.  But then the same problems start all over the next day.

Little Deaths is Emma Flint’s first novel, hard to believe given the compelling voices of the narrative.  The reader can hardly understand Ruth’s total unawareness of how others, particularly her neighbors and the police, perceive her, but Ms. Flint makes the case convincingly for a woman whose only assets are her looks.  Her heavy makeup and the clothing choices that she makes even after the bodies of Frankie and Cindy are found seem reasonable to her; her goal is to show that she’s strong and in control.

To the police, however, all this is evidence that she’s the one responsible for her children’s deaths.  The detectives see the messy apartment, the trash filled with liquor bottles, and, most damning of all, the suitcase under the bed filled with love notes sent by various men.  They’re convinced that Ruth has killed her children and don’t seriously look any further.  But are they right?

Little Deaths is a debut not to be missed.

You can read more about Emma Flint at this web site.

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