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DAMAGED by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

It’s two weeks before Mary DiNunzio’s wedding, and she hardly has time to breathe.  She needs to approve the wedding menu, go for a fitting on her gown, and meet her mother-in-law for an appointment at the latter’s spa where the stylists want to do major renovations to/for Mary and her mother.  She’s getting truly frantic, and then along comes a case like no other she’s ever had.

Edward O’Brien is her new client, a widower in his seventies who is the guardian of his ten-year-old grandson Patrick.  Edward tells Mary that his grandson has dyslexia, has been bullied in school for years, and that there has been no remedial program for him in his school despite the federal law that mandates an appropriate education for every special needs student.  It also appears that despite the legal requirement that Patrick be tested every three years to chart his reading progress, no evaluation has ever been done after the first one five years earlier.

What brought Edward to Mary’s office is that he has just been served with a lawsuit, claiming that Patrick attacked his teacher with a scissors.  The truth is, Edward tells Mary, that it’s the teacher who slapped Patrick and humiliated him in front of the entire class.  The school’s lawyer is none other than Nick Machiavelli, someone Mary knows from her old neighborhood.  Nick claims that he is descended from Niccolo Machiavelli, the historian and politician known for his cunning and unscrupulous behavior, and Mary is pretty sure she believes him.  It would certainly explain a lot.  She has always wanted to face “The Dark Prince of South Philly,” as Nick is known, and this is her chance.

And there’s Anthony, Mary’s fiancé.  A college adjunct professor, he’s been in California since Mary accepted the O’Brien case, and he and Mary barely have had time to talk in his absence.  Upon his return, there’s another problem to be added to the mix that surrounds Mary.

Mary is now a partner in Rosato and DiNunzio, Philadelphia attorneys.  Readers of this series have followed Mary from her early days as a shy, diffident lawyer to the confident woman she is in Damaged.  Although she’s moved from the South Philadelphia home where she grew up, her heart is still there with her parents and the three Tonys who make up her extended family–Pigeon Tony, Tony-From-Down-The-Block, and Tony Feet.  She knows where she came from and who supported her in every way, and despite an unexpected opportunity that seems perfect on the surface, she’s not about to desert them now.

Lisa Scottline’s most recent mysteries have dealt with some very difficult contemporary subjects.  In Most Wanted it is sperm donation, in Corrupted it is the Pennsylvania juvenile prison system, and in Damaged it is the issue of children with special needs and how the public school system is failing them.  Over and above the excellent plots and characterizations in these mysteries, Ms. Scottoline’s books look deeply and compassionately into our society and its values.

You can read more about Lisa Scottline at this web site.

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

NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS by Maureen Milliken: Book Review

Newspaper reporter/editor Bernadette “Bernie” O’Dea’s life has been chaotic since her move to Redimere, Maine.  In Cold Hard News, which takes place several months before this book begins, Bernie and the town’s new chief of police, Pete Novotny, were involved in a murder investigation and a struggle for their lives; it looks as if history is repeating itself.

No News is Bad News, the second book in this series, opens in 2009, but it has its true beginning several years earlier in Philadelphia.  At that time Pete was a detective searching for a missing teen, JP Donovan, the youngest child in a very dysfunctional family.  The police had had no luck in tracing JP over a two-year period, despite an almost obsessive investigation on Pete’s part.

Then, four years after JP’s disappearance, a boy is found in Redimere’s woods by a local police officer.  After he’s brought to the police station, the youth initially refuses to talk to anyone.  Finally he walks over to a wall covered with flyers of missing children, points to a photo of JP, and says, “That’s me.”

After Pete picks the teenager up in Redimere and drives him back to Philadelphia, the Donovans, mother and sister, welcome the boy with open arms and even have a huge party to celebrate his return.  So why does Pete feel as if the whole event is staged?  Would any mother say a boy was her son when he wasn’t?  Pete doesn’t understand it.  Even though Pete has left Philadelphia and moved to Redimere to head its police department, he hasn’t forgotten about the Donovan case.

At the same time, Bernie is struggling with a variety of issues.  She’s determined to keep the town’s weekly newspaper afloat, but at times it seems like an uphill battle.  She also wants to make sense of the unexpected appearance at her home of her youngest brother, Sal.  He tells her he’s been fired from his teaching job for plagiarism, something Bernie can hardly believe.  He’s invited himself to stay with Bernie until he figures out how to tell their extremely accomplished parents and siblings about his being fired and until he decides what he wants to do with the rest of his life.  Bernie is (mostly) happy to have his company, but she’s not certain Sal has told her the whole story.

And to add to the above mix, Bernie isn’t sure about her feelings for Pete.  He’s told her he loves her, but her response has been only silence.  She likes him, certainly, but is she ready for love?

Maureen Milliken has written a terrific mystery.  The fast-paced plot is totally believable, as are the characters, and the small-town setting works to help the reader understand life in a northern Maine town where everyone knows everyone else.  Bernie O’Dea is a heroine to watch.

You can read more about Maureen Milliken at this web site.

You can read the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN by Wendy Walker: Book Review

If you could take a drug that would make you forget a traumatic incident in your life, would you take it? 

Jenny Kramer is a typical teenager, the only daughter in an upper-middle-class family in Connecticut.  Her story begins with a much-anticipated invitation to a party, a party that goes horribly wrong.

Jenny is just beginning to see herself as a desirable girl after years of being the “tomboy” in her group of friends.  She is always a friend but never a girlfriend until the afternoon at school when Doug Hastings asks her to meet him at the party as his date.  When she arrives he is with another girl; mortified and not a little drunk on the vodka shots she downs to cover her embarrassment, she walks into the woods surrounding the house.

There her attacker assaults and rapes her, abandoning her brutalized body and disappearing.  Finally, her cries attract the attention of some other teens who had wandered into the woods from the house party; then it was an emergency call to the police and to her parents.

Charlotte and Tom Kramer appear from the outside to be a perfect couple, but their marriage has many cracks.  There’s Charlotte’s social climbing, Tom’s endless hours at work, and, most important, Charlotte’s affair.  Now the two different points of view they have about Jenny’s rape will cause additional fractures.

The doctors explain that there is a new drug that can repress one’s memory of a particular event.  Tom doesn’t want to have Jenny take this drug; he feels it would be healthier for her to face the rape and possibly to remember something that would help the police catch her assailant.  Charlotte can’t imagine why he feels that way; she wants Jenny to be able to live as if the rape never happened.  Two opposite viewpoints, and Charlotte’s prevails.  But as the book’s title tells us, the mind is a strange thing and forgetting isn’t that easy.

Jenny’s story could have been taken from nearly any American newspaper today.  Her reactions, those of her parents, and the reaction of the novel’s narrator point out how many threads there are to her story.  Regarding the experimental drug, there really isn’t any best way to decide whether or not to use it, and it certainly isn’t possible to look at it without bringing emotions into it.  No one can bring a clean slate into the decision process.  What her parents decide reflects their own lives, past and present.  But must Jenny live with their choice?

Reese Witherspoon has bought the rights to All Is Not Forgotten and is developing the film for Warner Brothers.  Wendy Walker’s novel is a wonderful candidate for a movie.  Its characters are realistic, the story is fast-paced, and the ending is perfect.

You can read more about Wendy Walker at this web site.

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

 

THE BRANSON BEAUTY by Claire Booth: Book Review

The Branson Beauty is an old showboat cruising the lake in Branson, Missouri, a city famous for its country music and family entertainment.  The showboat is a big attraction in the city, or it was until it ran aground with a full complement of staff and passengers aboard.

Strange, thinks Sheriff Hank Worth, since the weather was clear and the boat has been on the lake for some thirty years without an accident.  It’s stranger still when Hank goes aboard to interview the captain, Albert Eberhardt, and finds him in the wheelhouse in what appears to be a kind of fugue state.

At first it looks as if all of the passengers have been led ashore safely, but Hank goes through the boat with first mate Tony Sampson doing one final check.  All is fine until they arrive at the captain’s dining room, which had been rented out for a private luncheon party.  There on the plush blue carpet lies the body of a young woman.

The corpse is that of Mandy Bryson.  She was a popular teenager in town, now a first-year student at the University of Oklahoma.  No one seems to know why she was back in Branson instead of on the University’s Norman campus.  Her parents didn’t know she was in town, nor did her boyfriend, Ryan Nelson.  He was on the ship with another girl, attending his grandmother’s birthday luncheon in that private dining room, and he tells Hank that he was unaware that Mandy was on board.  But is that true?

Hank Worth is new to his job, having been appointed sheriff when the former one resigned to become a state senator.  He’s not totally aware of all the ins-and-outs of the city’s politics, but he does know that Henry Gallagher, owner of the showboat and of much else in Branson, is an important man who doesn’t like to be crossed.  Despite Hank’s clear orders that Gallagher not talk to the captain, who is now in the hospital under police guard, that’s where Hank finds Gallagher when he himself goes to try to interview the captain.   And Gallagher is not at all apologetic about ignoring Hank’s orders.

Hank Worth is a great addition to the list of sheriffs in mysteries.  Although the position of sheriff is an elected one in the city, because of his predecessor’s departure for a higher office Hank has been appointed to fill the position until the next election.  He’s made friends in the short time he’s been in Branson, but there are some people who were happier when the former sheriff was in charge, including Gerald Tucker, one of the undersheriffs in the department who feels he should have been named sheriff; city counselor Edrick Fizzel, a man who lives to see his name in the newspaper; and, of course, Henry Gallagher, the wealthiest man in the city, one who’s not used to taking direction from anyone.

Claire Booth has made an impressive debut with The Branson Beauty.  The setting is terrific, and Hank Worth is a protagonist to watch.

You can read more about Claire Booth at this web site.

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

JADE DRAGON MOUNTAIN by Elsa Hart: Book Review

A mystery set in 18th-century Tibet and China.  What could be better?

Li Du is a brilliant man, a former librarian in China’s Forbidden City.  However, because Li Du was accused of being a friend to traitors of the emperor, he was exiled from the city and has spent the last five years traveling through the country.  He’s just arrived in the remote city of Dayan, close to the dangerous Tibetan border, anxious to continue his travels unimpeded.  First, however, he must get permission from the magistrate of the prefecture to proceed.

Magistrate Tulishen, granted honorary Manchu status by the emperor in recognition of his service to the empire, is ready to give Li Du the necessary papers.  But then things go awry due to a murder, missing valuables, and the imminent visit of the emperor, known as The Kangxi.

At the time Jade Dragon Mountain takes place, the emperor has many titles and is revered as a divine being, believed to have been chosen by the gods to rule the world.  It is thought by his subjects that nothing the Son of the True Dragon does could be unjust or incorrect, and there lies the reason that Tulishen needs Li Du to stay in Dayan through the royal visit.  The emperor, as his predecessors had done, has invited Jesuit priests from Europe to enter his kingdom, the only foreigners allowed to live in China.  It is not because he is interested in Christianity but because they bring scientific knowledge with them, knowledge that The Kangxi can use to impress the people of the country.

The Jesuits have predicted an eclipse of the sun on the day after the emperor is due to arrive.  The court has passed this forecast on to the citizens of the city as being the emperor’s own, so it must take place at the exact moment The Kangxi has said it would.  But murder and theft have thrown Magistrate Tulishen’s plans for an extravagant eclipse ceremony into chaos, so reluctantly acknowledging Li Du’s formidable intelligence and superior knowledge of the Jesuits, their scientific knowledge, and their religion, the magistrate compels him to stay and make certain that all goes smoothly.  Then Father Pieter is found dead.  The magistrate quickly declares it is a natural death owing to the priest’s advanced age, but Li Du is not so certain.

Jade Dragon Mountain has a wonderful cast of characters, each with his or her own agenda and secrets.  In addition to Li Du and Tulishen, there is the beautiful Lady Chen, the magistrate’s courtesan who wields a great deal of power in the palace; the elderly priest Pieter, whose knowledge of astronomy had made him eager to see the eclipse; Hamza, a traveling storyteller with an endless supply of tales; Brother Martin, another priest who has an impressive knowledge of botany but a surprising dearth of information about the funeral rites of his church; Nicolas Gray, an Englishman who has arrived in Dayan with a valuable, if secret, cargo; and Jia Huan, the secretary of the prefecture.

There is a wonderful sense of history and place in Jade Dragon Mountain, an amazing amount of knowledge beautifully expressed.  At the end of the novel is a question and answer section in which the author explains her interest in this area of China and how she came to write the book.  Her explanation is as fascinating as the novel itself.

You can read more about Elsa Hart at this web site.

You can check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

ICARUS by Deon Meyer: Book Review

Until reading Icarus, my main exposure to the South African mystery genre was through the wonderful novels of James McClure that featured the interracial police duo of Tromp Kramer and Mickey Zondi.  I took it as a personal loss when the series, which was not long enough in my opinion, ended more than twenty years ago.  But now I have a new South African author to follow.

Deon Meyer is very well-known in his home country but was unknown to me until I picked up his latest mystery.  If all his books are as brilliant as this one, I’ve really been missing out.

South Africa has obviously changed a great deal since the official end of apartheid in 1994.  Now the Cape Town police department is totally integrated, with men and women who are white, black, and coloured, the latter meaning people of mixed-race ancestry.   In Icarus, the two main characters are Captain Benny Griessel, who is white, and Vaughn Cupido, who is coloured; the two make the most professional team in the South African Priority Crimes Investigation unit.  There is a problem, however, that hangs over them.  Benny Griessel is a recovering alcoholic and on the verge of relapse after more than two years of sobriety.

The reason for his return to drinking is explained at the beginning of the novel.  His close friend and former colleague, Vollie Fish, has just murdered his wife and two daughters and then turned his gun on himself.  Benny understands only too well the reason for the murders and suicide, a reason that he’s afraid one day might cause him to do something similar.  That is what made Benny, nicknamed Benna, turn into the Fireman’s Arms and order, in quick succession, six double whiskies.  He drinks to kill the fear that never leaves him.

The body of social media magnate Ernst Richter has been found, more than a month after his disappearance.  Ernst was the founder and director of Alibi.com, an internet company that arranges alibis for people involved in extra-marital or illicit affairs.  The company can create forged airline tickets, receipts for rooms at conferences the clients were supposed to have attended, restaurant checks for alleged business dinners–you get the idea.  Alibi.com’s slogan is All pleasure.  No stress.  Not too subtle, but it attracted thousands of people eager to find a way to have their cake and eat it too.

Interspersed with the chapters following Benna and the department’s search for Ernst’s killer, there are chapters detailing the conversations of advocate Susan Peires and her latest client, François du Toit.  François is the fourth generation in his family to control a vineyard, the Klein Zegen Estate in Stellenbosch, in a town in the Western Cape Province of the country.  Although the lawyer is eager to get the details of why François wants to hire her, he tells her he must start at the beginning so that she’ll understand everything that led up to where he is today.  And that means a family saga of four generations of the du Toits.

Deon Meyer shifts his focus between Benna, the search for Ernst’s murderer, and the history of the wine farm.  They all connect in the end, but it’s the deft unraveling of the threads that connect them that makes Icarus such a great read.  When I got to the last pages I was figuratively holding my breath, waiting to see how it would all be resolved.

You can read more about Deon Meyer at this web site.

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

BAD COUNTRY by C.B. McKenzie: Book Review

Talk about your hard-boiled mysteries.  Bad Country is one of the hardest-boiled ones I’ve read in a long time.

From the name Montana Estates, one might think it was a community of elegant houses, perhaps McMansions, on a scenic site in a gated community of Tucson.  Well, one would be quite wrong.  In reality, this section of the city is called El Hoyo, or The Hole.  It’s actually on the outskirts of Tucson, so far out that no one wants to acknowledge it.  It’s an almost-empty trailer park, with dirt roads, a never-completed nine-hole golf course, and piles of cinder blocks at the entrance.  Oh yes, also at the entrance is a corpse lying in a pool of blood.

Rodeo Grace Garnet is the only tenant of Montana Estates, unless you count his elderly dog.  A former rodeo champion, Rodeo (his given name) ekes out a living as a private detective.  But he has no idea about the spurt of murders that is going on in and around Los Jarros County.  There have been three in the last week, including the one by his front door, definitely too high a body count for such a sparsely populated area.

Rodeo’s friend Luis Azul Encarnacion, owner of the Twin Arrows Trading Post that Rodeo frequents, has a job for the private eye.  A cowboy has found the body of a teenage boy near a riverbed.  No one knows if the boy, Samuel Rocha, fell off the nearby bridge or was shot off, and the boy’s grandmother wants Rodeo to investigate.  Interestingly, though, Mrs. Rocha doesn’t appear very upset about her grandson’s death, so Rodeo is not quite sure why he’s being hired.  However, he desperately needs a job, so he accepts his new client and begins his investigation.

The cast of characters in Bad Country reads like a list of people you’d rather not know.  There’s Romeo’s former girlfriend Sirena Rae, a stripper with some severe mental health issues; her father, “Apache” Ray Molina, an ageing sheriff with too many dead bodies in his county; Ted Anderton, a member of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol, who can’t seem to forget or forgive that Romeo beat an escaped criminal to death several years ago; and Ronald Rocha, a psychopathic gunslinger determined to avenge the death of his cousin Samuel.

Definitely not for fans of cozy mysteries, Bad Country portrays a poor, rough part of Arizona, far from the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon or the elegant golf resorts of Scottsdale that the tourists see.  Life in Los Jarros county is, for most of its inhabitants, a struggle against poverty, drugs, and crime.  And Rodeo Garnet is in the midst of it all.

C. B. McKenzie has written a noir novel in gritty, street-wise prose.  No wonder Bad Country won the Tony Hillerman Prize for best first novel set in the southwest.  It’s an honor that is well-deserved.

You can read more about C. B. McKenzie at this web site. http://www.hillermanprize.com/#!mckenzie/c6yx.

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

 

WALLEYE JUNCTION by Karin Salvalaggio: Book Review

Macy Greeley, a detective with the State Police in Montana, is nearing a house in Walleye Junction where the police believe a hostage is being held.  The hostage is Philip Long, a controversial radio personality in the area,  and Macy is slowing down her car and getting ready to search the building when Long staggers into the road.  Macy can’t stop quickly enough, however, and Long is thrown into her windshield and then flung on the ground.  Her car nearly careens into a ditch and she’s pinned upside down by the seat belt, unable to get loose, with her cell phone out of reach and her gun thrown out of the SUV.

Frantically trying to free herself, she hears a motor behind her and watches helplessly as a motorcycle plows into Long.  Macy watches in horror as a figure dismounts from the cycle, picks up her gun, and fires directly at Long.  As the shooter gets back on his machine and pulls away, Macy’s car spills over the ditch and she hits the water.  Somehow she’s able to pull herself out and limp toward the road, where a rescue vehicle picks her up, shaking, bruised, but thankfully alive.

Several days later she’s called to the scene of what at first appears to be the fatal drug overdoses of a local couple.  Walleye Junction police identify them as Carla and Lloyd Spencer, long-time drug addicts, although Carla had been in rehab recently.  The fingerprints on the van parked near the bodies match those in the house where Long had been kept, so it appears that there is a quick resolution to the abduction.  Then Macy notices gravel from the parking area on Lloyd’s cowboy boots, and she voices her opinion that Lloyd was dragged from the vehicle onto the field and that Carla was carried.  So it becomes apparent that a third person was involved in their deaths and probably in Long’s kidnapping as well.

Emma Long, Philip’s daughter, has returned for the funeral, twelve years after she left home.  She’d been in touch with her father during this time and had seen him several times, but the breach between Emma and her mother has only grown wider.  It’s been six years since they’ve seen each other, and it doesn’t look as if Emma’s homecoming is going to resolve any of the issues that drove them apart.  And now Emma also has to face her former boyfriend and the cruel taunting from her peers that drove her away in the first place.  It’s almost too much for her to handle.

Karin Salvalaggio has written a novel that will keep you guessing until the last chapter.  There are many undercurrents in the small town of Walleye Junction, conflicts that have gone on for years with no resolution.  But the murder of Philip Long and the deaths of the Spencers are bringing them to the surface.

You can read more about Karin Salvalaggio at this web site.

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

CITY OF THE LOST by Kelley Armstrong: Book Review

In the far north of Western Canada, there’s a refuge for those who have to flee their normal lives.  When Casey Duncan, a police detective in Ontario, first hears about this place from her close friend, Diana Berry, she’s disbelieving.  It’s another urban legend, she thinks.  But as things go from bad to worse for herself and Diana, she investigates and finds that such a town does indeed exist.

For five thousand dollars each, Casey is told, she and Diana can move to Rockton if they pass inspection.  They have to prove why they’re compelled to leave their current lives and move to the secret place, a location so totally off the grid that there’s no plane service, telephone lines, or Internet.  The people who live in Rockton must contribute their skills to the town–as cooks, medical personnel, storekeepers–or whatever the community needs at a given time.  As it turns out, at the moment it needs a detective.

Casey’s main reason for moving to Rockton is to get Diana away from her physically abusive husband Graham.  Time and again Graham has assaulted Diana, and each time she swears that she will never go back to him, but she does.  Indeed, she and Casey had moved from one city to another after a previous beating, hoping to leave him behind.  But Graham has found her again, and this time Diana says she’s made the final decision never to return to him and thus is desperate to leave no trail behind her for him to follow.  Casey, too, made a bad decision in the past that continues to haunt her and keep her in danger.  So Casey puts up the ten thousand dollars necessary for both of them to start new lives, hoping they can start over.  But can they?

For a town of two hundred people, there’s a lot going on.  The morning after Casey arrives, the body of a man who had been missing for a week is found.  The corpse was in the forest, a place Rockton people know better than to visit.  The sheriff, Eric Dalton, tells Casey that the council, a mysterious group that controls the community from outside and makes the decisions about who gets in and who doesn’t, sometimes is swayed by monetary factors.  Although people who’ve committed violent crimes aren’t supposed to gain admittance, they sometimes get through if they have enough money.  Harry Powys, the name the deceased was using in Rockton, had obviously bribed his way in.  His crimes, brutal as they were, are matched by the manner of his death.  He was dismembered, and Eric believes Harry was alive when it was done.

The people who live in this community are a varied lot, but of course they all have one thing in common–whatever they did or had done to them in the outside world didn’t allow them to stay there.  An ex-soldier who killed his commanding officer while the latter was asleep, a physician blamed for two deaths, several women fleeing abusive relationships, those are reasons for coming to Rockton.  But now it’s becoming clear that more than one person is living there under false pretenses, that the story he or she has been telling others about the reason for being in Rockton isn’t the true one.

Kelley Armstrong has written a taunt thriller with believable characters.  Casey Duncan is a terrific heroine, devastated by what she did years earlier but determined to be strong now for herself and her friend.  But her strength alone may not be enough to stop the carnage in their new home.

You can read more about Kelley Armstrong at this web site.

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

 

 

 

BOAR ISLAND by Nevada Barr: Book Review

The life of a national park ranger can be a wandering one.  Anna Pigeon has worked in Texas, Michigan, Colorado, and Minnesota, and in Boar Island she’s been assigned to temporary duty at Acadia National Park, 47,000 acres on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine.  It’s beautiful, rugged, and an oasis where hiking and boating should be the reason why visitors come there, not because they are fleeing across the country to escape bullying and stalking.

Heath Jarrod, Anna’s closest friend, and her daughter Elizabeth are going through an extremely troubling time.  After much prodding, Elizabeth reveals that she’s the target of cyber bullying, to the point that the teenager has attempted suicide.  Desperate to get away from this, Heath, Elizabeth, and family friend and physician Gwen Littleton decide to join Anna in Acadia, hoping that a move from Colorado to Maine will halt the bullying and stalking.  It doesn’t.

Heath, Elizabeth, and Gwen are staying at the home of one of Gwen’s friends while the friend is off-island.  What they’re not quite prepared for is that the house is a reconfigured lighthouse, set on a rock one hundred feet above the Atlantic.  Not the easiest place to navigate, especially for wheelchair-bound Heath.  But she’s determined to keep Elizabeth safe, and if that means living on a remote island until the cyber bully is caught, so be it.  She and Elizabeth have both dealt with difficult things before.

In Acadia, park ranger Denise Castle is dealing with demons of her own.  She had been in a long-term relationship with another ranger when he abruptly broke it off and shortly thereafter got married.  Now he is a happy husband and father, and Denise can barely stand to be in the same room with Peter and his family.  An abandoned child who grew up in foster homes, Denise has had rejection issues her entire life, and Peter’s abandonment has only made them worse.  But now someone new and totally unexpected has entered her life, and it’s going to change forever.

Anna Pigeon is an amazing heroine, dedicated to both her career and her friends.  She’s definitely a loner, but via her marriage and her friendship with Heath she has become more involved with, and more interested in, other people than she was earlier in her life and career.  She’s still tough and independent, but now there’s a compassionate side to her that wasn’t there in the earlier novels.

Nevada Barr’s sense of place is wonderful, not surprising since she was a park ranger herself for several years.  In addition, her characters have multiple layers to them that go beyond their public personas.  In Boar Island you get to know and understand the inner workings not only of Anna and Heath, but also Denise, a lonely woman who is so overcome by the unexpected appearance of Pauline Duffy in her life that she becomes totally undone.

You can read more about Nevada Barr at this web site.

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

 

 

I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh: Book Review

A mother and her young son are walking home from his school on a rainy afternoon in Bristol, England.  Across the street from their house she lets go of his hand, knowing his eagerness to get into their kitchen for a snack and a few minutes of television.  As he shouts, “I’ll race you, Mummy,” he darts across the road and into the path of a speeding car.  Instead of stopping, the auto backs up the street, makes a quick U-turn, and vanishes into the darkness.

The hit-and-run case lands on the desk of Detective Inspector Ray Stevens.  He and his team, and especially his young protégée Kate, are determined to find the driver, but there are few clues to follow.  Jacob’s mother is in shock, understandably so, and there is no father in the picture.  There were no witnesses, and the car appears to have left no traces on the street.  The only thing of note is that Jacob’s mother says that the car was speeding, rather than attempting to stop, when it hit her son, but that really doesn’t help the investigators at all.

As is not uncommon in this age of social media, it doesn’t take long for a backlash to appear on various web sites.  Opinions were voiced about the mother’s carelessness, her unfitness, her faults.  And when the police return to question her again, she has disappeared.  The boy’s school, his doctor, their neighbors, no one has seen her in days.  So after several weeks, Ray gets the order from the police chief to close the case, and he has no choice but to obey.

At home, things are not much better.  Ray’s wife Mags, a former police officer and now a stay-at-home mother, is getting fed up with Ray’s seeming lack of involvement with his family.  He’s spending long hours at work and forgetting important appointments they made together.  Most seriously, their teenage son Tom is having difficulties at school, skipping classes, and refusing to say what’s bothering him.  Is it typical teenage behavior or something more serious?

To add to this is Ray’s growing attraction to his subordinate, Kate.  She’s everything that Mags is seemingly not.  Kate’s young, with a free lifestyle, and is obviously attracted to Ray.  He can feel himself sliding down a slippery slope, but does he want to stop himself before things go too far?

Clare Mackintosh has written a fantastic thriller.  The characters and plot are totally realistic, and the desperate situations in which people find themselves could have been taken from today’s newspaper headlines anywhere in the world.  Also, the way the book is narrated is perfect; I can’t say any more without spoiling it for you, so you’ll have to trust me.  I Let You Go is a novel you can’t stop reading.

You can read more about Claire Mackintosh at this web site.

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

 

 

AFTER THE FIRE by Jane Casey: Book Review

Murchison House, London, is a dismal place.  Broken elevators, out-of-order closed circuit television cameras, disgusting stairwells.  Only the poorest and most hopeless people live there.  And when a fire runs through it, it brings even more despair and grief.

Maeve Kerrigan, a police detective on the Metropolitan force, is called at home with the news that a fire has broken out at the House.  It’s already known that three people are dead, and there’s a strong possibility of more deaths.  And when Maeve arrives at the scene, minutes later, it’s as horrific as she’d thought.

One corpse has already been found and identified, that of Geoff Armstrong, a racist, homophobic, xenophobic member of the House of Commons.  At first glance it appears that Geoff threw himself through a window to avoid the smoke and flames, but a closer examination shows that he was already dead when his body hit the cement.  Why this politician, with his extreme right-wing views, would be at Murchison House in the first place is a question without an answer.  No one seems to be devastated at his death, but it’s still a high-profile case that the authorities want solved immediately, if not sooner.

Two young women, both without identification, have been found burned to death in their locked apartment.  In addition, an elderly woman has been taken to the hospital on a stretcher, a young girl has been brought to the same hospital in critical condition, and a boy who doesn’t seem certain of his name is alone and asking for his mother.  All these living people are more important to Maeve and her supervisor, Detective Inspector Josh Derwent, than looking into the death of Geoff Armstrong, but they are under orders from Chief Inspector Una Burt to make the Armstrong case their priority.  But Burt can’t follow them everywhere, can she?

There are also other stresses in Maeve’s life.  Rob, her long-time partner, has left her, and although she has discovered that he was unfaithful, she still misses him and keeps making excuses for him in her mind.  She is also being stalked by a man who has been following her for years and now seems to know her every move.

Maeve Kerrigan is a fascinating heroine.  She loves her job and is very good at it, but she hides her insecurities behind a façade of toughness and extreme independence.  She’s been in a depressed state since the end of her romance with Rob, but she’s afraid to let anyone know how she feels.   She’s also conflicted about her feelings about Josh Derwent.  He’s certainly an impossible man, but he always has her back.

Jane Casey has written another spellbinding mystery.  As always, her characters and plot are well-developed and realistic and will keep you guessing until the very end.

You can read more about Jane Casey at this web site.

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

 

THE LAST CONFESSION OF THOMAS HAWKINS by Antonia Hodgson: Book Review

There was a time when I would have said I wasn’t a fan of historical mysteries.  Luckily, that time has long passed because I’ve come to realize how exciting it is to be taken back a hundred or more years to learn about life in an earlier period.  Note that I didn’t say a simpler period, because I don’t think any age is really simpler than another–it’s just different.  And certainly London in the early part of the 18th century had many, many complex issues with which to deal.

The protagonist of The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins is, not surprisingly, Thomas Hawkins himself.  An aristocrat with an unfortunate addiction to gambling, when the novel opens he is in a cart on his way to the gallows.  He is convinced that a royal pardon will come in time; indeed, he has been promised such a pardon, but each turn of the cart’s wheel is bringing him closer to the hangman.  Crowds line both sides of the road, for it’s not every day that a gentleman is hanged; in fact, one hardly ever is.  But today may be the crowd’s lucky day, although that can hardly be said for Mr. Hawkins.

For the past three months, ever since his release from Marshalsea Prison for debt, Thomas has been living with the lovely and wealthy Kitty Sparks.  Thomas would like to marry her, or at least he sometimes thinks he would like to marry her, but Kitty isn’t having that, although she’s barred from many society houses because she’s sharing her roof with a man not her husband.  Under the laws of England at this time, once Kitty marries all her money and the profitable business she owns (a bookstore that surreptitiously sells pornographic literature) would be under her husband’s control.  So Thomas understands Kitty’s reluctance to become his wife.

Given Kitty’s somewhat unsavory background and Thomas’ connection with the underworld, it’s not surprising that the necessity of doing a favor for master criminal James Fleet puts Thomas on a dangerous path.  Before he can fully understand what has happened, Thomas is involved in a spy mission for Queen Caroline on behalf of her lady-in-waiting; interestingly, said lady is also the mistress of Queen Caroline’s husband, King George II.  As I said earlier, life in the past really wasn’t simpler.

At the same time, Thomas’ neighbor, the brutal Joseph Burden, is murdered.  Everyone on their street remembers only too clearly the fight between the two men earlier in the day, with Thomas attempting to break down Burden’s door.  And some of those people are only too glad to see Thomas taken off to Newgate Prison for the murder, guilty or not.

Antonia Hodgson has written a wonderful novel, filled with fascinating characters and a strong sense of history.  Although Thomas Hawkins is less than a perfect role model, it’s hard to be angry at such a charming rogue.  At least I couldn’t be–I was rooting for him to escape the gallows all the way through The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins.

You can read more about Antonia Hodgson at this web site.

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

MOST WANTED by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

What would you do if you thought that the man who had donated his sperm to you might be a serial killer?  It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario.

Christine and Marcus Nilsson have been trying to have a baby for several years, but without luck.  After various medical tests and procedures, they discover that Marcus does not have viable sperm, a blow to both of them but especially to Marcus and his self-esteem.  After much soul-searching the couple decide to use a donor from the highly reputable Homestead donor bank, a company endorsed by Christine’s doctor.

Then, on the afternoon of her going-away party from the Nutmeg Hill Elementary School where she has been teaching for eight years, Christine sees a CNN news video of a man who has just been arrested; to her he looks exactly like the photo of her sperm donor.  Marcus doesn’t agree and thinks she’s imagining the resemblance, but Christine can’t be reassured.  She watches the video over and over, obsessing over the man’s fine blond hair and round blue eyes that look exactly like those in the photo the donor was required to submit to Homestead.

When contacted, Homestead refuses to tell the couple whether their donor is the man who has been arrested.  It appears that a legally binding non-disclosure agreement was signed by the donor, and the company cannot disclose any additional information about him.  While Marcus gets angrier and angrier at what he sees as a coverup, Christine determines to discover on her own whether Zachary Jeffcoat is in fact her donor, a serial killer, or both.

The title, Most Wanted, is a clever double-play on words.  Its first meaning concerns the unborn baby, Christine and Marcus’ most wanted child.  The second meaning is the possibility that the man now being held for the murder of a nurse in Pennsylvania and suspected by authorities of being the murderer of two other nurses in two different states is most wanted for those deaths.

Emotions run deep throughout the novel.  Christine, who has wanted children as far back as she can remember, has gone from disappointment at not being pregnant to ecstasy at finally becoming pregnant to fear that the baby’s biological father is a criminal.  Marcus has gone from disappointment and shame at being unable to biologically father a child to anger at Christine’s doctor and the sperm bank and finally to anger at Christine.  What should have been the happiest time for them has now become the worst time, putting their marriage in danger from which it may not recover.

As always, Lisa Scottoline has written a novel that will challenge you to look beyond the excellent plot and focus on the issues that this couple is facing.  In spite of all the tests that Homestead has done, there is still the possibility that the mental instability of one of their donors has compromised the pregnancy of a recipient.  Donor banks are barely regulated by states or the federal government, and Most Wanted is a reminder that this may lead to horrific results.  And what happens when each parent has a different thought about what to do if, in fact, Zachary Jeffcoat turns out to be what they most fear?

You can read more about Lisa Scottoline at this web site.

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

 

 

 

SENT TO THE DEVIL by Laura Lebow: Book Review

Poet and opera librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte is busy in Vienna, writing the words to accompany the operas of Mozart and Salieri.  Da Ponte has achieved some fame in the operatic genre at this point in his life, but his hope is to be able to write poetry full time.  However, for the moment his main income is from the production of the operas, so he continues that work.

It’s 1788, and the Austrian empire, led by Emperor Joseph II, is at war with the Turks.  Students are protesting on street corners, and citizens are watching what they say in public lest they attract the attention of the emperor’s soldiers or police.

Having been exiled for fifteen years from his native Venice for immoral conduct, Lorenzo has assembled a small group of friends to replace his family.  Chief among them is Father Alois Bayer, who has become almost a father to the younger man; their mutual love of books is what brought them together.  But the day after the two men meet for lunch, the priest is murdered in front of the Capistran Chancel.

Father Alois’ murder was the second in Vienna in three days.  The first was General Peter Albrecht, an elderly military man known throughout the city.  He, thought Lorenzo, was someone who might have had enemies, given his absurdly high self-regard and the current feeling in the city about the military.  But why would Father Alois be a victim as well, Lorenzo asks himself?  There doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two men.  However, when he goes to the police to get more information, he’s informed that they both were killed in the same way, with a single knife thrust across the neck.

Into this mix comes Giacomo Casanova, best known today for having made his last name synonymous with seducer of women In addition to his romantic escapades, he was known during his lifetime as a writer, adventurer, and spy.  In Sent to the Devil, Casanova is a close friend of Da Ponte’s and aids him, although not as much as he himself would like to believe, in capturing the man responsible for the series of murders that have rocked Vienna.

Laura Lebow seamlessly blends historical facts with fiction.  Da Ponte was, as the novel tells, the lyricist for two of Mozart’s most famous operas, Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro.  In creating a series in which Da Ponte is the hero, Ms. Lebow has an incredible amount of information to work with:  he was born a Jew, converted as a child to Catholicism in order to gain an education, fathered illegitimate children while a priest in Vienna, moved to London, went bankrupt, fled to the United States, and became the first professor of Italian literature at Colombia University.  Honestly, you couldn’t make this up.

Da Ponte is, at least in the first two books of what I hope will be a long series, a more honorable and likeable man than he probably actually was.  But no matter, it’s the author’s prerogative to fashion her protagonist any way she chooses, and in The Figaro Murders (reviewed on this blog) and Sent to the Devil Lorenzo Da Ponte is a man worthy of respect.  Ms. Lebow has brought him and eighteenth-century Vienna vividly to life.

You can read more about Laura Lebow at this web site.

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