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SHADOWS OF THE DEAD by Spencer Kope: Book Review

Magnus Craig, known by his nickname “Steps,” has a unique ability, one that sets him apart from other FBI agents who specialize in tracking people.  When Steps was eight years old, he got lost in a blizzard and nearly froze to death.  In fact he was clinically dead, but somehow he was revived; and afterward he was the recipient of either a blessing or a curse, he still hasn’t decided which one.

Steps can see what he calls “shine,” a type of residue that people leave anywhere they walk and on anything they touch.  Like fingerprints or DNA, no two shines are alike, and the only thing that saves him from constant, total overload is that lead-crystal glass blocks almost all shines.  So unless Steps is on a tracking case, he always wears a pair of glasses with the special lenses.

Only three people know about the shine–Steps’ father, his FBI partner Jimmy Donovan, and the director of the Bureau.  His fellow agents simply think he has an uncanny ability to track missing people and criminals regardless of the terrain.  And Steps wants to keep it that way.

In Shadows of the Dead, the third case in the Special Tracking Unit series, a car crash sends the local police into the Washington Olympic Peninsula woods.  When they investigate the crash and open the car’s trunk, they find a gagged and bound woman inside and a man running from the car into a nearby cabin.  That’s when the FBI is called.

The kidnapper is forced out of the cabin after a tear gas canister is flung inside.  When he is handcuffed and led through the woods to a police cruiser, he keeps talking in phrases that the police and federal agents can’t understand.  He calls himself Faceman, says he is a fixer, wonders where “Eight” is, and that “he” is going to be so mad.

When the man is brought to the closest hospital, he makes a reference to Onion King, the person he fears.   The officers realize that the “Eight” that Faceman is referring to is the woman who was in his truck.  That’s when the police and the FBI agents understand  that there must have been seven women previously kidnapped and that the “he” is the Onion King, a serial killer on the loose.

One of the features of Shadows of the Dead that I really enjoyed was the depiction of the close working relationship between the sheriff’s department, local police, and the FBI.  All too often in mystery novels there’s a great deal of jockeying for position and bad feeling among these groups, and it was refreshing to read that the capture of the criminal was paramount in everyone’s mind. 

In addition to writing mysteries, Spencer Kope is a crime analyst in Washington State.  You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

EAST OF HOUNSLOW by Khurrum Rahman: Book Review

He’s a Muslim who sells drugs.  He’s a thirty-year-old man who lives with his mother.  He doesn’t work and drives a BMW.  His name is Javid Quasim.

East of Hounslow is one of the most unusual and amazing books I’ve read this year.  Javid, but please call him Jay, is proud to tell you all about himself.  He’s British born, has never been racially profiled, and is content to be a low-level drug salesman.  He doesn’t see “Paki” as an insult but rather “as a badge of honor,” as Pak means pure and clean.  And although he’s not actually either one, he is living the life he wants.

Jay isn’t unaware of what’s going on in the world, but in his words, “It’s not my war.  Call it religion or call it politics or call it greed.  It all amounts to the same thing:  bloodshed, devastation and broken homes.”  He’s found his place in his world and he’s happy with it.  Until things change.

While Jay was involved in a confrontation at a local restaurant, his new Mercedes, parked in front, disappears.  That is bad enough, but inside the car is seven thousand dollars that he owes to the local drug lord, Silas Drakos.  And when Jay tells Silas what happened, he’s given a week to pay it back.

Then Jay is approached by Kingsley Parker, part of an MI5 task force, with a way out.  If Jay agrees to tell the force everything they need to put Silas away, Jay’s own drug dealing and his assault on a man during the fight at the restaurant will be forgotten.  But, of course, there’s more…there always is.

The borough of Hounslow is a racially and religiously mixed area, with whites, Asians, and Blacks living in close quarters, and churches, mosques, and Sikh temples providing worship sites.  Not surprisingly, although Jay believes he is immune, there are plenty of racial/religious problems in the area.   After he agrees to go undercover for M15 in repayment for their dropping the drug and assult charges, he is told to increase the frequency of his visits to his local mosque and to hopefully get involved with whatever is suspected to be going on behind the scenes there.

Jay’s neighbor Parves, the local gang leader Khan, and Idris, a police friend, are three of the many characters that make the novel come alive.  The book is partially narrated in the first person, and it is so well written and immediate that readers will feel they are next to Jay as he’s telling the story.  Looking for additional background on the author, I discovered that East of Hounslow is the first in a proposed trilogy; I’ve already purchased the second book, Homegrown Hero.

In these days of social unrest, racial profiling, and terrorism, Khurrum Rahman’s mystery is a must read.

You can read more about Khurrum Rahman at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

ONE LAST LIE by Paul Doiron: Book Review

Charley Stevens is Mike Bowditch’s mentor/father figure/best friend all rolled into one.  So when Charley goes missing without explanation, Mike is determined to find him and discover the reason for his disappearance before it’s too late.

The two men have known each other for years, and Mike has always thought they could count on each other if either one was in a tight spot and needed help.  So it’s particularly upsetting when he receives a phone call from Ora, Charley’s wife, and she tells him that Charley has gone off without telling her where or why.  The only unusual thing that happened, she tells Mike, is that her husband seemed to have been upset after they had stopped at a flea market in Machias a few days earlier, not too far from their lakeside Maine home.

On his drive north from Portland to see Ora, Mike stops at the market to talk to a vendor he knows.  Carol Boyce had noticed Charley talking to an odd-looking man at a nearby table; the former English professor describes the stranger, in the words of  Edith Wharton, as “but a ruin of a man.”  The two had an angry exchange of words, and she thinks Charley walked away from the table with something small in his hand.  Perhaps, she says, it was the badge she had noticed him examining earlier among the items for sale.

Mike has two other concerns as well as his worry about his friend.  The first is the possibility that the Maine Warden Service, where Mike is a Warden Investigator and Charley had been one before his retirement, is going to hire someone who appears to be too good to be true.  Tom Wheelwright, a former Maine native and decorated combat pilot, is applying for the Service’s position of chief pilot.  Everything about him looks perfect on paper, but Bowditch nevertheless has the feeling that something isn’t right.

He persuades his superior officer to let him fly to Miami, where Wheelwright currently lives, to talk to Joe Fixico, Tom’s former electronic warfare officer and a man whose name was conspicuous by its absence among the many references in Wheelwright’s job application.  And going to Miami brings up the second concern for Mike–a possible meeting with his former lover Stacey, Charley and Ora’s daughter, now living in Florida.  Mike is now in a serious relationship with Dani, a member of the Maine State Police, but seeing his former “soul mate” creates a question in his mind about where his heart truly lies.

As in all the other books in this series, Paul Doiron’s love of nature, even when nature is not at its most appealing, shows his appreciation of the outdoors and the environment.  Whether he’s in the Everglades with Stacey looking for a loose Burmese python or back in his beloved Maine woods fighting clouds of mosquitoes and taking photos of a herd of moose, Mike is in his element, even if that element is uncomfortable or possibly dangerous.

One Last Lie is a welcome addition to the Mike Bowditch series.

Paul Doiron is chair of the Maine Humanities Council, former editor of Down East, and a Registered Maine Guide.  You can read more about him at this website. http://www.pauldoiron.com/.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

CRUEL ACTS by Jane Casey: Book Review

Leo Stone, aka The White Knight, is poised to be released from prison.  He was sentenced thirteen months earlier when he was found guilty of murdering two young women.  Now evidence has come to light that a juror disregarded the judge’s instructions and looked up Stone’s past on the internet.  He discovered Stone’s previous convictions for assault, told other jurors, and posted the results on the net.  Based on that information, a mistrial is declared and Stone is released.

Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan and her supervisor Detective Inspector Josh Dewent are assigned to review the case and find sufficient evidence to put The White Knight back in prison.  Both murdered women shared some characteristics–they were young, attractive, walking to their flats alone late at night.  Maeve is convinced that another woman, Rachel Healy, was also Stone’s victim, but because her body hasn’t been found there wasn’t any forensic evidence to include her in the case against Leo Stone.  But that isn’t going to stop Maeve from investigating on her own time.

Stone was convicted of the murders of Willa Howard and Sara Grey.  Interestingly, the responses of the victims’ parents are totally different, and they can barely stand to be in the same room together.

The Howards are convinced that Stone is the man who murdered their daughter Willa, and they are beyond angry that he has been released, even though there are plans to retry him.  The Greys, on the other hand, are angry that Stone, whom they believe is innocent in their child Sara’s death, has been imprisoned while the real murderer is free.  They have no intention or desire to help Maeve and Josh in any way.

Leo’s son, Kelly, has been in touch with the Greys ever since Stone was sent to prison, and he has convinced them that his father is innocent.  Kelly is earnest and charming, but although he has convinced Sara’s parents of his father’s innocence, he has been unable to influence Willa’s.

Maeve’s investigation into the missing Rachel Healy uncovers a very different type of woman.  Unlike Willa and Sara, Rachel was not shy and unsure of herself, rather the opposite.  Maeve first talks to Rachel’s sister, and Zoe tells her that they didn’t have a close relationship.  “She said I wouldn’t approve of what she’d been doing.”  This picture of Rachel was confirmed when Maeve interviews her former boyfriend, who describes Rachel as someone who liked to live on the edge, someone who liked danger.  He unwillingly tells her, “She wanted to be hurt….That was what she enjoyed.”

Cruel Acts is a look into secret lives and deadly secrets.  Maeve and Derwent disagree on almost everything except for the most important thing–learning the truth and putting the evildoer behind bars.  Jane Casey’s eighth novel featuring Maeve Kerrigan is outstanding.

You can read more about Jane Casey at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ADELE BEDEAU by Graeme Macrae Burnet: Book Review

Every day I receive a list of books from Amazon’s Kindle site that are offered at an enticingly low price.  Sometimes I purchase a book, sometimes I don’t.  A few weeks ago I paid $1.99 for The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, never having heard of the novel or its author Graeme Macrae Burnet, and it turned out to be an incredible find.

The novel revolves around two people, Manfred Baumann, a socially and physically awkward figure, and Georges Gorski, an inspector in the Saint Louis, France police department.  Baumann is the manager of the town’s bank, a man who has for many years led a life of almost incredible regularity.  He wakes up at the same time every morning, goes to the Restaurant de la Cloche for dinner every evening, plays bridge with the same three men every Thursday night, and chooses to do his laundry in his building’s basement every Saturday, a time he’s extremely unlikely to meet any of his neighbors.

One evening he pays a bit more attention than usual to his regular waitress, Adèle Bedeau, even taking, for him, the incredibly bold step of leaving the restaurant moments after she does simply to see what she’s doing after work.  Baumann does this the following night as well, when he again sees her meeting a young man and the two of them riding away on the youth’s scooter.  And that appears to be the last time anyone has seen Adèle.

Several days later, when Baumann, along with the other habitues of the Restaurant de la Cloche, is questioned by Inspector Gorski, he denies having seen Adéle or the young man.  He’s not quite certain why he hasn’t told the inspector the truth, but once he’s given his statement he can’t figure out a way to get past his falsehood without bringing unwanted attention to himself.

Georges Gorski doesn’t have a life that is much happier than Manfred’s.  Although he’s not a loner, having a wife and teenage daughter, his marriage is not a happy one, and he and his wife have little in common.  Georges is haunted by a long-ago murder and the man who was tried and convicted for the crime; Georges, a very young policeman at the time, never believed that man to be guilty.  And his preoccupation with finding out the truth of the case is one of the reasons for the distance between the detective and his wife.

At first, Gorski has no reason to think there’s anything suspicious about Baumann’s statement or any reason to suspect him in the waitress’ disappearance.  But as the case drags on, Gorski delves more deeply into Manfred’s past and discovers some surprises and a connection between Baumann and himself that brings up memories of the unsolved murder.

The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is an incredible tour de force.  I had to re-read the last chapter and the notes that follow it to be certain I understood what was going on, and when I did I was delighted and amazed.  The novel is so clever and well written that it’s a wonderful read from its beginning to its surprising end.

You can read more about Graeme Macrae Burnet at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THE MIST by Ragnar Jónasson: Book Review

Three seemingly unrelated mysteries come together in Ragnar Jónasson’s latest thriller, The MistReading this novel is like watching a master weaver at work; at first there’s no pattern that the reader can detect, but at the end the pattern is evident and perfect.

The novel opens with Hulda Hermannsdóttir, a Reykjavik police detective, sitting depairingly in her office on a February morning.  We won’t find out the reason for her emotions until the end of the book, but it’s obvious that something terrible has happened to her.  She has just returned from compassionate leave, and her greatest fear is being ordered to take another one, so she’s eager to investigate the “horrific” discovery her supervisor tells her about.  Two bodies were found in a rural farmhouse in eastern Iceland, and it appears that they have been there since Christmas.

The Mist flashes back several weeks to the home of Einar and Erla Einarsson.  A blizzard is bringing an incredible amount of snow to their remote homestead, leaving the two even more isolated than usual, and Erla is busy preparing the typical Icelandic Christmas dinner to celebrate the holiday.

There are no neighbors for miles around, the roads are impassible, yet suddenly there’s a knock on their door.  The visitor, who tells them that his name is Leó, says he was on a hunting trip with two friends when they got separated and that he wandered around the desolate landscape before finding their house, the only one that appeared inhabited.

Erla is more suspicious of the stranger than is her husband.  It’s a story that is just possible, she thinks, but the idea of three people hunting during a blizzard is strange to say the least.  However, there’s nothing to do but to allow Leó to come in to rest and join them for lunch, and as the snow is worsening Einar feels compelled to invite him to stay overnight.

The third mystery is the disappearance of a young woman taking a gap year between high school and university.  Unnur was backpacking around Iceland, beginning work on a novel, when she sees a brochure for volunteers to work on a farm in exchange for room and board.  It sounds like the perfect place to earn a bit of extra money and start her book, so she travels to the farmhouse to find out if help is still needed.

The author’s writing and plotting are masterful, as always.  The Mist is the fifth mystery of Ragnar Jónasson’s that I’ve reviewed, and it is as satisfying as the previous ones.  The characters and their motivations are totally realistic, and the beauty as well as the remoteness of Iceland are well portrayed.   The novel is narrated at different points by Hulda, Erla, Leó, and Unnur, and each voice is authentic and believable.

Ragnar Jónasson writes the Dark Iceland series featuring Ari Thor as well as the Hulda series.  In addition to writing, he has a law degree, is an investment banker in Reykjavik, and is the co-founder of the international crime writing festival Iceland Noir.  His books have been translated into numerous languages including French, German, Italian, and Japanese.  In addition, starting at age 17, he began translating Agatha Christie’s novels into Icelandic.

You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DEATH IN THE EAST by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

Death in the East is another “jewel in the crown” in the English/Indian series featuring Sam Wyndham.  That phrase referred to India’s place in the former British Empire; it also means a jewel among many, and that’s how I mean it–it’s Abir Mukherjee’s fourth book featuring an English detective in 1920s India, and the third I’ve reviewed.

Sam left England immediately after the end of World War I, reeling from the deaths of his young wife, his half-brother, and his father.  Believing there was nothing left for him in his native country he emigrated to Calcutta, hoping for a new start.   His career as a police detective in India has been successful, but his personal life has not, and now his addiction to opium has come close to ruining him.

In desperation Sam goes to the northern Indian state of Assam, to a Hindu ashram that has been successful in treating drug and alcohol dependence.  It goes almost without saying that the cure appears to Sam to be worse than the addiction–shortly after his arrival he suffers from hallucinations, vomiting, unrelenting shivering, and an overwhelming desire for the drug–but he’s told by his fellow residents that the first day is the hardest.

He’s determined to stay the course come what may, and what comes is the death of another resident, someone with a strong superficial resemblance to Sam.  Was Le Corbeau’s death an accident or a murder?  If it was the latter, was Sam supposed to be the intended victim?

Death in the East flashes back to 1905, when Sam was a young constable and befriended a young woman who lived in London’s East End.  Bessie was murdered, and although a man was hanged for the crime, Sam always had doubts that the Jewish immigrant convicted of the murder was guilty.  Although he suspected the murderer was in fact the woman’s landlord, Jeremiah Caine, who had connections to London’s underworld, he had no proof, and the anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant emotions of the time made Israel Vogel a perfect target.

Now, half a world away from England, Wyndham sees the man he always suspected in Bessie’s death.  Caine had fled London while Sam was trying to persuade Scotland Yard to investigate him and was never seen again.  He has turned up in Assam using the name Ronald Carter and is the wealthiest and most important man in the area.

Death in the East is a fascinating read on several accounts.  Sam Wyndham is a wonderful protagonist, a man doing his best while beset with tragic memories.  The plot of the novel is intricate and intriguing, and it will have the reader trying to figure out the possible connection between a 1905 murder in London and a death in an Indian hill town more than twenty years later.  And last but not least is the compelling writing of Abir Mukherjee, himself an Englishman of Indian heritage, who makes both worlds come alive.

You can read more about Abir Mukherjee at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

BETRAYAL AT RAVENSWICK by Kelly Oliver: Book Review

There’s a terrific internet site, American Book Review, that lists the best 100 opening lines (or paragraphs) of novels.  Number one, not surprisingly, is “Call Me Ismael.”  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is another that would appear on most rolls.

In Betrayal at Ravenswick, the first in a new series by Kelly Oliver, these are the first two sentences:  “I should have poisoned him.  If only I’d had the chance.”  Perhaps #101?

Fiona Figg is in a happy marriage, or so she thinks, until she decides to surprise her husband by taking him to lunch at an elegant London hotel.  Warning to readers:  such surprises are usually not a good idea, at least in mystery novels.  She catches said husband and his secretary in an extremely compromising position in his office, and Fiona tells him, “It’s her or me.  Take your pick.”  Second warning:  giving errant husband this ultimatum makes a bad situation worse.

Fiona is the head filing clerk at the War Office.  Set in 1916, in the midst of World War I and before the United States enters the war, Fiona has already made one or two suggestions that the men in the cryptography group found useful; in fact, before the book opens she had cracked a code that had stumped the men.  So when she suggests a way to explain how the War Office got encrypted information from the Americans without letting the Americans know that their code has been broken, something they are definitely loath to do, she is invited to join them as an “honorary consultant.”

Five months after her marriage dissolves, Fiona gets the opportunity for a new start.  The men in the group are suspicious of a man purported to be a big game hunter and journalist who is on his way to visit a wealthy and titled Englishwoman and her family.  They can’t seem to find out very much about the background of the oddly-named Frederick Fredericks, and the agent who was supposed to tail him has broken his leg and is thus out of the picture.  Much to her own surprise, Fiona volunteers for the assignment, disguising herself as a male physician and entering the countess’ household.  In her younger days she had wanted to go on the stage, but she was told by her teacher that she would “never be an actress.”  Well, Fiona thinks, here’s her opportunity to prove Mrs. Benson wrong.

Betrayal at Ravenswick follows Fiona as she splits her time, first as “Dr. Vogel,” a specialist in poisons and female maladies, and also as a volunteer aide at Charing Cross Hospital, an arrival point for thousands of soldiers returning from the front.  The scenes of the wounded men are heartbreaking but beautifully written, and readers will feel as if they are on the wards, watching the doctors and nurses tending to the wounded.  Sulfur drugs and penicillin were years in the future, and the suffering of both the soldiers and those caring for them shows the pain and futility of war.

Kelly Oliver has introduced a smart and delightful heroine, one with enough self-confidence to take on a difficult and dangerous assignment but whose issues of low self-esteem, especially in light of her recent divorce, makes her totally human.  Fiona is a protagonist I would enjoy meeting again.

You can read more about Kelly Oliver at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THE TRUANTS by Kate Weinberg: Book Review

Kate Weinberg’s debut novel, The Truants, is outstanding.  There is no other word for this remarkable novel, which combines the author’s admiration and knowledge of Agatha Christie, her understanding of the havoc dysfunctional families can wreak, and her knowledge that a charismatic person may have on the lives of everyone he or she touches, for good or for bad.

Jess Walker is in her first year at university.  She’s the middle child in a family of five children and has always felt the odd one out, anxious to leave what she viewed as her rather cold, uncaring home.  She has been set to go to Oxford, but when she receives a Christmas present given by her uncle she changes her mind.  The book, The Truants by Lorna Clay, alters Jess’ path, and she enrolls at Norfolk instead, the school where Clay is a professor of English literature.

Shy and unsure of herself, Jess immediately falls under the sway of another undergraduate, Georgie, a girl who mesmerizes everyone she meets.  The “everyone” includes not only Jess but Professor Clay and Alec, an older student from South Africa.

Lorna Clay’s class is called “Murdered by the Campus.”  The “Murdered” course consists of female authors the professor feels have been unjustly shunned or pigeon-holed by the male establishment, and Agatha Christie is held up as the prime example of this.

Both Jess and Georgie are in this class, and along with two male classmates they form what appears to be a perfect foursome.   Alec is a journalist from South Africa, and he and Georgie immediately become a couple, while Jess becomes involved with Nick.  Jess cannot get Alec out of her thoughts, however, despite her friendship with Georgie and cautions about him from Lorna.  Disregarding the latter and her own feelings about her disloyalty toward Georgie, Jess and Alec embark on a clandestine affair, and the emotional ramifications reach far beyond the two of them.

The Truants is a mystery with deep underlying issues.  What might seem a superficial question related to Dame Christie’s Curtain becomes something that burrows into Jess’s being.  Lorna asks, “Who should we call the criminal?  The person who commits a crime, or the one who tricks another into doing so?”  Is there actually a correct answer to that?

Kate Weinberg has written an incredible first novel, integrating her love of mysteries with philosophical issues that have no easy answers.  How does one balance one’s first close friendship with one’s first love?  Which is more important?  How much weight should we give to a character’s family background/situation in terms of understanding the character’s behavior?  And when does influence become control?  These questions and issues are what make The Truants expand the mystery genre to another level.

You can read more about Kate Weinberg at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

MOLTEN MUD MURDER by Sara E. Johnson: Book Review

As may be obvious to frequent readers of this blog, I love reading and reviewing mysteries that take place outside the United States.  I can never decide if I find a novel more interesting if I’ve been to the country where it’s located or if I’ve never been there.  Either way, I really enjoy learning about the customs and culture of foreign places, and reading Sara E. Johnson’s debut mystery that takes place in New Zealand, a country I have yet to visit, grabbed me from the first page.

Forensics expert Alexa Glock has been fortunate enough to spend six months working at a lab in Auckland and wants desperately to extend her stay.  She had made a close friend at the lab, and the plan was to visit Mary in the latter’s home town of Rotorua when Alexa’s visiting professorship was finished so that the two of them could spend time together going around New Zealand.

Alexa had rented a small cottage in Rotorua and was on her way there when she got a call from Mary’s brother, telling her that his sister had been killed in an auto accident.  On her way to attend the funeral and pay her respects to her friend’s family, Alexa comes across an article in the New Zealand Herald describing a gruesome death–a man’s body has been found boiled to death in a thermal pool where the temperature reaches over two hundred degrees.  Due to the high temperature of the pool, all the man’s identifying features have been destroyed.

Having fallen in love with Kiwi, which is the name New Zealanders call their nation, Alexa thinks that her expertise could help the police and allow her to prolong her stay in the country.  She thinks that perhaps the victim can be identified by his teeth, and that’s where her expert knowledge comes in; she has a master’s degree in odontology and has worked with the police in her native North Carolina.

There is so much fascinating information about New Zealand and the Maori, the indigenous people of the country, in Molten Mud Murder.  The Maori are ethnically Polynesian and arrived in Kiwi in the 14th century, now comprising about a fifth of the population.  Ms. Johnson does a wonderful job in describing many of the group’s customs and beliefs, particularly their veneration for their ancestors.

Alexa Glock is a welcome addition to those amateur detectives whose specialized knowledge make them a valuable asset to the authorities investigating a crime.  Her delight in the country she’s visiting and her interest in all things Maori is infectious and carries the reader along as she looks into the death of the European man at the thermal pool that is sacred to the Maori and forbidden to others.

You can read more about Sara E. Johnson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DEAD LAND by Sara Paretsky: Book Review

The prologue of Dead Land opens in the middle of the night with the loud buzz of the doorbell waking V. I. Warshawski and her very angry neighbors.  Vic hurries down the stairs and opens the front door to find a large dog tied to a nearby lamppost with a short note of explanation attached to his collar.  Coop, a man she hardly knows, has left his dog Bear with her for safekeeping, not saying where he’s gone or why.

The book flashes back to a community meeting three weeks earlier, when Vic is asked by her goddaughter Bernadette to watch the girls on the soccer team Bernadette’s coaching accept an award.  Before the girls can go onstage for the award, the meeting dissolves into chaos.  The issue at stake is the development of an area on the Chicago lake front, and passions are running high on all sides of the issue.

It’s V. I.’s birthday, and after the meeting she and Bernie head to the newly chic Forty Seventh Street to meet V. I.’s significant other for a drink to celebrate.  As the women walk under a viaduct they hear the tinny sound of a toy piano and a woman’s voice accompanying the music.  The only words they can make out are “savage” and “cruel,” but Bernie immediately recognizes the song as one written years ago by Lydia Zamir, a song that has become an anthem to those fighting injustice against women.

Trying to help the woman who is singing, obviously homeless, and in need of mental health services, Vic and Bernie are confronted by a couple.  Vic recognizes the man as Coop, the man who disrupted the community meeting, and a woman who say that they are protecting the musician from “busybodies.”  Reluctantly, Vic and Bernie leave, wanting to help but not knowing quite how.

Dead Land refers to the city’s area that caused the disruption of the community meeting.  A shadowy coalition of big business and Chicago officials have plans to make it into a millionaires’ resort with a golf course, a marina, and luxury homes, while a group of residents, with Coop in the forefront, are hoping for a beach and a playground and want details of any proposed plan before a vote is taken.

Vic’s investigation leads her to discover that the homeless singer is indeed Lydia Zamir.  Delving into Lydia’s background in an effort get her the help she needs, V. I. reads about a mass shooting four years earlier at a music festival that involved Lydia and killed her boyfriend, Hector Palurdo, an environmental activist with ties to his late father’s native Chile.

Then things begin to spiral out of control, with the disappearance of the homeless woman as well as Coop, and the strange proposal that Vic receives from the Global Entertainment conglomerate that offers her an enormous amount of money if she will allow them to follow her as she attempts to find Lydia.

It’s always a pleasure to see Vic again, scouring the streets of the Windy City searching for answers.  And this case takes her to the plains of Kansas as well, home of the man convicted of the murders of seventeen people at the music festival.  There’s no question that Arthur Morton was guilty, but as V. I. looks into the murders, she realizes that it involves more than just the shooter.  As Vic connects the dots between the land issue confronting the voters in her city and the mass murders in Kansas, she unearths corruption and evil in both places.

You can read more about Sara Paretsky at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

HARD CASH VALLEY by Brian Panowich: Book Review

Returning to McFalls County, Georgia is a painful experience.  So much crime, so much brutality, so much pain.  But Brian Panowich’s brilliant writing makes the visit worthwhile.

Dane Kirby is a former sheriff and former arson investigator who is still in love with his late wife.  Gwen and their daughter were killed in an accident for which Dane blames himself, although no one else does.  Although he’s retired from the two posts mentioned above he is still active in law enforcement, working part-time for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  He’s enjoying being behind a desk for the first time in his professional life, rather than being out in the field, but that respite ends with a call from the county’s new sheriff.

A body has been found in the woods, and it looks as if the murderer has been found right away.  It’s Ned Lemon, Dane’s former best friend, whom he hasn’t seen in ten years.

Back at the opening of Hard Cash Valley, a low-life criminal is congratulating himself on cleverly escaping with half a million dollars.  Arnie Blackwell has carried the cash onto a plane, taken a taxi to a motel, and is nervously feeling better and more confident by the minute that he has eluded the men who want to capture him and his money.

That feeling remains with Arnie until he checks into the motel and is getting ready for a much-needed shower.  When he opens the door to his room, expecting the bellboy delivering the towels he requested, he sees his worst nightmare in the doorway.  As one of the men standing there tells him, they never even had to look for him.  “We never lost you.  All the way from that farm.  We were sitting behind you on the plane.”

Arnie knows he has only minutes to live, and he gives up the name of his partner who is holding the other half of the money.  He asks only one thing of the men.  “Please don’t hurt Willie.”

Hard Cash Valley has multiple plot lines–murders, cockfighting, marital issues, debilitating illness, autism–but the brilliant writing of Brian Panowich pulls it all together.  There are many bad guys, some worse than others; the not-always-cooperative relationships among local, state, and federal agencies; a man who cannot seem to leave his first marriage behind him to the detriment of his new relationship; and how even the sleaziest man can demonstrate caring for someone one more vulnerable than himself.

Hard Cash Valley is Brian Panowich’s follow-up to Like Lions; similar to that novel it’s a story that will tug on your heartstrings while keeping you turning the book’s pages as quickly as possible.  A mystery, a love story (or more than one), a glimpse into the lives of children with autism–it’s all that and more.  To sum up, it’s another outstanding work by a gifted writer.

You can read more about Brian Panowich at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THE EVIL MEN DO by John McMahon: Book Review

A routine wellness check is the start of a murder investigation for Georgia police detective P. T. Marsh and his partner Remy Morgan.  When they arrive at the home of wealthy businessman Ennis Fultz, they find his naked body stretched out on his bed, an oxygen tank nearby.

As the investigation gets underway, Marsh is getting different versions of the dead man.  A framed wall photo of a real estate magazine cover shows a photo of Fultz with the caption THE MOST HATED MAN IN AMERICA.  When the chief of police arrives, he tells Marsh and Morgan that the deceased was a good man.  But in Fultz’s ex-wife’s opinion, “Ennis was charming.  He was handsome.  And he was a son of a bitch.”

Then Fultz’s housekeeper says that that her late boss had a reputation as a ruthless, no-nonsense businessman, one who did his homework and found a way to get the best of every opponent.   However, she continues, after a recent hospitalization he seemed to have become a new man, giving her a gift of $6,000 for no particular reason.  The housekeeper, nicknamed Ipsy, also tells the detectives how he helped a couple who had been living illegally on his land by making the man a groundskeeper and assisting the man and his wife in adopting a homeless child.  Can anyone have this many sides to him?

Then Sarah Raines, the medical examiner, tells Marsh that Fultz had died of nitrogen poisoning, and Marsh realizes that the tank that was next to his bed must have been filled not with oxygen but with nitrogen, which when inhaled is deadly.

P. T. is dealing with a number of things outside of the case.  His wife and child were killed in what appeared to be a car accident less than two years earlier, and although he is in a relationship with Sarah, he doesn’t know if he will ever be able to commit to her.   In addition, he was involved in a shooting, and now the dead man’s sister wants not only a financial settlement from the city but an apology from P. T.  The city is agreeable, but the detective is not.

Interspersed with Marsh’s narrative is a story told by a young girl.  The reader doesn’t know her name or her connection to the murder; all we know is that she was riding in a car with her parents when a car began following them.  Her parents appear unaware, but the little girl can see the car coming faster and closer until it pushes their Hyundai off the road.  And then the girl wakes up in a hospital and looking out the window in her room she sees the white Toyota van that deliberately crashed into her father’s car.

John McMahon has written an amazing novel.  His characters are realistic, his plot engrossing.  At the end of The Evil Men Do, Marsh has solved one case but is looking for answers in another.  I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the third book in the series and hoping to learn the truth about the deaths of his wife and son.

You can read more about John McMahon at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THE GOOD KILLER by Harry Dolan: Book Review

Sean and Molly are an attractive couple, leading quiet lives in Houston.  They have few friends but seem content just being with each other.  This happy life very likely would have continued for them if not for the fact that Sean got a pebble in his boot while walking in Houston’s Bear Creek Park.

That meant a trip to the city’s Galleria Mall to purchase a new pair, which Sean does while Molly is off to Montana for a five-day retreat featuring horseback riding and yoga.  Sean isn’t interested in either of those things, in addition to the fact that it’s only for women, but before Molly leaves they go over over “the rules.”

The rules stipulate that they never return to their former home, they don’t contact any of the people they knew before they moved to Houston, and they don’t talk about something that they’ve buried in the woods.  But because of the need to buy new boots, all these precautions turn out to have been in vain.

Sean is sitting on a chair in the mall when he hears a series of gunshots, twelve in all.  Around him people are falling to the ground, either bleeding or displaying the stillness of death.  Without conscious thought, Sean rises and pulls out his Glock, taking aim at the gunman; his first shot enters the man’s heart, the second his brain.

Of course, even during this terrifying event, cell phones are out with people taking photos and videos of the carnage, the killer, and the man who took  him down.  Although Sean gets into his car to get away from the mall, those photos and videos are being uploaded and shared faster than he can drive.   And a man whose TV is tuned to CNN sees Sean’s photo with the caption underneath reading PERSON OF INTEREST.   Yes, Jimmy Harper thinks, he certainly is.

Harper is one of two men searching for Sean, the other is Adam Khadduri.  On the surface the two men couldn’t be more different, as Harper is the owner of a small garage with a reputation for “sending a message” to whose who didn’t pay protection to him or otherwise didn’t meet their obligations; Khadduri is a “businessman” who is looking for something he believes Molly and Sean took from him.  But the bottom line is, they both want Sean.

What follows is a novel filled with cat-and-mouse chases, escapes from pursuers by the skin of one’s teeth, and a sense of menace so strong it’s almost palatable.  Harry Dolan, whose thrillers keep readers at the edge of their seats, has written another novel in which the “bad guys” are not the only ones with flaws.  His characters are realistic and human, his plots outstanding,  and The Good Killer will make you go back to his previous mysteries in case you missed them.  I’ve blogged about two of them, and you can read my posts of Bad Things Happen and The Man in the Crooked Hat on this blog.

You can read more about Harry Dolan at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

RUNNING OUT OF ROAD by Daniel Friedman: Book Review

Buck Schatz is the very personification of a grumpy old man.  Actually he was a grumpy young man too, but he’s gotten more cranky and gruff as he’s aged.  He makes no apology for this, as he believes he has sufficient reasons:  he has dementia, needs a cane to manage even hesitant steps, his wife has terminal cancer, they are living in a studio apartment in an assisted living facility, and their only son died years earlier.

Despite all that, Buck is determined not to give in or give up.  He was once a tough detective on the Memphis police force, a man who faced anti-semitism at every step of his career, as well as questions as to his treatment of those he arrested, and he feels that his reputation for solving murders is pretty much all he has left.

One particular arrest from decades ago has come back to haunt him.  Chester March is on death row for the murder of his wife Margery, and he has enlisted the aid of an NPR reporter, saying that the reason he confessed is that Buck beat the confession out of him.  Now Buck is afraid that March and the reporter may take his reputation away from him.

When he was investigating the case, Buck wondered if Margery was March’s first victim.  He went through the list of unsolved cases of murdered women in the area and found one that appeared similar.  Cecilia Tompkins was last seen getting into a white man’s car, a car that matched the description of the one that belonged to March, and sometime later her brutalized corpse was found.  The killer had tried to dissolve her body using lye, and when that proved impossible her corpse was thrown into the Mississippi River.  Buck thought that the case wasn’t pursued very vigorously, if at all, because she was a black prostitute.

During his investigation Buck visited the street where Cecilia worked and talked to the friend who reported her missing.  When he showed the woman fifteen newspaper photos of various white men, she pointed to March’s picture without hesitation.  Now Buck was more sure than ever that March was responsible for the deaths of both Cecilia Tompkins and Margery March.  Although it couldn’t be proven that March had killed Cecilia, he was convicted of murdering his wife and condemned to be put to death by electrocution.

Running Out Of Road is a portrait of a man whom time seems to have passed by.  There’s virtually no one on the Memphis police force who remembers him, and a police union rep isn’t any help.  At the end of the novel there’s a very telling conversation between Buck and Carlos Watkins, the NPR journalist who brought March’s upcoming execution before the public.  The two men have totally different points of view regarding justice and society, and it makes for riveting reading.

In Watkins’ view of justice, the problem is that the entire system is oppressive, corrupt.  “If you repair or dismantle oppressive systems, you solve your Chester (March) problem.”  But to Buck Schatz, justice is very different.  “There are always going to be monsters.  The systems don’t make them.  We make the system to protect the rest of us from them….That was justice as I understood it….”

Daniel Friedman has written a fascinating book that explores the American justice system  and the sometimes irreconcilable differences between those on opposite sides who hold tightly to their version of right.  It’s a mystery that will make you question your own beliefs.

You can read more about Daniel Friedman at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.