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THE GRAVES by Pamela Wechsler: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Pamela Wechsler at this website.

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


MISSION HILL by Pamela Wechsler: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read about Pamela Wechsler at this web site.

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


DIE AGAIN by Tess Gerritsen: Book Review

The powerful Boston team of Rizzoli and Isles is back, working on a murder that spans two continents.  Jane Rizzoli, police detective, and Maura Isles, medical examiner, are brought into a case that seems bizarre from the beginning, but they have no idea of just how strange it’s going to get.

Die Again opens with a safari in Botswana, consisting of a party of three men and four women plus their tracker and guide.  This section of the novel is told by Millie Jacobson, the girlfriend of Richard Renwick, a well-known British novelist.  It was Richard’s idea to go on a safari, the better to write another of his macho adventure books.

Millie has reluctantly come along, but she’s not enjoying herself; her idea of a vacation runs to hotels and spas, not flimsy tents and outdoor “bathrooms.”  But Richard and the others are enjoying themselves until the morning that the remains of their South African guide are found.  He had been killed and eaten, probably by hyenas.

Back in Boston, Jane and her partner Barry Frost are called to the home of an internationally known hunter and taxidermist, Leon Gott.  Surrounded by the many animals he shot and mounted on his walls, Leon’s body is found hanging upside down, his insides removed.  Not a view for the faint of heart.

When Dr. Maura Isles arrives, one look at the eviscerated body tells her something is seriously wrong besides the obvious fact that Leon is dead.  Searching the garage she finds remains, including two hearts (one human, one animal) and two complete sets of lungs.  Leon had received threats in the past, but those had been verbal, never physical.  His wife and only son were dead, and he wasn’t close to any of his neighbors, so no one seems to have a clue what brought about his brutal death.

In addition to working on Leon’s murder, Jane also is trying to help her mother get through a difficult time.  Several years earlier, Jane’s father left his wife for another woman.  Some time later, Jane’s mother fell in love with another man, and they got engaged.  Now her husband wants to return home and let bygones be bygones.  Jane’s brothers are in favor of this and want their parents to reconcile.  It’s obvious to Jane that her mother is very unhappy with the situation, but she’s having a hard time going against her husband and their sons.

Maura is still reeling from the end of her romance with Daniel Brophy, a Catholic priest.  Even though Maura knew that their relationship couldn’t end well, she continues to mourn the loss of the man she loves.

Tess Gerritsen has written another spellbinding novel.  Readers of previous novels in the series and viewers of the television show, now in its sixth season, will want to read Die Again to see Rizzoli and Isles together once more.

You can read more about Tess Gerritsen at this web site.

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



AMONG THIEVES by David Hosp: Book Review

Among Thieves is my third David Hosp mystery this year, which certainly proves his books are great reads.

Scott Finn is the protagonist in this series.  In the first book, Dark Harbor, Finn is an associate in a huge law firm in Boston, working practically 24/7 in his bid to become a partner.  In Among Thieves, the fourth in the series, he’s a successful attorney in private practice with a recent law school graduate, Lissa Krantz, and a former police detective, Tom Kozlowski, on his payroll.

Finn has an interesting background.  An orphan, he was in the foster care system growing up, and he ran with a criminal crowd in Southie, the Irish section of Boston.  That’s the lead-in to Among Thieves, in which a man Finn knows from childhood contacts him from jail to represent him.  Although Devon Malley has served time in prison for robbery, he’s never been a killer or a top man in the mob, and Finn takes the case.

In doing so, he also takes on Devon’s teenage daughter Sally who was dropped on Devon’s doorstep a year ago by her drug-addicted mother.  While Finn may be ready to deal with the robbery charges against Devon, he’s not quite sure about the child care.  But, having gone through the foster care system himself, he’s determined to keep Sally out of it.

The background of the story is Devon’s involvement with Whitey Bulger, former boss of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang.  Bulger, who in real life has been on the run for more than 15 years, was a major crime figure in Boston and was protected by FBI agents in that city without the knowledge of the Boston police department or the Massachusetts state police.  He is still on the FBI’s Most Wanted list,  charged with 19 murders as well as various other crimes.

Again, in real life, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was robbed in 1990, with 13 works of art stolen; they have never been recovered.  So what’s the connection between a recent spate of murders in the city (seven in number), a small-time thief in Boston, and a murderer from Ireland who has never given up the cause of the IRA?

Hosp’s numerous characters are real and vibrant.  In Among Thieves, the offbeat romance of Finn’s staff members/friends, Lissa and Tom, continues and deepens.  Devon Malley is shown as a man out of his depth, always looking for the big score but doomed to a life of financially unrewarding crime, who finally has one good thing in his life, his newly-discovered daughter.  And Sally Malley (she says her mother always had an unusual sense of humor) is a strong girl who has learned the hard way that no one can be relied on or trusted.

Hosp’s sense of place is excellent too.  He knows his way around Boston, much as Robert B. Parker did, but his novels are grittier and Finn is a lawyer, not a private eye like Spencer.  Finn would rather be writing briefs and appearing in court than dealing with a brutal murderer, but he has taken a stand to defend Devon and does it.   Among Thieves is a strong novel in an excellent series.

You can read more about David Hosp at his web site.

LIE DOWN WITH THE DEVIL by Linda Barnes: Book Review

Linda Barnes‘s latest mystery novel takes her heroine, P.I./taxi driver Carlotta Carlyle, to a fork in the road.  It’s not the first time Carlotta has had to make a choice concerning her on-again, off-again lover Sam Gianelli.  But in Lie Down With The Devil the decision seems permanent.

Carlotta walks the path of other female private investigators, although she varies that career path with working as a cab driver down the sometimes mean streets of The Hub, as Bostonians like to refer to their city.  As in Hub of the Universe.

She’s in the mold of Kinsey Milhone, V . I. Warshawski, and Sharon McCone. She’s tough, strong, and determined.   But she’s got two soft spots–one for her “foster daughter” Paolina, whose father was a Colombian drug lord, and the aforementioned Sam of the Boston mafia.  Nice company she keeps, doesn’t she?

Now Carlotta is facing two dilemmas.  Sam has left the country without explanation and without telling Carlotta where he is.  The problem is that the police and F.B.I. don’t believe Carlotta, and they’re determined to get Sam’s whereabouts from her.  And Paolina, recovering from being kidnapped and the brutal death of her father, won’t speak to Carlotta.

A new client enters Carlotta’s office.   She spins a story about being suspicious of her fiance, with only weeks left to the big wedding, and she wants Carlotta to follow him for just one night while she’s away.  If he’s faithful that night, she’ll marry him; if not, she’ll call the wedding off.  It seems kind of bizarre to Carlotta, but she needs the money and the distraction from her own problems, so she takes the case.  Then two Boston detectives come to have Carlotta identity a dead body, and it’s her client.  The name she gave Carlotta was false, the “fiance” can’t be found, and the cops think that Carlotta is responsible for the client’s hit-and-run death.

I really do enjoy this series.  Carlotta, like Sharon McCone, Kinsey Millhone, and V. I. Warshawski, are believable characters, women whom you would like to meet.  They’re strong and resilient, yet not afraid to show their vulnerabilities.

You can learn more at Linda Barnes’ web site.

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.