Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Missing Ink - Karen E. Olson

The Missing Ink
A Tattoo Shop Mystery
Karen E. Olson


As a tattoo artist with ethics, Brett Kavanaugh knows better than to give a first-timer any ink without an appointment. Spur-of-the-moment walk-in tattoos rarely end well, especially in Las Vegas. So, when a woman who calls herself Kelly Masters wanders in and asks for a “devotion tattoo,” Brett makes an appointment and sends her on her way. A few days later, the police come around with a photo, looking for the woman. She never showed for her ink, and, despite being the sister of a cop, Brett feels that ink is personal and tells the cops nothing.

Then she sees the news. The woman, called a ‘runaway bride’ by the media types, is really Elise Lyon. She was engaged to the son of a billionaire real estate developer, but vanished just before the wedding. One other little wrinkle: the name of her fiancé is Chip, but she asked for ‘Matthew’ in her tattoo, just days before her wedding. That can’t be good. Then the cops find a body in the trunk of a car at the airport and believe they’ve found Elise. Instead, it’s Kelly Masters. That can’t be a coincidence.

This is the first in a new series, and it looks like a winner. Brett is an artist who supports herself by giving tattoos at her shop called The Painted Lady at a high-end hotel on the Strip. There’s no way I can resist liking a main character who makes casual reference to Spinal Tap. On the other end of the spectrum is Jeff Coleman, who runs a shop in a lousy neighborhood and has no problem inking walk-ins who are underage and drunk, as long as their money is good. Circumstances force the two to work together to try and unravel the mystery. Las Vegas is a great setting for a series, with its ever-transient population of tourists and the permanent residents who are no less colorful. The mystery has a couple of interesting twists and feels very realistic. I’m already looking forward to more.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2009
ISBN# 978-0-451-22746-1 (paperback)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Desolate Angel - Chaz McGee

Desolate Angel
Chaz McGee
Berkley Prime Crime


In life, detective Kevin Fahey was not a success at much of anything. He and his partner managed to close a few cases, but that was mostly dumb luck. Looking back, Kevin finds it difficult to believe that a couple of alcoholics who worked cases in a slapdash-at-best way, ever solved anything. Since his death, he’s had six months to wander around and watch his friends, colleagues, and family move on without him. He realizes that his physical departure from the lives of his wife and sons cause hardly a ripple in their lives. He was unfaithful as a husband and absent as a father.

From the other side of death, Kevin sees things so clearly. Of that death, he remembers very little. He remembers entering a building on a case with his partner, then standing in the back of the room at his own funeral service. He’s not sure why he’s still here, and there’s no one to ask. No one can hear him; only those few people who are hovering at the edges of death can see him. He’s shocked when he sees another ghost approach him. In life, she was Alissa Hayes, a murder victim; one of the few cases Kevin and his partner successfully closed.

Alissa either can’t or won’t speak to Kevin, but she leads him to a murder scene. Another young woman lies dead, killed and cut in exactly the same way Alissa was. But Alissa’s killer is in jail. Now clear-eyed, Kevin knows just how likely it is that they sent the wrong man to jail. He vows to help the investigation. When he seems detective Maggie Gunn for the first time, he knows he’s found his way. She’s dedicated to the job – and to life – in a way that Kevin never was. If Kevin’s purpose now is to repair the damage he caused in life, Maggie will be his instrument.

This novel, the first in a new series, has a strong and original voice. The first scenes detail Kevin’s death from his point of view. It’s an ingenious way to put the reader in Kevin’s shoes, since the book is written in first person, from Kevin’s perspective. He feels like a real person. He was deeply flawed in life, but he sees where he went wrong and he can see where others are going wrong in the same way. Without the fog of alcohol and ruined expectations, he understands the value of life in a way he never could while living.

The mystery is an interesting one, and the reader gets to see many different aspects of it, since we follow Kevin (who tells the story in first person) from the murder site, to the lab, to the home of the victim’s mother. His observations about human nature allow the author to flesh out the living characters in interesting ways. Although Kevin can sometimes stray into that ‘preachy’ territory reserved for the newly reformed, he’s most often a clever and incisive guide through the story.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22873-9

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Cold Minds - Kristin Landon

The Cold Minds
Kristin Landon

Science Fiction

Centuries ago, the nanobot civilization known to humans as the Cold Minds destroyed Earth. Humans survived by fleeing to the group of planets called The Hidden Worlds. After so much time, most people believed that they were safe. The Pilots, the top echelon of society in terms of both power and wealth, believe that humanity is safe from the machines. But there are those who have their doubts.

Iain sen Paolo, a Pilot Master of the Line, has first-hand knowledge that the machines are near. He and Linnea Kiaho were held prisoner on an outer world infested with machines and barely escaped with their lives. Because of their beliefs, and public statements, Iain has been banished from the Line. He has trained Linnea to pilot in otherspace; a feat thought impossible for any man not of the Line, much less a woman. They realize that, if the machines come, humanity is going to need a lot more ships and a lot more pilots. As the two work against overwhelming odds and official resistance, the machines are even closer than they imagine.

This is the second in a series. If you haven't read the first book (THE HIDDEN WORLDS) you should have no problems jumping in at this point. The author sketches in the pertinent background material as needed. And, although there is a sequel, this book can be read as a self-contained story. Clearly, there’s more to come, but the ending here is satisfying. The setting is futuristic, but there are characters here that could have been transplanted directly from anyone’s life. There are those willing to do or say anything to retain their power; those who are willfully blind to the realities of conflict; and those who are willing to get their hands dirty and work for a better tomorrow for everyone. This book is a great blend of character study, action, and intrigue. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Rating: 8
July 2008
ISBN# 978-0-441-01609-9 (paperback)

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Scream Away - Kate Brady

One Scream Away
Kate Brady
Grand Central/Forever

Romantic Suspense

Nearly seven years ago, Beth Dennison survived an encounter with a killer. Since then, she’s taken every precaution to ensure her safety and that of her daughter, Abby. Since the death of her husband, she’s been on her own in every way, but has worked hard to make a life for herself and Abby in Arlington. She’s learned to shoot, to kickbox, and to distrust nearly everyone. It’s safer that way. Then she gets a phone call from the killer. He tells her that he’s on his way to see her.

The killer called Beth on a cell phone belonging to a woman he just killed in Seattle. He wants her to know that he’s getting closer. He makes more calls, after killing more women on his way across the country. Since he’s moving from one state to another, authorities have little chance of tracking him. Eventually, the police in Arlington become aware of the calls to Beth. They know they were made from the vicinity of several murders and wonder what Beth would have to talk about with a killer.

Neil Sheridan was once an FBI agent, until he shot an escaped suspect. The suspect confessed to a series of murders, then tried to escape. Too late, it became clear that the suspect was not the murderer. Now that another series of murders has started, the FBI calls on Neil for his expertise. He was the lead on the previous investigation and he knows how the killer’s mind works. Neil, too, is highly suspicious of Beth and her connection to the killer. It’s obvious to him that Beth isn’t telling everything she knows.

This is the kind of romantic suspense novel I like best. There’s a romance in it, but that’s not really the focus of the novel. The focus is on the killer and his plans. The first few pages detail the gruesome death of the woman in Seattle. It’s fairly intense, and does a great job of pulling the reader into the story from the start. Not for the faint of heart, perhaps, but necessary to understand what follows. The reader is aware of the killer’s identity from the start, but that doesn’t get in the way of the story at all, since the point of view switches from Beth/Neil to the murderer throughout the novel.

The author does a wonderful job of providing each character with a detailed history. No one in the real world exists in a vacuum, and neither do any of the characters here. They’re all complicated and realistic. I was never quite sold on Beth’s reasons for stonewalling the authorities for so long when she knew she was in real danger, but it’s an understandable enough reaction given her past. The story moves at a very fast pace. I admit to staying up far too late because I was unable to put down this book. Ms. Brady is clearly an author to watch.

Rating: 8
July 2009
ISBN# 978-0-446-54152-7 (paperback)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Where There's A Witch - Madelyn Alt

Where There’s A Witch
A Bewitching Mystery
Madelyn Alt
Berkley Prime Crime


Maggie O’Neill is starting to get comfortable with the fact that she’s a natural-born empathy. She can sense emotions, even memories of emotions in an empty space. It explains a lot about her childhood, but, having been born and raised in a small town in Indiana, she’d never given much thought to the supernatural until Felicity Dow – a real witch – hired her to clerk at her shop, Enchantments.

The summer has been exceptionally hot and tempers are flaring all over town. When Evie and Tara, the two teenaged clerks, suggest going to the Baptist church fundraiser, Maggie’s confused. Until she realizes that Tara’s erstwhile boyfriend will be on the construction crew scheduled to break ground as part of the festivities. The fundraiser is going fairly well, despite a few heat-related arguments, until Tara spots a long line to sign a petition in favor of ousting all the “dark forces” and “Satan’s followers” in town. Obviously, news of Felicity’s group’s activities (including Maggie and the girls) has made the rounds, and the small town churchgoers are none too pleased.

But there’s more to worry about at this party. During the groundbreaking, the equipment hits a buried room. It might have been some kind of bomb shelter, but why would someone cover it over and then put crosses all over the walls and ceiling? When the cover is broken, Maggie clearly feels… something… gust past her. It happened so fast, she almost missed it, but it was there. Then a woman is found dead on church grounds. Maggie saw the woman arguing with Ty, one of the construction workers, earlier in the day. But, somehow, Maggie believes there’s something more going on around her little town.

It’s nice to see Maggie getting more comfortable with her talent and her activities. She’s involved in a sort-of love triangle that most authors seem to feel the need to insert into any mystery series, but functions mostly as a distraction to the main events. What’s most interesting is the mystery of the room, and, of course, the death of the woman. As is usually the case, it takes more than one of the group to suss out the answer, and the fun is in watching them work together to find solutions. Mystery readers who enjoy more than a touch of the supernatural will find much to love in this series. (see also: A CHARMED DEATH and HEX MARKS THE SPOT)

Rating: 7 ½
July 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22871-5 (paperback)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Poppy Done To Death - Charlaine Harris

Poppy Done To Death
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery
Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime


It’s a big honor in Lawrenceville, Georgia, to be inducted into the Uppity Women club. The club has certain standards in dress and behavior. Aurora (Roe) Teagarden enjoys the meetings, which include a book discussion and lunch, generally. This meeting, though, was to be special. Poppy, Roe’s step-sister-in-law was supposed to be inducted. It’s not something that anyone would miss. But Poppy calls Roe that morning and says she’ll meet Roe and Melinda (the other step-sister-in-law; it’s complicated) at the meeting.

When Poppy doesn’t show up, the mood grows decidedly cool. Roe and Melinda leave the meeting, determined to find out just what Poppy thinks she’s doing. When they arrive at Poppy’s house, Roe finds her, lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen. It’s quite possibly the only acceptable excuse for missing the meeting. And it’s not long before rumors of infidelity on both sides of Poppy’s marriage start swirling around the small town. Roe wants to save her in-laws’ reputations – if that’s even possible – and, more than that, find out who killed Poppy and why.

This cozy series (see list, below) has a real Southern flavor to it. As the narrator, Roe gives us the inside scoop on what it’s really like to live in a small town. Pretty much, it means that everyone knows everything about you since you were born and quite possibly before that, too. People are closely connected, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t secrets. Some are kept better than others. Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries with a dash of humor from the amateur sleuth/narrator, will love this series.

Rating: 7
July 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22807-4 (paperback)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bone Crossed - Patricia Briggs

Bone Crossed
A Mercy Thompson Novel
Patricia Briggs

Urban Fantasy

This novel begins just days after the previous novel (IRON KISSED) ends. If you haven’t read that one (or the first two, MOON CALLED and BLOOD BOUND) then you’ll be spoiled – not just by this review, but by information contained in the first chapters of this book.

Mercy Thompson, mechanic by day, coyote walker whenever she likes, is recovering from a vicious physical and mental attack. She’s scared, and she doesn’t like feeling that way. Just to twist the knife a little, the local news has reported on the case. At least, what they’ve been allowed to know about it. It’s a shock when Mercy opens her door to find Amber, a friend of a friend from college. Amber, with her usual utter lack of empathy, says she read about Mercy’s attack and remembered that Mercy used to talk about ghosts and there’s one in her house scaring her son and could Mercy come and do something about it.

The local wolf pack Alpha wants her to be his mate. The local vampire seethe wants her dead. So much so that they’ve painted (or magicked) crossed bones on the doors of her garage; an open invitation for vampire attack on Mercy and anyone associated with her. Maybe getting out of town is exactly what Mercy needs. There’s only one vampire in Amber’s area; he’s a seriously scary dude and keeps all other vampires out of his territory. But, as long as Mercy keeps a low profile, one lone coyote shouldn’t be a problem. The first night at Amber’s, she meets Amber’s son, Chad, and her husband. Her husband, who brought home a business associate for dinner. A business associate who just happens to be the big, scary vampire Mercy was trying so hard to avoid.

The ghost is real, and Mercy doesn’t want to leave Chad alone to deal with it, even though he’s a brave kid. But bite marks keep appearing on her neck and she has no memory of how they got there. Vampires can do that. Since she’s coyote, magic is unpredictable with her, but she has no desire to be a vampire feeder.

Mercy’s life and the world of the novels are both fairly complicated, but the author does a great job of condensing the essentials in the first pages. This is a world where the supernatural exists. Some creatures are ‘out’ to the world, others are more hidden; and there are hate groups (humans, of course) who would like to eradicate most creatures. It’s a complex social and political issue, and it’s handled with a good dose of realism.

For readers who are new to the series, or for those who need a refresher since the last book, the author manages to introduce (or re-introduce) the main characters via introductions to Mercy’s mother. It’s a great device and doesn’t impede the narrative flow at all. The story is an excellent balance between Mercy’s mental/emotional healing, new situations, and action scenes. The narrative moves along so quickly that it’s easy to get lost in Mercy’s world for a few hours without realizing it. I’m always sad when one of these books ends, knowing there’s going to be a wait for the next one.

Rating: 8 ½
January 2009
ISBN# 978-0-441-01676-1 (hardcover)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Killer Sudoku - Kaye Morgan

Killer Sudoku
A Sudoku Mystery
Kaye Morgan
Berkley Prime Crime


It all started with an innocent-sounding thing: a sudoku tournament. The West Coast Sudoku Summit sounds fairly innocuous. But, as with almost any large gathering, there’s plenty going on under the surface. There’s a television network trying to make its new name by televising the event, live, a la worldwide poker tournaments. There are several contestants who would just love to use this summit as a stepping-stone to a book or a newspaper column or some other moneymaking endeavor. Some are in it for the fame, and some are just there for the challenge.

Liza Kelly already has the book and newspaper column angle covered. She’s a sudoku expert and her column recently went into syndication. She’s there for the challenge, and because one of her dear friends, Will Singleton, organized the thing. The fact that it’s taking place at a plush Orange County resort doesn’t hurt one bit. It’ll be a nice chance to get away from her confusing love life, relax a bit, and work some puzzles. As if that’s going to happen. Liza’s suitors manage to follow her from Oregon to California, both planning a ‘surprise’ for her. Another surprise is the TV star who appears for the competition. As a still-sort-of partner in a Hollywood PR firm, that star’s comfort is Liza’s problem.

The next surprise is worse by far. The odds-on favorite, according to Las Vegas people who will bet on anything, goes into convulsions during the first elimination round, making that term all too real. Police quickly determine that the man died of anaphylactic shock due to a severe peanut allergy. The hotel management adamantly denies putting any kind of peanut products in the goody bags. Strangely, only those contestants seated around the dead man got the peanut candy. Later that evening, another competitor dies after ingesting shellfish, to which he was fatally allergic. The thing is, the meal – authentic haggis provided by the authentic Scottish chef for the Scottish owner of the resort – contained no shellfish at all. It’s clear that Liza is going to have to solve more than sudoku this weekend if she wants to make it to the final round.

The author is fiendishly clever. The book looks like a slim, quick read. But there are sudoku puzzles sprinkled throughout, as the competition continues; and if you can read past a sudoku puzzle and not stop and try your hand at solving it, you’re a stronger person than I am. I stopped for each and every one. And, while I’m far from an expert, I can attest that the first puzzle in the elimination round was, no pun intended, a killer.

The concept of sudoku is explained, simply and clearly, in the narrative. If you’ve never worked a puzzle before, please don’t start with the first one here. But do give them a try; they’re fun and addictive. The plot of this latest installment (DEATH BY SUDOKU, MURDER BY NUMBERS, SINISTER SUDOKU) is interesting, full of plausible suspects, and set in a very interesting arena. It makes perfect sense that Liza is, once again, drawn into solving the murders, since she’s in danger, too. The mystery works itself out nicely and with more than a tinge of an Agatha Christie ‘country weekend murder’ feel to it. This has become one of my favorite cozy series, and this entry is my favorite, so far.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22839-5 (paperback)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Darkness Calls - Marjorie M. Liu

Darkness Calls
Hunter Kiss, Book 2
Marjorie M. Liu

Urban Fantasy

Note: If you haven’t read the first book in this series, IRON HUNT, there will be some unavoidable spoilers in this review. Be aware that this series contains a lot of graphic language and gore, but it’s all appropriate to the characters and circumstances.

Maxine Kiss is a demon hunter; a Warden of the prison behind the veil between the worlds. The problem is, that veil is getting weaker and the demons are getting stronger. It’s only a matter of time before the veil falls and the world is inundated with demons of all kinds. Maxine does all she can to contain the threat on this side of the veil. Plenty of humans are possessed by demons. The demons use the human bodies to commit crimes. If Maxine can get rid of the demon, sometimes the otherwise-innocent human will still be convicted of the crimes, even though the human will have no memory of the events. This is the balancing act required to keep humanity safe.

Maxine has help in her work. Her “boys,” her tattoos that cover her during the day, creating impenetrable armor, but roam free as little demons at night. The “boys” have protected the women in Maxine’s line back through time unknown. They know, somehow, when it’s time to move from mother to daughter, leaving the mother vulnerable. Maxine also has Grant, a former priest who runs a homeless shelter in Seattle. Her entire childhood was spent in cars and motel rooms, so the past six months spent with Grant are both sweet and unfamiliar. She feels like she should be moving, not putting down roots, but there’s plenty of work for a demon hunter in any major city.

The story really begins when Grant gets a visit from a Father Cribari. Cribari brings news that one of Grant’s friends, Father Ross, now in China, has changed. Father Ross, once a good priest, slaughtered three nuns before he was captured. Cribari knows about Grant’s talent (he can see and hear in colors, using music to heal bodies and souls) and believes Grant is evil and should probably be killed. All that is secondary to Grant, who is desperate to help his friend. He knows that Ross is probably possessed and hopes that his music can bring back the friend he once knew.

After this, the book is really a series of set pieces designed to move Maxine around to different places and put her in contact with various individuals. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s plenty of action, and we find out a lot more about Maxine, her history, and quite a bit about Grant. Maxine’s grandfather, Jack, also figures in, and his history is quite interesting. There’s lots of moving around and fighting in the first half of the book, but it all leads to some fascinating explanations (and even more action) in the second half. I think readers who start here may feel a bit lost, but the author does a fine job of filling in the necessary blanks. There’s clearly much more to come, and I’m interested to see what happens next.

Rating: 7
July 2009
ISBN# 978-0-441-01730-0 (paperback)