Thursday, September 30, 2010

Last To Die - Kate Brady

Last To Die
Kate Brady
Grand Central/Forever

Romantic Suspense

This novel – not for the squeamish – starts out with a lot of promise. The first scenes are of a faceless killer stalking the first victim at a carnival. The murder is violent and just plain creepy. In my opinion, that’s a great beginning, and it sets the bar pretty high. Unfortunately, the rest of the book doesn’t quite live up to it.

Sgt. Dani Cole just lost her father, a dirty cop who shot himself in the bedroom next door to hers. She’s dealing with his death, their not-very-happy past, and the fact that many members of the force simply assume that since her dad was in bed with the local crime boss, she’ll follow in his footsteps. All that fades to background when she’s called the scene of the carnival murder. The dead woman, who was all of 18 years old, was a former prostitute who was getting her life back on track. Dani knew her and had tried to help her, so the death hits Dani hard.

As part of the investigation, Dani makes some provocative statements to the press, calling the victim “innocent” and the killer a “monster.” This enrages the killer, as planned, who begins leaving gruesome notes for Dani. It quickly escalates to the killer trashing Dani’s house and poisoning her beloved dog. Just when she needs someone to lean on, Mitch Sheridan appears on the scene. They had a summer fling after high school, until Dani pushed him away and went on with her life. Mitch went on to become a globetrotting photojournalist. He’s back in town for a show of his work. Events bring the two together during the investigation.

I have to say that a teenaged summer fling that happened eighteen years ago does not seem like the lynchpin of these characters’ lives. There’s so much water under the bridge for both of them that it seems unlikely to me that they’d each still be carrying such a torch that they’d simply pick up where they left off. That aside, the death of Sheridan’s mentor and father figure makes it seem logical that he would want to be involved in the investigation.

The first half of the book zips along at a great pace with several possible killers lurking around the edges. The killer is unmasked at about the halfway point of the story, and the motive explained shortly after that. There’s another Big Reveal that’s left until closer to the end, but that’s become obvious long before we get there. I wonder if it would have worked better if the readers knew the identity of the killer from the start, and watched the build-up while having that information. Or maybe that’s why I’m not a writer!

This novel is related to a previous novel by the same author, but, not having read the first, I can say that this works just fine as a standalone. A character from the previous novel appears at one point, but is really just a peripheral character, so no prior knowledge is needed. This novel started strong and held my interest throughout the first half. After that, I felt like major plot points were telegraphed far in advance of being revealed, so the ending really fell flat for me. I do like her writing style, though, and I’m interested enough to give another one of her books a try.

Rating: 6 ½
September 2010
ISBN# 978-0-446-54153-4 (paperback)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dark Deceptions - Dee Davis

Dark Deceptions
Dee Davis
Grand Central/Forever

Romantic Suspense

Eight years ago, Annie Gallagher and Nash Brennon were partners in the CIA. Together with a specialized team, they worked all over Eastern Europe. Everything went wrong when they were assigned to work a job in Lebanon. Annie thought they’d make a life together, but Nash walked away from it. All Nash can think about is the pain of knowing that Annie left him to die on that last job.

Now Annie lives a quiet, anonymous life with her young son in a small town in Colorado, making a living as a climbing guide. After eight years out of the game, Annie hears a noise upstairs, and finds that Adam is gone. A group of political terrorists has him. Their price for his return: Annie must use her old skills to assassinate a diplomat. When the news of the impending hit (but not the kidnapping) reaches A-Tac, the new home of Nash and his team, everyone is shocked. Not that Annie never killed for the job before, but no one imagined she’d turn traitor. Now it’s Nash’s job to stop his former partner, at any cost.

This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I was happily surprised. I always value the ‘suspense’ aspect over the ‘romantic’ aspect of a story, and Ms. Davis really delivers. There’s a very good suspense plot that covers politics, terrorists, and a good part of the world. There’s a subplot involving some suspected sabotage of equipment from inside the group. That subplot is left open for future installments. The next two books in the series concern other members of A-Tac, but the author takes care to make them realistic characters, and not just sequel-bait. I’d really like to know what happens to a lot of them.

The romance plotline plays out pretty much as you’d expect. What I didn’t expect was that the author has a great way with an action scene. There are shootings, deaths, car chases, confrontations, and explosions. If you’re looking for sweet, cute, or funny, this is not your book. If you’re looking for romantic suspense with more than a little action, violence, and grit, you must give this author a try. I’m glad I did.
Rating: 7 ¾
April 2010
ISBN# 978-0-446-54201-2 (paperback)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Buzz Off - Hannah Reed

Buzz Off
A Queen Bee Mystery
Hannah Reed
Berkley Prime Crime


I don’t like bees. I’m allergic to them, and I think they know it. Having said that, I could not have been more surprised that I really enjoyed this mystery, centering on an amateur beekeeper in a small town in Wisconsin.

The town is so small that everyone knows everyone and gossip moves faster than the breath it takes to spread it. Story Fischer’s goal in high school was to leave tiny Moraine, Wisconsin, and see the world. She got as far as Milwaukee, ended up married to a charming guy who cheated on her, moved back home, opened a small grocery store, and wound up divorced. Even though Story and Clay are divorced, they live next door to each other. Not that distance would really put a damper on his social life.

For the past year, Story worked with Manny Chapman, learning to keep bees and harvest honey. She learned that (contrary to my beliefs) honeybees are docile and don’t attack unless threatened. Imagine her shock when she hears that Manny was stung to death in his own yard by his own bees. Of course, the town council wants those bees gone, but Story wants to save them. She knows they didn’t do it, and she really wants to save them. That means she’s going to have to prove to the whole town that the bees are innocent. That should be simple.

Just after Manny’s death, Clay’s new paramour winds up drowned in the river. In Story’s kayak. The police chief, a former high school bully, immediately suspects Story, since she was connected to both people. Now she has to prove her own innocence while trying to save the bees. All over the loud objections of many of the townspeople, including her mother.

As the first in a new series, this is a real winner. Story (real name: Melissa) comes across as very realistic. She’s moved back to her hometown and opened her own small business. She’s getting on with her life after an embarrassing divorce. And she really loves bees. She loves bullet points, too, and uses them frequently to make her arguments. It’s a pretty effective strategy. The town is very small, and everyone knows everyone’s business, except when it comes to these murders. There are several people who look like great suspects for one of the murders, but tying them together is more difficult. The story moves along swiftly and the author manages to craft an interesting mystery while still evolving the characters. I still can’t say I’m a big fan of bees, but I’m in for more adventures with Story and her honey-making friends.

Rating: 7 ½
September 2010
ISBN# 978-0-425-23642-0 (paperback)

Murder Past Due - Miranda James

Murder Past Due
A Cat In The Stacks Mystery
Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime


Back in his high school days, Godfrey Priest was a jerk. Fast forward a couple of decades, and he’s an enormously wealthy writer of thrillers. So much for karma. But all debts come due in time, and Godfrey gets his when he returns to his hometown of Athens, Mississippi.

Charlie Harris, a widower, works part-time archiving at the local university. He’s surprised when Godfrey arrives in his office, unannounced. Ostensibly, Godfrey would like to donate all of his ‘papers’ to the library, clearly feeling this is a great honor. Really, he wants to talk to Charlie about how to break the news to a local kid that he’s the kid’s father. Even Diesel, the Maine Coon cat who accompanies Charlie nearly everywhere, takes a dislike to Godfrey. By that evening, Godfrey is dead. Charlie finds him bludgeoned to death on the floor of his hotel room.

This is the first in a new series, and it’s very entertaining. Obviously, Godfrey was not a great person, but he managed to charm women left and right, thus his unsuspecting son. Charlie is a wonderful amateur sleuth. He’s got the wisdom that comes with maturity, and never rushes headlong into situations without thinking it through first. He’s smart, and he’s got Diesel, who is wonderfully expressive and a clever addition to the story.

There are plenty of suspects around town, and a few who showed up specifically for Godfrey’s visit. Any one of them has reason to kill the writer, so it’s up for grabs until the end. Even though Godfrey is a heel, the author - and Charlie - comes to see him as a complex human being, and not just a stock villain. The story unfolds from Charlie’s perspective, so the reader only discovers pertinent facts as he does. This structure works perfectly for the story. I hope we get to see much more of Charlie and Diesel after their more-than-solid debut.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2010
ISBN# 978-0-425-23603-1 (paperback)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Omnitopia Dawn - Diane Duane

Omnitopia Dawn
Omnitopia, Book 1
Diane Duane


The year is 2015, and I’m going on the assumption that this story takes place in an alternate reality, since MMORPGs have completely surpassed TV and movies in popularity. The most popular game, boasting millions of players, is called Omnitopia. It’s not just one world, but a series of worlds, called Macrocosms, connected by a central portal. The interesting twist is that certain players are given the right to create their own worlds, called Microcosms. The player-creator shares in any royalties generated by the Microcosm, meaning anything from a couple of bucks to a real living, depending on how other players react and use the space.

Dev Logan is the creator of Omnitopia and is now one of the wealthiest men in the world. In-game, he’s known as the First Player. He’s built an entire campus for his company in Tempe, AZ. As the book begins, they’re just days away from a major expansion rollout. Of course, being big makes you a big target, and there are plenty of people who would like to see Dev, the company, the game, or all three, go down in flames. Hackers are an obvious threat, but this time they’re got some serious backing and are looking to crash and loot the system. For some reason, someone thought this would be a great time for a reporter from Time to be running around the campus working on a feature article. Add in a disgruntled former partner who can’t quite let go of the past, and there’s a recipe for some serious industrial espionage.

Since this is the first book in a series, there’s clearly going to be a lot of groundwork done here. Sadly, that groundwork tends to overshadow the actual plotlines all too often. For the first half of the book, the most interesting bits follow a player around inside the game. The game (or the central world of it) seems roughly akin to “World of Warcraft” or “Everquest.” Anyone with even a passing familiarity with those games will get the point. In Omnitopia, though, players make all decisions, from where to place buildings to who is elected mayor of a major city. Aside from technical issues, the company maintains a very hands-off policy. This leads to some interesting in-game developments, but that’s all quickly dropped in favor of endless descriptions of the company’s campus. I’m hoping these incidents will be expanded on in future volumes.

The main development of the story, and one I will not spoil here, doesn’t really come to fruition until very late in the book. Again, I’m sure that this will be an overarching theme of the series, but it takes a long time to happen. I’ve read several of the author’s previous fantasy works and enjoyed them. For me, the problem here is really one of pacing. I feel like this novel is full of info dumps and introductions and getting all the players on the board, but perhaps I’m being uncharitable. To an extent, that’s what happens with the first book in any series. I have more than enough confidence in this author to view this book as a springboard for the next. I’m willing to wait and see how it all evolves in the second installment. There are a lot of different threads left dangling, and I know Ms. Duane can weave a satisfying story.

Rating: 7
August 2010
ISBN# 978-0-7564-0623-3 (hardcover)