Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Die Buying - Laura DiSilverio

Die Buying
A Mall Cop Mystery
Laura DiSilverio
Berkley Prime Crime


Right off the bat, I know what you’re thinking: “A mall cop?  Really?”  I know you’re thinking that, because that’s what I was thinking, too.  But stay with me here, because if you overlook this one, you’re going to miss a great mystery filled with fresh and original characters.

Thirteen months ago, EJ Ferris was on tour in Iraq when an IED shredded her knee.  She was discharged from the Air Force security police, a job she loved, and sent home to rehab and rebuild a life.  What she really wants is a job on a police force.  But, with her knee the way it is, it’s highly unlikely that she could pass physical muster.  To keep herself even peripherally in the game, she takes a job as a security officer at a large mall.

Generally, the job is reuniting lost kids with parents and helping people find their cars.  But, on the day our story starts, there’s a whole lot more going on than a bunch of early-morning mall walkers.  First, there’s the “liberation” of several dozen snakes and reptiles from the Herpetology Hut by animal activists.  Then, and far more concerning, there’s the dead guy in the store window.  The naked dead guy.  The naked dead guy with the bullet hole in his head who’s been posed in the window’s display.  The naked dead guy who turns out to be a high-powered developer who was about to close a deal to build a golf course and connected mall nearby that might put any number of current store owners out of business.

EJ is a great new character.  Being a ‘mall cop’ isn’t her idea of a great job, but it’s all she can get at the moment.  And, when the local cops look down their noses at her, she finds that being unofficial has its advantages, too.  She knows the mall, its staff, its routines; she doesn’t need things like search warrants or probable cause to conduct an investigation or ask questions.  Sure, being a cop is what she wants, but if that’s off the table, she’s going to do what she can.

EJ is assisted by her retired-CIA-operative granddad.  He’s a fun character; a man who’s retired but still keeps up on the latest gadgets and tradecraft.  EJ might worry about him, but rightly concludes that the man is an adult with all his mental faculties intact and someone who can be of help to her from time to time.  He loves that, too, because he gets to use his knowledge and spy tools.  It’s a nice, realistic relationship.  That may be the hallmark of this new series: a well-constructed mystery that kept me turning pages surrounded by characters who act – for good or for bad – like real people.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24273-6 (paperback)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Real Vampires Don't Wear Size Six - Gerry Bartlett

Real Vampires Don’t Wear Size Six
Gerry Bartlett
Paranormal Chick-Lit
Jumping into this long-running series at this point, as I did, puts the reader at a disadvantage.  Glory is a 400-year-old vampire, so she’s got a lot of living piled up in the past.  Most recently, she was possessed by a demon and cheated on her longtime boyfriend and sire, Jerry Blade with her onetime bodyguard, Rafe.  Although the demon is now gone, the hurt feelings remain, and Jerry decides that the two of them need a cooling-off break so that Glory can decide whether her attraction for Rafe is real or a demonic delusion. 
Also during the possession, Rafe apparently used his own partly-demonic powers and now there’s a price to pay.  In point of fact, a couple of minor demons arrive and demand that Rafe start harvesting souls for El Jefe, Lucifer.  Glory feels that she needs to help Rafe and puts herself squarely in the path of the demons, as well.  While all this is going on the ruling council wants to make sure that Glory is trustworthy, so she’s charged with mentoring a brainy yet sullen college student who was turned vampire without consent.  Wacky hijinks naturally ensue. 

Clearly, the author intends these novels to be a sort of light-hearted take on the vampire mythos.  Glory’s problems are few and mostly center around her desire to be a size six.  She apparently has no character flaws at all, since everyone in her sphere is either in love/lust with her, willing to forgive her anything, or all of the above.  This makes her a far less interesting character than she could be.  The whole demon thing never gets too scary, since she’s got a couple of personal angels hovering around, making sure she’s ok; and Jerry is quite a dab hand with a sword.  Take that however you like.
If you’re more into the paranormal or action type novels, you may be disappointed here.  There’s really nothing graphic or gory about the supernatural inhabitants of this novel.  They have the same concerns and hang-ups as your average twenty-something.  The fight with the Big Bad is handled in a few paragraphs and comes of something as an anti-climax to those used to more edgy paranormals, but that fits in with what I believe is the author’s desire to keep things from becoming too grim.  There are a few loose threads left for a future novel, and, of course, these are the threads that I found most interesting.  For readers who enjoy chick lit with humor and want to venture a bit out of their comfort zone, this novel would be a great way to do that. 
Rating: 6
August 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24135-6

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Sheetcake Named Desire - Jacklyn Brady

A Sheetcake Named Desire
A Piece Of Cake Mystery
Jacklyn Brady
Berkley Prime Crime

Rita Lucero isn’t in New Orleans to take in the sights.  Her almost-ex-husband, Philippe, owns Zydeco Cakes.  The two of them met while training to be pastry chefs.  They split some time ago, but Philippe refuses to sign the final papers making their divorce official.  On Rita’s first day in the city, he manages to duck her.  She’s not going to let that happen again, so she very conspicuously sets up in the lobby of Zydeco Cakes.  He has to come through at some point.  And she’s fairly sure he wants to see her.  He left a message for her, saying that he’d made a ‘mistake’ and now wants to fix it.
Or maybe he doesn’t.  Sounds of a fight drift in from the loading dock and Rita, along with the bakery employees, drift that way.  There’s a lot to take in at the scene.  It seems that several of Rita’s and Philippe’s mutual friends went to work for Philippe; and Rita can’t help but notice that Zydeco Cakes is the realization of her dream shop.  Most importantly, Philippe was apparently fist-fighting with Ox, a friend who’d been like a brother to him.  Philippe is a little way away, in the rose garden out back.  He’s lying there with a knife in his chest, dead.
One shock follows another as Rita learns that, as Philippe’s legal wife, she inherits the bakery and Philippe’s home.  Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with the blonde magnolia who claims that Philippe intended to marry her.  But Miss Frankie, Rita’s almost-ex-mother-in-law seems just fine with it.  In fact, Miss Frankie seems happy to see Rita and asks her to stay on to help her deal with arrangements.  Of course, to the police, Rita is a prime suspect in Philippe’s murder.  And so is Ox.  Rita decides that she needs to sort out some things.  Not least of which would be to find out which of their longtime friends (now her employees) wanted to kill Philippe.
This is the first in a new series, and it looks like a real winner.  Rita comes across as a real person with real, complex emotions.  Watching her deal with Philippe’s death and the emotional aftermath really gives the reader insight into her character.  She feels a bit betrayed that all of their friends work at Zydeco, but she had nothing comparable to offer them.  Getting reacquainted while being the boss is stressful, but she handles it as well as she can, all while trying to uncover a murderer.

The mystery itself is well constructed and contains several subplots and possible outcomes.  Rita’s relationship with Miss Frankie seems realistic under the circumstances, with a few bumps but a lot of respect on both sides.  The setting, New Orleans, is wonderful and evocative as always, and I was happy to see the author avoid the “eccentric goofy southerners” stereotypes.  Each character has reasons for his/her actions.  Things like this make all the difference in a mystery, especially when a series is just beginning.  Includes recipes for everything from jambalaya to strawberry jam.
Rating: 7
August 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24274-2 (paperback)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Mythology Of Supernatural - Nathan Robert Brown

The Mythology Of Supernatural
Nathan Robert Brown
Berkley Boulevard Books
Nonfiction/TV Tie-In

The first thing you should probably know is that “this book is not authorized” by anyone at “Supernatural.”  That would explain the not-Sam-or-Dean silhouettes on the cover art.  Come on, you have to know that even non-hardcore fans of the show are going to wonder who the bald guy and the kid on the cover are.  (I like to think that it’s Lex Luthor and Ralphie with his coveted air rifle, but that’s just my personal delusion.)

All that aside, this book works very well as a World Mythology-101 primer for fans who want to know a bit more about myths and beings referenced in the show.  For example, if you ever wondered why Bela’s last name was Talbot, or why salt works, or the Enochian alphabet, this book has the answer.  There’s even a nice index at the back to help you find various subjects.
The book is divided into chapters including “The Winchester Arsenal,” “Demonic Possessions and Exorcisms” and “Lilith Is One Scary Bitch.”  Clearly, the tone of the writing follows that of the show (the author says he’s become a fan since beginning work on this book) and the author does a nice job at relating various incidents/characters on the show to various world mythologies.  The main characters are clearly part of the hero archetype in fiction; and other characters (a wise and bearded older mentor; a blind seer) and scenarios fit into various myths as well.
If you’re not a fan of the show, a lot will be lost on you.  If you’re looking for an overall world mythology survey, viewed through the lens of the show, this is your book: Never pedantic or overbearing; just the facts about a whole lot of different lore.  For those who want to delve deeper, there’s a nice bibliography at the end.  My advice?  Start with Joseph Campbell.
Rating: will depend entirely on your interest in the show and subject matter
August 2011
SBN# 978-0-425-24137-0 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Ridge - Michael Koryta

The Ridge
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company

Every town has its history; even a tiny, out-of-the-way town in eastern Kentucky.  Back in the 1880s, the town founders thought this was the place to mine resources and build a railroad trestle to ship it all over the country.  It should have worked.  But, somehow, the man in charge lost his mind and the family eventually lost interest in the project.  Still, the railroad trestle sits there, in the woods, on Blade Ridge.  Over a century later, local ‘character’ Wyatt French decided to buy some land and build a wooden lighthouse.  Most people consider him an eccentric at best, a hopeless drunk at worst, and the lighthouse has become an odd local landmark that didn’t really bother anyone.
That is, until Audrey Clark decided to fulfill her late husband’s wish and relocate a large cat preserve to a piece of land that is essentially across the road from the lighthouse.  Audrey and her resident cat expert, Wes, are worried that the light will disturb the cats.  That’s the least of their worries.  As they’re moving in, deputy Kimble is making another trip to prison to visit the woman who killed her husband, then turned the gun on him.  He’s conflicted, but compelled to make the trip.  As he drives through the early morning, Wyatt French calls him, asking cryptic questions about whether Kimble would rather respond to a homicide or a suicide.  Wyatt’s round of calls continues when he contacts Roy Darmus, longtime writer for the local newspaper, and tells him that he should be proud of the choices his parents made.  Darmus is insulted; his parents died decades ago in a car crash up on Blade Ridge. 
The story begins with the odd phone calls from Wyatt French.  He extracts a promise from Darmus to find out the truth.  Since that’s been Darmus’ life calling, he agrees.  It doesn’t take long for all of these seemingly disparate threads to be wound inextricably together.  The author does a masterful job of establishing an atmosphere from the first pages.  All the action takes place in a fairly small area, adding to the sense of entrapment felt by the characters. 
Mr. Koryta’s books (SO COLD THE RIVER, THE CYPRESS HOUSE) will inevitably be compared to writers like Stephen King, Bentley Little, or Dan Simmons.  Readers who enjoy those novels will be thrilled to find this one.  The addition of the large cat rescue was easy for me to visualize, having visited just such a facility in the past.  The characters (including the cats) react in believable ways to fairly unbelievable events.  But that’s the gift of the writer: to make even the strangest incidents make sense in the context of the narrative.  The story is truly original and chilling.  I defy any reader to get through the first couple of chapters (the strange phone calls) and be able to put the book aside.  I couldn’t.  I found myself turning pages long into the night, and I’m already considering starting over just to enjoy losing myself in the story all over again.
Rating: 9
June 2011
ISBN# 978-0-316-05366-2 (hardcover)