Monday, June 10, 2013

Blood Bath & Beyond - Michelle Rowen

Blood Bath & Beyond
An Immortality Bites Mystery
Michelle Rowen

Paranormal Mystery
Sarah Dearly has only been a vampire for seven months.  In that time, she’s adjusted to her new life, faced a few dangers, and become engaged to master vampire Thierry.  They’re planning the wedding when Thierry breaks the news.  He’s been offered a job he pretty much can’t refuse: he’s going to be a consultant for the Ring.  The Ring is a sort of elder council of vampires.  They police the vampire population of the world, making sure no one does anything to get them noticed or hunted by the general public.  The job will take him all over the world and will last fifty years.  Sarah decides to go with him instead of sitting at home, waiting for him to appear for a day or two.
The first posting is in Las Vegas.  It seems that a contestant in a toddler beauty pageant is actually a vampire.  Her success is gaining her too much attention.  There are professional vampire hunters out there who might not worry about collateral damage when going for the vamp.  When Sarah and Thierry arrive at their hotel, they’re greeted with the sight of a body being wheeled out on a stretcher.  Apparently, there have been six murders in as many days.  The Ring has kept the press quiet, but insiders know that there’s a vampire serial killer running around town.  And just to add to the fun, Thierry will be meeting Bernard, another master vampire who was once one of his best friends.  The two argue in public just before Bernard is dispatched by a hunter.  Of course, all clues point to Thierry as the killer.
First, I have to applaud the author’s decision to put the meet-cute-fall-in-love part of this relationship in the past.  This is the first installment in a series, and I’m quite glad not to have to go through the trauma/romance period with these characters.  They’re together, they’re engaged, and we can move on from that point.  Of course a murder investigation is going to be tough on any relationship, especially when the Ring’s enforcer (a guy who functions as judge, jury, and executioner) arrives on the scene.  Instead of fleeing to a safe location, Sarah decides to try and figure out who might have wanted Bernard dead, even though she has no idea where to start.
Sarah is accompanied for part of her investigation by Victoria, the adorable blonde six-year-old beauty pageant contestant – who happens to be a hundred-year-old vampire.  That strikes me as hilarious and possible.  She’s an interesting character who swings between a smoking, drinking, know-it-all and a little girl who loves ball pits and pink ruffles.  I’m not sure I buy both sides, but that’s what makes her a fascinating and unpredictable.  There are plenty of other vampires around Vegas, some are good and some are not. 
While the book starts out looking like a frothy chick-lit take on the vampire mythos, I was glad to see that it was both deeper and darker than that.  Sarah’s tendency to crack wise nicely leavens the very real dangers and fear she faces.  If Thierry is found guilty (and it looks pretty bad for him) he’ll be executed.  That honestly scares Sarah, as well it should.  The mysteries presented here intertwine and some reach far back into the past.  To be honest, Sarah kind of stumbles on the solution to one mystery, but the methods used to find the truth about Bernard are inventive and macabre.  The newest installment is out this month, so watch this space.
Rating: 8
August 2012
ISBN# 978-0-451-23764-4 (paperback)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Supernatural Born Killers - Casey Daniels

Supernatural Born Killers
A Pepper Martin Mystery
Casey Daniels
Berkley Prime Crime


You’d think a cemetery would be a fairly sedate place to work.  If you’re Pepper Martin, you’d be wrong for all sorts of reasons.  First and foremost, she sees and talks to ghosts.  They usually want her to do something for them so they can cross over or whatever it is that ghosts do.  At Garden View Cemetery in Cleveland, there’s also been a recent shake-up in management when the guy in charge got caught messing around with the books.  After a brief lay-off, Pepper is back at work and promoted from tour guide to manager of community relations. 
Her first task is to put together a cocktail party in an effort to attract new donors.  She certainly succeeds in attracting Milo Blackburne, whose huge wallet is matched only by his outsized love of all things Superman.  When you’re wealthy, that’s called being eccentric. During all of this, Pepper is distracted by puddles of water that keep appearing.  The puddles come with a ghost: a man who was clearly drowned, as he appears with duct tape over his mouth, bound, with a cinder block tied to his feet. 

Pepper realizes fairly quickly that the man is the former partner of her on-again, off-again paramour, Detective Quinn Harrison, Jack Haggarty.  Jack disappeared under a cloud of suspicion some years ago.  He radioed in an arrest, but never arrived with the thief in tow.  Instead, the thief in question was found, murdered, and Jack was nowhere to be found.  Every so often, the police get a postcard – always from a different city – signed by Jack.  Quinn thinks maybe Jack just dumped the job and went travelling, as he’d always said he would.  Other cops put a decidedly more negative spin on it.  Now that he’s contacted Pepper, they can get to the truth.     

Having the ghost of Jack appear with his mouth taped shut is an interesting twist, since it means he can’t simply tell Pepper (and Quinn) exactly what happened and who killed him.  Following his line-of-duty injury, Quinn has been reassigned to a community liaison desk job, which makes him very unhappy.  After several books (TOMB WITH A VIEW, A HARD DAY’S FRIGHT, WILD WILD DEATH) it’s nice to see the main characters in different circumstances.  The writing, as always, is breezy and fast, making the pages fly by.  For me, the final payoff is not the strongest of the series (that honor goes to A HARD DAY'S FRIGHT) but without spoiling anything, I’m sure many readers will enjoy it.  Pepper does emerge from this a stronger character, so I hope to see more of her someday.
Rating: 7
September 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-25152-2 (paperback)

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Trouble Vision - Allison Kingsley

Trouble Vision
A Raven’s Nest Bookstore Mystery
Allison Kingsley
Berkley Prime Crime
Change is coming to tiny Finn’s Harbor, Maine, and change is never easy.  Developers have started work on a new resort hotel and golf course on the outer edge of the tourist town.  The local population is still pretty divided about it, opinion-wise.  Some worry about an increase in traffic and crime; others are thrilled about the attendant increase in business.  No matter what their opinion, everyone is shocked when the foreman is found dead at the construction site.  The police fairly quickly determine that he fell off a slippery scaffolding and rule it an accident.
Clara Quinn knows different.  She inherited what her family calls the Quinn Sense, and has seen the truth about what happened that night.  If only the Sense came complete with clear faces and names.  Together with her cousin, Stephanie, she sets out to prove that the death was any but an accident.
This is the third installment in a solid series (MIND OVER MURDER, A SINISTER SENSE) based around cousins and their bookstore, The Raven’s Nest.  Most people in town pass through the store at some point, so gossip and answers aren’t too difficult to come by.  The mystery this time is disappointingly thin.  The two women take chances and ask questions, but come up empty more often than not.  At one point there’s a ‘deus ex witness’ moment when some strange woman claims she doesn’t want to talk to the police, but she’ll confide a detail to Clara that could crack the case.  As is the norm in this series, the finale is a bit rushed and too pat for my personal taste.  Readers who enjoy a nice dose of the paranormal in their cozy mysteries will be happy to visit Finn’s Harbor again.
Rating: 6
June 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25198-0 (paperback)

Monday, June 03, 2013

A Matter Of Blood - Sarah Pinborough

A Matter Of Blood
The Forgotten Gods: Book One
Sarah Pinborough
Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
There’s no better way to begin this than with the opening line of the novel: “The orchestra of flies buzzed above the mutilated corpse.”  That line alone will tell you if this book is for you or not.  If you like your fantasy populated by adorable elves and helpful Blue Fairies, then you need to look elsewhere.  If you enjoy a dark adventure through the minds and souls of morally ambiguous characters – and not a little violence and gore – then settle in.  And if you’ll take my advice, don’t start this one too late at night.  It’s incredibly difficult to put down.
The story is set in a near-future London, with the world enmeshed in a global recession both financial and spiritual.  The city teems with life, yet seems bleak.  Detective Inspector Cass Jones loves the city, but has lost a part of himself to an event that happened some years ago; an event that has irrevocably colored every aspect of his life since.  His caseload includes the drive-by murders of two innocent boys, and the apparent series murders of women.  There have been four women found in the last few months, killed by an injection, stripped naked, with “nothing is sacred” carefully painted across their chests in blood.  The blood used for painting belongs to none of the victims. 
All of that would be enough to grind a man down.  Then comes the devastating news that Cass’ brother, Christian, is dead.  The evidence shows that he first murdered his wife and young son, then committed suicide.  Cass knows that these acts are completely out of character for Christian, but he carries a huge load of guilt, knowing that his brother had been trying to reach him by phone for days.  Like everyone, Cass assumed that the calls could wait; that there would be time later.  He was wrong.
It all sounds like a police procedural.  But the reader is aware from the first page that something Other is at work here.  That “orchestra of flies” is being conducted by someone who is clearly not quite human.  It takes Cass a while to work the cases and get around to this, but it’s all completely, grittily real.  He’s a police in the real and realistic world.  As the cases progress, he becomes more and more convinced that there is something else going on behind the scenes – that something has maybe been going on for a lot longer than he or anyone else has suspected.  His character is flawed and imperfect and utterly sympathetic, even when he’s crossed over to the dark side of human behavior.  The author writes with a visceral intensity and a unique voice that had me completely immersed from the first page.  Putting down this book was like waking up from a particularly intense and not completely pleasant dream.  Fans of dark fantasy and thrillers should not miss this one.
Rating: 9
April 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25846-0 (trade paperback)