Saturday, December 30, 2006

Erased From Memory - Diana O'Hehir

Erased From Memory
Diana O’Hehir
Berkley Prime Crime


Carla day and her father, 86 year old retired Egyptologist Edward Day are spending the day in Edward’s favorite place: the Egypt Regained Museum. Despite the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Day still loves the museum and its artifacts; in particular, the ornately inscribed coffin lid that he discovered and that brought him a good measure of fame.

On this particular day, a man falls to the floor, choking. Edward attempts to help him, but an onlooker accuses him of strangling the man, who turns out to be one of the museum’s trustees. An insensitive sheriff doesn’t help matters, as he believes that Edward is faking his affliction in order to deflect blame. Edward is briefly arrested, but is released when it becomes clear that the victim is not dead, but in some near-coma state. That state is short lived, though, and the man vanishes from the hospital only to turn up dead with an Egyptian ankh in his mouth.

Throughout the investigation, Edward insists upon revisiting the coffin lid when the man’s death or disappearance is mentioned, and repeats that the now-dead man was “trying to eat life.” Carla investigates both her father’s cryptic statements and the man’s death, unaware of the danger closing in on her and her father.

This novel, the follow-up to MURDER NEVER FORGETS, works on several levels. The mystery is involving and clever, and ends with a shocking denouement. There’s also the lovely story of an adult daughter caring for her aging father, and the battle that both of them wage against debilitating Alzheimer’s. Since her father was 60 at the time of her birth, their relationship is perhaps a bit different than the norm, but Carla’s memories of trips to Egypt and her father’s studies and behavior makes it obvious that the two are close. The author never strays into soppy sentimentality, in keeping with Carla’s straightforward manner. Readers who enjoy a mystery with a few extra layers, and a good dose of Egyptology will enjoy this one.

Rating: 8 ½
December 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21216-5 (hardcover)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Shakespeare's Champion - Charlaine Harris

Shakespeare’s Champion
A Lily Bard Mystery
Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime


All Del Packard wants out of life, aside from maybe marrying his girl someday, is to be a bodybuilding champion. He’s honored to be representing Shakespeare, Arkansas in an upcoming competition. Last year, he came in second; this year, he’s working even harder, and is confident of a first place finish. Since he uses every spare moment to work out, he’s convinced Marshall, the owner of the gym, to give him a key. He’s the last one there one evening, waiting for a spotter to arrive. The next morning, Lily arrives at the gym to find Del, dead on the bench, his throat crushed by the barbell.

At first glance, it looks like a tragic accident. But some things just don’t make sense. First, who would want to kill easy-going, slightly dense Del? There’s also the strange fact that there are no clear fingerprints on the barbell. At the very least, Del’s should have been there. And, if Del was there alone, at night, and dropped the barbell onto his own neck, who turned off the lights? It’s clear that someone else was there, and that someone killed Del.

Soon after Del’s death, racial tensions, hidden for decades (according to an old-timer, it’s been seventy years since the last lynching) bubble to the surface of the small town. A gym regular says he doesn’t feel welcome; an epithet is spray-painted on a car; a woman of mixed race asks Lily, in all seriousness, if her heritage will be a problem in their working relationship. When evidence turns up possibly linking Del, a white man, to the mysterious unsolved deaths of two black men, those tensions may tear apart the town that Lily has come to call home.

Lily is a fascinating character. She came to Shakespeare to heal, physically and emotionally. While her wounds are now scars, there are still emotional scars and issues she deals with on a daily basis that mean she leads a more or less solitary existence. She’s not an easy person to know. But she is plain-spoken, and has a mind that can cut through to the heart of an issue. The mystery starts out as a straightforward homicide, but eventually widens to become something much different. In a small town, where most people are interconnected, that’s often the way of things.

Rating: 8
December 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21310-2 (paperback, reissue)

French Fried - Nancy Fairbanks

French Fried
A Culinary Mystery
Nancy Fairbanks
Berkley Prime Crime


Carolyn Blue, a homemaker turned food writer, is accompanying her husband on a trip to France. She’s thrilled to be headed to what is, essentially, ground zero for most foodies. Jason, a chemist, is scheduled to give lectures in Lyon before moving on to an international conference in Avignon. Carolyn is happy to follow along, sampling the cuisine, soaking up the culture, and investigating the historical sites. As any international traveler knows, the jet lag is deadly. So, when Carolyn arrives at the hotel (alone, since Jason rushed off to do chemist things) all she wants is a nap. Imagine her shock when she unlocks the door and finds a strange man sprawled facedown across the twin beds.

She hears a sort of snoring, and, not wanting to wake a potentially dangerous stranger, demands that the desk staff do something. By the time the staff arrives, the man is dead. Carolyn tells the police, truthfully, that she has no idea who the man might be, but that he obviously let himself into their room and helped himself to some pâté de foie gras that was delivered as a gift from the chairman of the conference. As it turns out, the chairman sent no such gift. And the dead man, one Robert Levasseur, was sent by the chairman to welcome Carolyn and Jason. He ended up saving their lives. But who would want them dead? As Carolyn investigates, she discovers that not all is as appetizing at it looks on the surface, even in France.

This is the latest in a running series, but, as a newcomer to it, I can attest to the fact that it’s quite easy to jump in at this point with no prior knowledge. The novel begins with a chilling scene from the killer’s point of view, detailing his actions and intentions, but completely masking his identity. This is an excellent way to draw the reader in immediately. The details about Lyon and Avignon, both the regions and the food, are liberally sprinkled throughout the story, adding a distinct and flavor. The characters, many of them members of the international conference are colorful and add a dash of interest and danger. Recommended for readers who enjoy cozy mysteries, and for foodies, who will enjoy the included recipes.

Rating: 8
December 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21308-0 (paperback)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Murder and Salutations - Elizabeth Bright

Murder and Salutations
A Card-Making Mystery
Elizabeth Bright


Jennifer Shane has realized her dream: she runs her own business, based on making custom cards, something she honestly loves. Although the shop is still somewhat new, it’s doing quite well and developing a steady clientele. But, with a scrapbooking shop just down the street, it’s her sister Sara Lynn who’s in line for an award at this years Chamber of Commerce dinner. Before leaving for the dinner, Jennifer’s shop assistant, her Aunt Lillian, has a shocking piece of news. The COC president, Eliza Glade, a woman who has contrived to out-do everyone whenever possible, has been having an affair with Sara Lynn’s husband, Bailey. In fact, Bailey has moved out and the couple is divorcing.

Never one to shrink from a challenge, Sara Lynn attends the dinner with her head held high and her aunt and sister at her side. At awards time, Eliza is nowhere to be found, so the vice president announces that the Businessperson of the Year is Jennifer. Enclosed with the award is a letter/speech, clearly penned by Eliza, which manages to insult Sara Lynn. Before Jennifer can claim her award, there’s a scream from the kitchen. Eliza is dead, stabbed with a souvenir letter opener. Although the sheriff is brother to Sara Lynn and Jennifer, it’s pretty clear that Sara Lynn, seen arguing with Eliza earlier, is the prime suspect. Plenty of others had plenty of motives, though, so it’s up to Jennifer and her intrepid aunt to uncover the real killer.

While this is the latest in a series, newcomers will have no problems getting up to speed. The essential backstory is expertly woven into the opening scenes. Both sisters are interesting characters, and women facing life and running businesses on their own. Aunt Lillian is always fun, and the wisdom she’s accumulated from life in general, and being divorced seven times in particular, is doled out generously. This is a great series for lovers of cozy mysteries. And anyone even remotely interested in the art of making custom cards will enjoy the card-making scenes, and the tips scattered throughout the story.

Rating: 8
December 2006
ISBN# 0-451-22000-5 (paperback)

Saddled With Trouble - Michele Scott

Saddled With Trouble
The First Horse Lover’s Mystery
Michele Scott
Berkley Prime Crime


Michaela (Mick) Bancroft, a horse trainer in northern California, is going through an ugly divorce. Brad, her husband of nine years cheated on her with a woman a decade younger than both of them. Mick’s rock in life, aside from her parents, is her Uncle Lou, another trainer in the area. When he calls to ask her to meet for breakfast, she naturally agrees. He says he needs to discuss something with her, and he sounds worried. When Lou doesn’t show up for breakfast, Mick goes looking for him. She finds him in the stall of his prize stallion; dead on the floor, impaled by a pitchfork.

At the outset, she can’t think of anyone who would want to hurt Lou. But, as the shock wears off, recent events look more suspicious. For instance, it was Lou who hired the investigator who caught Brad cheating and ended the marriage. Mick’s vet and best friend from childhood, Ethan, had recently had some argument with Lou, but won’t give details. The small world of area horse people is about to get even smaller as Mick finds her own life in danger.

The first in what promises to be a winning series, SADDLED WITH TROUBLE is a very entertaining cozy mystery. Mick is a great character who reacts very realistically to everything that happens. She’s been around enough to know a bit about life, and intelligent enough not to make rash decisions. The cast of characters is interesting, and the pacing keeps the narrative moving along at a brisk pace. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mick and friends.

Rating: 8
December 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21290-4 (paperback)

Rapid Fire - Donna Ball

Rapid Fire
A Raine Stockton Dog Mystery
Donna Ball


Summer is usually the busy season for Raine Stockton’s dog boarding and training business. But this summer, things are more complicated. There’s a development company razing parts of the hills to build a fly-in golf resort for the wealthy. While the town could use the money, the destruction of nature is infuriating to Raine and many others.

During a training session, Raine’s not-quite-ex, Buck, a sheriff, arrives with an FBI agent in tow. It seems that Andy Fontana, their childhood friend, and the man Raine almost married, once upon a time, is back in the country and headed for his hometown. Andy has made quite a name for himself. That name, unfortunately, is ecoterrorist. He’s responsible for the bombing of a chemical plant that killed several people, and he’s been on the run ever since.

According to the FBI, Andy is coming home to retrieve more than a million dollars in funds he stashed away before fleeing the country. They’re hoping that Raine, with her personal knowledge of the man, and her search and rescue dog, will be able to help them find Andy. Not long after their visit, the tires on every vehicle in the construction lot are slashed, and one of the workers is the victim of a vicious murder. Raine can’t bring herself to believe Andy is responsible, but Buck, the FBI, and others disagree.

The second installment in this series manages to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump by surpassing the debut novel. The story here is deeper and more complex than before, plumbing the characters’ histories and emotional pasts to good effect. Dog lovers will find a lot to love here, since the dogs are characters in their own rights. I hope to see more of Raine and her furry friends in future novels.

Rating: 7
December 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21999-6 (paperback)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Charmed & Ready - Candace Havens

Charmed & Ready
Candace Havens

Chick Lit/ Paranormal

Warning: If you have not read the first book in this series, CHARMED & DANGEROUS, this review contains a significant plot spoiler. You have been warned!

After recent events, detailed in CHARMED & DANGEROUS, butt-kicking witch Bronywn wants nothing more than a little downtime with her new man. After saving the British Prime Minister’s life many times over, she feels she’s owed a little R&R. She’s even willing to spend that downtime in the stifling heat and humidity of her hometown, Sweet, Texas. Because her new guy, warlock Dr. Sam is there.

She’s a bit more than irritated when her plans are derailed by an urgent summons from the PM. He wants Bronwyn to protect one of his friends. That friend just happens to be Zane, the hottest force in rock music at the moment. It seems that Goth-looking demons are following Zane for their own nefarious reasons. Sam isn’t too enthused about this assignment; particularly given Bronwyn’s talent for landing in compromising situations, but Bronwyn figures this will be a relatively easy job. Too bad seeing the future isn’t one of her skills.

Far from suffering from the dreaded ‘sophomore slump,’ this second installment picks up with the same airy and irreverent first person diary voice of the first. Bronwyn is serious about her job, and she’s a skilled witch, but she’s still got issues in her personal life that make her very relatable. Some of the personal situations Bronwyn ends up in require a fair amount of suspension of disbelief, but the story zips along at such an easy pace that this isn’t difficult. Both volumes are recommended for readers of chick lit who enjoy a supernatural tale.

Rating: 7 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21161-4 (trade paperback)

Charmed & Dangerous - Candace Havens

Charmed & Dangerous
Candace Havens

Chick Lit/ Paranormal

Five years ago, at the ripe old age of 20, Bronwyn took an oath to serve and protect the British Prime Minister. Not the average job for a girl from Sweet, Texas. Then again, Bronwyn is not your average girl. She’s a witch, gifted with abilities ranging from spell casting to potion making to good old-fashioned fighting. She’s also pretty darned good at making things explode. In the five years she’s been at her job, she’s lost track of the number of assassination attempts she’s foiled.

Saving the life of a handsome sheik should be all in a day’s work. But there are unexpected complications. Like the Lear Jet he sends her as thanks. Like the contract someone has put out on her life. And like Dr. Sam, a handsome, intelligent, all-around great guy who just moved into town and won’t move out of Bronwyn’s mind. There’s just one problem with Dr. Sam. He’s a warlock. A good one, but after a bunch of not-good-at-all warlocks tried to kill her, Bronwyn has vowed to stay away from warlocks. Why are all the great guys taken, gay, or warlocks?

Bronwyn tells the story in first person, through a series of diary journals. She started the diary after her near-fatal run-in with the aforementioned warlocks; just to leave a record in case anything more fatal happened to her. In a hilarious nod to “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” each day’s entry begins with number of spells cast, location, or something like number of “witches with boy-stealing friends.” This is chick lit with an interesting supernatural twist. Bronwyn is a fun character with a great sense of humor. Readers looking for deep, dark, angst-ridden paranormal stories are likely to be disappointed; but readers looking for a fun new take on paranormal romance will find a much to enjoy here.

Rating: 7
September 2005
ISBN# 0-425-20691-2 (trade paperback)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Witches' Forest - Mishio Fukazawa

Witches’ Forest
The Adventures of Duan Surk, Book 1
Mishio Fukazawa

Young Adult/ Fantasy

At 16, Duan Surk is a Level 2 Fighter impatient to move up in rank. As a card-carrying Adventurer, he’s permitted to wander the forest and fight the monsters there. But, in two years, he’s only made it to Level 2, and he wants more. He’s about to get his wish, in a big way.

First, Duan joins forces with Olba, who, at 24, has made it to Level 13 as a Fighter. As a more experienced Adventurer, he’s hesitant to take on a younger partner. He usually likes to go it alone. But there’s a quest he wants to complete, and he’s going to need help to do it. Legend says that twin witches watch over the forest from their hidden home deep within it. Legend also says that the witches’ home hides an enormous treasure. Many have attempted to find it, but so far, none have succeeded.

The two Fighters soon meet young Agnis. Agnis, at 16 is a Level 3 Witch, but she has amazingly strong powers for someone so young and inexperienced. She also travels with her familiar, a snow leopard. Agnis wants to join the Fighters on their quest, but she won’t say why. Trying to discourage her, Olba requests payment. Agnis offers her share of the treasure as payment. It’s clear that there’s something she’s not telling them.

Based on a role-playing game, this novel, written for young adults is very much an RPG game in book form. Each main character is introduced with a character sheet; and there are sidebars throughout that contain other information, recipes, etc. This is the first in a planned series of four. Duan Surk’s adventures should interest anyone who enjoys RPGs and fantasy.

Rating: 7
October 2006
ISBN# 1-59532-870-X

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Drowning Man - Margaret Coel

The Drowning Man
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime


You might think that a petroglyph carved into a canyon wall would be fairly safe where it is. Especially when it’s situated on the reservation of the Arapaho Indians, who revere the sign. Unfortunately, where there’s enough of a will, there’s a way to take anything. Father O’Malley discovers this truth one morning when a stranger demands that he deliver a message to the Indian peoples on and around the Wyoming reservation: the petroglyph called The Drowning Man, literally chiseled from the rock wall, is being held for $250,000 ransom. Father O’Malley delivers the message, but, being no fool, also calls the FBI.

Vicky Holden, an Arapaho, is a lawyer with her own practice. The local population wants her to find a way to stop a logging company from building roads and harvesting in the same canyon, since it’s sacred space to them. As if she doesn’t have enough on her plate, Vicky has also taken on the case of Travis Birdsong, who was convicted of murder seven years earlier. When the cases begin to converge, Vicky and Father O’Malley are thrown together again.

This is the twelfth novel in this series, and it’s a real standout. The author manages to weave in historical details about petroglyphs, current information about the black market in ancient artifacts, environmental discussions, and even the topic of pedophile priests; all without losing track of the characters and central mystery. The characters are quite complex, having had many books to develop, and the new characters seem just as sharp. The mystery is involving and will delight new and longtime fans alike. A new Margaret Coel mystery is always a happy find. This one is no exception.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21171-1 (hardcover)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Slay Bells - Kate Kingsbury

Slay Bells
A Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery
Kate Kingsbury
Berkley Prime Crime


It’s Christmastime at the Pennyfoot Hotel, and owner Cecily Sinclair Baxter has decided to host a holiday party for the children of Badger’s End. Since no children’s Christmas party would be complete without a visit from Father Christmas, Cecily has lined up a volunteer to slide down the chimney and surprise the kids. When her first choice of Father Christmas backs out because of illness, she’s more or less forced to accept Sid Porter, well known around the village for his penchant for alcohol.

On the day of the party, Father Christmas never comes down the chimney. Going outside to investigate, Cecily finds Roland, who was assigned to help Father Christmas navigate the chimney, dead on the ground, his neck broken. All thoughts of an accidental fall from the roof evaporate when the unfortunate Sid Porter is found in the chimney, dead of knife wounds. It doesn’t take much to get the staff talking, and soon maids are reporting seeing the ghost of Father Christmas flitting through rooms. Cecily isn’t sure she believes that, but cannot deny that furniture is being moved and placed in strange locations. Despite the objections of her husband, Cecily is determined to get to the bottom of this holiday mystery.

A new Pennyfoot Hotel mystery is always a festive occasion. This is a reunion book, of sorts, and longtime readers will be happy to see old friends. New readers will feel welcome, as well. Returning to the gracious hotel with its cast of eccentric but lovable characters seems a bit like coming home. The mystery, despite the gruesome circumstances, is a cozy, and all violence occurs off-stage, so to speak. Cecily is a wonderful amateur sleuth, and a strong and gracious woman. Plenty of hotel guests make for an interesting pool of suspects, and will keep readers guessing to the end. Curl up next to a fire, or a Christmas tree, and lose yourself for a few holiday hours at the Pennyfoot Hotel.

Rating: 7
November 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21200-9 (trade paperback)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Wild Fire - Nelson DeMille

Wild Fire
Nelson DeMille
Warner Books


Set in October 2002, WILD FIRE picks up the story of John Corey where it left off with NIGHT FALL (10/04.) Just over a year after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and not willing to wait out the current administration’s plans, a shadowy group plans retribution. They meet at a hunting lodge called the Custer Hill Club. Their plan is to set off suitcase nuclear bombs at strategic points inside the United States, leaving enough evidence to point back to Middle Eastern terrorist groups. Their hope is that the U.S. will retaliate to these apparent further ‘terrorist attacks’ by nuking most of the Middle East down to bedrock. The FBI is not unaware of their plans, and an agent has been dispatched to conduct surveillance on the group. When that agent disappears, anti-terrorist agent John Corey and his wife, Kate, are assigned to investigate.

DeMille says in an author’s note that he based the Wild Fire program on existing information that may or may not be true. His research is obvious, and makes the entire exercise sound more than possible. The villain of this piece is conflicted and complex; while his actions seem indefensible, his motives are understandable. John and Kate have an easy relationship, based mostly on sarcasm. While their one-liners can sometimes become a bit much, for the most part, they add some levity to an otherwise tense narrative. The conclusion of the story is never really in doubt, so it’s a real tribute to the author’s talent that the pacing of the story makes the pages seem to fly.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2006
ISBN# 0-4465-7967-X (hardcover)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Charmed Death - Madelyn Alt

A Charmed Death
A Bewitching Mystery
Madelyn Alt
Berkley Prime Crime


Maggie O’Neill has been working at the antiques and gift shop called Enchantments for two and a half months now. In that time, she’s discovered that, even in her little, rural, northern corner of Indiana, there’s a whole different world just beyond this one. It’s the Christmas rush, and Maggie is manning the store with help from teenaged Evie, when a group of high school girls from the “right” side of town arrive. One of them, Amanda Roberson, makes a show of purchasing an antique clock for her mother. She pays cash for the $500 item and still has plenty to spare.

While in the shop, Amanda gets into a verbal altercation with Tara Murphy. Tara, a junior, just arrived in town. Her Goth clothes, makeup, and attitude make her a target for the Mean Girls. She’s also got a natural ability for the Craft, although she disdains what she terms “fluffy bunny pagans.” She clearly relishes the power. Later that evening, Amanda goes missing. Her body is later found in a nearby river. Suspects are few and far between until Maggie happens into the investigation. She’s lived in town all her life, but even she’s surprised that still waters run deep.

This is the second in an entertaining new series. Readers who missed the first book (THE TROUBLE WITH MAGIC 1/06) will have no problems getting up to speed here. Maggie’s introduction to magick and the paranormal continues here, and her reactions and reservations make her a very realistic character. The mystery is woven into the paranormal aspects, and takes some interesting turns before the end. I’m looking forward to more from this author.

Rating: 7 ½
December 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21317-X

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bleeding Hearts - Ian Rankin

Bleeding Hearts
Ian Rankin
Little, Brown and Company


Michael Weston is an assassin known for several things: long-distance shots, shots clean through the heart, and setting off explosions in the area as a diversionary tactic. Weston, far from being an action hero, James Bond sort, is a hemophiliac, not athletic, and not comfortable with messy deaths. In fact, his non-threatening appearance has helped him out of trouble more than once, and will continue to do so.

Readers first encounter Weston in the midst of a hit on a London TV reporter. He manages to complete the hit, but barely manages to escape the police. Obviously, someone tipped off the authorities. But who? To find out, he first has to find out who hired him for the job, and work back from there. His investigation, aided by Bel, the daughter of his armorer, takes him from London to the U.S. And, to add to his troubles, he’s being trailed by one Leo Hoffer. Hoffer, hired by the father of an innocent bystander accidentally killed by Weston during a hit, is a relentless P.I. with a taste for publicity.

This is not a new installment of the Inspector Rebus series, but Rankin fans will still find much to enjoy here. First published (in the U.K.) in the mid-90s under a penname, this is a standalone novel. Weston narrates his passages in first person, giving a real immediacy to his character. The plot contains enough twists, turns, and eccentric characters to keep even the most jaded reader entertained. Don’t start this one too late at night; you’ll stay up much later than you’d planned.

Rating: 8 ½
November 2006
ISBN# 0-316-00912-1 (hardcover)

A Day of Small Beginnings - Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum

A Day of Small Beginnings
Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum
Little, Brown and Company


Itzik Leiber is only fourteen years old and living in rural Poland in 1906 when he comes across a peasant beating three Jewish boys. Itzik intervenes to protect the boys, but the altercation ends with the death of the peasant. Fleeing a mob, Itzik runs through a cemetery and ends up on the grave of Friedl Alterman, who died only the day before at the age of 83. Unknown to him, Itzik’s frantic prayers for help and deliverance from the mob awaken Friedl’s spirit, and she protects the boy. Itzik leaves the Polish countryside for Warsaw, and, eventually, the United States, where he begins his life anew.

Many years later, Itzik’s son, Nathan, an international law scholar, is in Poland as a guest of the government. He feels drawn to his father’s hometown, both by natural curiosity and through the still-protective spirit of Friedl. While there, he meets Rafael Bergson, the last Jew left in the area since the Holocaust. Rafael offers to teach Nathan about his history and heritage. Nathan learns from Rafael, but doesn’t understand the value in passing on what he’s learned to the next generation. Friedl’s soul is bound to the family, and unable to move on until they can release her. It seems that Friedl’s best hope for peace may come from Nathan’s daughter.

This amazingly rich debut novel can be read in many ways. There’s plenty of history in general, and Jewish history in particular to entertain fans of historical tales. There are supernatural overtones, given Friedl’s spirit and the way she helps and protects the family, but she takes a back seat for much of the book. It can also be read as a kind of non-preachy inspirational novel, or as character studies of the various characters. In the end, this is a lovely story of one family’s history, and the journey of each individual, and the ways in which heritage and the smallest acts can bind people together.

Rating: 8
November 2006
ISBN# 0-316-01451-6 (hardcover)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Murder in the North End - P. B. Ryan

Murder in the North End
A Gilded Age Mystery
P. B. Ryan
Berkley Prime Crime


In Boston in 1870, Nell Sweeney, an Irish immigrant, occupies a nebulous area of society. As the governess to a wealthy Brahmin family, she’s technically a cut above the rest of the servants. But, as a governess, and an Irish woman, she’s not quite part of the family. Nevertheless, she’s grown absolutely attached to five-year-old Gracie Hewitt, her charge. She’s also struck up an unusual friendship with William Hewitt, the adult son of the household. To keep tongues from wagging, they’ve let the story get around that William is courting Nell. Of course, this is not possible, for a variety of reasons, but it keeps the rumors at bay.

On the morning before the household is to leave for their summer lodgings, a constable arrives to see Nell. This particular constable was, until recently, a detective. That is, until the Boston Detective Bureau was shut down due to almost universal corruption. The only detective not fired or demoted was Colin Cook. The previous evening, a crook was murdered in the North End. The prime suspect is Cook. Not only does Nell know Cook, another Irishman, but she knows the North End; a crowded place, teeming with Irish immigrants living in deplorable conditions. Nell knows that Cook had nothing to do with the killing. She’s ready to investigate, but Will isn’t about to let her go it alone.

This is the latest in a unique and enjoyable series. The necessary background is easily dispensed with, making it easy for newcomer and longtime reader alike. The author uses the historical period to great advantage, depicting the class separations and prejudices that existed at the time without romanticizing them. Nell and Will are both fascinating characters. From wholly disparate backgrounds, they should have no common ground. But they each have past pains and secrets that allow them to understand each other. They make a great sleuthing team, as well. It’s always a good day when a new Nell Sweeney book arrives.

Rating: 8
November 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21295-5 (paperback)

Hurricane Homicide - Nora Charles

Hurricane Homicide
A Kate Kennedy, Senior Sleuth Mystery
Nora Charles
Berkley Prime Crime


Kate Kennedy has happily settled into her fulltime home in Palmetto Beach, Florida in the Ocean Vista Leisure Adult Condos. The weather is usually good, the neighbors are usually entertaining, and every once in a while, there’s a mystery that needs solving. The current mystery, being idly considered by Kate and her friend Rosie O’Grady, a retired Rockette, is the contrast between Uncle Weatherwise, the weatherman on TV, and Walt Weatherwise, the newest addition to the condos. Onscreen, he has fans; living in the same building, it’s not quite the same.

It’s perhaps unfair but true that people tend to blame the weatherman when bad weather strikes. This time, though, Uncle Weatherwise promised faithfully that the approaching hurricane would miss Palmetto Beach. A last-minute evacuation in the face of said hurricane proved him wrong. Returning to the condos, Kate discovers Uncle Weatherwise’s body. Obviously, there was someone else who disliked him. True to form, Kate takes on the case and finds herself investigating events of the past.

Kate is a fun character. She’s a senior citizen, but that seniority manifests not as fussiness, but as experience. She’s usually able to see to the heart of things. I have the feeling that if Jessica Fletcher retired to Florida, this is exactly how she’d occupy her time. The various residents of the condos are a bit eccentric, but in a very believable way. The murder mystery is very much in the cozy tradition. There’s nothing overtly violent or gruesome. The author manages to pack a few nifty twists into the story; more than enough to keep readers guessing.

Rating: 7
December 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21312-9 (paperback)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Mephisto Club - Tess Gerritsen

The Mephisto Club
Tess Gerritsen
Ballantine Books


On Christmas Day in Boston, medical examiner Maura Isles and police detective Jane Rizzoli are confronted with a bizarre crime scene. A woman lies dead and mutilated in a bloody scene that includes candles, occult symbols, and the word “Peccavi” written across one wall in the victim’s blood. The word is Latin for “I have sinned.” Is the word a message from the killer about the victim? Or a message of guilt from the murderer? The murder is not isolated, and the serial killer begins to taunt the psychologist on the case with messages.

It isn’t long before the investigation leads to a world of occult researchers and scholars. The Mephisto Club is a group dedicated to hunting down demons in the world; demons they believe came into being when, as told in the Old Testament, angels lay with human women. As the body count continues to rise, only one thing is clear: the killer, whether human or demon, evil or divine, must be stopped.

This is the latest in a series of novels that follow the investigation of Isles and Rizzoli. Clearly, there’s a lot of history here, but newcomers will not find it difficult to join the series at this point. The action moves from Boston to Europe and back again, and deals with some supernatural ideas. One of the author’s strengths is that she seems to know exactly how far to stretch the reader’s credulity. With the swift pace and gruesome killings, this is one of those books that will keep you up long after your bedtime, turning pages.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-345-47699-9 (hardcover)

Murder on a Hot Tin Roof - Amanda Matetsky

Murder on a Hot Tin Roof
A Paige Turner Mystery
Amanda Matetsky
Berkley Prime Crime


It’s the summer of 1955 in Manhattan, and without air conditioning, the heat is brutal. The heat doesn’t stop Paige Turner from doing her job, but it sure slows her down a bit. Paige, left a widow at 29, is breaking into the ranks of crime writers by working at a rather trashy true crime magazine. She supplements that income by publishing fictionalized accounts of her real life cases in paperback novels. As a woman crime writer, she’s a rarity, and she runs afoul of the boys’ club atmosphere more often than she’d like; but being widowed has forced her to fend for herself, and she’s really rather good at it.

When Paige’s best friend and neighbor, Abby, invites her to see a production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Paige accepts mainly as a way to spend a few hours in an air-conditioned theater. The star of the show, Gray Gordon, also a friend of Abby, is immensely successful. The two women drop by his apartment the next morning to congratulate him, and are shocked to discover the promising actor dead, in a pool of blood. Gray’s eccentric neighbor, Willy, quickly becomes the prime suspect. Not only is Paige convinced of his innocence; she’s convinced that the detective in charge is only homing in on Willy because of his lifestyle. True to form, Paige decides to take matters into her own hands and investigate.

Each installment in this charming series is a welcome addition. The author manages to make Paige both accurate for a woman in the 1950s, and a woman with whom modern readers can easily relate. It’s true, and Paige herself admits, that she’s drawn to danger. But she walks that fine line between bravery and foolishness quite well. As always, the mystery is both interesting and entertaining, with enough twists to satisfy any mystery reader.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21293-9 (paperback)