Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Two Deaths Of Daniel Hayes - Marcus Sakey

The Two Deaths Of Daniel Hayes
Marcus Sakey
New American Library


“Who are you when you don’t remember who you are?”
A man regains consciousness on a frigid, rocky beach.  He’s naked, choking on sea water, and has no idea who he is or how he came to be here.  In fact, he has no idea where ‘here’ is.  It would be so easy to lie down and drift away, but step by step, breath by breath, he forces himself to survive.  Some way down the deserted road, he finds a car and uses it for shelter.  He decides the car might be his.  His only clue to his own identity is the name on the owner’s manual; an unfamiliar name attached to an address on the other side of the country.
In times of stress, it’s human nature to want to go home, but for some reason this prospect fills Daniel with dread.  He has no idea why.  In the early hours of this rebirth of sorts, he studies the stranger in the mirror, wonders why there’s a handgun in the glove compartment, and eludes a firing police officer.  Clearly, this isn’t just some hangover.  Something serious happened in his recent past.  He just has no idea what it might be.  There’s no way to know what kind of person Daniel was last week.  He has a very expensive car and a very expensive gun.  He clearly made the drive across the country fueled by booze and speed, so he’s running from something.  The police apparently want him for some reason.  And he’s plagued by nightmares that reek of guilt.  Those bare facts cannot come close to explaining anything.
This novel is one of those delightful finds.  It’s the kind of book that pulls the reader in completely from the very first page and will not let go until, like Daniel, you find the answers.  Many of the answers only raise more questions.  At once a thrill-ride and a convincing character study – even the most transitory of characters are utterly realistic – this novel keeps piling on the twists as Daniel uncovers layer after layer of his own life.  It was honestly difficult to put the book down to get some sleep.  When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it.  And now that I’m done, I’m sorry this ride is over.  I’m very anxious to read more from this author.
Rating: 9
May 2012
ISBN# 978-0-451-23692-0 (trade paperback)

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Big Kitty - Claire Donally

The Big Kitty
A Sunny & Shadow Mystery
Claire Donally
Berkley Prime Crime

Sunny Coolidge left her job as a reporter in New York City at the worst possible time.  The downturn of the newspaper industry made her downsizing inevitable.  Her reason was the best possible: she returned to her hometown of Kittery Harbor, Maine, to care for her father after a heart attack.  The local paper isn’t interested, so she found work at a local travel agency.  It’s not what she wants, but it pays the bills – mostly – for now.
Ada Spruance is known around town as the Cat Lady, with all the negatives and positives that term conjures.  She tells Sunny an improbable story.  She says she has a winning lottery ticket worth millions that’s almost due to expire (they’re good for a year) but she can’t find it.  Despite her misgivings, Sunny agrees to help the woman search.  The search never happens, though, due to Ada’s untimely death after a fall down a set of cellar stairs.  Stairs her son, Gordie, claims she would never have used.  Unfortunately, Gordie seems to be deeply involved with drugs.  That makes his word doubtful and his motive for murder fairly good.  With the help of constable Will Price and Shadow, one of Ada’s strays, Sunny decides to investigate.
This is the first in a new series, and it looks like a winner.  Shadow is a main character, and the scenes narrated from his perspective are touching and realistic as he adapts to his new home and people.  For readers who aren’t into the animal angle, there’s still a good mystery here.  The sheriff and various local businessmen have a clear vested interest in promoting tourism at the expense of reporting crime, illuminating the downside of living in a tourist town.  The main plotline, woman possibly thrown down stairs by adult tweaker son who wants her money, is a darker twist on things than one normally finds in a ‘cozy’ mystery, but I found it refreshing.  For more sensitive readers: there’s still no overt or graphic violence, so don’t miss this one.
Rating: 7
May 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-24802-7 (paperback)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Brownies And Broomsticks - Bailey Cates

Brownies And Broomsticks
A Magical Bakery Mystery
Bailey Cates
For Katie Lightfoot, relocating to Savannah seems like a great idea after a messy breakup.  The fact that she’s a baker, and her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben are going to open the Honeybee Bakery makes it even more perfect.  Katie always felt like an outsider in her own life, and she’s about to find out why.  According to her Aunt Lucy, Katie comes from a long line of witches: Women and men who were not just practitioners, but had real power.  Lucy says that Katie’s parents made a conscious decision to raise her in a ‘normal’ life, without telling her about that part of her heritage.
Before the bakery opens, Mavis Templeton, treasurer of the local business association, appears and demands that Honeybee be made available for a business breakfast meeting.  Using an astounding combination of intimidation and threats, she gets Ben and Lucy to agree.  After all, it should be good for business.  And it all goes well, until Mavis refuses to pay the contracted price for the meeting.  She and Ben have an argument, ending only when both leave the bakery.  Ben goes into the back alley to cool off; Mavis makes her way to her car.  Moments later, she’s found in her car, with her neck broken.  A witness tells police that someone matching Ben’s description was walking away from the car at the time.  Ben is now the main suspect.
This is the first in a promising new series.  Katie does many of the silly, illogical things expected of an amateur sleuth on her first case, but manages to display intelligence and backbone throughout.  The mystery is constructed quite well, and there are some nice twists.  The victim left a trail of disgruntled people in her wake, making for a potentially lengthy list of those who would like to see her shuffle off this mortal coil.  In fact, one suspect actually celebrates.  It’s actually kind of refreshing to see that kind of real, human reaction.

Katie, too, is refreshingly honest about her situation in life.  She’s in a new place, starting a new life, and hearing about being a witch captures her imagination.  She goes through a very realistic process of trying to decide if she really believes, or just wants to believe.  The supporting cast is uniformly interesting and seem like people you might meet in your neighborhood shops.  Anyone who enjoyed the TV show “Charmed” should enjoy this novel.  If you like more than a dash of paranormal in your mystery, and you’re open to the possibility that ‘magic is all around us,’ this series looks like a very solid bet. 
Rating: 7 ½
May 2012
ISBN# 978-0-451-23663-0 (paperback)

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Deadly Grind - Victoria Hamilton

A Deadly Grind         
A Vintage Kitchen Mystery
Victoria Hamilton
Berkley Prime Crime
Jaymie Leighton’s hobby is collecting vintage things for her kitchen.  That includes vintage bowls, dishes, implements, cookbooks, and even furniture.  As the story begins, Jaymie and her sister, Becca, who runs a lucrative business replacing odd pieces of china, are at an estate sale.  Becca is there for the china lots.  Jaymie is in love.  The object of her affection is a Hoosier cabinet, the top-of-the-line piece of kitchenware for housewives in the 1920s and 1930s, before the advent of built-in cupboards.  She manages to get the cabinet home, and, with some help, temporarily placed on the summer porch of her childhood home.
That night, Jaymie and Becca awake to sounds of an intruder.  When they reach the summer porch, they’re shocked to find the body of a strange man.  No one in the tourist town recognizes the man.  Even after being questioned by the police, Jaymie can’t imagine what someone would have wanted in her home, but it clearly centered on the Hoosier.  Crime is uncommon in their little community, and violent crime rarer still.  Jaymie, incensed that someone would ruin the sense of peace she feels in her beloved home, decides to do what she can to get to the bottom of things.
This is the first in a new series, and does a fine job of introducing the characters.  Jaymie is thought of around town as a bit of an oddball, since she’s still (horrors!) single in her 30s.  Her life is based on activities in her hometown, and her collection.  This allows the reader to get to know her quite well, but it also proves to be a stumbling block in the mystery plot.  Far too much time is devoted to her endlessly considering her list of suspects and their possible motives.  At about the two-thirds mark, a suspect, with no real provocation, spills his guts to get the plot moving again.  In fact, all of the baddies here do the James Bond Villain too-much-information thing, explaining their plans and plots in detail, and answering endless questions instead of actually doing anything.
The bright points of this novel are the characters in town and the history.  Following Jaymie on her day-to-day business really gives the reader a sense of the place and the people.  The author really fosters a sense of community and belonging among Jaymie and her neighbors that makes for a nice atmosphere.  The mystery is almost an also-ran here, which will be disappointing for some readers.  Jaymie and her neighbors seem like real people who might live in your own neighborhood, and I liked them all well enough that I’ll be happy to check out her next adventure.
Rating: 5 ½
May 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-24801-0 (paperback)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Man In The Rockefeller Suit - Mark Seal

The Man In The Rockefeller Suit
The Astonishing Rise And Spectacular Fall Of A Serial Impostor
Mark Seal

True Crime/Biography
If an author presented this story as fiction, I would write a review saying that the story is utterly unbelievable; that no one person, let alone whole groups of people – would fall for this con.  But this story is absolutely true, and “astonishing” doesn’t begin to describe it.
In 1978, at the age of seventeen, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter arrived in the United States, on a student visa, from Germany.  His first con started before he even left his hometown.  He met two American tourists, a married couple, spent the evening with them, and exchanged contact information.  He then used their names, without their knowledge, as his sponsors in the U.S.  After arriving here, he enrolled as a senior in high school, even though he’d already finished school in Germany.  Apparently, no one bothered to translate his records.   
These cons, comparatively small as they were, most likely fueled his belief that he could simply move from place to place, reinventing himself as he went.  And that’s exactly what he did, for decades.  Operating on the theory that, the bigger the lie, the more people believe it, he spent time in California under a couple of different names, claiming to be a distant Mountbatten or Chichester relative.  At the apex of his con, during the early 2000s, he landed in New York City, using the name Clark Rockefeller.  It’s shocking that so many believed him, or were too polite to question him, but they did.  He even married an otherwise very intelligent, very capable businesswoman who gave him a daughter and ended up supporting this “Rockefeller” financially for years. 
As I read the book, I was truly amazed that so many clever, educated people fell for his outlandish stories.  Then again, when he started, in the late 70s and early 80s, you couldn’t just type someone’s name into a search engine and find their life story.  So it might have been easier for him to dupe people, at the outset.  He also ingratiated himself to a new community by becoming active in a church – always full of wealthy members – where people are trusting and welcoming by nature.  But by the end of his nearly thirty years of lies, it seems incredible that only a few people openly questioned him along the way. 
To be fair, none of these people had the benefit of this book and seeing the story laid out, from the beginning.  The people in New York City had no idea about the people in California who were cheated out of money, trust, and sometimes more.  This is a compelling and fascinating read.  This edition contains an Afterword full of updates that is well worth reading.  After the publication of the hardcover edition, many people contacted the author, filling in blanks here and there.  The story of “Clark Rockefeller” is far from over; one trial is behind him, another still looms.  If this doesn’t make you take a second look at some people in your life, I don’t know what would.
Rating: 9 ½
May 2012
ISBN# 978-0-452-29803-3 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

All Sales Fatal - Laura DiSilverio

All Sales Fatal
A Mall Cop Mystery
Laura DiSilverio
Berkley Prime Crime
EJ Ferris wants to get back to police work.  She was military police for almost ten years until an IED in Afghanistan blew apart her knee.  This injury is going to make it more than difficult for her to pass any police department physical.  For now, she’s working as a mall cop while sending out resumes.
Arriving one morning for her shift, EJ finds the dead body of a teenager outside one of the mall entrances.  Usually, there would be security camera footage of the crime, but thanks to her boss’ lax attitude and mall budget cuts, an entire wing of the mall has been without cameras for weeks.  This does not please EJ or the local cops – who tell her to butt out of an official police investigation.  Naturally, that’s not going to happen, especially when EJ’s boss becomes a homicide victim.
This is the second installment in this series, following DIE BUYING.  The first entry was significantly stronger in terms of characterizations and plotlines.  This one relies a little too heavily for my taste on stock characters and coincidental discoveries.  I do have to say that the plotline, which eventually does tie everything together in the end, is unusual.  And, as in the first book, I completely enjoyed EJ’s Grandpa Atherton, who has retired from the CIA, but likes to keep his tradecraft skills up to snuff.  There’s a bit of a cliffhanger for EJ personally at the end of this one, since she seems to have hit a crossroads in her professional life.

Rating: 6
May 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-24803-4 (paperback)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

POD - Stephen Wallenfels

Stephen Wallenfels
Science Fiction
At five o’clock one morning, the aliens arrive.  Fifteen-year-old Josh dubs them PODs, short for Pearls Of Death.  They’re black, shiny spheres that simply hang in the air.  They announced themselves with an ear-shattering shriek.  Any human caught out in the open was simply vaporized by some kind of light beam.  There’s no communication from the PODs, and they’ve knocked out every source of human communication.  Cell phones don’t work; landlines are dead; TV, radio and internet are all down.  This means that everyone is stuck inside their homes, completely cut off from the rest of humanity.
Megs is only twelve.  Shortly before the invasion, her mother left her alone in their car, parked in a hotel parking garage.  She said she was going for a ‘job interview’ and would be back in an hour.  Now Megs is on her own, watching in horror as hotel guests run, panicked, into the garage and attempt to drive anywhere else.  Megs isn’t sure if the lucky ones get zapped by the alien death rays, or if the lucky ones are the ones that make it back into the hotel.  Either way, she’s determined to wait for her mom.  When hours turn into days, too afraid to enter the hotel, Megs is left on her own, trying to survive.
The story is told in first-person, present tense, by both Josh and Megs. Josh details trying to survive in his home with his father.  Both of them are worried about his mom, who was at a conference out of town.  There’s no way to contact her.  Imagine being a teenaged boy, trapped inside a smallish house with your engineer dad.  Survival situation or not, there’s going to be some conflict, and the author handles it all with a bittersweet sense of utter realism.  The chapters narrated by Megs are both heartbreaking and inspiring.  This is a kid who is used to living in not-great situations, and she’s capable of thinking on her feet when necessary.  For all that, she’s still very much a child who needs her mom.    
This novel should appeal to readers who enjoy scifi, and post-apocalyptic stories.  A word of warning before starting to read: get comfortable, because this is one of those can’t-stop, read-it-in-one-sitting books.  The author uses only a few characters, but makes them multi-dimensional and completely believable.  This is no Spielberg script, where everything is just fine and no good people really suffer.  The author allows events to play out as they most likely would in this situation, and forces everyone to make hard choices.  The aliens are truly alien, which only adds to the claustrophobic feel of the story.  Be prepared to be pulled into the story and truly care about the characters and the outcome.  It’s hard to believe that this is a first novel.  This author is one to watch.
Rating: 8
May 2012
ISBN# 978-1-937007-43-0