Thursday, August 30, 2012

Haven - Kay Hooper

A Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novel
Kay Hooper
Fifteen years ago, Jessie Rayburn put her hometown of Baron Hollow in her rearview mirror and vowed never to return.  She has fragmented memories about a terrible experience that she’s managed to ignore until recently.  Jessie works as a psychic investigator for Haven, a private organization that sometimes teams with law enforcement.  Her time there has made her feel strong enough to return home and uncover the facts about that last, terrible summer, in order to move on with her life.
Emma Rayburn, Jessie’s sister, stayed in Baron Hollow and now runs Rayburn House, an inn.  Recently, Emma sustained a head injury.  Since then, she’s been plagued by nightmares.  In her nightmares, women are being tortured and killed.  Her doctor explains it away as part of her brain’s healing process, but Emma has a gut feeling that there’s more to it.  When a visiting writer (really Nathan Navarro, another Haven operative) discovers human remains, Emma knows it’s the woman from her latest nightmare.  If this woman is real, maybe the others are, too.  Which means there could be a serial killer loose in her hometown.
For the benefit of new readers, the author puts the Author’s Note right up front.  This is the latest (#13) in a long-running series of interconnected books.  I haven’t read the rest, but I had no problem understanding Haven and the various operatives.  Clearly, there are connections between characters that were made ages ago, but that just makes the organization seem like a real workplace, with people whose lives intersect over the course of years.  The author does a great job of providing background information and letting new readers feel at home.

The story itself is the best kind of thriller.  The basic plot is that of a serial killer who has plied his trade in the area, without anyone noticing, for some time.  Several characters make use of various psychic skills in order to unravel the mystery, and the author kindly provides a few brief bios and a glossary of those psychic skills at the end of the book.  The characters are very much real people who happen to have unusual (or not) talents.  The pacing is pitch-perfect, never flagging for a moment, with surprising twists along the way.  I’d very much like to see more novels in this series.
Rating: 8
August 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-25874-3 (hardcover)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bleeding Out - Jes Battis

Bleeding Out
An OSI Novel
Jes Battis
Urban Fantasy

If you haven’t read the rest of this series (NIGHT CHILD, FLASH OF HEX, INHUMAN RESOURCES, and INFERNAL AFFAIRS) this review contains unavoidable spoilers.

As this book, the last in the series, begins, Tess Corday is on leave from her job as an occult investigator.  Her life has become extremely complicated.  She’s got two more-or-less adopted teenagers living in her home.  One is Magnate of the city’s vampires; all the power of his office, and all the immaturity of a teenager.  One is a genius who keeps the vampiric infection at bay with medication while deciding which college to attend.  Derrick, her roommate, best friend and fellow investigator, is clearly moving towards a decision to get a place with his partner, Miles.  Tess’ boyfriend is a necromancer, which means something other than human.  And, recently, Tess discovered more than she wanted to about the identity of her father and the attendant fabrications of her mother.  A little time off seems called for at this point.

While she’s trying to put everything together in her personal life, there’s an emergency call from Tess’ erstwhile supervisor.  She’s being called in on a high-profile case as a consultant.  The leader of the necromancers, the powerful and ageless Lord Nightingale, is dead.  Not just dead, but murdered, which should be all but impossible.  As if the political and supernatural ramifications aren’t bad enough, Derrick detects psychic traces of Miles at the scene, which makes no sense at all. 
This installment wraps up the series, and much of it is dedicated to Tess saying goodbyes.  There’s the obvious farewell and separation anxiety she feels with Mia, who is leaving for college.  There’s Tess’ indecision about whether to leave her job or not.  These things are quite human and relatable.  Much of the story seems to be written in fast-forward, with rushed descriptions and actions, leaving the reader feeling just a bit cheated.  Then there are some truly remarkable scenes of Tess being flooded with and ‘bleeding out’ regained memories of her life.  These are pieces of stream-of-consciousness writing that are truly exceptional.  The memories and scenes put the reader right into the middle of Tess’ feelings and memories and make her as real as the person sitting next to you.  It’s clearly the end of one chapter and the beginning of another for most of the characters, and the author does quite a nice job of taking the reader along for the ride.
Rating: 7
June 2012
ISBN# 978-1-937007-63-8 (paperback)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sweet Talk - Julie Garwood

Sweet Talk
Julie Garwood
Romantic Suspense
Olivia MacKenzie is a lawyer working for the IRS.  In a sort of side job, she works as a children’s advocate.  It’s a long way from the part of her childhood she spent in an isolation ward.  She took part in an experimental cancer treatment for years.  While there, she formed lifelong friendships with her fellow sufferers: Samantha, Jane, and Collins.  As an adult, Olivia is independent and content in her life, and has one overriding goal in life: to put her father in prison.  Robert MacKenzie makes money.  His friends and investors think he’s a genius.  Olivia is positive that he’s running a scheme, but no one but her Aunt Emma will believe her.
Grayson Kincaid, an agent for the FBI, meets Olivia under slightly compromising circumstances.  Grayson is involved in investigating a possible money launderer.  It just so happens that Olivia, having heard rumors of possible cutbacks at the IRS, is interviewing for a job with the target of Grayson’s investigation.  When the interview turns nasty, Grayson jumps in to defend Olivia, destroying what would have been a great sting.  One thing leads to another and Olivia finds that she and Grayson are on the same page regarding her father.  But Olivia steps on the wrong toes and finds herself in the hospital again.  This time, because someone tried to end her life with bullets.
This novel is entertaining enough and the narrative never drags.  If you enjoy your romantic suspense with a very heavy emphasis on ‘romance,’ then this is the book for you.  I’m always more interested in the suspense aspect, and found that here, it’s almost an afterthought.  That’s too bad, because the book contains the bones of a very good suspense story.  On the very bright side, the story moved along quite quickly and contained some interesting characters.  I imagine we’ll be seeing the other three ladies in books of their own soon.  Since the author took care to give them all diverse backgrounds and interests, that should be fun.
Rating: 7
August 2012
ISBN# 978-0-525-95286-2 (hardcover)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wild Wild Death - Casey Daniels

Wild Wild Death
A Pepper Martin Mystery
Casey Daniels
Berkley Prime Crime
The good people of Cleveland – the sports fans, anyway – believe that there is a curse on their town.  The curse was supposedly levied over a hundred years ago by an Indian performer in a Wild West show who died there.  Before his death, Chester Goodshot Gomez asked his friends to take his bones back to his ancestral home in New Mexico.  If they failed to do so, he would curse the town where he was buried.  Well, they failed to do so, and now sports fans blame this guy for their teams’ losing seasons.
Until recently, Pepper Martin was the tour guide at the Cleveland cemetery where Goodshot’s bones rest.  She was recently laid off, due to budget cuts.  The job was a perfect fit, since Pepper has a gift that allows her to see and talk to ghosts.  During her enforced downtime, Pepper gets a ransom note, saying that her friend, paranormal investigator Dan Callahan, has been kidnapped.  The kidnappers want Goodshot’s bones delivered to New Mexico, or Dan dies.  And that’s how Pepper ends up breaking into a mausoleum, removing the bones, and taking a westward road trip with a ghost riding shotgun.
Those readers who have joined Pepper on previous outings (TOMB WITH A VIEW, A HARD DAY’S FRIGHT) will know that, to Pepper, this all makes perfect sense.  It also serves to get her out of Cleveland and away from Quinn Harrison, the detective who dumped her after she told him about her gift, and still won’t talk about it now that he has proof.  I don’t remember Pepper being quite this goofy about things in previous novels (someone shoots at her and she’s worried about her boots, for instance) but she’s still a fun character.  This novel contains an unexpected and interesting twist that changes things up enough to make it all seem new again.  The setting is new, the story is compelling, and the outcome gives Pepper a whole new outlook on life.  This is a more-than-solid entry in a fun paranormal series.
Rating: 7
January 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-24582-8 (paperback)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Death Of A Schoolgirl - Joanna Campbell Slan

Death Of A Schoolgirl
The Jane Eyre Chronicles
Joanna Campbell Slan
Berkley Prime Crime
Historical Mystery
This story picks up after the events of “Jane Eyre.”  If you haven’t read the original, the author helpfully fills in the applicable plot points via Jan’s narration and memories.  If you have read the original, this seems like a real continuation of the story.  The atmosphere is wonderfully gothic and Jane, while she has matured into a wife and mother, is still the calm and responsible heroine readers have known and loved for generations. 
After the events of the original novel, Jane and her husband (and new son) are living at Ferndean, a country house built as a hunting lodge for earlier generations of Rochester men.  There is some talk of rebuilding Thornfield Hall, which was destroyed by fire, but Rochester’s injuries preclude taking action at the moment.  Rochester’s ward, the irrepressible French child, Adèle, lives at a fashionable boarding school in London.  When Adèle sends a frantic letter asking for help, Jane journeys to London, intent on bringing the child home.
Upon arriving at the school, Jane is met by the sight of a stretcher being removed into a hearse.  It seems that Adèle, this time, was not simply being overly dramatic.  The stretcher contains the body of one of her schoolmates.  Since Jane has never followed fashion, her modest appearance allows her to be mistaken for an expected teacher.  She decides to go along with the mistake, since it will allow her access to the school and everyone in it, while she searches for the murderer.

The author has done a truly amazing job of continuing the voice and atmosphere of the original, while expanding Jane’s world and the people in it.  It’s quite nice to see Jane in the role of teacher again, and her rapport with the students is completely believable.  The mystery plot is nicely twisty and the new characters introduced are realistic and most welcome.  I’m so happy to know that future volumes are forthcoming.  As someone who loves the Brontë novel, this is like a visit with an old and cherished friend.
Rating: 8
August 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-24774-7 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Spoonful Of Murder - Connie Archer

A Spoonful Of Murder
A Soup Lover’s Mystery
Connie Archer
Berkley Prime Crime
Lucky Jamieson (a childhood nickname bestowed by her grandfather, Jack) has recently returned to her tiny hometown of Snowflake, Vermont.  The town exists largely on the tourist business of the nearby ski resort.  Her parents were killed in an auto accident, so Lucky has returned to take over the running of their business, a soup and sandwich shop called By The Spoonful.  She’s also there, although she’d never say so, to look after Jack, who seems to be showing signs of early Alzheimer’s. 
Running a restaurant is a lot harder than Lucky thought it would be.  It gets a lot harder when the body of perennial tourist, the wealthy Patricia Honeywell, is found dead in the alley behind the shop.  Soon after, the sheriff arrests Sage, the chef.  Sage seems resigned and won’t talk to anyone, but Lucky can’t believe he’s guilty.  With her chef in jail and her business failing, Lucky decides that, since no one else is investigating, she’ll do it herself.
This is the first of a new series, and it was, honestly, a bit disappointing.  Lucky arrives in town, takes over the business, and reacquaints herself with her childhood crush in short order.  After that, the pacing drags as Lucky simply moves from person to person, asking insulting questions or throwing out accusations that could ruin a person’s life, just to gauge the reaction.  Everyone in town seems to have a lot of baggage and a sob story to go with it.  In the end, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the story or the writing; but there’s nothing terribly inspired, either.  I had the murderer picked out long before the end, and then it was just a matter of waiting for Lucky to catch up with me.  Recipes and a preview of the next installment are included.
Rating: 5
August 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-25147-8 (paperback)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Keeper Of Lost Causes - Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Keeper Of Lost Causes
A Department Q Novel
Jussi Adler-Olsen


Detective Carl Mørck is back on the job after a shooting that left one of his colleagues dead, one permanently paralyzed, and himself wounded.  The fact that he is the only one of the three to emerge whole and healed weighs heavily on Carl, even as it makes him a target for the press.  When he returns to work, his boss informs him that he’ll be the head of the newly-formed Department Q, which will, in effect, investigate cold cases.  He’ll also be the only detective in his department.  He asks for, and receives, an assistant.  Assad appears to basically be a janitor, but also demonstrates an interest in police work.

The shooting incident has left Carl deeply ambivalent about live in general and his job in particular.  He really wants nothing more than to mark time and drink coffee until he retires.  With a bit of prodding from Assad, Carl begins an almost indifferent investigation into the disappearance of politician Merete Lynggaard.  She disappeared from a ferry five years ago, leaving behind her mentally-disabled brother, Uffe.  First investigators decided that Merete went over the side of the ferry, either for her own reasons or as the result of an accident.  Carl doesn’t see much to the case, but there are things that don’t quite fit into any logical explanation, leading Carl deeper and deeper into Merete’s life and past.

If you haven’t yet discovered what is now a sub-genre of mysteries – Nordic mysteries – now is the time to get on board.  The culture and customs may be different, but it’s a truism that police forces the world over are over-worked and under-funded.  The ways that investigators get around these limitations (or don’t) are probably quite similar, too.  Carl is not just some quiet, sad, Dane.  He’s a real person with a background, family, friends, and work history.  The addition of Assad, who brings his Middle Eastern food and sensibility into the basement, along with his not-so-great Danish, is a great choice.  Assad is almost as much an outsider as Carl, and this forms an unlikely and grudging (on Carl’s side) friendship.

There’s a subplot involving a murder being investigated by the general homicide squad that draws a clear distinction between Carl and the other detectives.  His visits to his now-paralyzed friend, whose mind is still clear as a bell, are heartbreaking.  Anyone would feel survivor’s guilt in this situation.  The case of Merete’s disappearance unfolds one tiny detail at a time, with leads and setbacks in almost equal measure.  The author skillfully pulls things together for the reader when Carl mentally summarizes details uncovered so far and plans his next move.  This is a book that I found unique and very difficult to put down; and when I picked it up again, I was instantly transported right back into the story.  I was sorry to see it end, and hope to spend much more time with Carl and Department Q.

Rating: 9
August 2012
ISBN# 978-0-452-29790-6 (trade paperback)