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The Girl From Home by Adam Mitzner

The Girl from Home” reads like an episode of “Billions” meets “How to Get Away with Murder” and I loved the ingenious plot combination.

Adam Mitzner is by profession an attorney.  His expertise clearly shines through in the realistic way the dual cases of securities fraud and murder-for-hire are resolved into a satisfying plea bargain for the main characters.

The main protagonist is Jonathan Caine, the head of a currency trading department for a major Wall Street brokerage.  He is the quintissential forty-something narcissistic, ego-involved Wall Street millionaire who’s motto is “I want what I want”– and he usually gets what he wants.  It appears as if he is even going to get a pass on securities fraud when he is finally tripped up by an audit of his fund’s books that shows he has been cooking those books.  In that sense Caine comes off as a mini-Madoff, but one who shows in the end that he has a conscience and feels remorse for what he has done wrong and feels empathy for other people.  We see that empathy grow in the scenes with Jonathan’s dying father and the moving eulogy that he gives at his father’s funeral.  You also see it grow as he develops a protective relationship with a classmate he reengages with at his 25th high school anniversary in East Carlisle, New Jersey.  The woman, Jackie, is in an unhappy, abusive marriage, and Jonathan helps her to get out of that relationship.

The murder mystery portion of “The Girl from Home“commences when Jackie and Jonathan both conclude that Jackie’s husband, Rick, will never let her go alive.  Divorce is not going to work and neither will depending on the police to keep her safe.  What we don’t know for certain is which one of our protagonists actually hires a hit man, if either, and how the police will play Jackie and Jonathan off each other in questioning them about the murder.  There’s a nice twist on the ending that I think most readers will find satisfying.  Justice is served in the end.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

 

 

When Bunnies Go Bad by Clea Simon

The latest in Clea Simon’s “Pru Marlowe Pet Noir Mysteries, ” “When Bunnies Go Bad,” was published by Poisoned Pen Press March 1. Normally, I am not a fan of mysteries where animals are anthropomorthized into crime-solving sleuths.  The Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series is entirely an animal of a different color.  The protagonist, Marlowe, is an animal behaviorist, and in that role, her ability to read her animal charges’ fears and warnings is totally believable.  There are no talking dogs and cats in this book; only animals who read danger into dangerous situations and who convey those concerns through their body language and vocalizations.

In “When Bunnies Go Bad” Pru helps to solve the disappearance of a work of art from a local museum and the murder of an obnoxious tourist.  She gets some of her clues through the reactions of the spaniel owned by the dead tourist and his ski bunny girlfriend.  There’s the inevitable conflict with her sometime boyfriend, Police Detective Jim Creighton, who asks that Pru not get involved for her own safety.  A mysterious former gangster, Gregor Benazi, also seems to appear at regular intervals?  Is he a threat, or is he secretly working with the FBI to solve the murder and the art heist?  Is the sinister FBI agent who takes over the case really working at odds with the law on behalf of Benazi’s shady associates, or is he teamed with Benazi to bring justice?

When Bunnies Go Bad” is an enjoyable addition to the Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series.

Liz Nichols

 

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The Italian Divide by Allan Topol

The Italian Divide” is Allan Topol’s twelfth international thriller.  It is part of his “A Craig Page Thriller” series.

Topol never minces words.  Readers know immediately that the world is once again in deep trouble because of bad actors on the political and economic scene.  The characters are eerily believable.  In this case, an Italian banker is murdered and another Italian banker is forced to sell his share of his bank in exchange for a financial bailout and support for his political ambition by a mysterious Chinese mogul who turns out to be China’s finance minister.  In the thick of it trying to foil the plot to destroy the Italian economy and divide the country is Craig Page, a former CIA director who has gone into retirement in the guise of an Italian race car driver, Enrico Marino.

Topol spins such a captivating tale that it is hard to put “The Italian Divide” down before the nail-biter of an ending.

Two thumbs up!

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied proof copy.)

 

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Blood of the Oak by Eliot Pattison

Eliot Pattison’s “Bone Rattler”/”Duncan McCallum” series just got another jaw-dropping installment with publication of “Blood of the Oak” by Counterpoint Press. Eliot Pattison’s novels have a way of waking the reader up to the grim realities of what really went on during Colonial American times, both the heroic and the barbaric.

There’s a lot of graphic detail about the treatment of Black and Indian slaves and white indentured servants in the colonial south during the 1760’s in this book.  There’s also a lot of factual history about the Stamp Tax Act and the ramifications of this attempt to make colonists pay taxes for finished products of every sort while receiving scant compensation for the raw materials that the colonies shipped back to England.  “Blood of the Oak” vividly describes how the stage was set for the Revolutionary War and also poignantly describes how the Iroquois and other Indian tribes were wiped out by a combination of settler incursions onto Indian land, war, disease and enslavement of Indian people.  At the end of the book we see the Iroquois’ female spiritual leader and her most trusted chiefs take the tribes’ idols deeper into the wilderness in a futile effort to get away from death and destruction at white men’s hands.

Not every reader will be able to stomach the violence in “Blood of the Oak.” Those who stick with it will be rewarded with a visceral understanding of that critical period of Colonial history between the French and Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War.  Particularly interesting is the description of  how the Sons of Liberty were able to communicate with each other to eventually unite a disparate group of colonies using a complex system of codes and a range rider system that included both colonists and Iroquois allies.

Despite the extremely graphic violence in this book, it is another masterpiece of America historic fiction and a really bone-rattling mystery thriller.  It will be impossible to romanticize Colonial history again after this excellent, accurately portrayed work of historical fiction.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied pre-pub review copy.)

 

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The Blood Strand by Chris Ould

British screen writer and author, Chris Ould, just published “The Blood Strand,” a Foroyar Novel, in February 2016.  This police procedural is set in the Faroe Islands.  Administratively, the Faroe Islands are a part of Denmark.  When there is a police matter too complex for the local officers a team is often called in from Denmark to help solve the case.  It is quite close to the British Isles and gets a fair number of British tourists, and in this case, it is a Faroese native who has lived most of his life in Great Britain and is a British detective, Jan Reyna, who helps the local police detective, Hjalti Hentze, and his team to solve a couple murders that might be tied to members of his family in the Faroe Islands.  Jan is on the Islands to visit his ailing estranged father, Signar Ravensfjall.  Signar is not expected to recover from a massive stroke and the family is being gathered.

The police determine that there is something suspicious about Signar being found in his car in a remote part of the islands.  When Jan and Hjalti make the connection and start questioning possible witnesses or criminals, the people they contact start to die, and Jan begins to  wonder if some of his relatives are involved in something illegal.

Like so many Police procedurals this book is slow at times because the process of discovery for all the details that must be unraveled in this case is slow and repetitive. Sometimes Jan and Hjalti walk away with no new information during visits to possible witnesses and suspects, sometimes they get a small sliver of information, and increasingly toward the end of the book, the pieces start coming together.  A reader must have a certain amount of patience to get through this 435 page book, but increasingly the reader is rewarded by this complex and tightly woven plot.  It is amazing that so many secrets can be kept on this small and sparsely populated set of islands.  In respect to the remote island setting, the circumspect Scandinavian population, and the dark family secrets, “The Blood Strand” reminds me of the first in the Steig Larsson trilogy.

I give “The Blood Strand” at lease one thumb up.  I just wish the investigation had been a little shorter or a little more exciting in the first two thirds of the book.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a provided proof copy.)

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House of 8 Orchids by James Thayer

I loved “House of 8 Orchids,” the thriller set in China in the late 1930s by James Thayer.  The novel was published in paperback January 5, 2016, and judging from other reviews in Amazon it has been very well received.  Thayer is called “a master storyteller” by Clive Cussler.  This is his fourteenth novel, and his experience shows in this vividly told story.

House of 8 Orchids” is the story of John Wade, the son of an American Consul General in Chungking, China, who at age five, along with his younger brother, was kidnapped from the streets of Chungking by the thuggish Eunich Chang.  Chang embarked on a life of crime after the fall of the last emperor of China.  He trained the American boys to be pickpockets and swindlers and, along with other boys he plucked from the streets, the henchmen for all his evil endeavors.  When John’s brother, William, decided to save a woman Chang had kidnapped to sell as a sex slave, John began to gradually recognize the Eunich and his former life as evil and to embrace using his physical and mental strengths to do good.  These more noble impulses in John were encouraged by his experiences with an American doctor who operated a clinic along the Yangtze River and an American Naval commander who helped Wade ultimately defeat Eunich Chang and other forces of evil.

House of 8 Orchids” provides a vivid portrayal of the dangers and chaos faced by everyone living in China during that time when the Kuomintang and Communists were fighting for control of the country, and the Japanese were also trying to gain a stronghold in China.  Add those political dangers to those of pirates, warlords and rogues like Eunich Chang on top of everyday illnesses and accidents and it is a wonder anyone survived that era in China.

John Wade is exactly the kind of protagonist I am excited to get to know in literature.  He is a complex combination of Chinese and American– more Chinese than American through most of the book.  That only gradually changes as he gets to know the doctor, Elizabeth Hanley, and the Naval officer, Commander Beals.

House of 8 Orchids” would make a terrific movie.  If it hasn’t already been optioned for the big screen, it should be.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)

 

 

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If I Run by Terri Blackstock

If I Run” is a detective thriller in the tradition of “The Fugitive” but with a Christian twist.  Casey Cox, a young woman who finds her father dead when she is 12, finds her best friend murdered 13 years later.  Since Casey is convinced her father was also murdered, she believes that if she stays around she will be framed for her friend, Brent’s, murder.  She runs even though it makes her look guilty.  “If I Run” is the story of how Casey evades detection and how others gradually come to believe in her innocence.  The story is by no means resolved by the end of the book.

The Shreveport Police Department hires a returning veteran, one of Brent’s oldest friends, Dylan Roberts, to track the girl down and bring her back.  Dylan is an aspiring cop with investigative experience in the Army.  Brent’s parents hire him as a PI to find the fugitive.  The cops in the homicide division at Shreveport PD agree to let Dylan investigate, but they throw a lot of blocks into the investigation, and especially when he asks for access to crime scene evidence.  After he talks with the evidence clerk at the police station that clerk mysteriously ends up dead.  Every piece of evidence Dylan uncovers seems to point to other people involved in Brent’s murder and possibly also to Casey’s dad’s murder.

Although Casey lost much of her faith in God when her father died, she meets a number of people on her run as a fugitive who help to restore her faith.  While at the end of the book Casey is still on the run, I believe the theme of this series will gradually restore her faith while her journey restores the faith others have in her and in her innocence.

If I Run” is not the most original story, but it is a well told thriller with a likeable heroine and a thoughtful and fair PI who is following her every step.  The bad guys are predictably pure evil.  Fans will await the next book to see how the bad guys are defeated.

Available February 16, 2016.

Reviewed from an Advance Reader’s Copy.

Liz Nichols

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The Newsmakers by Lis Wiehl

The Newsmakers” is the first title in a new series by Fox News legal analyst, Lis Wiehl, and it promises to be a blockbuster.  Her protagonist, Erica Sparks, is the deeply flawed but talented and tenatious reporter who we meet on her first day of work as a reporter for GNN, the Global News Network, an up-and-coming cable news channel owned by a brilliant but vindictive and possibly psychotic billionaire, Nylan Hastings.  Erica’s first assignment puts her into the midst of a freak ferry accident that soon is revealed to be a cyber-terror plot.  The notariety Erica gains in handling the ferry disaster story lands her in the middle of an assassination situation with a potential presidential candidate.  Is it coincidence or is some evil hand putting Erica in the way of blockbuster stories?  Erica digs until she finds the solution to both crimes and in the process puts herself and many of the people around her in danger.

What I particularly like about this fast-paced page-turner are the complex characters– Erica herself and the people around her at GNN.  We get to know many of these characters very well, warts and all.  Readers who are paying attention can also see what is about to happen to Erica before she can see the outcome herself.  Instead of ruining the plot, having a somewhat obvious outcome actually heightens the intrigue because we can’t wait to see how Erica extricates herself from the mess, whether she screws up and goes back to her ways of drink and ruin, and whether some of the innocents she has dragged into her messy world will come out alive.

Lis Wiehl knows the cable news business and she knows how to deliver a heart-pounding thriller.  “The Newsmakers” formula should be a recipe for another best seller for Wiehl and her co-author Sebastian Stuart.  Two thumbs up!

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)

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Karma’s a Killer by Tracy Weber

Early in January 2016 Midnight Ink Books of Woodbury, MN published a charming little cozy mystery by award-winning author Tracy Weber, “Karma’s a Killer,” featuring amateur sleuth and Seattle yoga instructor, Kate Davidson. Weber lives in Seattle and she’s a yoga therapist, so she knows her subject matter.

The plot starts out at a fund-raiser for an animal rescue called DogMa where Kate has agreed to teach a yoga for dogs class (doga) with their owners.  When a bossy rabbit owner insists on attending the crowded class with her pet, all hell breaks loose.  The same event is invaded by a group of animal rights activists led by a former employee at DogMa and two of her friends.  The older woman in the animal rights group turns out to be Kate’s estranged mother, Dharma, or Daisy.  The younger protester is found murdered and Dharma is arrested on suspicion of murder, based on a presumption of jealousy because the two women were dating the same man.

Karma’s a Killer” is both highly entertaining, and very thought-provoking in ways that make it almost a psychological thriller.  Dharma’s presence forces Kate to examine the nightmares she has regularly and many of the personal flaws of mistrust and deception that have made it difficult for her to open up to others.  It also makes her question the mythology that she has built around her parents and the circumstances that led to her being raised exclusively by her now deceased father.  The difficult task of coming to terms with her mother and why her mother abandoned her is handled very intelligently and sensitively in “Karma’s a Killer” and it sets up this “A Downward Dog Mystery” series to show more growth in Kate’s relationship with her boyfriend, her best friend, her mother, and herself in future installments.

Karma’s a Killer” is a two-thumbs up mystery for me.

Liz Nichols

Reviewed from a supplied Reader’s Advance copy.

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The Winemaker Detective by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

I received a pre-publication uncorrected proof copy of “The Winemaker Detective” by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen, translated into English by Le French Book translators Anne Trager and Sally Pane.  The paperback version was published in English translation in December 2015.  This French cozy mystery is aimed at those who enjoy “Murder She Wrote” type plots in French wine country settings.  Like “Murder She Wrote” the books in the Winemaker Detective Series are being made into a successful television series seen in France and other French-speaking countries.  This collection includes the first three books in the series.

Each book represents an independent plot tied together with two amateur detectives and winemakers, Benjamin Cooker and his young employee, Virgile Lanssien.  Cooker is a fifty-something product of a French mother and British father.  He grew up in London but spent his summers on the acreage owned by his French grandparents, which he eventually inherited.  Cooker is a curious mixture in personality, temperament and interests of his Franco-Britsh heritage.  He spends a lot of his time driving around the French countryside in his beloved Mercedes exploring different wine-making regions and reviewing the best vintages in each one.  Along the way he runs into many eccentric and a good many shady characters.  The plots include industrial sabotage of the product of a winemaker in Bordeaux; the murder of a call girl and a hotel clerk, and theft of fine wines in the Loire Valley; and the murder of two graffitti artists in Burgundy.

Each book is highly descriptive.  Those who enjoy travel will get to know the French wine regions quite well through  Cooker’s adventures.  The plots are intriguing, as well, so that it is easy to see why this mystery series makes for successful television in France.  I have to admit, however, that some of the detective work drags on as Cooker and Virgile find themselves retracing their steps in order to pick up new pieces of information, and there is not a lot of  action.  The pace is more sedate than I generally like– again, rather like episodes of “Murder She Wrote”.

Still, the series will have wide appeal within the British and American mystery-reading market, and particularly for those who enjoy a bit of armchair travel and lots of detailed descriptions of great French food and wine.

I give “The Winemaker Detective” French cozy mystery compilation a one-thumb up.

Liz Nichols

 

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