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every hidden fear (sharp)

A review of Every Hidden Fear: A Skeet Bannion Mystery by Linda Rodriguez.

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The Worms Crawl In

A Case of Doubtful Death: A Frances Doughty Mystery by Linda Stratmann (The Mystery Press, $14.95, 283 pages)

A Case of Doubtful Death

Author Linda Stratmann is not shy about telling her tale in graphic detail. Get ready for an amazing visit to England in the late 1800s and an education in the means by which folks dealt with death and burial. Ms. Stratmann explores in depth the notion of death houses where the recently deceased are treated as patients and monitored by medical staff to assure that a loved one is not buried alive. The particulars of the monitoring of the dead, the care of the corpses and the maintenance of security are laid out in minute detail. The service is costly and not really an option for folks of the lower classes.

The notion of class and appropriate vocations for females during the Victorian Era are prominent themes in the Frances Doughty Mystery series. This book is the third in the series. Frances is a plucky young woman who has taken up the profession of detective after her father died leaving her in need of an income. She is aided by her sidekick Sarah, the former Doughty family housekeeper. Sarah is a burly, intelligent and no-nonsense woman who happens to be the oldest of eight children. Clearly, she is experienced in dealing with people.

An American counterpart for this series would be the Sarah Woolson Mysteries by Shirley Tallman that are set in San Francisco during the same era. Both series make ample use of dress codes and etiquette to give the reader a strong sense of the limitations placed on these capable and very smart young women who are struggling to make an honest living while furthering the cause of equality for their sex.

In Doubtful Death, the significant (read that dead or missing) characters work at Life House (a death house), the location for much of the tale. These men include several physicians and two orderlies. The tale begins with the death of one of the physicians and the disappearance of one of the orderlies, both occurring on the same night. Henry Palmer, the orderly who has disappeared, is the stalwart older brother in a family of five orphans. His sister and her fiance approach Frances Doughty in the hope of finding Henry, preferably alive.

Absent cell phones, the internet and medical technology common today, the pace of the search for Henry Palmer could have been laboriously slow; however, Francis makes good use of her shoe leather, contacts among the eccentrics of her city and foot messengers to solve the mystery. To Ms. Stratmann’s credit, the pace moves along well and her dry wit that is expressed through conversation among the characters is most entertaining.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “In the field of historical crime writing, (Stratmann) is bound to make her mark.” SJ Bolton

A Case of Doubtful Death will be released on September 1, 2013.

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Still Waters

A Summer Mystery Series Update.

Proof of Guilt (nook book)

Proof of Guilt: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $12.99, 352 pages)

In a series marked by smooth transitions and character development, this, the 15th Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery is sure to please fans of the writing duo who go by the name, Charles Todd. As is the case with this series, the story is set in post World War II England with all the charm and quaintness expected of the genre. The plot is intricately woven with multiple generations of two families that together founded an upstanding firm. The firm produces and distributes fine Madera wine. The vineyard is located on Madera and the distributorship is headquartered in London.

Rutledge, although an inspector with Scotland Yard, is assigned to a death case where the unidentified victim has been struck down by an automobile and appears to be a man of means – based upon his clothes and a fine old gold pocket watch that was originally sold in Lisbon, Portugal. Motoring fatalities are not Rutledge’s specialty; however, the lack of an ID on the man and his appearance — which includes gentlemanly hands and fingernails — makes him more than some poor devil who was plowed down by an auto.

There are many instances where Rutledge and his fellow law enforcement personnel rely on class distinctions to parse out the relationships among the two families and their employees. Class seems to be a prominent part of daily life in the early 20th century and the lack of modern scientific methodology for solving crimes puts relationships and motives to the forefront in crime solving. Pursuit of truth and uncovering deceit are foremost on Rutledge’s agenda for this assignment.

Of note is the personal progress made by Inspector Rutledge. He has been very close to his sister, Frances, ever since the end of the war. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder seems to be abating somewhat and his improving mental health bodes well for a shift in his relationship with Frances.

Highly recommended.

Lost: A Novel by S. J. Bolton (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 391 pages)

Lost

Fast forward to modern day London, this is where we catch up with Lacey Flint, the beautiful but tortured British detective constable whose life is filled with heroics and victimhood. Lacey is on leave from her job following a brush with death (Dead Scared).

Lacey and a young boy who lives next door become unlikely partners in solving a rash of pre-adolescent kidnappings/murders. Barney, the 11-year-old next-door-neighbor, is forever searching for his mom who disappeared when he was a toddler. Lacey uses Barney’s quest and a need for distraction and escape from her own demons and proclivities to work behind the scenes while her heartthrob, Detective Mark Joesbury, and Detective Dana Tulloch are the assigned investigators on the case.

Of course there are gruesome scenes involving really twisted criminals and perilous situations for all involved. It wouldn’t be an authentic S. J. Bolton mystery without these compelling elements. This one is as good as its predecessors!

Highly recommended.

The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 390 pages)

The Beautiful Mystery (nook book)

Our next stop is deep in the wilderness of Quebec, Canada behind the massive door of a fortified monastery, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his younger protege Jean-Guy Beauvoir are investigating the murder of the monastery’s choirmaster. The tale is a classic locked door and limited list of suspects mystery. (The book is the eighth in this series.)

Gamache is true to form with his nearly-infinite patience and calm demeanor. The monastery is world-famous for the spectacular Georgian chants performed by the choir. All the monks participate in the singing; it is what they do, along with their daily chores and the creation of chocolate covered blueberries. Gamache is ecstatic because he is the first non-religious person to enter the monastery and he loves the Georgian chants.

The ultimate joy is when a visit to the monastery proves to be literally fruitful — blueberries covered with chocolate! Jean-Guy and Gamache explore the entire building and its walled garden while seeking a murderer among the seemingly-pacifist monks. Still waters run deep and even the motive for the murder is well-hidden.

This reviewer listened to the audio book read by Ralph Cosham. The beautifully pronounced French words made the experience very enjoyable. Reading the words in hard copy has been a challenge!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher. Lost was released on June 4, 2013, and The Beautiful Mystery was released on July 2, 2013.

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Pennies From Heaven

Valley of the ShadowManna From Hades

Manna From Hades: A Cornish Mystery by Carola Dunn (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 309 pages)

The Valley of the Shadow: A Cornish Mystery by Carola Dunn (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 305 pages)

What better way to slow down the action of a mystery than set it in the countryside in the time before cell phones? Indeed, author Carola Dunn makes good use of the weather and topography of Cornwall, England as she tests the wits and patience of her two main characters, Eleanor Trewyn and Detective Sargent Megan Pencarrow. These charming ladies are aunt and niece, respectively. Eleanor is a retired world traveler whose heart is open and willing to serve humanity. Megan is a suspicious and eager police officer who has moved to her aunt’s new home of Port Mabyn after a difficult time in London.

Together, these two are able to get themselves into rather peculiar situations while chasing the bad guys. In Manna, the charity thrift shop which Eleanor sponsors is the location of a murder. This crime comes after a very valuable donation is received by the organization. It makes for an enticing mystery situation which Eleanor is unable to resist. Megan and the local police force led by Detective Inspector Scumble are hard pressed to keep up with Eleanor as she scurries about the countryside following her hunches and seeks to untangle the web of confusing clues she discovers.

In Shadow, we catch up with the Port Maybn ladies just as Megan performs a heroic off-duty rescue of a naked young fellow floundering in the water below the treacherous cliffs abutting the seacoast. The first few chapters of this installment of the Cornish Mysteries are a bit scattered, not unlike the efforts needed to secure the nearly-dead swimmer. The action evens out and becomes manageable about midway through the tale.

Fans of this series are treated to greater insight into Detective Inspector Scumble’s values and beliefs. His attitude is well known as he is usually quick to let those around him have a clear idea of what bothers him. The cast of characters has some expansion in this scenario and old favorites are kept in the mix to assure the reader’s commitment to the Cornish Mysteries.

Younger readers may have difficulty suspending their reality when encountering the 1960s-70s era that is most assuredly more slowly-paced than today due to the absence of smart phones and GPS. When Eleanor is frantically searching for a public phone to contact Megan and DI Scumble, it’s obvious today’s crime fighters have better methods for catching the bad guys.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Death on Telegraph Hill (300)

A review of Death on Telegraph Hill: A Sarah Woolson Mystery by Shirley Tallman. Read Chapter One here:

http://www.shirleytallman.com/deathontelegraphhill.cfm

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Four To Go!

The Snow White Christmas Cookie (nook book)Kings of Midnight (nook book)

Here are four exciting mysteries from Minotaur that will easily fill your long winter evenings with entertainment. All four books are well recommended.

Kings of Midnight: A Mystery by Wallace Stroby (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 266 pages)

Fans of edgy and fast-paced stories with a female lead character will tune into the intense plot immersion, quick scene cuts and a strong sense of urgency. Crissa Stone is the main character and she’s a hardened career criminal who does not hesitate to put herself first in a tight situation. There is low-key violence associated with Crissa’s teaming up with Benny Roth, a sometime gangster. Together, they race to stay one step ahead of some truly bad fellas and, of course, the cops. The prize is $5 million stashed away from long ago.

Skating on the Edge: A Mystery by Joelle Charbonneau (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 290 pages)

Here’s a true niche story about the world of women’s roller derby. Charbonneau provides a super quirky behind-the-scenes glimpse of a guilty pleasure for many TV viewers over the years. Her easy writing style includes a little gore with a mix of young and elderly characters, and I do mean characters. Rebecca Robbins is the owner of a skating rink that she inherited from her mom. Her grandfather is the link to the senior citizen crowd in their hometown of Indian Falls. The theme of snack foods runs through the story (popcorn, potato chips and sweet potato fries), so be ready to be hungry while you laugh at the antics in this charming book.

Fire Season: A Frank Coffin Mystery by Jon Loomis (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 306 pages)

A cop’s view of serial arson in Provincetown, Massachusetts forms the core of this mystery. This reviewer had no idea that Provincetown is famous for eccentricities like transgender residents. The city has pageants featuring these folks. The opening of the mystery is pretty gruesome, as a group of retired performing seals is found slaughtered outside a restaurant that sits just below an old hotel. The hotel is the home of many pageant participants. Frank Coffin, the acting chief of police, races all over town from one fire to another in a very short time span. Eventually, all the mayhem is bundled together; however, not before Frank and his team traipse over most of the region seeking the source of their problems.

The Snow White Christmas Cookie: A Berger and Mitry Mystery by David Handler (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 264 pages)

The duo of Mitch Berger and Desiree Mitry are featured in this, the ninth book in a series. The unlikely pair of film critic and state trooper slog through several snow blizzards and too many characters to name in an abbreviated review. The tone of the book is definitely light-hearted even though there are crimes galore, like murder, mail theft and black market drug sales. The small town setting is especially quaint. Author Handler has a way with scene setting and goofy details. Even though we’re past Christmas, don’t let the title put you off. A tale like this is always in season.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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For Everyman

Leader of the Pack: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 362 pages)

Sometime attorney Andy Carpenter can afford just about anything that money can buy.   His inheritance has been invested well and it keeps growing, which allows him the flexibility to take on cases as it suits him.   Even though he doesn’t need to work, his conscience has prodded him to maintain contact with one of his past clients.   This client just isn’t any old guy; he’s the son of a mob boss.   Andy is convinced that the client, Joey, who was convicted of murder, is innocent.   While revisiting the case, he manages to get himself thoroughly entangled with the mob while stubbornly pursuing new information that might free Joey from prison.   Andy’s diligence is rewarded with a heart-stopping attempt on his life.

Rosenfelt always includes a part in the plot for Tara, the wonderful golden retriever that provides Andy with companionship and comfort.   This time she is playing the role of therapy dog when Andy needs an excuse to visit Joey’s ailing elderly uncle.   The uncle’s babbling makes just enough sense that Andy knows there’s a reason to follow-up on the murder that landed Joey in prison.

Readers of this delightful mystery series written by David Rosenfelt can be confident that the situations encountered by the characters are both dangerous and baffling.   Rosenfelt uses his quirky writing style to provide amusement regardless of the harrowing situations he creates for Andy.   The lack of pretense or exaggeration in these books is refreshing.   Well, maybe there’s a bit of exaggeration when it comes to the feats of strength performed by Andy’s bodyguard Marcus.   Marcus often comes in handy when villains are reluctant to tell what they know or Andy is trapped in a nasty predicament.

Andy is in some ways an everyman.   He doesn’t come off as a super hero or glamorous leading man.   Perhaps it is the down-to-earth nature of his observations that make Andy so likeable.

Laurie has just gotten on the treadmill, which is a device I completely do not understand.   I don’t like walking anywhere, and in a million years would not walk to nowhere.   This particular treadmill has a video screen that shows fake mountains, I guess under the very misguided assumption that mountain walking is an appealing concept.   It isn’t; in fact, it’s one of the reasons they invented tunnels.   I never really envied the Von Trapp family much.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Leader of the Pack was released on July 17, 2012.   “Rosenfelt walks a line between pulse-pounding suspense and laugh-out-loud humor…  One of the best in the business.”   Associated Press

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Desolation Row

All I Did Was Shoot My Man: A Leonid McGill Mystery by Walter Mosley (Riverhead Hardcover, $26.95, 336 pages)

“And the only sound that’s left/ After the ambulances go/ Is Cinderella sweeping up/ On Desolation Row.”   Bob Dylan

All I Did Was Shoot My Man is the fourth in a series of Leonid McGill mysteries by Walter Mosley.   This time an abrupt ending creeps up out of nowhere and doesn’t quite seem to relate to the closure of the rest of the plot – there are likely plans in place for a fifth book.

McGill introduces characters and events in a unique way that sometimes works and sometimes is frustrating.   Often plot twists are dropped on the reader as if they should know what’s going on, but these elements do not always come together or make total sense for a couple of pages or chapters.   Perhaps this may sometimes keep the reader’s interest level high, but it backfires at other times.

In this story, Zella Grisham murders her boyfriend for cheating on her, and McGill, a private investigator, allows himself to get pulled into proving her innocent of a crime for which she is falsely accused.   The proof involves a massive amount of money and a large international company.

The real perpetrators of the crime eventually come after McGill, threatening him and his family until McGill – who seems to have a love-hate relationship with just about every character in the book – manages to connect the dots.

McGill’s family is another story altogether.   Mosley uses the family by attempting to create some sense of normalcy within the chaos.   The characters have a rather bizarre definition of family, but they are one.   There are kids from multiple parties and partners, both married and otherwise, that form relationships built on varying combinations of love, convenience, and desperation.

Fortunately, the characters created by Mosley are interesting.   It is this fact that there are relationships and personalities, rather than just action and events, that makes this a better book than most of its kind.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “If you like your crime snappy, hard-boiled and razor-edged, Walter Mosley is for you.”   Victoria Clark

Dave Moyer is an educator, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Lies, Lies, Lies

Requiem for a Gypsy: A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation by Michael Genelin (Soho Crime; $25.00; 356 pages)

“The nearsightedness created by self-importance would always get in the way of finding evidence, particularly in a case like this.”

Commander Jana Matinova of the Bratislava police force is faced with lies, trickery, gunfire and a manipulative, but adorable, teenage girl named Em in her most recent appearance in Michael Genelin’s mystery series set in Eastern Europe, Requiem for a Gypsy.   Commander Matinova, Em and Prosecutor Truchanova are seriously outnumbered by the male characters in this somewhat dark tale of hubris and greed.   They may be outnumbered, but they are not timid or shy.

The first death of the book, a hit and run in Paris, sets up the mystery and the second person to die begins what turns out to be a killing spree.   The shooting victim, Klara Bogan, and her husband Oto are the hosts of a name day celebration in Bratislava that is quite lavish by Slovakian standards.   The party is broken up by deadly gunfire followed quickly by the mass exodus of the guests.   To make matters more stressful, Matinova’s superior, Colonel Trokan becomes collateral damage because he has shielded Oto Brogan from the gunfire.

Commander Matinova is thwarted repeatedly as she seeks to determine the name of the intended victim at the party.  She believes that Mrs. Brogan is an unlikely target.   Colonel Trokan is willing to back his commander; however, State secrets and protocols prevent him from giving her the official lead in the investigation.   Enter the arrogant and off-putting sister agencies that are drawn into the story as the killing and deceptions take Matinova on trips around the neighboring countries and even to Paris, France.   As expected, the characters display their power in various ways – wearing uniforms, behaving arrogantly, ignoring Matinova or just shooting each other.   In the latter case powerful gangsters and law enforcement officers are equally involved.

Author Genelin provides a rich mix of regional history and politics as he presents the reader with one red herring after another.   His portrayal of the nasty xenophobia present in Eastern European culture is portrayed well by  his character Georg Repka, who Matinova initially idolizes and later despises when she sees his true nature.

The heaviness of the story is enlivened by Em, who wrangles her way into Matinova’s care and protection by knocking at Matinova’s door in the middle of a snowstorm.   Who can resist a waif-like girl selling earings door-to-door in the cold?   Surely not Matinova who is lonely and misses her granddaughter who lives thousands of miles away in the USA.   Em steals the scene whenever she appears in the story.   Genelin has the ability to set up Em with plausible truths and convenient lies that the reader is hard pressed to differentiate.   His experience as a prosecutor in an earlier time of his life shines through on numerous occasions.   Moreover, his love of the subtle quirks in dining habits and quaint places around Europe are put to good use as mini characters in the story.

The starkness and lack of colorful descriptions, aside from food and beverage, prevalent until nearly the end of the book, keep the reader focused on the interactions of the characters and the aggression that some of them display as an integral part of life in their world.   When Genelin does go into detail about room decor, clothing or symbols of opulence, he reinforces the distance between his heroine’s life and the lives of those she must bring to justice.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Rich in compelling plot twists and sobering history lessons.”   Amazon

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The Race Is On

A Bad Day’s Work: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery by Nora McFarland (Touchstone; $14.99; 268 pages)

After reading Nora McFarland’s second Lilly Hawkins mystery, Hot, Shot, and Bothered, I was curious about the characters and their alliances.   Rather than rehashing the background for the series here, I suggest you check out the review posted previously on this site.

In this debut book, Lilly has a sense of urgency associated with getting the breaking story while assuring her place on the news team.   She is caught up in her own drama and dives furiously into an assignment in foggy Bakersfield, CA.   Making the most of being a TV news camera person, a shooter, is uppermost in Lilly’s mind.   As you might imagine, there’s a whole other scenario playing out behind the main story – a decent fellow is gunned down while driving a truck full of cargo.   Moreover, the cargo has vanished but no one is sure what it was!   There are private security guards, sheriff’s deputies and a wealthy businessman who create a murky view of the facts in the story.   To make matters even more confusing, Lilly’s co-workers are not exactly who she thinks they are.

The action takes place over the span of one day.   Author McFarland packs the day with a remarkable volume of action that includes car chases, hiding from the authorities and a gang attack.   While action plays a key role in the story, it is the development of Lilly’s relationships with her co-workers that brings the story to life.   She must decide who is on her side and who is blocking her career path.   Several past mishaps with camera equipment and a black tape of the crime scene investigation are leading the newsroom management to wonder about Lilly’s abilities and commitment to her profession.   Lilly’s past includes the loss of her father and estrangement from her mother.   These traumas contribute to the plot.   Needless to say, there’s no boredom in this book!

McFarland’s style is consistent over the two mysteries.   Let’s hope she adds to the Lilly Hawkins series with the same attention to heart and action present in the first two books.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Packed full of adrenaline and attitude, A Bad Day’s Work is a roller-coaster ride…   Don’t miss it!”   Lisa Scottoline

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