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June/July 2004 Reviews


BLOOD OF THE LAMB by Michael Lister
2004
ISBN 1-932557-05-9
Bleak House Books

Michael Lister has created a wonderfully human and real character in John Jordan. A Chaplin in the Florida Prison System, Jordan spends his days listening to and trying to help prisoners with their various problems. With his family's law enforcement background Jordan is more than equipped to handle what ever comes his way, or so he thinks. The warden has decided to let a Television Evangelist come into the prison to speak. Along with the Evangelist Bobby Earl Caldwell, come his wife Bunny and adopted daughter Nicole. When Nicole is murdered in what appears to be a locked room mystery everyone is shocked.

Chaplin Jordan is asked to help on the case and in the tradition of a true detective he discovers any number of things wrong. Procedure not followed, Lies on top of lies, and suspects to spare. This is such a wonderful mystery story on many levels. And Chaplin Jordan is actually a bit hard boiled, definitely not a stereotype.

Lister portrays prison life in such a gritty way that I plan to stay on my best behavior. This is a book that demands to be read quickly. Lister is definitely on my "must read" pile from here on.

Jon Jordan


THE ENEMY by Lee Child
June 2004
ISBN 0-385-33667-5
Delecorte

Jack Reacher is back; in time and in fine form. The year is 1990. A two star general lies dead of natural causes in the back woods that just two days ago became Jack Reacher's patch. Why was he there? Where's the itinerary? Why are M.P.s being relocated? Reacher wades through a mire of military secrets to find an explanation and the thrills come as fast as the jolt from a triple espresso. Politics run amuck and agendas cloaked with self-preservation abound in a prequel resplendently filled with old favorites. Child allows his reader a glimpse at the Reacher of yore and the people who shared his life while presenting a thriller that is a compelling read for the sake of the chase alone. A great read.

Ruth Jordan


BACKSTABBER by Tim Cockey
July 2004
ISBN: 0786867132
Hyperion Press

In backstabber, Hitchcock, who runs a funeral home, is dragged out of bed early Sunday morning by his friend Sisco, whose lover's husband is lying dead on the kitchen floor. .Sisco, who swears he had nothing to do with it, calls upon Hitchcock to help him remove the body. Hitchcock declines to participate in a homicide cover up. Unfortunately his hearse is seen leaving the scene, so Hitch is involved already. Hitch, believing his friend's pleas of innocence, looks into the matter, much to the consternation of Lt. Kruk, whom Hitch has crossed paths with on prior occasions. Hitchcock also finds himself taking a closer look at a local nursing home after an old friend dies under questionable circumstances.Readers looking for fun dialogue and colorful characters will certainly enjoy this one as Tim Cockey has repeatedly shown that he has an ear for dialogue and has, over the course of the 4 book series, created an entertaining cast of unique characters.

If there was one aspect that I would critique, it would be that after four novels, there seems to be little or no real evolution of the characters, all of them seem to be the same as they were the day we first met them. This is nothing new in mystery and some of the biggest series today maintain a status quo with the characters, but this makes it harder, at least for me, to see these people as real folk and not just.

Jeremy Lynch


DEATH OF A THOUSAND CUTS by Barbara D'Amato
June 2004
ISBN 0-765-30345-0
Forge Books

DEATH OF A THOUSAND CUTS is my must read for summer 2004. D'Amato is an award winning author that I never miss. That said, DEATH OF A THOUSAND CUTS was still a wonderful gift.

A prominent doctor is found murdered in the sweltering heat of the Chicago summer. Detectives Folkestone and Parks must solve a case that has political repercussions for the C.P.D., personal repercussions for the Doctor's former patients, and global repercussions for all who've worked with autistic children since the doctor's groundbreaking work in the 1960s.

D'Amato weaves a tale that is a tour de force turn at setting, character, and the police procedural plot. It is D'Amato's masterpiece. This book is an affirmation of all that is good in our genre.

Ruth Jordan


DEAD HOT MOMMA by Victoria Houston
2004
ISBN: 0-425-19332-2
Berkley Prime Crime

It's Christmas time and Loon Lake is frozen over; little ice-shanty towns idot its facade, and snowmobiles break the silence as they zoom over the trails. Doc Osborne is expecting a quiet holiday with his family and Police Chief Lew Ferris.

Scratch that idea. First, it's a body on the ice, then it's bodies under the ice! To make matters worse, the local coroner is fired and the mayor wants his idiot nephew in the position. As the body count rises, it becomes evident that someone has found a unique way to profit from death, and it ain't pretty.

As Doc and neighbor Ray Pradt (fishing guide, lure developer, gravedigger, and all-around oddfellow) do their best to help Lew sort it all out, the seamier side of the Northwoods and the world of New Technologies collide in an unexpected fashion.

In the fifth installment of the Loon Lake series, Houston has really hit the mark. Although I have enjoyed all of her books, this one really grabbed me. Its complex plotlines kept me on the edge of my seat but didn't lose me, and her characters have evolved in that way that people do, for the better.

Kathy Tromp
Rhinelander, WI


ECHO BAY by Richard Barre
May 2004
ISBN 1-59266-042-8
Capra Press

Shawn Rainey had it all. A sure bet for the Olympic ski team, the love of a wonderful woman and a future that looked bright. A spectacular fall put an end to all of it. When we meet Shawn he is divorced, his ex business partner is sleeping in his old bed and he no longer is allowed to see his kids. He lives in a trailer barely making a living writing for a little newspaper.

But a chance has come along to repair his broken dreams, and it will take him back to his home town and the heart of a controversy. A steamship named Constance is at the bottom of Echo Bay and Shawn has been brought on board to help get support to bring it back up to the surface. This task is not as easy as he might hope and the biggest obstacle is the daughter of the man who owned the ship. Old wounds are reopened and new dangers arise as Shawn struggles with his past and his future.

Barre has written a story with depths as deep as Lake Tahoe itself. This book will draw you in and not let go till the last page. Another outstanding novel from one of mysteries finest authors.

Jon


ICE RUN by Steve Hamilton
June,2004
ISBN 0-312-30121-9
Thomas Dunne for St. Martin's Minotaur

Steve Hamilton's character Alex McKnight returns in ICE RUN. With the new year has come new love. Readers of the series will remember Canadian police officer Natalie Reynaud from BLOOD IS THE SKY. She and Alex both have complicated pasts. When an old man freezes to death after leaving a hat and a cryptic note outside the couple's hotel room all bets are off. Can new love survive old secrets and fresh wounds? Hamilton's story telling abilities make ICE RUN a great addition to one of the best "regional series" in Mystery.

Ruth


A HARD TICKET HOME by David Housewright
May 2004
ISBN# 0-312-32149X
St. Martins Minotaur

Rushmore McKenzie was a St.Paul cop until fortune smiled and left him with more money that he knows what to do with. He now spends time helping people that he feels deserve some assistance.

Rushmore is attempting to track down the long lost sister of a 9 year old Leukemia victim. Her sister may be her only hope for a transplant. Problem is that the sister ran away, with little explanation, years back. The search takes him from drugs and prostitution on the streets, all the way up to the higher echelon of the Twin Cites business community. The search also turns quite deadly.

A Hard Ticket Home marks David Housewright's return to detective fiction after a 5-year hiatus. He is an Edgar and Minnesota Book award winning author of 3 Holland Taylor novels. A Hard Ticket Home is the first to feature Rushmore McKenzie. With believable characters and a smart story, AHTH is a must read for any fan of detective fiction. Housewright's portrayal of the Twin Cities is as strong as Parker's Boston, Rozan's New York or Burke's New Orleans. I honestly can't think of a single reason why each and every one of you shouldn't run out and pick this one up, you won't be disappointed. Welcome back, David! I, for one, have missed your stellar work.

Jeremy


I DREAMED I MARRIED PERRY MASON by Susan Kandel
June 2004
ISBN 0-06-058105-0
William Morrow

In her debut novel Susan Kandel introduces Cece Caruso, a biography writer who specializes in dead mystery writers. Cece's latest book is about Earl Stanley Garner, and this alone should peak the interest of any mystery fan. In the course of her research she meets a prisoner who knew the man, and before long, instead of writing, she finds herself working on a forty year old murder and a second murder much fresher.

Kandel has an intimacy with her characters that pulls them right off the page. This is a fast paced, intelligent, and fun book and I would suggest grabbing a copy along with a full cup of coffee. Settle in for an entertaining story. I look forward Kandel's next book.

Jon


MURDER OF A PINK ELEPHANT by Denise Swanson
July 2004
ISBN: 0-451-21210-x
Signet

Denise Swanson's Scumble Creek series is always humorous. In the sixth outing for Skye Denison, school psychologist, she must prove her brother Vince innocent of murder. Who left lead vocalist Logan dead? Why is the band called the Pink Elephants? What was wrong with the name The Plastic Santas? Is the music they play now just so damn loud, or is something else going on in this not so quiet town? And fighting over groupies in Scumble Creek? Vince, Vince, Vince.

Filled with realistic characters and great dialogue this is one of my favorite series. It has all the nuances of life in a small town. My favorite line from the book? - "Try not to let your mind wander, It's to small and fragile to be out by itself." I laugh out loud while I read faster and faster trying to keep up with Swanson's prose. A perfect book to take you away from whatever ails you. I look forward to all my visits to Scumble River.

Jon


RED TIDE by GM Ford
July 2004
ISBN: 00060554800
William Morrow

Red Tide is the fourth novel to feature Frank Corso, a true crime writer. I like this character more and more with every book. I'll warn you right now, don't start this novel if you have plans for the next 24 hours. Opening the first page is like stepping in quicksand, it sucks you in and won't let go.

Someone releases a biochemical agent in Seattle and over 100 people are killed. Corso finds his way to the scene and can't keep himself from trying to discover what's going on.

The police have evacuated a large part of the city and there is a media black out. Add to this the reappearance of someone from Meg's past and you have the beginning of a very fast ride. I'm talking about a hanging onto the front of a speeding racecar kind of ride. And it only gains speed, as Frank becomes a suspect. Add to all this, a deadline until the real terrorist act takes place, and you have an incredible story. The tension Ford creates in this book has a physical feeling, like hands on your throat tightening.

An outstanding read.

Jon

RETRO REVIEW
THE SINS OF THE FATHERS by Laurence Block

Matt Scudder, as you may or may not know, is an ex-cop with a drinking...um...habit. Haunted by the accidental death of a child in the line of duty, and split from his wife and kids, he lives in a motel in Manhattan, occasionally taking on private eye employment, despite his lack of license. In "The Sins of the Fathers", Lawrence Block's first in the Matt Scudder series, he is hired by the step-father of a recently murdered prostitute to find out, not who murdered her, but, what become of her in her last years on this mortal coil. You see, her family lost touch with her when she dropped out of college, moved to New York City, and ceased all contact with them. When the man she lived with is charged with her bloody murder, and then commits suicide in jail, the police consider it an open and shut case. Scudder, while pursuing the trail of her recent life, doesn't find the official conclusion so pat. The problem is, he hasn't been hired to solve a crime, only to give some closure to a grieving parent.

Having read a few of the Block Scudder series out of order, I was interested to discover the genesis of the character. I expected a more reserved, less volatile manifestation of the Scudder of later books. I was surprised to see little hint of the reformed alcoholic. But that makes sense, in this, the first book to introduce the man to the public. Here we see the darker side of Scudder, a side that's not so obvious in the later books, where dealing with his alcoholism seems to have mellowed him.

This is a short book, but it packs a solid mystery, and the Socratic inquiry you expect in a good PI narrative, all leading to a disturbing yet satisfying ending.

John Purcell


RETRO by Loren D Estleman
May 2004
ISBN - 0-765-30448-1
Forge

Amos Walker is truly one of the best PI series written, and Retro only confirms this. In the 17th novel featuring Amos we are given two murders to watch Walker solve. It opens with what seems to be a fairly simple missing persons case. A local Madam, long since retired wants Amos to find the whereabouts of her adopted son and when the time comes, give him her ashes. With a little help the wayward son is found and the ashes are indeed delivered. This is the point when Walker should have followed his first instincts. He decides to find the father the son never knew. With Walkers luck running true to form he finds himself being hunted by mobsters, a mobster's moll wants his help, and the police are mad at him for interfering. It all leads up to a climactic finish that can only be called brilliant.

Estleman is a true master and Retro is what Private Eye stories should be, exciting, gritty and wisecracks to keep it from being over powering. This could be my favorite of Estleman's books yet.

Jon


TWISTED CITY by Jason Starr
July 2004
ISBN: 1400075068
Vintage books

For those who are lucky enough not to have read Jason Starr yet, I envy you. I envy you the sense of discovery and the enjoyment you will receive when you make your way through your first book. Starr has been out there since Cold Caller in 1998 and has written four since then. If Twisted City is the book to pop your Starr cherry, I envy you all the more.

It isn't easy waking up every morning to discover you're still David Miller. Miller writes what he must for a second rate financial magazine. He thinks his editor is a hack, his girlfriend is a bi-polar, partying parasite and his life consists of drifting from one day to the next in a meaningless haze. The recent death of his sister has stolen the only emotional anchor he really had. But life has more in store for the forlorn Miller than mere grief and disconnected dissatisfaction.

On his way back from a beastly interview with a CEO that he likes but is forced to write a negative article about, Miller runs into a woman that reminds him of his deceased sister, Barbara. What Miller hopes might be a love connection in a New York bar turns into a mock and steal. A barfly distracts him as a fleeting figure makes off with his wallet. This seemingly commonplace incident has Miller reacting as anybody would. He cancels his credit cards and freezes his bank accounts. But what begins as an ordinary theft in the Big Apple develops into Miller's own private hell with one phone call. A woman named Sue calls and tells him she has his wallet. 'Great,' he thinks.

He is quickly lured into a world that exists in every urban setting. Its threshold cannot be crossed without taking a piece of its darkness out upon leaving.

It is readily apparent that 'Sue' is not a good citizen. 'Sue' reminds Miller of photos of Auschwitz victims. She wants three hundred for return of the wallet. No need to wonder what for.

Miller begins outraged negotiation when 'Sue's' old man busts in with a blade and a bad attitude. Miller loses it. Miller goes totally Berserker. Miller has crossed the threshold.

In Twisted City, Starr takes what seems to be an everyman and puts him in a situation that anyone could end up in. But he takes it further. Much further. Starr explores that part of everyman that no man like to think about. And it exacts a heavy toll on David Miller. His life turns into an endless bungee jump with the cord that just might real him back in snipped in the end. This book is the most Twisted this reviewer has ever read.

Jennifer Jordan


SCAREDY CAT by Mark Billingham
April 2004 (paperback)
ISBN: 0061032204
Avon

Readers unfamiliar with Mr. Billingham are in for a treat. You've got Sleepyhead, Scaredy Cat and now Lazy Bones to choose from. Those of you who are particular about reading the first novel before reading other parts of the series should start with Sleepyhead. Those unconcerned will find that Mr. Billingham makes mention of "previous cases" but concentrates on the one at hand. He doesn't rewrite Sleepyhead in Scaredy Cat and that's a plus.

Scaredy Cat is a police procedural. A British police procedural but of a new order. These cops are war weary; no less dedicated but definitely feeling the accumulated affects of the daily grind that the job of policing London has become.

That weariness is present in Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. His thoughts stray to other jobs, easier jobs and yet he knows that this is what he's good at and he perseveres. He worries that his team, Detectives Holland and McEvoy are too young but in the same breath feels that they've both started becoming too cynical too soon. And yet, cynicism is part of the protective armor of cops. It's armor they're going to need as two women are killed in quick succession and Thorne's special unit is assigned to catch the bad guy.

Ah, but is it a bad guy?

Mr. Billingham has Thorne tell the reader that motive doesn't matter to the police. That is quite true but Mr. Billingham knows that the reader needs the motive and he spins out his flash backs and point of view changes in such a smooth way that he's revealing motive, thus satisfying his reader.

This is an enjoyable book with one of the better premises I've come across in a while. In essence, the paperback release of Scaredy Cat and the hard cover release of Lazy Bones mean there's a great new series out there that you're going to enjoy. Go to it.

Dave


THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS by Ian Smith
June, 2004
ISBN 1-212-782-9000
Doubleday

The American Thriller has found a new hero in Sterling Bledsoe and someone to watch in first time novelist Ian Smith.

When Professor Wilson Bledsoe is murdered on his way home one night it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. F.B.I. Agent Sterling Bledsoe arrives on the scene to comfort his brother's widow and help with the case in any way he can. The reader's fun begins.

THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS is an engaging look at the dark side of academia and the relationship between two brothers. It is thriller of the highest order and not to be missed.

Ruth Jordan


WINDY CITY KNIGHTS by Michael A. Black
2004
ISBN 1-4104-0190-1
Five Star

Michael A. Black's first novel, A Killing Frost, introduced Ron Shade, a PI in the Chicago area. Windy City Knights brings Shade back with true noir style. In this book Shade is working a part time gig helping out with security at a local hotel. In the course of an evening on duty he reunited with his first girlfriend. Old flames doing what they do best, burst embers into a bonfire and Shade and Paula Kitterman have quite a reunion. Before things get a chance to progress or not, Paula is dead. Her cousin comes to town to settle affairs and asks Ron to look into what happened. What the discover is not pretty, and comes with more than a few dangers. As the case progresses and the body count rises, eventually Shade finds himself a suspect in one of the murders.

Black has an incredible handle on investigation aspects of the story, and his characters are so real you feel what they feel. Windy City Knights is a true page-turner with some real meat to it. I am not exaggerating when I say that Black is one of the best. In Ron Shade, Black has created a realistic PI with depth and tenacity that is a welcome addition to the ranks of mystery fiction.

Jon


DIA DE LOS MUERTOS by Kent Harrington
2003
ISBN: 15926603505
Capra Press

One of the most intriguing festivals of traditional Mexico is Dia de los Muertos, in English, the Day of the Dead. The holiday falls on November 2. Mexican homes are filled with tributes to loved ones gone on to their reward: good food, beer, and music.

Kent Harrington turns the tradition on its head, and presents a vastly different picture in this story of one twenty-four hour period. This is the life of Vincent Calhoun. Harrington sets his story of a contemporary Day of the Dead in present day Tijuana -- a city filled with garish lights, deep threatening shadows, corrupt officials, and desperate emigrants hoping to reach the US. This Tijuana is representative of one the circles of Hell.

Calhoun is an agent for the US Drug Enforcement Agency. He's stationed within the circle and still not completely free from the fallout of a devastating incident in an early teaching career. He now plays both ends against the middle, by day working in a dead end government job, by night smuggling people into the US. In return he receives cash payoffs used to fuel a ruinous gambling habit. He is disillusioned by his DEA partner. Miguel Castro, the one man he trusts, is himself a corrupt Mexican policeman. Calhoun is desperately ill with hemorrhagic fever. Before the day is out he will be leaking life with every breath.

Harrington intends us to take the title of the book literally - and a grim parade of deception, robbery, betrayal, terror and flight marches through the pages. In small doses we learn of Calhoun's core of essential morality, and grieve for the plight of this lost and ruined man.

Definitely on the dark side of the genre. Truly original and highly recommended.

Woodstock


SUNSET AND SAWDUST by Joe R. Lansdale
2004
ISBN: 0375414533
Knopf

In this latest stand-alone, Joe R. Lansdale lives up to the extremely high standards he set with The Bottoms and A Fine Dark Line. Set in Depression Era East Texas, Sunset and Sawdust is the powerful story of Sunset Jones, a woman who finds herself suddenly thrown into a quest for understanding, truth, self-discovery and recentering, and, with any luck, a little bit of justice.

The opening scene erupts with a gunshot. Sunset is being beaten and raped by her husband Pete, the local constable. Noticing his holster nearby, Sunset grabs his 38 and puts a bullet in his head. Her mother-in-law, Marilyn overcomes her intial shock and anger, having endured similar abasement at the hands of Pete's father, and takes Sunset under her wing.

The majority owner of the town's saw mill, Marilyn uses her position to see to it that Sunset replace her husband as constable, a decision not highly thought of by most men in the town.

When the bodies of a young woman and her unborn child are found, covered with oil, on the property of a black man, Sunset must reluctantly take up her badge and start an investigation. She slowly uncovers a tale of corruption, greed, brutality and coercion. Along the way to learning the truth, she must first discover the strength to continue while the walls of obstruction close in and she is forced to distinguish friend from foe amidst a cast of outlandish supporting characters par for the course in a Lansdale tale: intimidators, rascals, ruffians, drunks, drifters, prostitutes, the Klan, and a plague-like cloud of hungry grasshoppers.

Lansdale has been likened to some pretty big names: Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Stephen King and Robert B. Parker to name but a few. All very flattering (and understandable) comparisons.

It is still, however, difficult to equate Lansdale's style to that of other writers. His unique voice stands apart and is the reason I continue to be a big fan.

If you read Sunset and Sawdust (and you should), go into it knowing this: This is not Stephen King. This is not Harper Lee. This is Joe R. Lansdale at his finest. And I can think of no higher compliment.

Mike Lind


PIPSQUEAK by Brian Wiprud
June 2004
ISBN: 0440241871
Dell Paperback

This is a wonderful book. It's witty, funny and intelligent. It's also a damn good mystery story to boot.

Garth Carson is one of the most engaging new characters I've read in quite a while. And following him on his adventures tracking down a stuffed squirrel was pure joy. If you want to enjoy a book from cover to cover then this is the book you need to pick up. In years to come reviewers will be comparing other books to the work of Brian Wiprud.

Jon Jordan


DARK PLACES by Jon Evans
May 2004
ISBN: 0060594233
Dark Alley (A Harper Collins imprint)

In his debut book, Dark Places, Jon Evans has a question 'for all you armchair psychos out there: How would you commit the perfect murder?"

It was supposed to be fun. Paul Wood tries desperately to remember this as he trudges behind his traveling companion, Gavin, in the beautiful and arduous terrain of the Nepalese Mountains. A place where one wrong move and you're Yeti food. Every step is an agony of opened blisters and strained muscles. But the image he finds before him stops him dead in his tracks, all pain forgotten. It is a man in backpacker gear. With something wildly out of place. The twin Swiss Army knives where his eyes used to be.

The Nepalese police rule it a suicide, but Wood is unable to get the image out of his mind. It is a duplicate of the murder that happened in during his tour of the Cameroon not two years before. Searching the Internet, Wood discovers a series of murders that have taken place in remote areas of the world. And Wood is the only one that seems to care that a murderer is on the prowl - and his prey is human.

Evans takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of global executions with a cyber twist.

Jennifer Jordan