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August/September 2004 Reviews



FALL GUY by Carol Lea Benjamin
September 2004
ISBN 0-06-053899-6
William Morrow

Rachel Alexander and her dog Dashiell are part of that rarest of breed, a quirky combo that work. Benjamin is known within the mystery genre for her great dialog and her brilliant use of P.I. Alexander's former career as a dog trainer. FALL GUY will show her readers her New York heart. Post 9/11 Rachel and Dash worked with a survivors group. Now, policeman Timothy William O'Fallon, group member, is dead and has determined Rachel should be the executor of his Will. Our P.I. takes the bait. Was it an accident? Suicide? Why her? As O'Fallon family tragedy takes the forefront and Rachel puts together the pieces of this engaging puzzle the author offers her readers more. As old secrets are revealed Benjamin looks at New York City's recent past and gives us a glimpse into everyday reactions that are now forever changed. FALL GUY is a worthy contender for your T.B.R. pile.

Ruth Jordan



BLUE TWILIGHT by Jessica Speart
September 2004
ISBN: 0-06-055952-7
Avon Books (Paperback Original)

Rachel Porter, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Agent, has recently transferred to San Francisco. While she thinks that chasing felonious lepidopterists is a bit beneath her, she doesn't realize that butterflies can be hazardous to your health; especially if you get on the wrong side of fanatical collector. After receiving a call about a missing biologist, Rachel heads to the hills, where she comes across a sleazy "entrepreneur" who breeds and sells butterflies, both common and endangered. He points her towards a collector of epic proportions, and off to Mendocino she runs, searching for the lost scientist, a mysterious man known as "Horus," the elusive, possibly even extinct, Lotus Blue Butterfly.

In their spare time, Rachel, beau Jake Santou, and her cross-dressing best friend Terry are asked to help find a friend's runaway daughter, who may be in San Francisco. Her trail leads through Goth bars and tattoo parlors, where Rachel finds beautiful yet haunting art; and more butterflies.

Rachel Porter does tend toward the rash one-woman-show technique of heading into dark alleys without backup or a working cell phone, but this has a tight dénouement that is, one has to admit, a bit original. I like Jessica Speart's sense of place and people. Her characters are colorful and her landscapes, city and country, set the scene without taking over the book. Without being preachy, she also gives the reader a bit of information about environmental issues. This is a series that I'll continue to read.

Kathy Tromp


THE FINAL COUNTRY by James Crumley
2004
ISBN:0-00-713081-3
Harper Collins UK (paperback)

Sex, James Crumley, violence, James Crumley, drugs, James Crumley. I've just listed the four essentials to noir novels. There isn't too much more to say about The Final Country, a Milo Milodragovitch book. Mr. Crumley, the fourth element, has included the other three into this and his other works. All of them recognised as noir at its best.

Milo appears in The Wrong Case (1975), Dancing Bear (1983) and The Final Country. Milo turns 60 in this book. He's got a love hate relationship with Texas and Texans. Milo has his code of honor and acting on it is the core of what drives The Final Country. Mr. Crumley has one of the smoothest writing styles of any mystery writer. Reading Crumley is a jolt but a hell of a fun one. Every reader needs a little reminder, once in a while, of the other side of the genre. We hard boiled types need to sneak in a Christie (as a breather if nothing else), for the cozy reader Crumley will provide quite a shot of something stronger in the tea as it
were. But drink it down; it's good for you.

Dave Biemann


THE MURDER EXCHANGE by Simon Kernick
July 2004
ISBN: 0312314035
St. Martin's Minotaur

Kernick's second book is a great read. Using dual perspectives we follow along with a police detective trying to solve a murder and a security specialist try to discover what went wrong on a simple body guarding job.

Max Iversson was hired to provide security for a nightclub owner named Max Fowler. Due to some unforeseen interference the job goes really wrong and Max is the only one to walk away. Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant John Gallan is looking into the murder of a nightclub bouncer. A bouncer from the club Fowler runs. He is getting frustrated by the case for a number of reasons, one of which is his failure to be able to find and question Fowler. As the two men try and discover what is going on, they slowly end up working towards the same ends and running into the same people as the whole mess becomes intertwined.

The conclusion to the whole affair is not quite what I was expecting and was caught by surprise at the way it was wrapped up. Full of gangsters, a femme fatale and half truths, this book has a very noir feel to it. Fast reading and engaging I would recommend this book strongly to anyone.

Jon Jordan


DIRTY SALLY by Michael Simon
July 2004
ISBN: 0670033197
Viking

It's Austin, TX in the 80's - that's 1980's - and things are heating up fast.

Homicide detective Dan Reles - rhymes with "trellis" - is conflicted. You could say he has issues. On the day his father is to be paroled from prison, his mother packs a bag and calls a cab. "I'm leaving your father, not you" she tells the ten-year old Dan, and, as he narrates the memory: "watching from the window as the blue and white taxi drove off, I knew for the first time that I was completely alone. And that I always would be."
His partner, best friend, and mentor recently drove off a cliff and died. He's being investigated by Internal Affairs, and has a hearing scheduled which will more than likely mean the end of his career. He has nightmares involving fiery car wrecks. He's been acting kind of crazy.

But Dan Reles' biggest problem is that he just might be as crazy as he acts.

When he happens upon a headless and limbless body, solving a murder quickly becomes his best, last, and only chance for redemption. Having yet no clue as to the body's identity, he names her "Dirty Sally".

So begins this incredible debut, written in a style that made me want to savor and reread the prose, but at the same time to just keep turning the pages. Bodies, dirty cops, and conspiracies abound.
Dan Reles is a complex, intensely realized character. I understand that this will become a series. In a way I wish it wouldn't. I don't need to know what happens next; it felt complete. But I do know that whatever Michael Simon writes next, I'll be reading it.

Gary Shulze - owner of Once Upon A Crime


RAIN STORM by Barry Eisler
Jul 2004
ISBN:0-399-15192-3
G.P.Putnam's Sons

John Rain is back in action in this third installment of the series. As the book opens Rain is trying to lead a normal life and be left alone. As this would make for a dull book, lucky for us the CIA track him down and recruit him to do some freelance work. They need an arms dealer taken out and they need deniability. So Rain makes his deal and goes into action. Eisler introduces great side characters in this book, including a possible partner/back up? Future books will tell. Among the obstacles in Rain's way is an enigmatic blonde who is with his target. She seems to know what is going on, but is definitely working her own agenda, and hers is different than Rain's. Eisler writes with the pacing of a Nascar race. The book just keeps moving faster and faster, and the action is nonstop. Espionage done for the modern reader. I can't help but think that this is the kind of book Ian Fleming would have really enjoyed. This is a truly wonderful read full of great spy craft and action.

Jon Jordan


DESTINATION MORGUE! By James Ellroy
Sept 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-3287-3
Vintage Books (Trade Paperback Original)

Fans of Noir rejoice! A new book from the master is here! DESTINATION MORGUE! is a collection of short stories and some non-fiction pieces. This collection is a wonderful look at the Los Angeles that Elroy sees. From the opening piece about boxing, titled Balls to the Walls, to the wrap up with Jungletown Jihad this is an incredible book with a writing style that is similar to polishing crystal with a ballpeen hammer.

Ellroy's work always puts my brain into overdrive and this is no exception. While reading I was on the internet searching for more information on the things I just read. Ellroy's love of the city of Angles is obvious, and he seems to love her despite the flaws and scars. I've seen Ellroy speak in person and on television and his intensity comes through in every word of this book.

Wait till dark, open the windows and let in the sounds of the city and open this book. It's a true work of genius.

Jon Jordan


FOR THE DOGS by Kevin Wignall
JULY 2004
ISBN:0743247566
Simon and Schuster

A hitman enters the Hatto household and ruthlessly kills everyone within. It begins a ripple effect that will be felt half way across the world.

Ella Hatto relaxes in Italy with her boyfriend. Seeing a stranger she's sure she's seen before, she's on guard. He crosses the street towards her gun in hand. Shots are fired but at two men down the street. To Ella he says simply, "Come with me." And Ella's life changes forever. Lucas is out of retirement to get Ella safely out of Italy and into the confines of the British consulate. He's reminded of a past tried hard to forget, including a daughter he's never met. A daughter he's ready to meet.

Ella's life becomes a downward spiral of sadness and rage. Admonished to get over it, she's left isolated and sick with grief. She believes there's one cure. Revenge.

Lucas agrees to this last job, hoping that the death of the man that killed her family will bring her peace. But events are unleashed that lead one of them to redemption and the other to death.

FOR THE DOGS establishes Wignall as a modern noir writer with roots deeply immersed in the classics. His allusions to the Nibelungenlied (translated by A.T. Hatto) confirm the depths behind the plot. This in no way translates to a dry epic with a sluggish pace. There is plenty of action and his characters operate under constant threat. It is an in depth exploration of death and isolation propelled by the twin conduit of revenge and redemption.

Jennifer


DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER by Jeff Lindsay
2004
ISBN: (US -038551123X) / (UK- 0752866753)
US-Doubleday / UK-Orion

Jeff Lindsay's debut novel DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER is tremendous fun and a very different serial killer novel. Narrated by Dexter Morgan a blood-splatter lab technician for the Miami Police during the day, he is a serial killer by night. But he is a serial killer with a crucial difference. He only kills bad people. Adopted by a cop when aged four, his 'skills' were honed / channeled by his adopted father. He also has social skills keeping tabs on his foster sister Deborah Morgan who is a cop trying to move from vice to homicide. So after 36 kills to his name, Dexter finds that he has a competitor, when another killer comes to Miami and challenges him to play a game leaving a trail of murdered prostitutes littering Miami. Dexter decides to help his sister on the case that mirrors his own modus operandi in the serial killer world and makes him question his own life.

Written with a playful and hip style, it manages to avoid farce or tumble into bad taste. A very different and entertaining debut, but more a holiday read or a book when you need some light(-ish) relief. I look forward to more from this former playwright

Ali Karim


THE MADMAN'S TALE by John Katzenbach
July 2004
ISBN: 0-345-46481-8
Ballantine

The Madman's Tale is the story of an asylum and a patient, Francis Petrel, who is now trying to live in the real world with the help of medication. It switches back and forth between present and Petrel's time in the asylum. While in the asylum a young nurse was murdered and there were plenty of suspects. A prosecutor, Lucy Kyoto Jones was brought in to get to the secrets behind the murder.

The grounds of the asylum are now being reopened as a condo development, which stir up memories of the old murder. And we see it all through the eyes of someone who's not so sure of his sanity.

This was an incredible book, one that draws the reader in slowly, like a skilled fisherman bringing in a playful bass. Great pacing and wonderful characters keep the book interesting throughout. I've loved all of Katenbach's work and this is one of his best.

Jon Jordan


ONE FALSE MOVE By Alex Kava
August 2004
ISBN: 0-7783-2071-5
Mira

Alex Kava is a master of the thriller. Her latest book, ONE FALSE MOVE, just goes to further prove this.
The book opens with a prisoner, Jared Barnett, being released after the single witness recants his testimony. And while he is guilty, there is not enough evidence to keep him in. This is unfortunate for his sister who is trying to straighten out her life, because Jared wants help on a score. And as these things often do, things go wrong, horribly wrong.

This book had almost a kinetic energy to it that seems to crackle as you turn the pages. Make some coffee and crack this book open, you'll want to read it in one sitting.

Jon Jordan


CHARLIE OPERA by Charlie Stella
2003
ISBN: 0-7867-1213-9
Carroll & Graf

So there's this wiseguy right? Nicky Cuccia? Wants a guy whacked for breaking his jaw, right? So he arranges a hitman in Vegas widout telling da Vegas mob. And the hittee has absolutely no idea. He's just Charlie Pellechia - an unconnected, retired window cleaner who happened to punch some guy on the chin for grabbing his wife's ass. He's in Vegas for a nice vacation. Unfortunately, within just a few hours his wife's left him and he's mugged and left for dead at a construction site. Before you can say "Make me an offer I can't refuse" there's every manner of mobster involved. If they'd got themselves organized they could have arranged a convention - MobCon - A Horse's Head In Every Bed. As well as the DEA, FBI, LVPD and the rest of the alphabet too - all adding up to spell good, dirty FUN.

There's double dealing, triple dealing and under the table dealing galore. Paranoia reigns amongst the shiny suited wiseguys. Don't know who's on your side? No problem - just whack 'em. The violence escalate, the body count mounts and in amongst it all is a sweet love story and some opera. No matter that some of the characters wouldn't know their arias from their elbows.

There are also some strangely endearing characters - including a mobster who made me want to stuff my mouth with cotton wool balls and welcome him to The Family.

Donna Moore


THE TORMENT OF OTHERS by Val McDermid
2004
ISBN:0-00-714288-9
Harper Collins UK

Tony Hill and Carol Jordan are back and McDermid is in fine form. As the book opens Tony realizes he's no academic and returns to therapeutic practice. At the same time Carol returns to police work and what will become her own form of therapy. It comes at a price. Back in Bradfield, Carol is running a serious crime unit. A series of murders solved two years previously begin to recur. Beyond a doubt the perpetrator is safely incarcerated. Here is where McDermid shines. THE TORMENT OF OTHERS is all about control or rather the lack of control anyone has over someone else. Layer upon layer, she weaves a story that delves into crime and victims. Some will be saved. Many, including more than one series favorite will be lost for now and maybe for good.

Ruth Jordan


ONE LAST BREATH by Stephen Booth
2004
ISBN:0007172028
Harper Collins UK

I'm starting to get the distinct impression the the Peak Distict might not be such a great place to go on vacation. In this 5th book in Booth's series another killer is loose, and it looks likethere are ties to Ben Cooper's past that may put him on the shortlist for next victim.

Masell Quinn was put inprison by Ben's father, and now he's out and no one knows where he is. To make this more disturbing, his ex wife is murdered. By the time all is sadi and done, Cooper and his partner Fry will be innedd of a vacation of their own, hopefully outside the Peak District!

Written with the skill that Booth has shown in his previous books this is a wonderful addition to a very popular series. Fans will not be disapointed and new readers will soon be fans themsleves. While this is definitely a police procedural, it is darker than the stereotype of this part of the genre.

Jon Jordan


THE DRAMATIST by Ken Bruen
2004
ISBN: 0863223192
Brandon

Hurrah, the fourth Jack Taylor book arrives from Edgar nominated Ken Bruen, the man from Galway. This book will secure the growing reputation of this amazing writer, who can blend the darkest situation with a wisecrack that provides the perception that links life with death. This time around we have Taylor appearing to have cleaned up his act. No cocaine, no drinks (and almost no smokes) and even Taylor heeding the bell for mass and a woman in his life? And of course there is murder, and death not far behind the former Garda Man [Policeman]. We have two students murdered by a serial killer THE DRAMATIST, as well as an old case The Swan Killer and a group of dangerous vigilantes. The key to this and Bruen's previous work is the slow pace that gathers momentum as the tale is told. The dialogue is priceless and his wit as sardonic and cynical as one could wish for. The plotting is loose as Ken Bruen goes about seeing the world through Jack Taylor's weary eyes, commenting on the changes in the world and in Ireland, but by heck is the ending tremendous. If you haven't discovered Bruen, it's time you did.

Ali Karim


SEMIAUTOMATIC by Robert Reuland
2004
ISBN: 0-375-50502-4
Random House

Andrew Giobberti is a former prosecutor, now working in the appeals bureau following the aftermath of a previous case. After suffering a personal crisis this is just fine with Giobberti. However a case comes up and he is asked to come back to the homicide division to prosecute a case. After taking the case he starts to have doubts about the strength of the case. To keep things interesting he is partnered with an idealistic young attorney named Laurel Ashfield. As the story moves on nothing is quite what it seemed to be from the outset, and the characters end up in a much different place.

This book seems to be more about the struggles of Giobberti finding his way than it is about the case being tried. And I loved it. Reuland has a fresh voice and a wonderful way of just scooping up the reader and carrying them along with the story. There is almost a conversational tone to the writing and it is a wonderful way to follow the characters through the book. I've added another author to my must buy list.

Jon Jordan


INDELIBLE by Karin Slaughter
August 2004
ISBN 0-06-074546-0
William Morrow

Slaughter's first novel, BLINDSIGHTED got people talking. Her next two novels firmly established the Grant County series as one of mystery's finest. With INDELIBLE, Slaughter proves once and for all that hers is a singular voice. Few authors start a series with their protagonists pasts so firmly established in their minds. Fewer still are able to take their leads hidden pasts and use them to create a contemporary plot that is so very unique.

First chapters. Slaughter is a master. The first twenty pages of INDELIBLE will suck you in like a wind tunnel. And when finally you dare to turn the next page Slaughter will begin her story. This is the story of a life and death stand off between the police and an imbalanced young man. It is a story of Jeffrey Tolliver's past and his early relationship with Sara Linton. It is a story of secrets and lies and the truths they can lead to. The past cannot be swept away nor the future's possibilities ignored. In a harrowing tale Slaughter offers her readers the opportunity to look at the worst that humans have to offer and still find hope. She is an author for our times.

Ruth Jordan


THIS OLD SOUSE by Mary Daheim
August 2004
ISBN: 0-380-97869-5
William Morrow

Finding a dead milkman in your car trunk can put a damper on your day, and if you live in the Pacific Northwest, it's damp enough already!

When her cousin Renie talks Judith McMonigle Flynn into snooping around an old house that has tweaked her attention since childhood, Judith expects nothing more than to assuage Renie's curiosity. However, that's not how things work in the Land of Cozy. With her Bed & Breakfast business booming, Judith's car is impounded thanks to the unfortunate milkman, her days are vexed by cops as thick as planks, and her married son wants to move home (with his boys). As Judith's own curiosity and tenacious nature kick into gear and she is bound and determined to find some answers!

The Bed & Breakfast series is a cozy as it comes, and is perfect reading for the beach, but if you don't get to it right away, it will be excellent curled up in a window seat with a cup of hot tea and a lapful of cat.

Kathy Tromp, Rhinelander, WI


NIGHTSCAPE by David Morrell
2004
ISBN: (US-159606000X) / (UK- 0755321723)
(US- Subterranean Press) / (UK-Hodder Headline)

I am a lover of the short story format, and it was a red-letter day when I got my hands on David Morrell's second volume of short stories NIGHTSCAPE. It contains eight of Morrell's stories [not included in his previous collection Black Evening] with an introduction on how he wrote them preceding each tale, but the real deal here is his introduction to the volume. This is a gut-wrenching look at his childhood and the pain of living in fear. The introduction is written in Morrell's deadpan style and not written for laughs or pathos, it's just written to introduce his childhood, and perhaps to justify some of the darkness in these stories. The best example is the novella Rio Grande Gothic, which features a chase to discover the reason why severed feet [still in their shoes] are scattered on the streets of New Mexico. All the stories featured have appeared in the horror genres uber collections from Dennis Etchison, Al Sarantonio, Doug Winter and Robert Bloch. Also included is Morrell's interesting teleplay "Habitat". My only criticism of Nightscape is that it was too short, because I read the whole collection one black evening, and wanted more!

Ali Karim


BALLAD OF THE WHISKEY ROBBER by Julian Rubinstein
Sep 2004
ISBN:0-316-07167-6
Little Brown

This book is not techniaclly a mystery, in fact, it's labeled as "Currnet Affairs", a non-fiction book. But a fan of the genre it wasn't much of a strech of my normal reading habits to pick this up.

This is the story of one Attila Ambrose, a displaced Hungarian looking to start a new life. He eventually became a folk hero known as The Whiskey Robber. The prologue starts us out in 1999, but soon jumps back to 1988 when Attila first leaves Romania. Rubinstein's writing style makes it seem like wonderfully colorful fiction, almost like Elmore Leonard, so while reading it's almost hard to remember that it's non-fiction. As the book carried me along I found myself laughing out loud. Attila Ambrose is so interesting a charismatic that I would be surprised if there isn't a movie made of this. Extremely entertaining. This is definitly a case of truth being stranger than fiction.

Jon Jordan


PARADISE CITY by Lorenzo Carcaterra
Sep 2004
ISBN:0-345-41097-1
Ballantine

Giancarlo Lo Manto had a seed of revenge sewn early into his psyche. The leaders of the Camorra make all the decisions about who lives and who dies. They decided his father had to die. Just from his fifteenth birthday, La Manto vowed that he would seek vengeance.

Decades later and Lo Manto had grown into a long shadow that falls hard on the Camorristas. He is a Naples police inspector dedicated to making business as difficult for his old enemies as possible. He will not rest until he's brought them down.

And they will not rest until he's brought down. In New York City, La Manto's visiting niece is kidnapped and the ransom is straightforward. La Manto for the girl.

La Manto flies to New York and is paired with the reluctant Jennifer Fabini, a ten-year veteran if the force and a reluctant, resentful partner. As they work the case, the past comes up to greet La Manto - a past that had been kept secret from him. The trail leads to an ultimate showdown between La Manto and a Mafia don who has a long held secret of his own.

Carcaterra is well known for Sleepers, Apaches and his work as writer/producer for Law & Order. For that reason, at it's worst, Paradise City reads like a script. At its best, which is a majority of the book, it is a fast and furious read with big heart.

Jennifer Jordan


DAY OF THE DEAD by J A Jance
July 2004
ISBN: 0688138233
William Morrow

The author of two popular series, Jance departs from them both with this novel set in the desert community of Tucson Arizona. The body of a young Hispanic woman has been found dumped in the desert, and grisly traces of her blood found in a local home. The reader discovers in an early chapter who the murderer is, so the pleasure here is in following the action as investigators move in and as other characters are placed in danger.

Jance places excerpts from legends of the Tohono O'Odham nation at the beginning of several chapters. Since the lifelong grief of a woman of that nation serves as a catalyst for a portion of the investigation, the inclusion of these fragments are a nice introduction to the traditions of the people native to the area.

These historical traditions and way of life stand in tension to the Anglo culture which dominates much of Tucson's political climate. This tension is also displayed in the relationship of a young Tohono O'Odham woman adopted by an Anglo family, a recent graduate of medical school, and strongly drawn to the "medicine man" traditions of her native people.

A very pleasant read for those who enjoy introductions to other cultures while feeding their mystery habit!

Woodstock


BY A SPIDER'S THREAD by Laura Lippman
July, 2004
ISBN 0-06-050669-5
William Morrow

Last year Ms. Lippman wrote the phenomenal stand-alone novel EVERY SECRET THING. This year she returns to long-time protagonist Tess Monaghan and doesn't miss a beat. Tess was last seen in the dramatic conclusion of THE LAST PLACE. As BY A SPIDER'S THREAD opens, Tess is at a crossroads. Ms. Lippman is not. The story is as taut as a rope. Businessman Mark Rubin has a problem. His wife and children are missing. He believes it's foul play. He has the perfect marriage. All others believe the beguiling Natalie has left of her own accord.

The repartee for which Ms. Lippman is known is working overtime without being overmuch. The plot is layered like the perfect baklava: tart, sweet, bitter, salty and a little bit flaky.

There is family at stake in this book. Children's lives hang in the balance. The truths and falsehoods of a marriage are put on the dissecting table. Our crafty author gently presents the boundaries and compatibility of religion and humanity. And always there is Tess, finding clues despite well-intended misinformation, reassuring us that it is safe to read on. Bravo, Ms. Lippman. Next, please.

Ruth Jordan


THE FIRST CUT by Peter Robinson
Sep 2004
ISBN:0-06-073535-x
Dark Alley (imprint of Harper Collins)

Martha Browne arrives in Whitby on a quest. To the world at large, she is an author researching a book. In the recesses of her mind, she knows differently. She is there to find the man that haunts her dreams and who changed her life forever. He is the man that left revenge as the only reason to stay alive.

A walk home from party through a dark and deserted park ends in a savage attack for Kirsten, a university student. Awaking in hospital, she is forced to come to terms with horrible physical scars and tragic emotional ones. Flashes of the attack leave her tortured and completely isolated from her previous life. She struggles to piece a life together for herself. After his first four Inspector Banks books, Peter Robinson's wrote The First Cut, originally Caedmon's Song, for Canadian release only, in1990. Told completely from the viewpoints of two victims, the reader succumbs to the beautiful, anguished prose in which Robinson tells their tale. For a subject so brutal, Robinson deals with it subtlety, with great craft and great sympathy. This is an exceptional novel.

Jennifer Jordan


IN THE MOON OF RED PONIES by James Lee Burke
2004
ISBN: (US 0-7432-453-1) / (UK 0752861107)
US-Simon & Schuster / UK-Orion

This is the fourth Billy Bob Holland outing, and for my money, the best yet. However it is a strange book being lyrical and evocative in terms of atmosphere, yet retains a political edge to a story that is right bang up to date. Ex-Texas Ranger Holland is settled in the Montana town of Missoula, when her hears that Psycho-Biker and Rodeo Cowboy Wyatt Dixon [who was sentenced to sixty years in prison in Bitteroot] has been released on a technicality. In the past, Dixon tortured Billy Bob's wife Temple by burying her alive, yet he says he's now a reformed man claiming to have discovered Jesus and medication. Then the book really gets complex as Billy Bob befriends Johnny American Horse, a military hero, but part-time drunk. The problem is that Billy's friend is in a relationship with the daughter of a powerful right-wing US senator Romulus Finley. So when Johnny is suspected of killing a hitman, he turns to Billy Bob for help. Trouble is that the local detective Darrel McComb has other ideas as does FBI Agent Seth Masterson and the mysterious CEO Karsten Mabus. As the bodies pile-up, a conspiracy emerges, and one that reflects today's current hysteria over civil rights which are struggling against the patriot act. James Lee Burke merges the two themes of mad / bad white trash manipulated by evil shadows that lurk in the powerful white establishment. Beautifully written, this is a book to be read on a roof in summer, with a bucket of ice covering a dozen bottles of beer. Mystery rarely gets this good. Wonderful!

Ali Karim


ICE RUN by Steve Hamilton
2004
ISBN: 0752859943
Orion

I was wondering how Hamilton would follow up his startling BLOOD IS THE SKY but he manages to surpass himself with a mystery that is as cold as its title and opening line.
PI Alex McKnight and his girlfriend, Canadian police officer Natalie Reynaud organize a liaison at the Jojibway Hotel. It seems after the trauma of BLOOD IS THE SKY that perhaps McKnight is looking to settle down, but of course the dark chill of the Michigan snow is yet to be contended with. The opening line tells it all :- "In the land of hard winters, the hardest of all is the winter that fills you with false hope." Again the melancholic edge of Hamilton's prose cuts deep with blunt insight. At the hotel they meet the mysterious elderly Simon Grant another guest hold-up in the snowy night. Soon he is found dead in the snow and a linkage between McKnight's girlfriend Natalie Reynaud and the Grant family is slowly revealed. Part mystery thriller and part secrets and lies, ICE RUN is a welcome addition to Steve Hamilton's cryogenically cold thrillers. Soon McKnight is investigating the death of Grant, but just as he makes progress Natalie Reynaud vanishes.

The trail leads to Canada and more family secrets. These secrets can kill, and have a dark link between the Grant family and the Reynaud family. A must for 2004 and shows how Hamilton's talent just keeps getting better, but I hope he treats McKnight to a beach holiday soon!

Ali Karim


TWO-WAY SPLIT by Allan Guthrie
2004
ISBN: 1-930997-49-3
PointBlank

The first line of TWO-WAY SPLIT reads: "Four months and twenty-two days after he stopped taking his medication, Robin Greaves dragged the chair out from under the desk and sat down opposite the private investigator." You just KNOW that someone, somewhere, is going to be very sorry that Robin came off his meds. Robin Greaves thinks his wife is having an affair. But he's going tohave to put his personal problems to the back of his mind for now,because he's a man with a job to do. A post office job. Pearce is a a polite, thoughtful guy with a good sense of humour and a strong vision of justice. Oh, and he's just been released from jail after a stretch for murder. Kennedy and his boss are bored, disillusioned PIs. Only one of them has a broken nose.

Set in an Edinburgh far off the tourist track, Allan Guthrie's debut novel is a hard-boiled tale which pulls no punches and, indeed, throws a good few knockout blows into its lean, mean 183 pages. The characters are utterly believable (if sometimes extremely scary) and Pearce, in particular, is eminently likeable despite his hard-man exterior. The TWO-WAY SPLIT of the title works on a number of different levels throughout the book - one of which I didn't see coming at all. Dark, warped, and funny.

A simple, heart-warming, noir tale of a post office robbery gone wrong, an unfaithful wife, a couple of psychopaths, a pair of seedy PIs, and a man who really loves his mother. TWO-WAY SPLIT is a book which takes that noir finger of fate and gleefully pokes you in the eye with it.

Donna Moore


THE CRIME TRADE by Simon Kernick
2004
ISBN: 0593 051351
Bantam Press (UK)

Stegs Jenner and Paul Vokerman are involved in a drugs deal in a hotel room at Heathrow airport with some Colombian gangsters. The adrenaline is running high both inside and outside the room. The deal is a meticulously planned undercover police sting called Operation Surgical Strike. Unfortunately, it would seem that the operation hasn't been as meticulously planned as they had thought and, instead of a neat scar, the patient is left with a major artery that appears to have sprung a leak. The ensuing shoot-out leaves a number of people dead, the maverick Stegs Jenner under suspicion, and Slim Robbie - the police informer who helped set up the whole deal - conspicuous by his absence.

The story unfolds primarily from the viewpoints of DI John Gallan - who has to clean up the mess - and Stegs Jenner - a loose cannon at the best of times, now out for revenge for what happened at Heathrow. Simon Kernick is excellent at switching the narrative viewpoints in this tale that has the reader at least one step behind the whole way along. Gallan's side of things is told in first person, while Stegs Jenner's is third person which works really well - especially as you're never QUITE sure exactly whose side Stegs is on (apart from his own, that is). THE CRIME TRADE is the third book in what is not so much a series as a collection of tales involving interconnecting characters who weave in and out of each one. DIs Gallen and Malik are familiar faces, and Kernick introduces some new and very memorable supporting characters-including a bad guy with an interesting use for an ordinary household appliance. A really good read - fast, furious and with some welcome humourous moments to break the tension.

Donna Moore


VODKA by Boris Starling
2004
ISBN: 0007119453
HarperCollins (UK)

This is the third book from Starling, following his first two, STORM and MESSIAH, with another great outing.

The book is set in Russia following the collapse of the communist empire in 1991. The story revolves around the relationship between criminals and government and how it is changing in a new democracy. Alice Liddell, an American is brought in to help privatize a distillary. Her job is a tough one and made harder still by the people fighting for control of the vodka manufacturing. Add to the mix a killer who is horrifying the city by killing children you have a book that moves like a whirlwind.

Starling has an uncanny ability with his characterizations to truly breathe life into his book. This is probably the best book set in Russia I've read since Gorky Park. Because of his wonderful writing I was able to picture every nuance of every setting in the book perfectly. A truly great book.

Jon Jordan


THE VERGE PRACTICE by Barry Maitland
2004
ISBN: US-1559707135
Arcade

I originally came to this series three books ago. I was so impressed that I went back and found the earlier books and read them all. Maitland is now one of my "drop what I'm doing and read" authors. The series features Kathy Kolla and David Brock, police detectives with Scotland Yard. In this book, the 6th, Brock and Kolla are brought in to take over a case that has gone a bit cold. And since the players are rather famous it needs to be solved in a timely fashion. The crime in question is the murder of a famous architect's wife. And the architect, Charles Verge looks pretty good for the suspect. Too bad he's gone missing, on the run or murdered, but no where to be found. While the case leads through financial problems with the company, The Verge Practice, the dou of Kolla and Brock find themselves doubting a lot of what they are told as they get deeper inot a mess that the higher ups want cleaned up fast.

I love Maitland's ability to tell a tale that is such a classic mystery. And I have to say that he really caught me by surprise with the ending. Outstanding!

Jon Jordan


THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB - Alexander McCall Smith
Sep 2004
ISBN:0-375-42298-6
Pantheon

On the heels of his success with his series No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and the beloved Precious Ramotswe, Alexander McCall Smith has created The Sunday Philosophy Club and a new heroine who will surely find her way into the hearts of Smiths fans: Isabel Dalhousie Isabel, a half-American, half-Scot living in Edinburgh, edits a journal of applied ethics. She is known locally as the spinster of the parish and more than a bit of a meddler. It is no surprise when she lands in the middle of a mystery.

The Reykjavik Symphony has just ended their performance of Hamish McCunn. The crowd is dispersing when Isabel sees something out of the corner of her eye. A young man falls from the balcony to his death with Isabel as one of the only witnesses. The authorities are convinced it is an accident; Isabel is convinced it's murder.

Applying logic, a bulldog tenaciousness and an ability to disregard social mores regarding privacy, Isabel interviews flatmates and co-workers of the young man and stumbles upon a possible motive. The brokerage house he worked at has members involved in possible insider trading. As Isabel tracks down suspects, someone is tracking down Isabel.

Alexander McCall Smith's new series is truer to the mystery genre than it's predecessor yet has all the charm of No. Detectives. Smith's fans will be more than satisfied when they cozy up to Isabel.

Jennifer Jordan


RING by Koji Suzuki
July 2004
ISBN: 0007192355
HarperCollins

In 2002. the movie The Ring, based on a remake of Hideo Nakata's Ringu, based on the book RING by Koji Suzuki, swept across the world scaring the pants off of movie goers everywhere. Purists will love the origin of the fear fest as it is slowly and deliberately written by Suzuki. The plot will be recognizable to movie fans. A reporter, Asakawa, in his never ending quest for a headline story, stumbles upon the connection between the tie the death of his niece to the deaths of three high school students. Staying at the vacation cottage the three doomed students stayed at, he discovers a strange videotape with a horrifying warning: "Those who view these images are fated to die at this exact moment one week from now." Asakawa believes he's destined for disaster. With the help of an old college friend Ryuji, that Asakawa was kind enough to share the curse with, he tracks the video to an psychic and her daughter, Sadako. The story converts from mystery to ghost story as they discover the fate of one girl may affect the fate of every person on the planet. With only days to find the answer to the video's riddle, the two men race across Japan chasing clues that will save them before time runs out.

Ring starts off quickly and has an ever increasing sense of dread. It is a sharp, eerie thriller that will more than sate fans of the movies.

Jennifer Jordan


I LOVE MY SMITH AND WESSON by David Bowker
2004
ISBN 0-312-32825-7
St. Martins

The follow up to last year's THE DEATH YOU DESERVE featuring writer Billy Dye and his childhood friend RAWHEAD is great fun. I loved the first book with Billy and Rawhead and this one is just as engrossing. The book opens with Billy getting married. Much to his chagrin, Rawhead shows up, and not too much later so does the first body. You see, Rawhead is a professional killer who enjoys his job a little too much and he scares the crap out of Billy. So while they share a love of horror novels, they don't have as much in common as they used too.

Since the story THE DEATH YOU DESERVE, Billy has published a few books, and is getting some movie and television interest. Meanwhile the local gangster scene has gone through some changes, in part because of Billy and Rawhead's adventures in the last book. Rawhead has decided he wouldn't mind being in charge. And so we have two characters pursuing what they want most. Add to this mix relationships starting and ending and you get some very interesting things going on.

Fast fast fast pacing in this highly entertaining book. It's violent but fun and I can't wait for more.

Jon Jordan