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Newsletter #71 September - November, 2005

Mystery Reviews
by Jeff Hatfield

        With One Shot (Delecorte $25, 376 pp.) Lee Child maintains the high standard of excellence set in each of eight previous Jack Reacher suspense thrillers. All are in print in mass market paperback, with Die Trying and Tripwire ($12.95 ea.) recently out in the trade paperback format.
        In a small southern Indiana city a sniper takes six quick shots and five innocents die. Gulf War vet James Barr is very soon in custody and a preponderance of forensic evidence means a death-penalty conviction is a lock. But the suspect's not talking, except to say -- "Get Jack Reacher for me." Soon after, he's attacked in jail and ends up in a coma. The first of several twists and plot complications for all involved.
        Any reader who's been introduced to Reacher would agree that if you're truly in deep trouble Reacher is the man to call -- if he had a phone. Big, tough and taciturn, he's a loner and a wanderer without possessions. Former MP and ace US Army investigator, Reacher is certainly one of the coolest heroes in contemporary crime fiction. He brings to mind John D. MacDonald's literary legend Travis McGee and F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack with a military overtone.
        Reacher's in Miami, catches the report on TV, and wends his way to Indiana. He has a surprise of his own. Reacher's not there to clear the suspect, but to fulfill a promise made years ago in war-torn Kuwait City; "Because (Barr's) done this before. And once was enough." Still, for the sake of Barr's emotionally torn up sister, he starts his own investigation -- mostly on foot.
        An NBC TV affiliate news anchor wants a story. The Pentagon needs a sorry wartime incident to remain classified. The earnest and attractive defense attorney feels an insanity plea is Barr's only option. The police, prosecutor, and public are avid for a conviction. So is a cadre of shadowy and villainous Russian émigréés guided by a monstrous 80-year-old Gulag survivor. They see "soldier" as an irritating obstacle that needs to be permanently removed from the equation. It all leads to a tension-filled and violent climax at a large isolated house in the wide-open Indiana countryside. A couple sour-note sentences can be easily ignored. Very recommended.

        In Jim Kelly's The Water Clock ($24.95, Dec.'03 and still waiting paperback) hard rain and flood hit the Cambridgeshire fens. In Christopher Fowler's The Water Room (Bantam $24), with Arthur Bryant and John May of Scotland Yard's Peculiar Crimes Unit, it's London that's threatened with incessant downpour and flood. Oddly enough, it was named BFS (British Fantasy Society) August Derleth Novel of the Year.
        Bryant and May are long past retirement age. Their first case, occurring during the London Blitz, is chronicled in flashback in the recommended first in series Full Dark House ($6.99). The eccentric and cantankerous Bryant has a sharp mind and amazing memory though it's "hopelessly vague and absurdly detailed." He shares with Sherlock Holmes an abiding interest in London history, and in fact leads city walking tour/lectures for tourists. His character is reminiscent of John Dickson Carr's (as Carter Dickson) Sir Henry Merrivale. And his deep store of esoteric and bizarre knowledge gives him something in common with Carr's Colonel March of Scotland Yard's D3, The Department of Queer Complaints (short stories, 1940). Handsome John May is three-years younger, and though somewhat second-banana, serves as leg man, a unifying force, and buffer between Bryant and the modern world. They nicely complement each other.
        The Unit is in the midst of putting together a new office as a result of the cataclysmic climax of their prior case. Bryant and May are also under the gun and a bureaucratic deadline to produce results or have the Unit absorbed into the Home Office and the team scattered. Unofficial, and through the side door, comes an impossible crime: a reclusive old lady has been found drowned to death, dry and dressed to go outside, sitting in a chair in her dry basement. The team searches the ethnically diverse neighborhood for answers. But shady land developers, a sinister and lurking homeless man, and racist threats complicate the case. There's also a professor in hot water (so to speak) who, with a mysterious man obsessed with Egyptian mythology, is recklessly searching London's vast sewer and underground river system for -- what? And the rain keeps coming down.
        The Water Room is recommended but is not fast-paced reading. The city itself is a major character, and the reader at times will wish they had a detailed London map handy. Also it's a bit of work keeping track of secondary characters. But the story is intelligent and well plotted with a fair-play puzzle. There's a sprinkle (pun intended) of offbeat characters, bits of humor and interesting trivia, and a satisfying resolution.
        Seventy-Seven Clocks, isn't due 'til Dec. 29 ($6.99, 528 pp.). But let me encourage you to make a note on your calendar, or the next newsletter. Though a bit long, I still enjoyed it more than its predecessor The Water Room.
        The two novels share many common elements; Seventy-Seven Clocks is also related in flashback, this time it's December 1973. London is again a virtual major character. Workmen are underfoot pulling together a new office. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is under a looming deadline from senior officials to produce or be dissolved. There's another British painting with an enigmatic back-story. The Unit is literally besieged by the tabloids and media. And a cold rain is falling.
        A man in Victorian dress inexplicably vandalizes a painting in the National Gallery. But for Bryant and May that's just the beginning. What follows is a string of bizarre murders including; a lawyer dying from North American Cottonmouth venom in the lobby of the Savoy, and a man exploding at a train station. There's no suspect in sight but a cloudy link emerges between the aristocratic Whitstable family and the Goldsmith's Guild. The plot develops into a strange combination of Agatha Christie, The Avengers, and Gilbert and Sullivan.
        I found more humor in Seventy-Seven Clocks, and jerked upright at the appearance of a significant character that shares the same name as my daughter ---- Alison Hatfield.
        Fowler to this point has been known for his horror titles. But with the Bryant and May mystery series he has certainly found a new audience. Oddly, after two hardcover installments, Seventy-Seven Clocks comes as a paperback original (with the British version significantly different). The fourth, Ten-Second Staircase, is announced as a 2006 hardcover. The darker White Corridor and The Bryant & May Casebook are in the far future.

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        Have you ever read the first book in a series and loved it only to pick up the second book and find that you are totally disappointed? That's not what happens with the second book in the Reverend Clare Fergusson series, A Fountain Filled with Blood by Julie Spencer_Fleming ($23.95 signed hc or $6.99 pb). If anything the second book is even better than the first. Both Clare and police chief Russ Van Alstyne have decided that they must fight their attraction for each other and be friends. Even their friendship is jeopardized when they find themselves on opposite sides of the gay issue. When two gay men are attacked in Millers Killer, Clare is worried that they are being targeted because of their sexual orientation. Russ doesn't want to believe that it's happening in his town. When a third gay man is brutally murdered, he has no choice but to realize that something serious is going on. The problem with the third man's death is that he is an out_of_town developer that is working on a project Russ' mother is opposed to. She confronted the murdered man on several occasions and Russ has to have her arrested for breaking the law. Russ and Clare find out pieces to the puzzle, but the killer is aware of what they know and plans to make sure they never find out the whole truth.

        Things are not going well for Vicky Holden at the beginning of Killing Raven by Margaret Coel ($22.95 signed hc or $6.99 pb). Her law practice is not bringing enough money to support her and her secretary. So when she is offered a lucrative job working at the new Great Plains Casino on the reservation, she accepts it. However, she begins to hear strange things about the people who run the casino. Meanwhile Father John O'Malley is working on helping a young Indian girl who found a body on the reservation. He tries to hide her, but she is kidnapped by the people who killed the man. Meanwhile Vicky has also been kidnapped by people who want to see her dead. It's up to Father O'Malley to save her.

        I am going to start my review of Blood Hollow by Kent Krueger ($24.00 signed hc, first printing of pb were all defective and we're waiting for non-defective copies) with a warning. This is not the kind of book that you can start and put down. It will grab you and not let go until the last word of the last sentence. The book begins in the winter. Cork O'Connor is helping search for a teenage girl that has disappeared. Being the father of two teenage girls, Cork knows how her father feels even though the man is not one of Cork's close friends. Cork doesn't give up until a blizzard drives him away. A few months later the teenage girl's body is found. The main suspect is Solemn Winter Moon, the grandson of Cork's friend, Sam. Cork is sure Solemn is innocent. Cork's wife, Jo, becomes Solemn's lawyer. Cork investigates the dead girl's past and finds she is not who she seems to be. Several people know more about her than they want to admit because they're afraid of what will happen if their secrets are made public. Yet he doesn't believe any of them are guilty. More people being killed. Someone is stalking his daughter. The town is without a sheriff. Cork knows it's up to him to find out the truth and bring the killer to justice before someone he cares about becomes the next victim.

        I chose to begin to read Superior Position by Evan McNamara ($7.99) because someone I know sent me a copy. I chose to finish it because I was hooked. Evan does a wonderful job describing the scenery and the duties of a small town police force in a town that is surrounded by wilderness. Deputy Sheriff Bill Tatum of Belmont, Colorado goes out for a run and finds a dead woman. It's obvious to him that she has been murdered somewhere else and has been dumped where he found her. He calls for help. Before they can move the body, the killer strikes again. A former sniper, Bill realizes that whoever is doing this is a trained sharpshooter. The problem is that the killer leaves few clues. At first, no one knows when the killer will strike again. Even when they do know, the killer always seems to know where they will be and eludes them. Bill thinks Belmont is a small town with little serious crime. However, with more people getting killed, he soon learns differently. Bill uses his sniper training to find out the truth before he becomes the next victim. This is the first book in the series. I'm eagerly looking forward to the second one.        



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