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Newsletter #54 June - August, 2001

Mystery Reviews
by Jeff Hatfield

        Following the success of his recommended first novel Ice Station (Tor $6.99) Australian author Matthew J. Reilly presents another non-stop action thriller, Temple (Thomas Dunne St. Martin's $24.95). The pace really is extraordinary. Kind of a 21st century high-tech turbo-charged Perils of Pauline.
        Competing factions (all heavily armed in various degrees) race toward remote Peru to locate and secure a unique Incan stone idol carved as a snarling jaguar head. Consisting of a dense extra-terrestrial element, it's literally the last element needed to complete a thermo-nuclear doomsday device.
        Young NYC professor William Race is conscripted and whisked away by a U.S. Army team of scientists and special forces bodyguards. As a linguist he's to translate enroute a 400-year-old journal written in Latin by a renegade monk in Pizarro's army. The idol is pinpointed, but is guarded by a large pride of rapas --- awesome and huge black jaguars. Plus monstrous crocodiles.
        The "Spirit of the People" is seized through heroic effort (accompanied by some silly dialogue) but is quickly lost to a sinister terrorist group. Four other separate factions join a race against time that has become more dire since someone had stolen the Supernova --- and intends to use it.
        Amid a lot of automatic weapons fire, the never-ending action takes place up the mountain, through an underground maze, on the river, in the jungle, and up in the air. Perhaps professor Race could find some answers and escape the tremendous peril he's in if he can find the leisure to finish translating his Latin manuscript. And is it complete? Then if he can survive, through a super hero effort, while still hanging on to his Yankees jogging cap so much the better.
        Temple somewhat recalls the Dirk Pitt adventures of Clive Cussler or those of new name Jack DuBrull. Guys who restrict themselves to the pbo men's action series titles (and you know who you are) would be rewarded with Temple. No literary or murky psychological thriller --- but exciting, fun, and oh so fast.

        The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders (Thomas Dunne St. Martin's $23.95) also by an Australian, Marshall Broome, won the Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel in 2000. Interestingly, the fact is omitted from this U.S. edition's jacket copy. Certainly atmospheric and exceptionally written, it has a nice balance of threat, suspense, action and introspection.
        Rome detective Anders became a hero, and lost his leg to a bomb, ten years earlier when he put down a violent anarchist group. Now (the reader can extrapolate its around 1990) all Anders wants when he retires in four weeks is to finish research and write the biography of his 19th century ancestor, an obscure and all-but-forgotten poet. But he's given one last routine assignment.
        Anders is sent to an unnamed (mercifully) southern Italian city, where "Mafia" is a politically valid and correct term and whispered in every breath. He's to rubber stamp and put closure to an investigation of the bombing deaths of a crusading and respected judge and his bodyguard. Two days, maybe three.
        Though the assassination is officially blamed on anarchist resurgence, Anders knows he thoroughly put them out of business those years ago. Things turn nasty when he interviews the victim's (courageous? foolhardy?) widow and is lured into a lethal counter -intrigue. He finds himself caught in a dark web of criminal conspiracy, power and corruption, and revolt. Anders knows he's being set up as a sacrifice, and will need extraordinary luck to survive. But if successful, well, he'll clear up a lot of active criminal cases in one very bold stroke.
        Inspector Anders reminded me of three other series detectives. There's the moody shadow work and struggle with moral compromise that he has in common with Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen (also a Rome investigator).
        Anders also listens to himself quote passages of poetry from his long deceased ancestor during appropriate moments. This is mindful of tough NTC cop Ray Lesko who in his head speaks (and listens to) the shade of his corrupt and suicidal ex-partner in John Maxim's Bannerman series. There's also the battle-shocked and recovering WWI vet Scotland Yard Insp. Ian Rutledge who communes with the ghost of the young Scot soldier he was forced to execute in the field in Charles Todd's excellent series.
        It's odd. It may be the editor in me, or the lack of editing elsewhere, but I always seem to find at least one sour note in what is otherwise a harmonic narrative. In this instance on p. 181, "As usual, the stench of carbon monoxide ruined the grace and dignity of the piazza." It doesn't take Dr. Kay Scarpetta to tell us that carbon monoxide is odorless.
        Still, recommended. And it seems it will be the first of a series. I'm confident The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders will prove memorable to me. I read part of it while under one of the stone lions on the steps of the New York City Public Library, and some at a table in a small Italian restaurant on Mulberry St. in Little Italy. But that's another story.

        Definitely one of the coolest books in a long time has just arrived. It got the usual brief mention in the last newsletter, but called for more description and all but demanded a four-color companion illustration. I shake my head as I realize there was only one advance mail order response to the announcement --- from a doctor and long-time good customer in New Mexico. The Paperback Covers of Robert McGuinnis (compiled by Art Scott and Dr. Wallace Maynard, foreword by Richard S. Prather, Pond Press, trade paperback 144 pp., $29.95).
        This marvelous edition is a complete listing of the 1,068 titles and 1,432 editions of the paperback cover illustrations of the favored and influential graphic artist. With 380 color illustrations. It's an art book, a fiction and especially mystery reference, a collector's checklist and collector's item, and a coffee-table book at its most glorious. You may want your Sherlockian magnifying glass handy.
        Anyone who's been exposed to paperback books since 1958 will recognize McGuinness' stylish realism at work and perhaps understand his impact. Among his covers were those for Halliday's Mike Shane at Dell, Aaron's Assignment Series and John D. MacDonald titles from Fawcett, Carter Brown titles at Signet, and Prather's Shell Scott at Fawcett.
        The Paperback Covers of Robert McGuinness should strongly appeal to friends at both Hugo's and Edgar's, bibliophiles, art lovers, and lovers of paper Americana. Even if it's not up your dark alley, please stop to browse through it next time you drop in.

        I've been very much looking forward to having author Deborah Crombie dropping by soon to autograph copies of the latest installment in her excellent British police procedural series. A Finer End (Bantam, $23.95), the seventh featuring Scotland Yard detective Duncan Kincaid and partner Gemma James, is already garnering high praise and we should have signed copies available by the time you receive this.
        Architect Jack Montfort, living in his ancestral home in the brooding shadow of Glastonbury Tor and the ruins of it's ancient abbey, is suddenly the conduit for mystical messages from an abbey monk dead close to a thousand years. Communicating via automatic writing the monk seems to call for the righting of an ancient wrong. Jack gathers a group to quietly investigate-but what does the monk want them to do?
        Then, well into the narrative, one of them is involved in a deadly hit-and-run and another is murdered. Not confident in the abilities of the village constabulary to solve the case, Jack calls in his cousin Superintendent Duncan Kincaid. Duncan and Gemma, in Glastonbury unofficially and out of jurisdiction, must tread lightly. Their own personal trials and professional tribulations, plus the secrets of those individuals involved in the case, will influence the investigation. The millennium is here and Halloween approaches. And a bloody and terrible crime centuries old reaches into the present.
        Because she's a Texan writing the British procedural/village mystery, Crombie has something in common with author Martha Grimes. A fact she probably would rather not hear mentioned again. Crombie (not unexpectedly) has been compared to P. D. James, but her excellent writing is frankly and on the whole much more readable. Better comparisons would be with the work of Jill McGown, Ann Granger, or Jo Bannister. As long as the mystical departure doesn't throw you, A Finer End is superb reading and a very easy recommendation.

Mystery Reviews
by Gerri Balter

        After killing someone he thought should be killed and breaking up with a woman he loved, Myron Bolitar needed to get away from it all. As The Final Detail ($6.50) by Harlan Coben begins, Myron is in the Caribbean with no thought of returning anytime soon. That changes when Win finds him and tells him that Esparanza, one of his best friends and partner, has been arrested for the murder of one of their clients, Clu Haid. Myron comes back to help her. The problem is that she refuses his help. She tells him not to get involved. Clu had a troubled past with drugs and womanizing. There are gangsters who want to buy Myron out. How far would they go to get what they want? There is a young girl, the daughter of the owners of the team Clu played for. She had been missing for 20 years. Yet Myron received a videotape of her dissolving in blood. What did she have to do with Clu? Myron is determined to find the answer even if what he finds will only bring him more pain.

        Although I have been to many flea markets, I never thought about the lives of people who work them until I read Next Week Will Be Better ($4.99) by Jean Ruryk. From now on when I go to a flea market, I'll be as interested in the people who work them as what they sell. Jean builds a novel populated with fascinating people with idiosyncrasies that made me want to know more about them. They were as interesting as the murder. She almost the first half of the book introducing the reader to the people who work flea markets which didn't bother me because from the beginning she tells readers who will die. Every time she introduced a new character, I kept wondering if he or she was the one. There were plenty of suspects each with a motive. Cat Wilde, a woman who had worked flea markets but now works on restoring antiques goes back to working flea markets to help a friend who is undergoing surgery and will lose her place if she stays away until she recovers. It has been many years since Cat worked flea markets. She's older now and finds out that things have changed. When Sam, an acquaintance who worked flea markets for years, was murdered, Cat starts to investigate. What she finds out could lead to another death, hers.

        Although Deadly Nightshade ($5.99) by Mary Freemen is listed as a gardening mystery, I think it has more to do with family dynamics than gardening. The townspeople have to make a decision whether or not to vote for annexation. Rachel O'Connor's uncle, a man with a hot temper, is violently against it. When a city councilman, who was rumored to be for annexation, is found murdered, her uncle is the primary suspect. It's Rachel's police chief boyfriend, Jeff, who has to bring her uncle in for questioning. Her mother is angry with Jeff and not very happy with Rachel because she defends Jeff's actions. Her aunt and uncle want nothing to do with her. She feels that the only way to bring peace is to find the real killer. The problem is that even Rachel isn't sure her uncle is innocent. He has no alibi for the night of the murder. She fears that what she might find will be proof that her uncle is the killer. What will that do to her family?

        All Judge Deborah Knott wanted was a peaceful weekend with her boyfriend as Home Fires ($6.50) by Margaret Maron begins. She finds no peace when she learns that her nephew, A.K., along with some older boys who dropped out of school, have been arrested for vandalizing a cemetery. Although she loves her nephew, it's his second offense and she prepares her family for the fact that he will have to be punished. Then the boys who vandalized the cemetery are the chief suspects in the burning of Black churches. Handwriting similar to what was found in the desecrated cemetery seen in the walls of the churches. Luckily for Deborah, A.K. has an alibi. The other two boys don't. The church burnings have racist overtones. Although Deborah is honest enough to know that racism still exists, she wants to believe that whatever happened had nothing to do with race. When a Black church deacon is found dead after one of the churches burned, it's now not just a case of arson. It's now murder as well.

        Kate Shugak and her lover, Jack Morgan, are hired to guide a group of German hunters in the aptly named novel, Hunter's Moon, ($6.99) by Dana Stabenow. These hunters are after trophies for their walls and don't care about the rules as long as they get what they want. The guides reluctantly put up with their antics until one of the hunters is killed. Is it an accident? Kate doesn't think so. When another one of the hunters is killed, it's obvious to everyone that one of the remaining hunters is tired of killing game and would rather hunt people. The guides are sure they could outwit the killer or killers because they are trained to survive in Alaska. But the killer has special knowledge too and that knowledge could lead to all their deaths. It is up to Kate and Jack to find out the truth, no matter what the cost.

        If you enjoy character-driven mysteries, you will enjoy Cold Front ($5.99) by Kathleen Taylor. It's New Year 's Eve in the small town of Delphi, South Dakota. Tory, who by her own admission, is a terrible cook, is coerced to keep the only café in town open so that the New Year revelers will have a place to eat. In spite of the blizzard raging outside, the people of Delphi celebrate the New Year. When it's over, a man, Ian O'Hara, who had just come to town, is found dead in the back of a truck with Tory and her ex-boyfriend in the front seat. Ian had died of exposure but was it an accident or did someone want him dead? There were plenty of people who had been involved with him during the short time he was in town. Tory is going to find out what really happened if only to stop the townspeople from talking about her and her ex-boyfriend. The quirky characters and the fantastic description of the blizzard that makes you feel as if you are actually there make this book a wonderful read.

        What would you do if someone you didn't know left you a house worth a great deal and all you had to do is stay in it alone for two weeks? That's what happens to Benni Harper in Mariner's Compass ($6.50) by Earline Fowler. The man's name is Jacob Chandler. No one in Benni's family had ever heard of him. Her husband, Gabe, a police officer, didn't want her to go. However, curiosity won out and she travels to where the house is located. The first one she meets is a dog named Scout who seems to recognize her although she's never seen him before. It becomes even more mysterious when she founds clippings of everything she's ever done and some of her old clothes. Gabe becomes more incensed, thinking that Jacob was a stalker. Benni is more determined than ever to find out who this man is and why he chose to leave everything to her. It seems that Jacob wants her to find out the truth because he leaves clues to help her. There are those who don't want her to find out the truth and try their best to stop her which makes her even more determined. The more she finds out, the more she realizes that the truth might be more than she can handle.

        In The Mother's Day Murder ($6.50) by Lee Harris, Christine Bennett endures the worst Mother's Day ever when a young woman who is staying with her is murdered and her best friend, Sister Joseph, is the prime suspect. The young woman claimed that Sister Joseph gave birth to her out-of-wedlock and put her up for adoption. The police believed Sister Joseph killed her to keep the truth from being known. Sister Joseph's denies being the young woman's mother. Christine believes her. The police don't. To help prove Sister Joseph's innocence, Christine investigates the past of the young woman. The more she finds out, the it looks as if Sister Joseph is the girl's mother. But Christine believes her friend. She knows that Sister Joseph would never lie to her. All she has to do is prove it to the police.

        Someone is targeting Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro in Darkness, Take My Hand,($6.99) by Dennis Lehane. It starts when they take a case of a woman who thinks her son might be killed by one of the crime families. Patrick and Angela investigate and can find no one who wants the young man dead until it's too late. By then one of their childhood friends have been killed. Somehow this is all connected to them. Patrick and Angela can't figure out what the connection is. As far as they know, there is no reason for the major suspects to want them dead. Yet people he knows and cares for are either murdered or are targets because they know him or Angela. Patrick has to leave the woman he loves and her child. Angela warns her ex-husband to stay away. Patrick and Angela move in together so that the police could more easily protect them. All the pent up emotions between Patrick and Angela have to be dealt with along with trying to find the killer or killers before they or the ones they love are the murdered.

        In A Simple Shaker Murder, ($5.99) by Deborah Woodworth, Rose Callahan goes on a short trip and returns to find a group of strangers in the shaker community who claim to want to join them. Yet when one of their members is killed and the only witness is a young girl who has been abused both physically and emotionally, it's up to Rose to find out the truth. The girl claims not to remember what happened, but she draws pictures from her nightmares that give clues to the killing. The more Rose investigates the more she realizes that these strangers aren't interested in becoming shakers. They seem more interested in turning the shakers away from their beliefs. Does this have something to do with the murder? Rose has to find out the truth before the only witness is silenced permanently.

        Life in the theater seem through the eyes of a struggling actress is part of the charm of Audition for Murder ($5.99) by Susan Sussman with Sarajan Avidon. The rest has to do with a group of actors each with a quirky personality, a couple of murders, and plenty of suspects. All this makes for a fun read. Morgan Taylor is supposed to audition for a part by reading with another actress, Lilly London. Not only does Lilly fail to show up; Morgan finds her body while looking for a place to throw up. Morgan finds herself one of the suspects especially after the police hear her threaten Lilly on Lilly's cell phone. Then Morgan finds a second body, Diane, her understudy. All Morgan wants is a chance to do her best in the play she's been cast in. When the killer starts going after Morgan, she decides enough is enough. The problem is that all the suspects are people Morgan knows and some that she cares a great deal about. Then there's Detective Roblings. Morgan can't decide whether he cares about her or thinks she's the killer. Morgan realizes she has to find the truth before the killer commits another murder, hers.







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