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Newsletter #73 March - May, 2006

Mystery Reviews
By Jeff Hatfield

        Author Will Thomas' first two detective adventures, Some Danger Involved and To Kingdom Come, are now available in trade paperback and at a come-on price of $9.95. In late Victorian London the mysterious and very capable enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his young Welsh assistant Thomas Llewellyn prowl the same atmospheric fog-wet cobblestone streets of Holmes and Watson. But while the setting is Sherlockian, the set-up has more in common with Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
        Narrator Llewellyn has lost his wife, studied at Oxford, and spent time in prison. He's chosen by Barker from a crowd of hopefuls answering an ad for a position where there's "some danger involved." Indeed. Barker's former assistant violently lost his life in the course of duty. But even as Thomas begins his training he and his new employer are called upon to solve the murder of a young scholar. The victim, bearing a strong likeness to Jesus Christ, has been found crucified in London's Jewish ghetto.
        The duo enter the city's murky underworld and encounter a host of shadowy contacts and suspects; including a beautiful though untouchable rabbi's daughter, and historical figure Israel Zangwill-- young Jewish scholar, future man-of -letters and political activist. Before a killer is unmasked, and the shocking truth behind the gruesome murder is revealed, young Thomas learns his first lesson -- "some danger involved" was an extreme understatement.
        Barker and Llewellyn return when an explosion destroys the Special Irish Branch of Scotland Yard. On spec, Barker volunteers their services to the government. Posing as an infamous German bomb maker and his apprentice, they infiltrate an anarchist cell of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Jumping to Wales, Liverpool, Paris, and back to London the detectives are under a looming deadline to stop a terrorist plot to end the British monarchy and establish Irish home rule. Again there's an alluring woman, sister to the cell's murderous leader, and another real-life figure -- Charles Parnell, Irish fund-raiser and Member of Parliament.
        Can one damn by offering faint praise? The writing in Some Danger Involved and To Kingdom Come is serviceable. But the characters are appealing, and the novels are filled with excitement and events, all in a colorful setting. It's a bit disconcerting that Cyrus Barker seems to have lived through at least four lifetimes worth of travel, reading, and dangerous experience.
        The team's third challenge, The Limehouse Text ($24), is due in June. Here Barker and Llewellyn enter London's Chinatown in search of a rare secret text of forbidden lethal martial arts that has been stolen from a monastery. Jews, Irishmen, and now Chinese -- there appears to be a pattern developing. I fully expect an exotic and extremely beautiful Chinese girl to make an appearance. And while I can't offer raving endorsements of first two adventures, I'm still looking forward to immediately reading the third.

        It's perhaps premature (by one newsletter) to review award-winning author Dan Fesperman's The Prisoner of Guantanamo (early July, $24). But keeping your eye on the horizon can be a good thing. Fesperman brings to his fourth novel an unromantic journalistic sensibility. This gives his story of military intrigue and counter-espionage a certain "ripped from behind the headlines" immediacy which makes it a prime example of contemporary Realism.
        FBI Special Agent and Arabic speaker Revere Falk is an interrogator at Gitmo assigned to a Yemeni "hold out" who is suspected of having important information about al Qaeda. When the body of an American sergeant is found inexplicably washed up on the beach on the Cuban side of the fence, he's given the investigation. Falk immediately recognizes the high-stakes and far-reaching interests in the case when the Defense Intelligence Agency flies in its own team to take over the case. Having a dark secret of his own, Falk is faced with a difficult conflict of duty dilemma and finds himself tip-toeing through a minefield. Mines which include the FBI, CIA, US Military, Homeland Security, Cuban Espionage Directorate, a shadowy and unnamed counter-spy entity, the Marine Corps (once a Marine always a Marine), his prisoner subject, and the wife of the "suspicious death" victim.
        Falk is a loner protagonist. He's not a hero, and he's not blameless. In fact, everyone involved is a "gray hat" in danger of becoming casualties in one way or another. The Gitmo setting is especially strong --- exotic while at the same time very close to home. The Prisoner of Guantanamo is serious and suspenseful fiction, lacking thrills (as in automatic weapons blasting and bodies flying) but having sustained tension and conflict. It's all a function of Naturalism -- welcome to the real world.
        Fesperman is in the same rank as Daniel Silva or le Carre (we haven't called him John in ages). Lie in the Dark ($13) won the John Creasey Award for Best First Crime Novel, and The Small Boat of Great Sorrows ($13) won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller. The Warlord's Son ($13.95) is due soon in trade paperback.

Mystery Reviews
by Geri Balter

        Guardian of the Horizon by Elizabeth Peters ($24.95 signed hc or $7.50 pb) is a novel of what happened to the Emersons between 1907 and 1908. It starts when a young boy from Nefret's past appears and begs Nefret to go back to the Holy Mountain from which she came. Reluctantly, Amelia, Peabody, Ramses and Nefret go back. In spite of trying to keep their destination from everyone, they are stalked and attacked along the way. When they finally arrive, Nefret is kidnapped and is brainwashed. It's up to the rest of the family to rescue her and put right a wrong committed to the people who live there.

        Whether you believe in witches or not, I think you'll enjoy Witch Way to Murder by Shirley Damsgaard ($6.99) even though the author, for some reason, said that the Minneapolis newspaper was called Mineapolis Sun. Ophelia left her job in a big city to work as a librarian in a small town after a friend of hers was murdered. She felt it was her fault that he was killed. She has been hurt too many times and doesn't want to have anything to do with anyone. She only wants to be left alone. The last thing she wants is to accept the powers she has. However, Richard Davis doesn't want to leave her alone. He wants information and he is sure she has it. In spite of herself, she finds herself involved with him in trying to solve a murder and other crimes. Her grandmother tries to help her. In the end it's up to Ophelia and Richard to find the truth. And the only way to do that is to use the powers she doesn't want to admit she has.

        No Graves as Yet by Anne Perry ($25.95 signed hc or $7.50 pb) is the first book in her series that takes place during World War I. The story begins in June of 1914 when Joseph and Matthew Reavley's parents die in a car accident. Or is it an accident? Before their parents died, their father called Matthew and said he wanted to come to Matthew's office in the Intelligence Service and show him a secret document that could disgrace England. They can't find the document anywhere. Someone searches their home and Matthew's office. Matthew and Joseph believe that someone murdered their parents. While Matthew tries to find out more about the document and who might want to kill his parents, Joseph, an ordained minister and a Cambridge professor, goes back to Cambridge and tries to bury himself in his work. A brilliant student of his named Sebastian is found dead. Because no weapon was found, the police believe Sebastian has been murdered. They ask for Joseph's help in finding out who killed him. Joseph is sure no one would want to kill Sebastian, but finds out differently. It seems that no one liked him and that he caused pain to almost everyone around him. The students and staff who are at Cambridge are miserable not knowing the truth. On top of that it looks as if soon England will be at war. All these events are woven into a tapestry that leads the brothers to find out things they never wanted to know.

        Murder in Alphabet City by Lee Harris ($6.99) is the second book in the Manhattan Series with Jane Bauer coming back to work after recovering from almost being killed. Her first case is supposed to be an easy one. Flavia Constantine, someone with political contacts, wants the police to reopen the case of her brother who died eight years earlier. He was a schizophrenic and was found dead of starvation. At the time the death was ruled a suicide. She is positive it wasn't. Jane and her team are told to go through the motions. Her boss is sure there's nothing to it. While they go through the motions, they found out that Mr. Stratton's case worker also died in mysterious circumstances. She was found dead in a hotel room. Her death was also ruled a murder. It seems too much of a coincidence to Jane and her team. They begin to investigate the case worker. She seemed to be involved in something mysterious before she died. While they investigate her, someone starts going after the members of the team. It only makes them more determined to find out the truth no matter where the leads and no matter how much danger they find themselves in.

        The dream house in Dream House by Rochelle Krich ($6.99) is anything but a dream house. Molly Blume is working on a story about the conflict between people who want to remodel their homes and those who want to restore the historic look of their neighborhoods. She gives a ride to an old man who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. When he dies in a fire, the police suspect that he might have been murdered. The man's son_in_law, Hank, asks Molly to investigate and find out the truth about his death. There are rumors that Hank beat his father_in_law. Hank's wife has disappeared and the police believe Hank killed her, but they have no proof. The more Molly investigates, the more she finds out about the family, the more questions she has. The answers could cause her death.

        Snuffed Out by Tim Myers ($5.99) begins with a blackout in River's Edge, the shopping complex owned by Harrison Black. Since he owns a candle shop and was in it at the time, he uses one of the candles to find out what caused it. Instead he finds one of his tenants, Aaron Gaston, dead. Aaron had been murdered and the primary suspect is another one of Harrison's tenants, Heather Bane. She had dated Aaron and they broke up. Harrison doesn't believe Heather's guilty, but proving it may be more difficult than he realizes. He needs to find another tenant and when Aaron's ex_wife Sanora appears and wants to take over Aaron's lease, he accepts. He finds out that she was thrown out of the complex by his aunt. Heather threatens to leave if Sanora stays. Most of the other tenants don't want to have anything to do with Sanora. And someone tries to run her down. Could she know something that the killer doesn't want her to tell? That's what Harrison has to find out before the killer strikes again.

        In Death's Shadow by Marcia Talley ($6.99) describes both Hannah Ives and Valerie Stone, both cancer survivors. When they meet again after being roommates in the hospital, they resume their friendship. Valerie and her husband Brian live in a large, beautiful house and have taken a trip around the world. Yet Valerie doesn't work and Brian is a free lance writer who doesn't make the kind of money needed to take the trip or to live in the house they now own. When Hannah wonders how they can afford their lifestyle, Valerie explains about viaticals. It seems that they sold Valerie's life insurance policy for a portion of what would be paid to them when Valerie died because, at the time, Valerie wasn't expected to live. However, she took part in an experimental therapy that caused her to go into remission. A short time after Hannah and Valerie resumed their friendship, she is found dead. Everyone believes it is due to natural causes, everyone except Hannah. The more she finds out about viaticals, the more she wonders if whoever bought Valerie's insurance policy might not have wanted to wait until she died. The same people who bought Valerie's policy have also purchased policies for several senior citizens who have also died. In spite of the fact that no one except one senior citizen believes her, she continues investigating, not realizing that although she is in remission from cancer, there is no remission from death.

        Most of Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman ($7.99) takes place at the Grand Canyon. On June 30, 1956, two plans crashed into each other over the Grand Canyon. Everyone on board both airplanes was killed. One of the people killed was carrying a briefcase filled with diamonds. They were never recovered. When Billy Tuve tries to pawn a diamond for $20, he is arrested for a burglary that Joe Leaphorn worked on before his retirement. Billy's cousin asks Joe, Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito to help him prove his cousin's innocence. At the same time Joanna Craig finds out about Billy's arrest and wants him to show her where he found the diamond. According to her mother who had recently died, the man with the diamonds was her father. If she can find his body, she can use the DNA to prove she's his child and can inherit a great deal of money. The man who inherited the money hires Bradford Chandler to stop her. They all meet in the Canyon where Bradford will do whatever he has to do to keep the others from finding the diamonds and the skeleton. Nature also tries to do whatever necessary to stop all of them. They have to work together to survive or they will die.

        Murder on St. Mark's Place by Victoria Thompson ($6.99) is the second book in Gaslight Mystery series. When Sarah Brandt, midwife, walks into the Otto apartment, she hears a woman scream. Because Agnes Otto is due to have her baby soon, she assumes what she hears is a scream of labor. Instead it is a scream of grief. Agnes' younger sister, Gerda, was murdered. Sarah knows that no one will investigate the crime. Not only is Gerda an immigrant, but she is what is called a "charity girl." Charity girls receive presents from men in exchange for sexual favors. Sarah is determined to find out who killed Gerda especially after she founds out the Gerda isn't the first "charity girl" who is killed in the same way. She asks Sergeant Frank Malloy for help. He feels he owes her because she diagnosed his son as being deaf instead of feeble minded like Sergeant Malloy's mother insists. The trail leads them to Coney Island where not all rides are safe and one wrong step can lead to death.

        Death in Duplicate by Valerie Wolzien ($6.99) begins with birth in duplicate as Susan and Jed Henshaw become grandparents of twins. His daughter, son_in_law, the twins, and their nanny, Shannon Tapley, move in with them until they can find a place of their own. Susan is happy to have them. Even before they are unpacked, her new neighbor, Nadine Baines, tells her that Shannon used to work at a nursing home and is the prime suspect in the deaths of three patients. A short time later, Nadine is murdered. Not wanting to upset her daughter, Susan starts to investigate. Before she can find out any answers, Nadine's mother_in_law is killed too. None of this makes sense until she finds out more about Nadine than she wants to know. The problem is that the knowledge could cause her death.

        Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M.C. Beaton ($6.99) manages to bring in all the men who have played a part in Agatha Raisin's life as well as a new man, Paul Chatterton. Paul has rented the cottage that used to belong to Agatha's former husband, James. All the single women in town are trying to snare him because they think he's a bachelor. He becomes involved with Agatha because of her sleuthing capabilities. Agatha would like it to be more, but Paul is married even though he often seems to forget about his marriage vows. He wants Agatha to help him investigate a haunted house. When the woman who lives in the house throws them out, Agatha gives up on the idea and goes to London to do some freelance work for a month. Upon her return, she finds out that the woman who lived in the haunted house died under suspicious circumstances. Both Paul and Agatha want to find out who the killer is. The problem is that they don't seem to work well together. They even manage to destroy evidence. Agatha teams up with her old friend, Sir Charles and the two of them continue with the investigation. Paul investigates on his own. The killer is well aware of what they are doing and will do whatever is necessary to stop them.

        Dead Jitterbug by Victoria Houston ($6.50) starts with Doc Osborne helping his friend, Ray, teach a group of women how to fish. It came about when Ray said that it would help single women catch a man if they knew how to fish. He claims he could help them learn to fish and a group of women signed up. Meanwhile Chief Lew Ferris is working with Doc Osborne's daughter, Erin, on her campaign to become Sheriff. When Hope McDonald, a famous advice columnist, is found murdered, both Lew and Doc Osborne find themselves too busy investigating her murder to think of anything else. There are plenty of suspects including Hope's husband and daughter. Hope and her husband have been estranged for years. Her daughter had a big fight with her mother shortly before her death. No one's alibi is valid. There are others who have a motive to kill her, too. Doc Osborne and Lew work together to find out the truth before the killer decides to kill again.

        Live Bait by P.J. Tracy ($23.95 signed hc or $7.50 pb) starts out as a murder_free spell and warm weather cover the Twin Cities. Detectives Magozzi and Rolseth are taking advantage of it when they get a call. Two senior citizens have been murdered. One was tied to the railroad tracks and died of a heart attack while watching the train coming towards him. One, Morey Gilbert, was killed in front of the greenhouse that he owned. Rogozzi and Rolseth are investigating his death while two other detectives are investigating the death of the man who was tied to the railroad tracks. At the crime scene, they find Marty Pullman, a former police officer. Morey was Marty's father_in_law. The killing doesn't stop there. Two other senior citizens are murdered. The police are looking for something to tie the deaths together. Morey and the two killed after him have only one thing in common: They are all concentration camp survivors. Morey's son Jack knows the truth. He refuses to tell anyone, even Marty. Marty is willing to do what he has to do to protect Jack and Morey's wife even though he doesn't know who he's protecting them from. It's up to Rogozzi and Rolseth to find the truth before the killer kills again.

        Maisie Dobbs ($14.00) and Birds of a Feather ($25.00 signed hc or $14.00 trade pb) by Jacqueline Winspear start a historical series.
        In Maisie Dobbs, the author introduces us to Maisie and her world, England in 1929. Although there is a mystery involving a farm for disfigured soldiers, most of the novel tells Maisie's story. She was born to a poor family. Her mother died when she was young and her father raised her. He knew she was intelligent and searched for a way to help her succeed. He made the acquaintance of Lady Rowan who was looking for someone to help. She took Maisie into her home as a maid and gave her the education she longed for. When World War I broke out, Maisie became a nurse and found love and heartbreak. After the war and finishing her education, becomes a private investigator. One case leads to another and she finds a thread among several of the cases she has and it has to do with graves with only one name on them and they all belong to men who have died after moving to this farm for disfigured soldiers. Maisie sends a former soldier named Billy who works for her to the farm to find out what is happening to the men who go there. The answer is not what she expected.
        In Birds of a Feather, a rich man asks Maisie to find his missing daughter, Charlotte. He doesn't want to involve the police because of the bad publicity. It's not the first time Charlotte has disappeared and he is sure she will be easy to find. According to her father, Charlotte always had everything she wanted. Maisie finds out differently. No one in the house has a kind word to say about Charlotte. Even her former fiancé doesn't seem to think much of her. While Maisie tries to find out what happened to Charlotte, she learns that the missing woman has three friends who have died. Two were murdered and the third was a suicide, or was it? Maisie begins to wonder if this girl ran away because of fear or despair because she was unhappy with the life she was living. Slowly, Maisie learns the truth. Will it be in time to save Charlotte's life?
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