Last Update 7/30/10 

Chapter & Hearse by Lorna Barrett, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23601-7  

A bookstore owner who solves mysteries is a natural hook for me and I’ve enjoyed the previous novels in this series about Tricia Miles.  When another bookstore owner is killed, possibly murdered, and there turns out to be a faint but tangible connection to her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, Tricia is on the road again. This one’s a pretty solid mystery and I’ve grown fond of the protagonist and the setting, but I thought it fell a bit short of the quality of its predecessors, and it’s more luck than brain power that leads her to the solution of the puzzle.  It’s still a lot better than most of its competition and I’ll be reading the next in the series when it appears.  7/30/10

Death Wore White by Jim Kelly, Monitor, 2008, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-312-57081-1

I very much enjoyed the Philip Dryden series by Jim Kelly.  This is the beginning of a new sequence featuring Peter Shaw, a police detective adjusting to his new and touchy partner, formerly his father's partner.  They are investigating the dumping of toxic waste along the shore when they discover a dead body, and almost immediately thereafter a caravan of cars trapped by a fallen tree and a snow storm provide another body, a car thief, a heart attack, and a body found in a vehicle from which no tracks lead anywhere.  As they investigate, they uncover numerous links among the various parties connected with smuggling, child abduction, double crosses, and two overlapping conspiracies, all of which are resolved in fine fashion.  One of those compelling mysteries whose revelations and puzzles come so fast that you resist setting it down until you have finished.  7/17/10

Storm Prey by John Sandford, Putnam, 2010, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15649-6

I saved the best for last in my recent stack of mysteries, the latest in the Lucas Davenport series, crime thrillers rather than mysteries.  This time his wife is an incidental witness to the theft of pharmaceuticals from the hospital where she works.  When one of the attendants is accidentally killed, the crime escalates rapidly.  The gang falls out among themselves and two of them are dead within a day but they bring in a psychotic outsider to help eliminate the witness.  More factions develop among the not particularly bright gang of thieves, now murderers, and they're at more risk from one another than they ever are from the police.  Davenport and his crew are unraveling clues meanwhile and they know more or less who is involved - except the inside contact - until very late.  This is a pretty long book but it didn't feel like it, rushing headlong in a series of violent encounters.  Probably not the best in the series but above average.  7/6/10

Roast Mortem by Cleo Coyle, Berkley, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-23459-4 

“Includes recipes and coffee making tips.”  That was almost enough to make me skip this one before I opened the cover.  The plot summary intrigued me a bit and the writing was good enough to hold my interest past the first chapter, so it got a reprieve.  Someone is committing arson and murdering members of the local fire department, and coffee house manager Clare Cosi decides to help out her friends by uncovering the culprit.  The set up is quite good, the payoff not so much. There was just too much cliché.  Clare’s boyfriend is a detective who gets into trouble thanks to a frame up, so she has to pull his chestnuts – or coffee grounds – out of the fire as well.  And naturally the killer doesn’t want some stranger poking into things so Clare’s life is in jeopardy as well.  Coyle contrives a better mystery than most of her peers, but as with the previous title I've read by her this one just doesn’t cross the barrier between standard cozy and an actual detective story. 7/5/10

Nine Lives Last Forever by Rebecca M. Hale, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23432-7

Delicious and Suspicious by Riley Adams, Berkley, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23553-9

Diva Las Vegas by Eileen Davidson, Obsidian, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23075-1 

It was too hot to read anything substantial so I turned to these three new “mystery” novels more or less in the cozy tradition, although one of them has recipes.  The first is a cat mystery, and it even has an intriguing opening.  The owner of an antique shop and her cats get pulled into the mystery of why frogs are appearing in various buildings. A rather diverse and unusually lively group of characters get drawn into a story of fraud and conspiracy and much to my surprise – I generally dislike animal oriented mysteries – I thought this one was pretty good.  The second didn’t impress me as much, yet another one in which the protagonist has to clear her or a friend’s name.  In this case, she has to prove that the dead restaurant reviewer did not get a fatal dose of bad cooking but was actually poisoned by a third party.  Okay, but nothing special.  Finally we have a soap opera mystery – presumably ghostwritten by Robert Randisi – in which the friend of an actress acts troubled, then ends up dead before she can talk about it.  More murders follow against the backdrop of soap opera fans.  Not my favorite subject matter, but the writing was quite good. 6/30/10

Last Writes by Sheila Lowe, Obsidian, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23110-9 

Forensic handwriting is the key to this mystery.  I know there’s a good deal of evidence that this really works, but I’ve never liked the concept.  I liked one of the two previous books in the series that I’ve read, so I decided to give this one a try.  This one involves cults and brainwashing and missing persons.  The protagonist uses her skills to try to find the missing party but she’s working against a close deadline.  Parts of this worked really well for me, but I had trouble relating to the main character this time for some reason.  There’s a fairly clever solution and it’s a distinct enough variation from most of the other mysteries that I’ve read recently to make it stand out a bit. 6/29/10

Fever Dream by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2010, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-446-55496-1 

I am immensely fond of the Agent Pendergast series, of which this is the latest.  The series varies from supernatural to science fiction to conventional thriller, and this one falls mostly into that last category, although there are hints of SF as well, which I won’t explain because they might spoil the surprise.  Pendergast lost his wife back before the series began, apparently mauled by a lion in a tragic accident in Africa.  When he stumbles upon evidence that she was in fact murdered, he and Vincent D’Agosta are launched on a country hopping trip to discover the truth. He also learns that his wife was involved in secret research while they were married, a bit of a clunker because when we find out what she was looking for, there is no reasonable explanation for why she would not have told him. There’s quite a bit of action in this one and an ending that ties up most – but not all – of the loose ends, so presumably they will be worked out in a further adventure.  Very engrossing although in retrospect one of the weaker books in the series. 6/25/10

Grace Under Pressure by Julie Hyzy, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23521-8

Toast Mortem by Claudia Bishop, Berkley, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23028-2

I really enjoyed Julie Hyzy’s first mystery series, so I was a bit disappointed when her new book turned out to be another cozy, though better than most of the others I’ve read recently.  The protagonist is Grace Wheaton, who accepts a job as curator of sorts for an old mansion, a job whose previous occupant was murdered.  There are multiple subplots involving pretended relatives, extortion, old sins returning, fraud, and revenge, all of which gets straightened out by the end.  Although the setting and circumstances are less original than her earlier books, the story was still quite good.  Claudia Bishop, who also writes as Mary Stanton, has a more conventional, well written but less interesting story in her Hemlock Falls series.  A famous chef opens a cooking in a small town, but his unpleasant personality soon leads to a long list of enemies, from students to business rivals.  Then he’s murdered – no surprise there – and our protagonist is one of the potential suspects – no surprise there either, alas.  The rest is carried out competently and rather quickly; this is a pretty short book.  And yes, there are recipes.  The Hyzy is recommended; the Bishop is only readable, but sometimes that’s enough. 6/2/10

A Timely Vision by Joyce and Jim Lavene, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23475-4  

First in a new series from a team I have found reliable in the past.  The protagonist is mayor of a small town in North Carolina.  She also has a virtually supernatural talent for finding lost objects, which I suppose technically makes this one a fantasy.  Her reputation gets her into difficulties when she searches for a missing watch and finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation.  The formula for these neo-cosies persists as she has a gentleman friend who is a retired FBI agent; usually the protagonist is dating or wants to be dating or is avoiding dating a local police officer.  Anyway, despite the formula this is a pleasant little story and better written than most of its competition. 5/30/10

Skein of the Crime by Maggie Sefton, Berkley, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-23438-9

The Double Cross by Claire O’Donohue, Plume, 2010, $14, ISBN 978-0-452-29642-8 3508/9 

Both of these are modern cosies, that is, they are stories in which a murder happens rather than detective puzzles.  And each has its gimmick, sewing in the first case and quilting in the second.  I wish this trend would die a quick death but I’m not holding my breath.  The first isn’t badly written.  A troubled young woman ends up dead after taking some knitting classes, so her teacher and classmates decide to take justice into their own hands since the police don’t seem to be getting anywhere.  Naturally their interference means that the killer has a reason to ensure that they don’t get any further, even if that means killing our heroine.  Okay but very predictable.  The second title didn’t hold my interest as well.  It has another standard plot.  A group of quilters are on retreat when a body turns up and one of their number is chief suspect.  The protagonist decides to prove her incident, putting her own life at risk in the process.  I actually liked the protagonist better than in the Sefton novel, but the story and the mystery just weren’t original enough to make me care much who the killer was.  I’m probably reading too many of these lighter mysteries when I actually prefer clever detection or heavy suspense. Both are okay but unexceptional. 5/13/10

Murder on Lexington Avenue by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-23437-2

This is the latest in the author's series about Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy, a midwife and a police detective in New York City around 1900.  A businessman is murdered in his office after becoming involved in a controversy over efforts to teach his deaf daughter sign language, which he believes will make her relate to deaf people rather than "normal" ones.  It turns out there are lots of people who want him dead, including an unhappy business partner, his wife and her lover, his daughter, his son, his daughter's would be fiancé, and others.  Mallow recruits Brandt into the investigation as he has done before and they must thread their way through all of the conflicting personalities and webs of lies they're each weaving.  I've enjoyed this series since I first started reading it and picked up all the ones I've missed - although I haven't had time to read them yet.  Thompson is among the half dozen or so practicing mystery writers whom I actively watch for, and this is one of her better mysteries.  Definitely recommended.  5/8/10

Devil's Keep by Phillip Finch, Pocket, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-6856-1

I don't usually like novels of international intrigue involving the Russian Mafia or similar organizations, and I particularly don't like ones that involve secretive macho organizations of professional killers working on the side of the angels.  So I took this one to bed early one night because I wanted to be bored enough to go to sleep early.  Alas, it was one of those exceptions that explain why I do read similar books from time to time because this one sucked me in - in large part because the prose is smooth and clear - and I ended up getting to sleep very late indeed.  The protagonist is, as I suggested, a reformed sanctioned killer for the US government who is trying to expiate his sins, in this case - it's the first in a series - by rescuing two teenagers who have been kidnapped in the Phillippines.  But there is a particularly nasty criminal organization there - and while I guessed what was going on quite early I won't spill the beans here - that has to be wiped out rather than just thwarted.  There's plenty of action and violence, not too gratuitous, and it was good enough that the next book in the series will probably rob me of another night's rest at some point.  5/4/10