Last Update 12/31/08

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, audiobook. Audio Partners, 2005, read by William Dufris, $27.95, ISBN 1-57270-442-X 

I hadnít read this in many years, but Nick and Nora Charles are among my favorite fictional detectives.  The basic plot is that a scientist named Wynant is missing, his assistant/mistress has been murdered, money is missing, the ex-wife is on the warpath, and Nick Charles gets dragged into the case against his will.  Wynant is an insane scientist who never actually appears in the novel, since we discover at the end that he has been dead for some time.  There are mysterious witnesses, a fairly competent police detective, surprises, and revelations.  This is my second favorite of Hammettís novels, and one of the all time classic detective stories.  The staccato dialogue is at times a bit jarring but the plot is so perfectly laid out that each scene flows logically from the last. 12/31/08

A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry, Ballantine, 2008, $18, ISBN 978-0-345-50203-2

Apparently Anne Perry has been doing an annual Christmas related mystery for some years now.  this is the second that I've read, the previous one not having impressed me nearly as much as her regular mysteries.  I'm happy to say this one is much better, a relatively short novel about a woman who goes to Ireland to stay with her dying aunt and gets immersed in the local history.  There is a legend of a battle between two families, an exciting shipwreck during a violent storm, and the mystery surrounding a murder some time in the past which was never solved.  There's also a shipwreck survivor with amnesia to add to the mystery.  The visitor realizes the unsolved crime is troubling her aunt so she decides to see if she can solve it, and she suspects that this was the motive behind her invitation from the outset.  She is also puzzled by the odd reaction of the local people to the presence of the survivor. The story goes surprisingly quickly and the characters emerge as distinct and interesting.  Very pleasant.  12/18/08

The Leopard's Prey by Suzanne Arruda, Obsidian, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22586-3

Ordinarily I wouldn't have gotten to this one so quickly since it only arrived yesterday, but I was curious to see which direction this series was going to go, read the blurbs, got sucked in, and here we are.  The setting is 1920s Africa and our heroine, Jade del Cameron, is engaged in helping capture animals to be sent to zoos around the world.  Unfortunately, she gets diverted once again when a dead body shows up on a local estate, and once again her boyfriend seems to be the most likely suspect. The mystery this time is okay but nothing special, and I actually enjoyed most her lengthy journey across a remote part of Africa after getting stranded by a plane crash.  This has been a very good series so far, but I hope future volumes will vary the formula because there were a few scenes this time that seemed very familiar.  12/18/08

The Skeleton Man by Jim Kelly, St Martins, 2008, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-312-37781-6

The fifth and most recent Philip Dryden mystery.  Dryden is a journalist in the UK whose wife has recently emerged from a lengthy coma and whose closest friend is a man who lives, for all practical purposes, in a taxi.  Heís covering a live fire training event for the army at a deserted village when they discover a body hanging in a previously unknown basement, where it has apparently remained for close to twenty years.  Then a young man with amnesia is fished out of a local river after two severed fingers are found downstream.  Thereís also an empty grave and threats from someone claiming to be an animal rights activist. The cases seem separate, but connections begin to emerge.  Other developments suggest that there were dark undercurrents all through the dying village, a child born out of wedlock, possibly poisoned, several disappearances, impersonations, attempted murders, and even darker events.  The closing chapters are filled with one startling revelation after another, some of which I anticipated, others catching me completely by surprise.  If there is a recurring theme in Kelly's work, it's that our misdeeds always catch up to us, even if it takes years.  Another excellent mystery from one of my favorites.  12/9/08


The Coldest Blood by Jim Kelly, St Martins, 2007, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-312-36478-6

Fourth in the Philip Dryden series.  This time journalist Dryden is skeptical about what appears to be an odd suicide, a man who opened all the windows and froze to death one winter night. A day later, he learns that the dead manís friend also froze to death at another location, either suicide or an accident, or made to look that way.  Both men were raised as children at an orphanage currently under investigation because of allegations of child abuse, although only one man from that time remains alive, an elderly priest.  I canít say too much more about the plot without spoiling the story but there is a connection to another crime, and a coincidence that makes Dryden more of a player than he wants to be. This series very quickly became one of my favorites.  I enjoy the dry, understated style and the cast of regular characters, and the mysteries are genuinely interested.  Kelly also manages to bring his scenery to life, images that give the physical events of the plot a rich context.  The prose is an absolute pleasure to experience. After reading the first three, I bought this and the next in the series in hardcover, something I only do for a handful of writers.  Every bit as good as its three excellent predecessors.  And I have the next sitting on a shelf behind me.  12/6/08

The Frailty of Flesh by Sandra Ruttan, Leisure, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6075-2

Iím not overly fond of police procedurals, but I enjoy the good ones and this Ė second in a series apparently Ė is one of the good ones.  There are two separate cases on a collision course here.  One involves the beating death of a young girl ten years in the past.  The man sent to prison is getting out on parole and is suing the RCMP for having railroaded him.  One of the protagonists, Craig, is ordered to review the case for the RCMP even though his father was the investigating officer.  Meanwhile two other detectives are looking into another childís death.  The victimís brother claims that their sister did it, but sheís missing and all three kids appear to have been regularly abused by their parents, whose lawyer obstructs the investigation.  The theme of child abuse is powerfully driven and the story is hard to set down once you get into the intricacies of the case.  My only complaint is that there is too much conflict.  No one gets along with anyone else in the book Ė not even the half a dozen or so major police characters.  Surely someone there actively likes someone else they know?  A minor quibble though.  This is an excellent novel. 12/2/08

Dying by the Sword by Sarah DíAlmeida, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22461-8

Number five in a series of mysteries involving DíArtagnan and the Three Musketeers.  A servant working for Porthos is accused of murder, which seems entirely out of character and leads the four friends into another investigation.  Predictably, this brings them into conflict with the ambitious and nefarious Cardinal Richelieu as they once again must protect the king from the plots of his subordinates.  As with the previous books in this series, the author Ė who writes fantasy as Sarah Hoyt Ė brings that era to life and mixes detection and swashbuckling into an exciting and rewarding whole.  I donít normally care for mysteries set prior to the Victorian age, but I make exceptions when the books are as good as these. 11/27/08

Shot Girl by Karen E. Olson, Obsidian, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22549-8 

Annie Seymour is an investigative reporter who gets a little too close to murder when her ex-boyfriend is killed in front of the club he manages while sheís inside, making her a major suspect.  Her life is also complicated by a series of mysterious phone calls that suggest someone is watching her, and when the police turn up clandestine photographs of her in the dead manís apartment, it looks like heís responsible, until the phone calls keep coming.  She also discovers that her boyfriend, whose lawyer is Seymourís mother, was part of a serious criminal enterprise involving drugs and firearms.  Although taken off the story by her superiors, she is determined to discover the truth about her ex-husbandís link to a couple of shot girls, young women who buy drinks in test tubes and sell them at a profit to guys attracted by their looks.  This is a fairly long book but I read it through in a single night because the writing is quite strong, the character likeable, and the suspense and mystery were well developed throughout Ė even though I guessed one of the major revelations well in advance.  There are a few too many coincidences to make me entirely comfortable with the plot, but it certainly wasnít a big enough flaw to keep me from reading more, and there are three previous books in the series I have yet to find.  You wonít be disappointed with this one. 11/19/08

The Spy Who Came for Christmas by David Morrell, Vanguard, 11/08, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-159315-487-5 1573 

Kagan is a deep cover spy who has become a trusted member of the Russian Mafia working in the US.  When they kidnap the infant son of a prominent international peacemaker, he breaks cover to seize the child and run for the authorities on one snowy Christmas Eve.  Unfortunately, he loses his cell phone and is so closely followed that he has no opportunity to call for help.  Kagan finally takes refuge with a battered wife and her young son, but through a coincidence of circumstances, their phones are also inoperable.  The three thugs show up and lay siege to the house in a sequence that reminded me of the final scenes in the movie Straw Dogs.  The Christmas theme is obvious, and there is a twist at the end that I had to struggle to find credible, but other than that I was completely caught up in the story and read it in a single sitting.  Itís fairly short as modern novels go, but I probably would have felt the same way if it had been twice as long. 11/4/08

Murder with All the Trimmings by Elaine Viets, Obsidian, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22548-1 

This is the fourth in the Josie Marcus mystery shopper series.  Marcus is a single mom with a feisty daughter and a marginal job.  She is dating a plumber whose ex-wife is a nut case and who has custody of their equally whacko teenaged daughter.  Ex-wife has also opened a Christmas shop infamous for its pornographic ornaments and bad customer relations, and a rival shop thrives while the other lurches toward insolvency.  Several marginally violent incidents build as Josieís ex-lover, a drug dealer recently released from prison, shows up.  But Nate has changed into a maudlin, nasty drunk.  Thereís tension between mother and daughter because Josie had told her that her father was dead Ė a rather stupid thing to do.  In fact, I didnít much care for Josie, who lies to her daughter and drives through red lights, which made it a little difficult to sympathize with her plight.  Then Nate is fatally poisoned and already simmering tensions boil over.  Iíve liked other novels by this author much better than this one.  The culprit was obvious right from the outset, as were most of the details of the method.  For the most part, I didnít care for the characters as people either, which might have given it some verisimilitude but also made it hard to care about them.  Iíd recommend Clubbed to Death as an introduction to Viets rather than this one.  11/4/08

Majestic Descending by Mitchell Graham, Tor, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-5774-8

Katherine Adams is a successful trial lawyer who is going on a cruise, part of her hard earned and long overdue vacation.  Adams has had a difficult past.  As a young woman, she was kidnapped and lost a finger to a madman who had killed numerous other victims, a trauma she has never been able to leave completely behind her.  She is about to find herself in fresh danger, however, because one of her fellow vacationers is a scientist who has recently discovered a revolutionary and potentially very profitable process, a process which has attracted the attention of rivals who plan to steal his discovery and dispose of him.  If that means they have to sink the cruise ship, then that's what they'll do.  When Adams overhears a crucial conversation, she is propelled into the middle of the conflict that follows.  Although this is technically a mystery, it could just as easily be termed a novel of high adventure in the tradition of Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean.  It takes a while for the main plot to get underway, but the side issues designed to establish her character are interesting as well.  Some of the supporting cast are less satisfyingly portrayed, but that's not unusual in adventure stories.  I'll be watching for this author's next. 10/23/08

Deadly Beautiful by Sam Baker, Ballantine, 2008, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-47590-9 

The sequel to Fashion Victim is set in the world of international modeling.  The protagonist is Annie Anderson, a magazine writer who gets roped into an informal investigation by a friend whose half-sister, a one time child model, has recently disappeared while on location in Japan.  Most of the first half of the novel refers to the mystery only at a distance.  It is mostly about the modelís father, a rich and exceedingly despicable character who marries only fashion models, and with surprisingly regularity.  The high pressure background is nicely evoked and the characters are pretty well drawn, but I was only intermittently drawn into the story.  The protagonist is very low key and it was actually Rufus, the domineering womanizer, who dominated much of the story, even when he wasnít physically present.  This one is a better novel than it is a mystery novel. 10/21/08

Itís a Crime by Jacqueline Carey, Ballantine, 2008, $24, ISBN 978-0-345-45992-3  1690

This is not the same Jacqueline Carey who writes the Kushiel series and other fantasy, although the publicity information mentions that her next project is a near future science fiction novel.  Iím reviewing this one as a mystery, although Iím not sure thatís really the right category.  Itís a novel about crime, but the mystery element is relatively inconsequential.  The protagonist is a woman whose husband is caught in committing fraud at his company, a large high tech conglomerate.  In the aftermath, she decides to find out who actually lost money and perhaps compensate them.  Her investigation, however, uncovers levels of complexity she never expected, and one puzzle after another leading finally to police intervention.  The story is an unusual mix of elements from mystery fiction and elsewhere, more than slightly satiric at times, filled with lively and original characters.  A definite change of pace. 10/14/08 

Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22177-8   

The latest in a series of Coffehouse mysteries, of which Iíve read no previous volumes. This is another of those series with a recently divorced woman making a new life for herself, operating a coffeehouse in this instance, and getting involved in murder.  Sheís on good terms with her ex, who is about to remarry, but sheís not convinced that heís making a good decision, and when sheís asked to sort of cater at the fancy wedding, she has conflicting thoughts on the subject. As the fatal day, pun intended, approaches, acquaintances of the bride begin to turn up dead.  The tension builds for the big climax at the wedding, which was okay but was a bit of a letdown.  I tend to be a little suspicious of mysteries that include recipes, knitting patterns, glassblowing hints, and other irrelevancies, as this one does.  A mystery novel and a cookbook are two different things.  That gripe aside, this isnít bad, but it fell short of the threshold that would make me go out and look for the earlier titles in the series. 10/14/08

Something Wicked by Alan Gratz, Dial, 2008, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-803-73666-5

The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer, Philomel, 2008, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-399-24780-4   1692 1691

 I knew in the abstract that there were mystery novels for young adults, but I only started reading the occasional title recently.  The first of these is an Horatio Wilkes mystery in which the title character looks into the murder of a friendís father, a crime for which the friend is the chief suspect.  The MacBeth references all though the book are amusing and the story itself isnít bad either.  Other than the age of the protagonist, this reads just like an adult mystery. 

Nancy Springer is a familiar name.  Iíve read quite a few of her fantasy novels, although this is the first in the Enola Holmes mystery series Iíve seen.  Enola is the sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, and she has the same talent for solving mysteries.  All three of the Holmes siblings get caught up in the effort to rescue a woman held prisoner pending a forced marriage, despite Enolaís determination to remain independent of her brothers.  This series is supposed to be for pre-teens, but I didnít notice any sign that it had been written down and itís actually a rather charming little period mystery.  I would read another.10/10/08

A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22163-1 

I was so impressed by the first in this series, Her Royal Spyness, that I immediately ordered the second, and itís every bit as good as the first, though it also shares the same irritating though minor fault.  Lady Georgiana, 34th in line to the throne of England in 1932, is still trying to support herself in London, avoid being married off by the Queen, and deal with the other problems in her life including a dashing young man who seems to be attracted to her.  This time sheís saddled with a Bavarian princess visiting England who has a unique ability to get into trouble in her quest for men, parties, men, amusement, men, alcohol, and men.  Thereís also the suspicious accidental death of a young man at a party, followed by the evident murder of a charming Communist activist, a crime for which the princess is the prime suspect.  Georgiana manages to keep most things under control and still find time to solve the mystery in this excellent period mystery.  The story is great even without the mystery, frankly, although the mystery element is much stronger this time around.  Oh, the minor fault.  There are just too many coincidental encounters.  The author makes London feel like a small town in the Midwest at times. 10/5/98 

The Tale of Briar Bark by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22361-1  1687 

I am a loyal fan of the China Bayles novels, but I havenít tried any of Albertís other series until now.  Iíd shied away from this one in particular because my experience of celebrity sleuths has generally not been a pleasant one.  The detective in this case is Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit and other animal stories for children.  A local man is found dead under a tree one winter night, and there are rumors that he had recently dug up some kind of treasure.  Potter has to solve the crime, and she does so with the help of a variety of local animals.  The animal aspect is cute, but a little too cute for my taste and I found myself turning the pages impatiently whenever they took the stage.  Iíll be waiting avidly for the next China Bayles, but Iím afraid this was my first and last sampling of the Potter series. 10/5/08

Coyoteís Wife by Aimee & David Thurlo, Forge, 2008, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1716-2 1737 

If I counted correctly, this is the thirteenth Ella Clah mystery.  Clah is a Navajo police officer who, in this one, stumbles upon what at first appears to be an accidental death.  There are disturbing ties between those events and efforts by masked men to sabotage an attempt to organize a satellite based telephone system for the tribe.  Clah is nearly run down by an SUV in one encounter, and vandalism, paint bombs, threats, and other problems continue to plague the company.  There is also some obvious internal dissension among the executives about the direction in which the newly formed company should go, adding to the tension.  More problems arise, possibly interrelated.  Her ex-husbandís former girlfriend, a borderline psycho, has been showing up at the school where Clahís daughter attends.  Somone makes prank calls, throws firecrackers at their horses, and shoots out the windows of other police officers.  It appears that a secretive group of vigilantes, the Fierce Ones, has decided to face down the police.  They assault the widow of the deadman, accusing her of being complicit in his murder.  There is also evidence that someone among the police is leaking information to the Fierce Ones.  A lot happens in this one, and the conflict is multi-sided.  I did guess who was responsible well ahead of time, but there were enough mysterious side issues to keep me reading compulsively right to the end.  I recommend this one for fans of Tony Hillerman and Margaret Coel. 10/1/08

The Portrait by Charles Atkins, Leisure, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6084-6 1683 

One of the lesser used devices in mystery/suspense fiction is the protagonist who isnít sure whether or not he/she is the killer, usually because of blackouts, drugs, duress, or other circumstances.  Thatís the premise in this taut thriller about a recovering mental patient who thinks that his psychotic episodes are in his past until the doctor handling his case on an out-patient turns up murdered and the police begin asking pointed questions.  Atkins adds to the suspense by having some party unknown Ė obviously the real killer Ė adding to the tension surrounding his life.  And naturally all of this causes his manic depressive tendencies to recur, so that he questions his own ability to deal with the situation, even if he is innocent.  Very suspenseful throughout, although this is another of those novels that use short, choppy dialogue and very truncated paragraphs.  Although that does help to suggest tension and a rush toward the conclusion, it always leaves me feeling as though I read the outline of a much more textured novel. 9/30/08 

Fleece Navidad by Maggie Sefton, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22360-4  1686 

This knitting mystery focuses on the human fear of the stranger.  A group of knitters have recently admitted a newcomer to their group, but when another member is found murdered, suspicion automatically turns to the stranger.  It turns out that the victim was involved in a love affair, and the suspect of choice, who is reticent about her own past, appears to have some connection to the now bereaved boyfriend. I could do without the recipes and knitting patterns, a device which I presume is thought to help sales of the book.  In this case, the book should do quite well on its own.  The mystery is nicely contrived and resolved, and the characters are crisply drawn, their banter smooth and often witty.  My first sampling of this author moves her firmly into the ďread moreĒ category.  Alas, that category is rapidly growing to unmanageable proportions. 9/30/08

Written in Blood by Sheila Lowe, Obsidian, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22487-3  1680

The premise of this mystery novel is one Iíve always had trouble accepting, that experts can tell a good deal about an individualís personality by studying their handwriting.  Iíve always considered the idea just slightly more reputable than phrenology, and if Iím ever on a criminal jury, forensic handwriting evidence is going to be an extremely difficult sell in my case.  But I can suspend my disbelief somewhat within the context of a novel, and thatís necessary in this one.  Fortunately, the analysis the protagonist ordinarily does is concerned with forgeries, and that I find more plausible.  A current case mixes her up with a troubled student and, predictably, murder Ė which she has to solve in part by means of her training.  The mystery itself isnít badly constructed, but I found the protagonist only mildly interesting and the dialogue frequently had a flat, lifeless texture.  Not a bad book, but it didnít inspire me to look for others in the series. 9/28/08

The Shadow Walker by Michael Walters, Berkley, 2008, $14, ISBN 978-0-425-22233-1 

This first novel didnít look particularly interesting.  A serial killer begins claiming victims in Mongolia and a British police officer is sent to consult after an English national becomes a victim. He is teamed with a Mongolian official, a government official temporarily sent to work this case, and the two men quickly bond as they begin sifting evidence, and finding more bodies.  Then someone tries to kill one or both of them and the case becomes even more personal.  Together they investigate corrupt government officials and foreign entrepreneurs, connections to the Russian Mafia, and possible retaliation for a brutal murder committed years earlier. The two main characters in this are very appealing, the setting is Ė I assume Ė accurately portrayed.  Itís certainly fascinating.  The killings are also intriguing, although the solution is a bit of a letdown, though not a major one.  If this wasnít a first novel, Iíd be ordering the authors previous books.  It was a compulsive, tense, and ingenious story.  I hope itís not a one shot.  9/26/08

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22252-2 1726

What a thoroughly pleasant surprise this was!  The protagonist is a young woman, 34th in the line to the British throne, who finds herself in a quandary in 1932.  She is a member of the royal family, so she cant' work, but her family is broke, so she needs money to live on.  Although the queen and others are intent on marrying her to a prince from Romania whom she cannot stand, or to make her companion to some elderly aristocratic woman, she's determined to make her own life.  So she comes to London to make, if not a fortune, at least a living.  But then a dead body shows up in her bath tub, her brother is the prime suspect, and someone appears intent upon murdering her as well.  But why?  Frankly, the mystery is only moderately interesting.  I spotted the blackguard almost immediately, and a couple of obvious clues confirmed my suspicions.  The plot also relies on an awful lot of coincidental meetings.  After all, London is a big city.  She couldn't possibly just run into so many people she knows in such a short period of time.  Coincidental overdosing or not, I really enjoyed the character - all the characters actually - and the writing is clever and witty and amusing and lively from beginning to end.  I already have a copy of the sequel on order.  9/22/08

Casket Case by Fran Rizer, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22426-1

Third in a series of mysteries about a woman who works applying makeup to corpses in a morgue in South Carolina.  It sounded like fertile ground for a murder mystery so I decided to try the series with the last one, which was very uneven.  This time the protagonist comes to the air of Jane, a blind friend who is being hounded by her prospective new landlord, who turns up dead, following another suspicious death and a series of violent acts that threaten our heroineís life.  She survives, barely, three separate close calls.  Technically speaking, she doesnít even solve the crime, although sheís caught up in the middle of it.   

I should not have liked this book, even though it's much better than its predecessor.  The killer and his motive were obvious from the outset and there werenít even any good red herrings to distract me.  The climax Ė a double climax really Ė involves a monumental and completely unbelievable coincidence.  John Dickson Carr has noted that fictional mysteries are interesting chiefly because they do use coincidences, a valid point, but this one takes things way too far.  The protagonistís close friend is an unrepentant shoplifter and con artist and sheís supposed to be a sympathetic character.  I thought she got less trouble than she deserved.  Finally, thereís an important plot element that needs some explaining.  Janeís landlady sells the building where Jane lives.  Jane is apparently a tenant at will, no lease, and pays each month in advance.  The prospective buyer orders her to vacate within 24 hours.  Unless there are some really strange laws in South Carolina, she could not get a eviction order during the period for which the rent is paid.  Barring a good reason, I doubt she could get such an unreasonably short eviction period even if the rent wasnít paid.  Despite all this, I liked the protagonist, there were a lot of interesting side issues, the nasty and now dead entrepreneur was wonderfully despicable, and some of the minor characters Ė though not Jane Ė were quite appealing.  Iíll try another, and try to ignore Jane. 9/19/08

Death Swatch by Laura Childs, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22478-6

Itís party night in New Orleans, but unfortunately one party is decorated with a dead man who has been garroted with barbed wire, a pretty nasty way to go.  There are a number of theories about why he was killed, some of them pretty fantastic, and our heroine Ė a scrapbooker named Carmela Ė decides to investigate on her own.  As expected, this brings about the unwanted attention of the real killer, who prefers not to have the truth come out.  This one got off to a bad start with me when Carmela and the initial investigating police officer begin squabbling, a scene that I found completely unbelievable and which made me dislike Carmela a whole lot before the story fairly got started.  I had a lesser problem with the dialogue, which seemed a bit too Ė folksy? Ė for my taste.  This oneís hard to explain except that lines like ďWho dat?Ē and ďDonít ya knowĒ get old very fast. The mystery itself is not bad at all, but I got fatally distracted by the window dressing.   I also had great difficulty visualizing some of the settings.  9/19/08

A Slaying in Savannah by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain, Obsidian, 2008, $21.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22505-4

I just recently finished watching the first two seasons of Murder She Wrote, which was one of the few mystery shows on television that followed traditional patterns rather than just being cops and robbers, sometimes with neither cops nor robbers.  Jessica Fletcher solves most of the cases because of her unusually strong powers of observation rather than by poking around in dark corners, and her interrogations are invariably gentle.  Donald Bain has been writing these ďcollaborationsĒ with the fictional character for quite some time, one of the few tie-ins to a television series to far outlive the original Ė Star Trek being the most obvious example.  In this one, Jessica inherits a million dollars from an old friend, but there are strings attached, one of which is the condition that she must first solve the mystery of her dead friendís former loverís murder some years earlier.  Decades in fact.  Talk about your cold cases.  Her investigation is hindered by several residents of the area, not so much because they want to conceal the real killer, but because they stand to gain financially if Jessica doesnít solve the crime and the money reverts to other uses.  That makes an already difficult job even more so, but thereís another twist coming, because at least one person is willing to use deadly force to keep the truth from coming out.  Iíve read a few of the earlier books in this series and none of them really stood out, but I thought this one was excellent, with a really clever surprise ending that I obviously canít describe here. 9/15/08

Wicked Weaves by Joyce and Jim Lavene, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22330-7 

As Iíve mentioned in the past, the mystery field is the only branch of literature I can think  of where ďformulaĒ is not a bad word, with the possible exception of romance fiction, which makes use of a variety of them.  The Lavenes have another series about a forensic botanist which Iíve sampled and liked.  This kicks off a new one that involves a kind of SCA group, an annual Renaissance Fair that this particular year hosts a murder.  Modern cosies frequently involve an artisan who has to clear one of her (itís almost always ďherĒ) friends when the friend is accused of murder.  Thatís the situation this time when a skilled basket weaverís particular style is recognized in the rope around the dead manís neck.  Historical lore, basket weaving, and even a recipe add to the background.  The Lavenes write well without attracting attention to their prose, and the characters are nicely drawn.  A solid, middle of the road mystery. 9/13/08 

Stamped Out by Terri Thayer, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22329-1 

Another of the current standard mystery setups is the woman recently divorced, widowed, fired, or relocated who wants to make a new life for herself in a different setting.  Often this helps in that facts and events are new to the protagonist, making it easier to frame the narrative for the reader.  The protagonist in this, the first in a series, is an expert on one facet of the restoration of old buildings, and she has returned to her home town to help her father refurbish an old mansion.  Old mansions are frequently the settings in classic detective fiction, so the reader is on the alert almost immediately.  The construction, unfortunately, unearths a human skull, and tests indicate the victim died about the time the mansion was first built, a project which our heroineís father supervised, making him one of the suspects.  Then fresh murder stirs the pot because someone doesnít want the truth to be dug up alongside the body.  There were a couple of spots where the dialogue jarred, but in general this was a quite pleasant read. 9/13/08

Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell, Plume, 2008, $15, ISBN 978-0-452-28989-5 

Any suspense novel that involves an international chase to uncover lost knowledge by following a series of clues is necessarily going to be compared to Dan Brownís The Da Vinci Code.  This one fits the bill more than most.  Kate, an associate of a Shakespearean scholar, receives a cryptic gift just before her former mentor is murdered in a style reminiscent of Shakespeare, her body found in the wreckage of the Globe Theater, burned again on the anniversary of its original burning.  She teams up with the nephew of the dead woman, a security specialist, and they uncover a series of clues leading them into the obscurity of Shakespearean history while a mysterious figure stalks and attempts to kill them.  She is helped at times by calls to a fatherly figure who remains largely offstage.  Sound familiar?  Despite the similarities, this is quite well written.  The puzzles arenít quite so esoteric, although as in Brown their solution seems to come surprisingly easy at times.  The efficiency of most of the characters in general is a bit much Ė the villain anticipates the protagonistís moves easily, and she and her companion elude him with similar dispatch.  Even the British police officer makes quick and incisive jumps from one set of clues to the next.  I also had a problem with one of their escapes.  There is no way that they could have flown from Boston to Las Vegas under assumed names and with no photo identification.  It is possible that the security man could have had alternate ID available, but since Kate is very drastically disguised at the last minute, there is no possible way he could have anticipated that and provided ID.  I did guess who the villain was well in advance, but I did in the Brown novel as well.  This should appeal to the same readers, and I thought it was much better written. 9/9/08

Mayhem in Miniature by Margaret Grace, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22305-5 

This is part of a series whose detective is a miniaturist, that is, she builds miniaturized models of rooms and buildings, although in this case that element is not an essential part of the plot.  She has been teaching at a retirement home one of whose residents goes missing, then reappears covered in blood near a murder scene.  The dead man is a known criminal and connections appear to give her a motive but naturally we readers know she is innocent right from the outset.  The investigation draws some unwanted attention and our heroine almost joins the list of victims.  Thereís also a scam at the retirement home, which was very obvious to me long before the protagonist realized the truth.   Otherwise itís quite well done, perhaps a bit slow developing but ultimately entertaining. This and an earlier novel in the series were both good enough that Iíd try another. 9/4/08

Shoots to Kill by Kate Collins, Obsidian, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22474-3

The seventh Flower Shop Mystery reminded me in the opening chapters of the movie, Single White Female.  The protagonist, Abby, is not pleased when a young woman she knew as a child reappears, using her rich mommyís money to virtually copy Abbyís life.  Imitation in this case is not a compliment.  As if that wasnít creepy enough, rich mommy gets killed and Abby is a suspect.  But was it Abby, or her imitator?  Or was it someone else entirely?  I liked the characters and situation in this one better than the eventually revealed murder mystery.  On the other hand, it seems like an awful lot of the current crop of mysteries involve young female shop owners who get involved in murder as a kind of involuntary avocation, and I find that Iím beginning to have trouble telling them apart.  This one blends right in Ė nothing to make it instantly memorable, nothing to prevent you from enjoying it thoroughly. 8/29/08

Heartless by Alison Gaylin, Obsidian, 2008, $21.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22497-2 

Iím reviewing this as a mystery, but it could have gone in horror just as easily.  The protagonist, Zoe, is a soap opera columnist who quits her job to run off to Mexico with the charismatic star of one of the shows.  The small town where he is staying was the site of a recent horrible murder Ė the victim a young man found ritually slaughtered and with his heart removed.  Zoe learns pretty quickly that her beau is part of a secret society that meets in that town, although it is only much later that she discovers their particular bizarre belief is that they can generate good energy by bleeding onto the ground.  She refuses to believe that her Warren could possibly be involved in murder, however, and my only real complaint about the book is that Zoe readily goes along on mysterious trips with him even after she begins to be suspicious.  I was also a bit puzzled about the power play within the group.  Warren wants to take over as leader even though he shows no sign of controlling the clearly supernatural power held by the current leader, which doesnít make sense if he is, as portrayed, a true believer.  Anyway, there are two more murders before things get sorted out, and the identity of the killer took me by surprise.  The supernatural element is incidental, which is why Iím reviewing it here.  Despite my minor carping above, this was very suspenseful and quite well written. 8/28/08

Blood Memory by Margaret Coel, Berkley, 2008, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22345-1 

I actually have quite a few titles by this author in my collection, but this is the first one Iíve actually read.  An investigative reporter is attacked in her home by a professional killer, and for a while it seems to her that it must have been a random attack.  Then she starts considering the stories sheís currently covering, particularly one involving a legal and financial ploy to open a Native American gambling casino, and although there is nothing obvious about that particular story, it seems to her that this is the motive.  Sheís right, of course, but it takes quite a while for us to discover just what the real motive is.  During that time, she and the killer play a cat and mouse game that results in four other deaths before their final confrontation.  I liked the character, and I found myself completely immersed in the story, reading compulsively to find out who was responsible and to make sure that the villains got their just desserts.  And now I have another batch of mystery novels to look forward to. 8/24/08

Dial Me for Murder for Amanda Matetsky, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22050-4 

The protagonist detective in this series is Paige Turner, an investigative reporter for a true crime magazine.  The book opens with six pages of background, presumably repeating information contained in earlier books in the series, and that sets a bad tone right off the bat.  Whether or not Iíd read the previous books, I expect information like this to be shown to be during the course of the book, not frontloaded in one big chunk, with too much information to digest properly.  Anyway, once past that we find that Paige is being approached by a society Madam who wants her to quietly investigate the murder of one of her call girls.  Their interaction is not very convincing.  On the one hand, Paige is incredibly naÔve for someone who supposedly works as a crime reporter.  On the other hand, the Madam, Stanhope, is incredibly naÔve as well, spilling the details of her illegal business to a reporter without asking her in advance to keep the information confidential. Stanhope in particular speaks in an oddly artificial style that also kept knocking me out f the story.  The mystery itself isnít badly done, but the contradictions in Turnerís character were too much for me to swallow and I was never able to immerse myself in the story. 8/21/08

Asking for Murder by Roberta Isleib, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22331-4

The only drawback to trying new authors is that when I find someone I enjoy, that means that all of their earlier work goes on my must-read-someday list.  This was my second exposure to Roberta Isleib, who has had several mysteries published over the years.  The present book is part of a new series about clinical psychologist and advice column author Rebecca Butterman.  Butterman is close friends with another therapist whose unconscious body she discovers after the woman was savagely beaten in her own home.  Butterman attempts to handle her friends patients on an interim basis, while also hoping to discover if any of them could have been involved in the assault.  Her paths cross a number of interesting characters including a quirky medical doctor, an obnoxious rival psychologist, various patients, and a couple of police officers.  At the same time, she's balancing her friendship with her ex-husband and her attraction to the man she's currently dating.  Once again, I had a few small problems with Butterman's personality.  She is rather an egotist who thinks nothing of breaking the law about driving with a cell phone in hand, and who tries to get into a restricted hospital ward even though she knows full well why privacy is enforced.  She also gets a bit high and unfairly ridicules her comatose friend's unintellectual boyfriend.  That aside, however, the mystery is intriguing, gripping, and the solution is convincing.  A nice book, and another name on the list.  8/19/08

Stolen Children by Peg Kehret, Dutton, 10/08, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-525-47835-5

Death by Latte by Linda Gerber, Sleuth/Speak, 9/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-14-241118-6 

I have read very little young adult mystery fiction, so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that my recent samples have avoided the condescension that I occasionally find in YA fantasy and SF.  These two are cases in point.  The first involves a kidnapping in which a teenaged babysitter finds herself as collateral damage, held with her charge by an unpredictable and fortunately not too bright kidnapper.  She manages to convey some clever clues to their location to the authorities in what turns out to be a pretty good story.  The second could easily have been an adult novel.  The protagonist this time is a teenager who discovers the location of her long missing mother and sets out to find her.  Mom is not at all pleased to be discovered and her current romantic partner is even less so, at least until someone murders him.  Adding to the problem is a broken romance of her own and the presence of a pleasant but possibly suspiciously interested neighbor.  I enjoyed both of these quite thoroughly. 8/16/08

Phantom Prey by John Sandford, Putnam, 2008, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15500-0 

The latest Lucas Davenport murder mystery involves the disappearance and probable murder of a rich young woman who lived on the periphery of the Goth community.  In the aftermath, others from that subculture are killed brutally by a mysterious woman whom we know of only as the Fairy.  Davenportís investigations lead to an attempt on his own life, which just ticks him off.   This is even more of a police procedural than most of the earlier novels in the series, although once again we know who is responsible for most of the mayhem comparatively early.  The main story is also wrapped around a stakeout that results in two violent confrontations on an unrelated case, which keeps the action moving and contributes to the outcome of the climactic confrontation.  Not quite up to the quality of the previous book, but still one of the best of its type.  This is the eighteenth book in the series that I've read, and I've enjoyed seventeen, so Sandford's batting average is pretty good. 7/23/08

The Excalibur Murders by J.M.C. Blair, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN978-0-425-22253-9 

First in a new series by John Curlovitch, who also writes horror fiction as Michael Paine.  The setting is Camelot, but a relatively realistic one with no magic.  Even Merlin, who is the chief detective in the novel, insists that he uses logic and reason and that the supernatural has yet to be proven to his satisfaction.  This is not a typical Camelot.  Arthur and Guinevere live in separate castles in part because of her relationship with the not very bright Sir Lancelot.  She is constantly scheming against Arthur and is at least as big as danger as is Morgan Le Fay.  Arthur has recently acquired what is supposedly a magical artifact which he stories with Excalibur, his famous sword.  One of his squires is hacked to death and the two items are stolen, precipitating an inquiry, a great deal of suspicion, and eventually the revelation that the dead man was one of Arthurís bastard sons, as is his brother, who dies shortly thereafter.  Merlin is assisted by Nimue, a young woman who is disguised as Colin, his male apprentice.  The setting is well developed, the characters are generally quite interesting, and the mystery is good enough to carry the story to its conclusion.  Although Iím generally not fond of mysteries set before the Victorian era, this was a rare exception and I wish the series well. 7/4/08

Uneasy Relations by Aaron Elkins, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22176-1

I have noticed this author's name many times in the past but this is the first of his books I have ever read.  My immediate reaction was that it was one of the most intelligent mystery novels I'd read in a long time.  The protagonist is Gideon Oliver, a forensic anthropologist who travels to Gibraltar for what should have been a dry academic conference, but turns out differently when someone tries to push him off the edge of a cliff, then follows up with an aborted electrical trap.  Some of the other attendees are not so lucky.  Oliver has few physical clues, a piece of bone, and several large suspicions, from which he eventually builds a case against the guilty party, not the person I suspected.  Interspersed with the mystery is refreshingly crisp dialogue and snippets of science that are sometimes so fascinating I was momentarily disappointed when we returned to the actual story.  I will be reading more by this author, and soon.  7/2/08

Eight in the Box by Raffi Yessayan, Ballantine, 2008, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-50261-2 

The author of this first novel is a former Boston assistant district attorney so I assume his portrayal of life in the court system is accurate.  The story follows the interactions of a group of prosecutors and a handful of cases, against a backdrop in which a mysterious killer is stealing his victimís bodies but leaving evidence for the police, eventually designed to frame an innocent man.  At first I thought there was too much time being spent with the various lawyers, but then it became obvious that one of them was the killer, and soon after that I figured out who it had to be. Although I found it enjoyable enough, the element of suspense was not very well developed and I was more interested in the personal rifts than the activities of the killer.  Not to spoil things, I wonít reveal who it was, but I wasnít convinced that the motivation was adequate, particularly the decision to frame an innocent man.  There are also two suicides during the course of the novel, one of which I could accept but the other just didnít work for me. 6/21/08

Hard As Nails by Dan Simmons, St Martins, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-99468-0

 I believe this is the last in the Joe Kurtz series, a very violent private detective series whose hero is an ex-convict no longer licensed but who works undercover and in large part for and against two rival mobs.  Someone ambushes him and his parole officer and itís not clear at first who was the target, although she was clearly involved in some kind of mystery so it wasnít much of a surprise to find out Kurtz was a bystander for a change.  Eventually we discover that there are not two but four groups of criminals involved in a power struggle, to say nothing of a demented serial killer whose death was faked and who is eliminating minor figures in the two major mobs in an effort to provoke a war.  As with the first two in the series, the story moves so fast and fluidly that it feels much shorter than it actually is.  I canít say I particularly like Kurtz as a person, but heís certainly quick on his feet and fast with a gun.  6/18/08

Cool Cache by Patricia Smiley, Obsidian, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22401-9 

Tucker Sinclair is a business consultant who gets involved with murder in each installment of this series, a premise I should find more attractive than was actually the case. In this instance, sheís helping with a struggling chocolate shop when she finds a dead cleaning woman.  Although the police are convinced that the crime was committed by the dead womanís son, a drug addict, Tucker is not so sure.  Subsequent events, obviously, prove that sheís right, that there is something in the store that has attracted the avaricious and even murderous interest of an outside party.  Iím not sure why this one never came to life for me.  The setting is realistic, the writing is fine, and the resolution of the mystery makes sense.  It seemed a bit slow at times, but not fatally so.  I think my biggest problem was that I just never got interested in the characters.  I will probably try another in the series, but I wonít rush out to find a copy. 6/16/08

Strip for Murder by Max Allan Collins, Berkley, 2008, $14, ISBN 978-0-425-22139-6

I think this might be the first novel I've read by this author that wasn't a novelization.  If this one's typical, it's an oversight I should do something about.  The setting is 1950s New York, specifically the business surrounding the newspaper comic strip industry, hence the title which is a double pun since the detective protagonist's mother is a retired stripper now running a newspaper syndicate.  The story is transparently about the feud between Al Capp and Ham Fisher, although they have different names in the novel.  There are other recognizable period characters including a version of Ernie Kovacs.  One of the cartoonists is found dead, apparently a suicide although evidence soon surfaces suggesting it was just made to look like a suicide.  His long time rival is an obvious suspect, as is his estranged wife, business associates, gambling buddies, Broadway producers, and a host of other characters.  Our hero, Jack Starr, has to thread his way through all of this to discover the truth, preferably while protecting the reputation of his firm's clients.  The world of cartoonists comes vividly to life and the mystery is a good one, even though I guessed the solution very early.   This one's a lot of fun.  6/12/08

The Unkindest Cut by Honor Hartman, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22436-1

 The pseudonym used on this bridge (the game) related mystery series covers Dean James, whom I believe wrote some fantasy a while back.  The protagonist is Emma Diamond, a devoted bridge player who travels with two friends to a bridge event but they run into difficulties even before they get there thanks to the rather complicated love life of one of the threesome.  Then they run into a decidedly rude hotel manager and two feuding bridge instructors, one of whom ends up with a knife in the heart.  Obviously the other is the prime suspect, but we know how much we can trust that idea.  It turns out that more than one other person had a reasonable motive as well.  I was expecting this to be rather trivial like most of these theme mystery series, but thereís quite a bit of meat on the bones this time and I enjoyed rather more than I expected to.  I didnít find the protagonist particularly appealing, but the mystery is worked out well.  6/10/08

The Case of the Ill-Gotten Goat by Claudia Bishop, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22207-2

Claudia Bishop is the pen name of Mary Stanton, who wrote some SF way back when.  She has two mystery series, and this is the third title in the second series.  The primary detective is Austin McKenzie, an aging veterinarian who runs a detective agency as a hobby, sort of.  Frankly, I very much suspect that the operation as described would be illegal in New York State since he has no license and the police know about his active interference in ongoing investigations.  But that's not a major flaw.  The crime this time is the murder of the man who inspects the milk at a goat farm run by a nonogenarian Italian woman with a nasty temper.  There have been some suspicious readings, as though someone were sabotaging her operation.  The inspector has been associating with the newly appointed tax assessor, who is also shady but who appears to want the farm to remain in business.  Then the inspector, and later the assessor, are found dead in a milk vat and the police have an interesting set of motives - chiefly among the extended family of the goat farmers - to sort through.  Actually, the mystery element in this was only mildly interesting, and the ending was rather disappointing.  That said, I actually enjoyed the book because the characters were so interesting.  The cover made me suspect a humorous mystery, which I generally don't like, but the humor is restrained, appropriate, and sometimes quite funny.  I'm not sure how good a mystery this one is, but it's fun to read anyway.  6/4/08

The Sinai Secret by Gregg Loomis, Leisure, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6042-6 

Still yet again another Dan Brown imitation, although with an added dimension.  Two scientists are murdered and some records are stolen.  The protagonist Ė who has apparently appeared in other novels Ė travels around the world investigating and discovers that an ancient document has recently been and there is the inevitable secret society trying to suppress the information found in it.  This is mixed with the mysterious disappearance of nuclear equipped missiles fired by Iran at Israel.  Apparently the documents have provided the secret of a new defensive weapons system based on Biblical prophecies.  The action is brisk and exciting and not entirely plausible, somewhat in the James Bond mode, although I didnít find the character as appealing.  The story has an interesting premise and is tolerably well written, but a little bit too much like an action movie at times.  5/30/08

The Masada Scroll by Paul Block and Robert Vaughan, Tor, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-5184-5 

Another imitation of The Da Vinci Code.  A priest and a few other people become caught up in the study of an ancient document that turns out to be another life of Christ, one which could change the nature of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam alike.  Their efforts to reveal the information cause them to run into trouble with a secretive order that has been suppressing this information for two thousand years.  Does this sound familiar?  The story alternates between the present and the career of a previously unknown follower of Christ whose message Ė that there is more than one way to salvation Ė has been concealed by the Catholic Church.  Ably if rather unimaginatively written and with a plot that moves in fits and starts.  It was certainly readable, but it felt like I had followed the same path before.  More than once. 5/29/08

A Death in Gascony by Sarah D'Almeida, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22101-3

This is the fourth and, so far at least, last of this series of mysteries set in the world of Alexander Dumas.  D'Artagnan's father dies so he and his three friends travel to the remote village to settle the estate, only to be set upon by someone apparently intent upon sending the son to follow the father.  That raises their suspicions about the death of the elder D'Artagnan, who supposedly died in a duel.  That leads to an investigation of another murder and a plot to add D'Artagnan's mother to the list of victims as well.  But she has a secret of her own, and her son might not be entirely happy to discover the truth.  Nice light adventure but the mystery element really never interested me.  The next in the series, Dying by the Sword, is due out later this year.  5/27/08

The Julius House by Charlaine Harris, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22203-4

Fourth in the Aurora Teagarden series, first published in the 1990s.  Roe is getting married and her wealthy fiance has presented her with an unusual wedding present, a house whose former occupants all disappeared mysteriously years earlier.  In return, she uses a subterfuge to buy his family home from a recalcitrant stepfather.  After the wedding, she discovers that the two old friends her husband Martin has rented the spare room to are ex-bodyguards with a violent, but mostly respectable past.  Roe decides to investigate the disappearance, convinced the bodies are concealed in the house or nearby.  She and Angel, the female tenant, suspects an oversized chimney and find a doll walled up inside but no bodies.  There's a second mystery as well.  Her new husband is involved in arms dealing, possibly at the behest of the government, but he's unwilling to talk about it and she suspects that the former bodyguards aren't so former. That theory is proven when an ax wielding stranger tries to kill her.  I figured out a good bit of the solution ahead of time but it didn't really detract from the story. Looking forward to the next.  5/26/08

Murder on Bank Street by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22151-8

An occasional problem with modern mystery series is that there is so much back story that it becomes difficult to follow the interpersonal byplay.  This is the tenth novel in a series of Edwardian mysteries and it has quite as bit of back story, but I am happy to say that even though I have not read any of the previous volumes - a situation I intend to rectify - I had no trouble at all figuring out what was going on and why.  The front story is good as well.  Sarah Brandt, one of the two main characters, became a widow after her husband was murdered in 1893.   In 1897, she is on the brink of a romantic involvement with Malloy, an Irish cop in an era when New York City police were almost as bad as the criminals.  Malloy decides to investigate the four year old murder, narrowing his list of suspects to the fathers of three disturbed young women, each of whom was treated by Tom Brandt, a doctor who was trying to understand and cure a mental condition in which unmarried women become fixated upon men with whom they are only slightly acquainted.  There's some undercover work, some straight forward police interrogation, and an exciting finish.  I very actively enjoyed this one and strongly recommend it for people who enjoyed the novels of Caleb Carr in particular.  5/23/08

The Musketeer's Apprentice by Sarah D'Almedia, Berkley, 2007, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21769-6

Third in a series of mystery novels set in the world of The Three Musketeers.  Porthos is the central figure this time.  He has been teaching fencing to a young aristocrat whom he comes to like, but the student is murdered, poisoned by parties unknown and Porthos is determined to find out who did it.  That means risking his own life by asking uncomfortable questions and sticking his nose where some people believe it doesn't belong.  The mystery resolves itself logically and with a few little twists, and once again the author captures much of the feel of the Dumas adventures.  Nevertheless, I didn't find this one as entertaining as the first two.  It felt at times ponderous and slow moving and the tone was more somber.  5/19/08

The Musketeer's Seamstress by Sarah D'Almeida, Berkley, 2007, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21489-3

This is the second murder mystery set in the world of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.  Aramis has been having a love affair with a woman who is a friend of the queen, but the woman is murdered in a sort of locked room, and it appears that Aramis is the only person who could have committed the crime.  That forces him to go into hiding, pursued not only by the usual heavies following the orders of the scheming Cardinal Richelieu but also the royal forces loyal to Queen Anne, who wants justice for the death of her friend.  That means that the other three must team up and solve the crime to save their friend and bring the true killer to justice.  There are some clever revelations, although I always feel a bit cheated when twins are involved.  D'Almeida, who writes fantasy as Sarah Hoyt, as a good feel for the spirit of the originals and blends it with detection quite seamlessly.  5/16/08

Murder Can Crash Your Party by Selma Eichler, Obsidian, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22384-5

I actually have half a dozen books by this author in my collection but this is the first one I've read, the fifteenth adventure of Desiree Shapiro, a somewhat overweight female private investigator.  She is invited to speak at a convention of mystery writers, after which she is approached by one of the author attendees, a woman who offers to pay her a rather large sum of money if she can read the relevant portions of a new novel and solve the murder based on the clues provided.  Shapiro takes the challenge, mixing her reading and analysis with some minor peripheral cases.  It doesn't take long for the reader, as well as Shapiro, to suspect that the book isn't entirely fictional, but it takes some puzzle solving to figure out who really died and who really committed the murder.  I have a feeling that this wasn't typical of the series, so it might not be a fair judgment, but I found this one entertaining enough that I'll be trying some of the older entrees in the series to see if the quality holds up.  This one is a skillful mix of traditional and innovative mystery devices, fresh and familiar at the same time.  5/11/08

A Hard Day's Death by Raymond Benson, Leisure, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6063-1

Flame was once a rock singer to rival John Lennon and David Bowie, but drugs and arrests, and finally a conversion to a marginal Christian cult have reduced his reputation in recent years.  When he is found hanged, the authorities conclude that it's murder and arrest his son by his first marriage, another troubled young man who quarreled with his father.  The boy's mother hires Spike Berenger, her one time boyfriend, to prove the boy's innocence.  The problem overlaps with the existence of two rival underground rock groups who are also heads of the two largest drug trafficking rings in the series, plus a second wife and her son, not to mention a few religious nuts, and you have a convoluted mystery indeed.  Benson mixes elements of the tradition private eye story with insight into the world of rock music, adds a number of puzzles, and adds in doses of sometimes quite clever humor.  This really wasn't one of the types of detective stories that I usually like, but I liked this one just fine.  5/9/08

Death of a Musketeer by Sarah D'Almeida, Berkley, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-21292-0

First in a series in which the three musketeers plus D'Artagnan solve murders in 17th Century France. D'Almeida is known to fantasy writers as Sarah Hoyt, who also specializes in historical settings.  In the opener, they find a young woman dressed as a musketeer lying dead in a street, a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Queen of France.  Following up on several items found on the body, they search for the truth about her identity, suspecting that there may be some conspiracy reaching the throne itself. Was the queen replaced by a double for some reason, or was the double murdered?  What is the meaning of the encrypted and cryptic note found on the body?  D'Almeida unravels her mystery parallel to events which take place during the early chapters of the original The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.  She does a notable job of recreating both the characters and the spirit of the original, as well as providing an interest puzzle to untangle.  Looking forward to the next in the series.  5/8/08

Dead Hunt by Beverly Connor, Obsidian, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22351-7

I've been having pretty good luck sampling new mystery writers of late and this one's no exception.  I very much suspect this series was inspired either by the television show Bones or the novels they are derived from by Kathy Reichs, which I haven't read.  The protagonist is a forensics specialist who is also director of a small museum with a crime lab, who works cooperatively with the FBI on some cases.  She's feisty, competent, and gets into a lot of trouble.  The story opens this time with a request that she visit an imprisoned serial killer, a black widow who has murdered several husbands, after which the woman escapes, apparently killing the prison chaplain in the process.  This coincides with charges that the museum has been dealing in stolen artifacts, which distracts her from other issues, including two attempts on her life by a mysterious man who also sends her money, and an incident in which she is drugged, then wakens to discover the aftermath of an apparent murder in her apartment, the victim of which appears to be the escaped killer, although the body is missing.  The solution of all this is quite entertaining if a bit farfetched at times, and the identity of her inefficient male assailant is obvious from the outset, but that's peripheral to the main story.  You have to suspend your disbelief a bit to accept that the mastermind behind the conspiracy could possibly be this efficient, but otherwise it's a nice solid thriller.  5/5/08

Murder Is Binding by Lorna Barrett, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21958-4

This is one of those frustrating books that is almost quite good, but doesn't quite make it across the threshold.  The premise caught my interest right away, a small town in New Hampshire that becomes a center for used book stores.  Since I'm going bookstore hunting in New Hampshire later this month, it seemed an ideal match.  The protagonist is Tricia Miller, who runs a mystery specialty bookshop, and who becomes a prime suspect when she finds the body of another store proprietor dead in her store, which specializes in cookbooks, and her prize possession - a very valuable cookbook - has gone missing.  Tricia and her friend Ange are determined to prove her innocence, but naturally that means finding out the real killer.  Except that things are not exactly as they seem, and uncovering the truth could put both of them in deadly danger.  The plot is well conceived if rather formulaic, and parts of the mystery are quite interesting, but there are times when the dialogue seemed artificial to me, and the explanation of what really happened wasn't completely convincing.  I can't go into it in any detail because that would give too much away.  I will probably try the next in the series since it isn't bad at all for a first effort. One peripheral cavil.  I understand why some cooking related mysteries include recipes, or garden related mysteries have gardening tips, but why does a bookstore themed mystery have several pages of recipes?  Do we really need things like that to sell mystery novels, and if we do, what does that say about the novels themselves? 5/2/08

Buckingham Palace Gardens by Anne Perry, Ballantine, 2008, $26, ISBN 978-0-345-46931-1

I'd been meaning to try one of this series for quite some time, because Victorian settings almost always appeal to me. Now I have to go find the previous twenty or so in the series because this is excellent from beginning to end. Thomas Pitt is a detective working for Special Branch who is called in when a prostitute is found brutally murdered in Buckingham Palace after a night of debauchery with the Prince of Wales. Pitt soon eliminates all possibilities except for one of a group of guests who have arrived to discuss a major development project in Africa, but the clues seem contradictory and there is no clear path to a solution. He even recruits the help of his personal maid, one of the more appealing characters in the novel, to take a temporary job and find out what the servants know and will not tell. In addition to the very gripping mystery, Perry provides a good portrait of the stress of the typical loveless Victorian society marriage, the disparity in the worlds of the upper class and the servant class, and the difficulties facing policemen in a time when their profession was looked down upon. The best mystery novel I've read so far this year. 4/30/08

Invisible Prey by John Sandford, Putnam, 2007, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15421-6

The latest Lucas Davenport mystery is one of the most satisfying in this long running series. When an elderly woman and her maid are murdered and their house burglarized, it looks like it was done by random amateurs, but Davenport suspects that much of what was stolen was a ruse to conceal the fact that the killers were after very specific valuable antiques. He eventually connects this to other murders and begins to detect a pattern. Fairly early, Sandford tells us who the real villains are, so we're witness to an elaborate game of chess which expands to include an unrelated crime and leads to additional murders. There's an exciting resolution, and it follows logically from the investigation without any of the leaps of logic or other shortcuts that are common in mysteries by less skillful writers. This is the way mystery novels ought to be written. 4/30/08

Clubbed to Death by Elaine Viets, Obsidian, 2008, $21.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22394-4

I've seen this author's name before, but this is the first of her books I've read. Initially it looked like one of the many lightweight, not very interesting mysteries that abound these days. You know, the ones that look like a mystery and have a murder somewhere in them, but which are more comedies of manners or romance novels than stories of detection. I was very pleasantly described, therefore, when I found myself thoroughly engrossed. The protagonist is a woman hiding from the law following a divorce from a predatory man, which I suspect was described in more detail in an earlier book. Helen has a job in the complaints department at a private club that caters to the obnoxious rich when he ex shows up, married to a woman suspected of having murdered several of her previous hubbies. He goes missing and Helen is suspect number one, but the presumed widow bails her out and coerces her into investigating the disappearance of her jewels. That leads to more murder. Great characters, a well constructed mystery, and a very entertaining backdrop. I'll be reading more of Elaine Viets. 4/30/08

The Come Back by Carolyn Wells, 1921

Carolyn Wells wrote a considerable body of noticeably bad mystery novels from the 1920s through the 1940s, of which this is one of the earliest. It features my least favorite of her recurring detectives, Pennington Wise (Penny Wise, get it?) and his young female companion Zizi, whose relationship to Wise is strictly on the up and up, I guess, but it sure sounds peculiar. This is also rather out of the ordinary. The first half of the book is largely about the adventures of three young men on a protracted camping trip in Newfoundland, during which one of the men is apparently lost in a snowstorm, although it doesnít take much insight to know he secretly survived. His family turns to a fake spiritualist, and thereís a good deal of effort made to blacken her character Ė apparently interest in the occult was high in Wellsí social circle at the time. Then one of his companions is murdered, apparently by his roommate, but actually by another party. The motives are sketchy at best, the identity of the real killer painfully obvious, and the devices by which everything is resolved is laughably implausible. The missing son travels back to England incognito because he didnít want to upset the family until he was there in person to reveal that he was alive, and then he discovers his father has written a book about his messages from his dead son, so he decides not to reveal himself because it would embarrass his family. Wells also shows a surprising ignorance of both publishing - she was married to a Houghton of Houghton and Mifflin - and film making. Zizi solves the crime by making a series of discoveries more by chance than technique, and the end is totally anticlimactic. Potentially one of her best but in practice one of her worst..  4/30/08

Perfect Poison by Joyce and Jim Levene, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22127-3

Forensic botany mixes with gardening (tips included) in this lightweight murder mystery.  Two people are found dead in a short period of time and at differing locations, with no significant connection between them except for water - one died in a swimming pool and the other was a diver - but both share a particular type of phyloplankton in their bodies.  That and other vegetation related clues help the protagonist to figure out just what is going on and help an unjustly accused woman to prove her innocence.  There's a fairly good mystery in the set up and some of the technical information was interesting, but I never really got absorbed in the characters and the mystery element could have been stronger.  Good enough that I'd read another in the series.  Not good enough that I'd exert a lot of effort to find it. 

The Moon Tunnel by Jim Kelly, St Martins, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-34922-X 

Journalist Philip Dryden has his third adventure, in a mystery that reprises the major theme of the first two books, that crimes in the past will eventually come to light.  In this case, an archaeological dig finds the body of a man trapped in a tunnel, apparently crawling into a prisoner of war camp when he was shot by an unknown assailant.  His death is linked to two other mysteries - a war time burglary during which a valuable painting disappeared, a painting which could mean a very different life for an elderly woman facing eviction.  Then there is an Italian immigrant family, split by a mystery in the past, a brother who hasn't been home in thirty years and another who changes his name and distances himself in similar fashion.   There's an artifact collector who manages a landfill, a petty thief, a gang of looters, and other characters to complicate matters.  There are also significant changes in the lives of the two supporting characters, Dryden's comatose wife and his oddball friend/chauffeur.  A very good, complex mystery only parts of which I figured out in advance.  4/14/08

The Fire Baby by Jim Kelly, Leisure, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-08439-6001-3 

The second adventure of Philip Dryden, reporter for a small town newspaper in England, continues in much the same vein as the first, The Water Clock, which I really enjoyed.  His wife is still in a coma, although there are signs that she may be not entirely cut off from the real world.  Humph, his cabbie/chauffeur, is more developed in this one, and Dryden remains as idiosyncratic as before.  This also has as its theme the eventually discovery of old crimes.  A woman whose child was presumed killed in an air crash rescues another baby from the wreckage.  Almost thirty years later, those events will intersect with an illegal immigration operation, pornography, murder, and revenge in an intricate story of twisted emotions and irrational decisions.  Some of the surprises are quite clever although there are, if anything, a few too many twists in the closing chapters, some based on coincidence and happenstance, some by the design of the various characters.  The interplay between Dryden and Humph provides most of the charm in this one as the mystery, while certainly intriguing, is not as dominant as in the first book.  On the other hand, I already have the next in the series sitting beside my bed. 4/12/08

Separated at Death by Sheldon Rusch, Berkley, 2008, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-21948-5

 Detective Elizabeth Hewitt has apparently appeared in at least one of the authorís two previous mysteries, because thereís some back story that is alluded to in the early chapters.  There are also two murders in the first few pages, an estranged husband and wife, killed in separate locations, both beheaded, and with both heads missing.  Although I like stories that accelerate quickly, there is almost too much going on at first, making it difficult to get any sense of the various characters and only suggesting much of the circumstances of the crimes.  I also got a little frustrated in the early chapters because the author withheld information that should have been available to the protagonist and the reader.  For example, we arenít told the order in which the two victims died, or much of any detail about the physical nature of the crimes except that the killer apparently used a sword.  Questions one would expect to have posed to the various people interviewed are not placed, or at least not described or the answers provided.  When the killer sends a photo of the detached heads mounted on a posed bride and groom, we arenít told if itís that of live people, or dummies, how much is photoshopped, and anything of that nature.  It was like watching alternate minutes of a crime drama.  I kept wondering what Iíd missed.  And the interviews never left me with any sense that I really knew anything about the characters or their motivations. 

Two more sundered couples are killed in the same fashion, all of whom appear to be linked to a marriage counseling service and possibly a psychiatrist, who disappears while under police surveillance.  There is also a possible link to two murders that took place years earlier and in a different fashion.  Both female protagonists have an annoying habit of going to dangerous locations and taking risky chances on their own, like visiting the house of a potential murderer.  I doubt that this is proper police procedure and while dramatically effective, it reduced by respect for the pair and my belief in their reality.  Despite all these cavils, I actually did enjoy the story and didnít anticipate the ending.  Lots of rough spots, but still a good product. 3/29/08

The Boxer and the Spy by Robert B. Parker, Philomel, 5/08, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-399-24775-0

I've never read anything by Robert Parker before, although he's on my list, and his adult work is almost certainly not represented by this young adult murder mystery.  Nevertheless, it showed up recently, looked interesting, is comparatively short, and I was curious.  A teenaged boy accidentally eavesdrops on a discussion of an illegal real estate deal between two prominent but unidentified local officials, after which he is found dead, an apparent suicide, with traces of steroids in his body.  Although Terry, who is training to be a boxer, was not a close friend, but he liked the dead boy and starts asking questions despite the opposition of some of the jocks and the principal, and the apparent conviction by everyone else that the case is closed.  The spy half of the title is his girlfriend, who helps keep their various suspects under surveillance with the help of several friends.

I had some minor problems with the book.  The teenagers are almost self consciously teenagers, more naive than probable, and more organized and determined than probable.  I found Bullard, the principal, to be almost completely unconvincing, a stereotyped heavy whose pronouncements might have stood in a school when I was a kid, but today there's no way that he could act in such an arbitrary manner without being called on it.  Similarly, the dumb jock who tries to get Terry to back off is a caricature of a dumb jock.  There's also a jarring change of point of view when we go from that of the two teenagers into the thoughts of one of the criminals.  Not bad in total, but nothing out of the ordinary either.  3/27/08

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, Berkley, 2008, $15, ISBN 978-0-425-21925-6 - 1173

During the reign of Henry II, the status of Jews in England was precarious at best.  When someone kidnaps three children, one of whom is later found dead, crucified, the Jews are immediately suspected and those who can retreat into the kingís protection.  Henry isnít happy at the loss of taxes, so he employs a female doctor from Italy whose skills may lend themselves to detection of the real criminal.  Her unofficial partner is an English nobleman whose motives are somewhat suspect.  The story is based in part on an actual unsolved crime from this period.  Although it is ostensibly a murder mystery, I think it could be fairly stated that this is primarily an historical novel in the course of which a mystery is solved.  The depiction of medical procedures of that period is fascinating, and the mystery itself isnít bad, although I was much more interested in the byplay among the characters.  Among the other subjects Franklin examines are the role of the church in 12th Century society and the nature of prejudice.  This one reminded me at times of The Name of the Rose, my favorite historical mystery. 3/19/08

Nightshade by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley,, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-21956-0

I was slightly disappointed in the last couple of titles in the China Bayles series, which seemed to be drifting away from detective fiction and toward generic drama, but this latest is one of the best Albert has written.  It also winds up a subplot that has been developing in the last few, the discovery that she has a half brother she never knew about and a suspicion that her father's automobile accident sixteen years earlier was not an accident after all.  The wrecked car turns up in this one, along with news of the suspicious deaths of two reporters who were investigating people associated with her father's law firm, which was known to be shady and to be involved in back room Texas politics.  Then her half brother is killed by a hit and run driver under mysterious circumstances, and it's obvious even to China and her private investigator husband that he was silenced because he was getting too close to something that had been well hidden for a long time.  There are some red herrings, other reasons why the brother might have been killed, an apparent murder-suicide, and arson. I guessed the identity of the killer almost immediately but it didn't really matter.  It all adds up to an exciting and well put together detective thriller.  3/16/08

The Silver Needle Murder  by Laura Childs, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-21946-1

 The ninth in a series of mysteries featuring Theodosia Browning, who operates a tea shop, but the first I've read of them.  The set up reminded me a bit of the China Bayles series by Susan Wittig Albert.  Browning is involved in a film festival and almost witnesses the murder of a controversial director who is shot to death on stage.  The subsequent turmoil does not stop the festival but some of the participants back out and Browning is asked to fill in for one of the absent judges.  She also remains curious about the murder and suspects that she is being used to help divert suspicion from one of the possible killers.  From that fairly bland set up we proceed through a rewarding series of detections and adventures to the solution, after which there are several pages of recipes.  Sigh.  What has mystery fiction come to when it requires gimmicks to sell?  Anyway, Childs provides a serviceable and occasionally clever mystery with an appealing detective.  My only complaint is that I often had no sense of the physical places where things were happening.  Since I tend to visualize everything I read, this left me with no visual tags upon which to hang memories and made it difficult for me to get involved with the characters.  Murder mysteries are often more intellectual exercises than great stories, but this one seemed to tread the border so carefully that it was neither fish nor fowl.  3/15/08

Goodbye Mexico by Phillip Jennings, Forge, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-5578-2 - 1135 

Iím putting this one in mysteries even though itís basically a satirical comedy because it does involve espionage and there is a bit of a mystery to it and primarily because it doesnít quite fit anywhere else.  The protagonist is a CIA employee currently assigned to Mexico when he runs into an old acquaintance, a man he assumed to have died violently long before.  The newcomer recruits his assistance in a bizarre plot to assassinate the president of Mexico, seize control of the country, and make it a refuge for prostitutes from around the world.  At the same time, another agent has arrived with a parallel plot to gain control of the Mexican government and make it a tool of the Vatican.  And there are other plots by other parties, as well as some very weird supporting characters.  None of this is to be taken seriously, of course, and parts of it are hilariously funny, though it does go on for perhaps just a bit too long.  This is apparently the sequel to another novel, Nam-a-Rama, which presumably is in much the same vein. 3/12/08 

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21869-3 - 1134 

Cooking mysteries seem to have replaced dog and cat mysteries as the current leading mystery flavor, but at least this one has a fairly unique setting.  The detective is an assistant chef at the White House, and sheís competing for the top job, as well as accosting strange men wandering the White House grounds, annoying the Secret Service, launching her own investigation, and carrying on a tumultuous love affair.  Thereís the skeleton of a good mystery in this one Ė which starts when she witnesses a murder and finds herself the newest target of an international assassin.  I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the humor had been toned down.  The jokes suggest a lighthearted attitude that seems inappropriate for the serious story line and I had trouble shifting moods as quickly as the author does.  Itís the first in a series, and potentially a good one, but Iíd prefer a more settled tone.  And you can also delete the twenty pages of recipes. 3/12/08

What Are You Wearing to Die? By Patricia Sprinkle, Obsidian, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 9780-451-22325-8 - 1133

 I had looked at this series a couple of times in the past Ė this is the eighth Ė but never got around to trying it.  My loss, at least based on this one.  The detective is a small town magistrate who is also part owner of a nursery Ė the vegetation kind Ė and who gets involved with murders almost as a byproduct of her first job, despite the admonishments of her husband.  The characters and set up are certainly entertaining, but what really got my interest was the circumstances of the murders.  Two different women are found dead, almost certainly the work of the same killer, but each is dressed in an entirely inappropriate way for their respective lifestyles.  Add in a rash of taxidermists and you have a clever and unusual detective story.  The author does a great job of balancing the mystery elements with the back story and delivers a satisfying solution and climax. 3/10/08

The Black Night Murders by Carolyn Wells, 1941  

Carolyn Wells wrote over 79 murder mysteries between 1911 and 1942.  She was the first mystery writer I ever read, back in 1955 when I discovered a few of her books at the local library in Yalesville, Connecticut.  Yeas later I had fond memories of Ghostís High Noon, Horror House, and The Doorstep Murders, but of course at the time I had nothing to compare them to at the time.  Nevertheless, I felt very nostalgic about her work and Iíve been collecting her mysteries over the course of the last fifty years, which is not easy because with the exception of one abridged title from a marginal paperback house in the 1940s, none of her books have ever appeared in paperback.  This was the very last one I needed and it took me five years to find it after the previous title, and I paid more for it than I should have but it completed the set.  So now, for the last time, I get to read a new adventure of Fleming Stone, her most commonly used detective. 

Wells was not a good mystery writer, or writer at all for that matter.  Her mysteries are contrived and often cheat Ė including secret passages, characters who lie for no particular reason, detectives who withhold information, secret poisons that donít really exist, impossible impersonations, and so forth.  So why have I read dozens of them?  Well, other than the nostalgia issue, thereís something else.  Wells reflected in her attitudes a time and class that seem almost alien to me.  Case in point.  One of her mysteries involves the murder of a young woman because she concealed the fact that she was an octoroon.  When the detective discovers that the prospective father-in-law killed her because he learned the truth, he refuses to divulge the name of the murderer because clearly in this case the killing was justified!  Another example is the question of servants.  Not only are they never guilty, but the police wonít even question them because the opinions and observations of servants are beneath consideration.  Characters fall in love at first sight, repeatedly, lie to the police on general principles, and the police are very deferential and wonít investigate without permission.  Wells was apparently aware of her inability to construct a clever mystery, because Fleming Stone is always refusing to consider clues because theyíre just ďdistractionsĒ.  He once correctly identifies the killer by analyzing the shapes of the ear lobes of the various suspects.  I could go on, but you get the idea. 

As to this novel in particular, which appeared almost at the end of her career, it is somewhat atypical.  For one thing, there is almost always a body by chapter two and in this case no one dies almost half way through.  Wellsí class prejudices never altered during her writing career, and we are told of one character that ďhis fine character proves his father is of good bloodĒ even though his fatherís identity is unknown and the character in question never met him.  The set up is contrived but not more than in most mysteries.  Bruce is in love with Anne but a posthumous letter from his supposed father indicates that his mother was already pregnant when they married, and that Anneís father was responsible, making them half-siblings.  Bruce goes into a funk and eventually marries Muriel in an effort to convince Anne to make another life for herself.  He does this partially on the advice of his lawyer, Barr, who is himself romantically interested in Anne, but Anne believes instinctively that the story is a lie and begins to investigate, trying to find out who Bruceís father really was.  Muriel, who is apparently insane, is found dead in the orchard after a party at the house. 

Bruce and Anne both had motive to kill her, but romance always wins out in Wells novels, so the astute reader will immediately cross their names off the list of suspects.  That leaves the lawyer, a  playboy named Claude, a visiting musician named Dickman, Anneís doting aunt Kate, Bruceís avaricious and estranged aunt, and a mysterious lurker in the orchard as suspects.  The lurker we can safely omit as well, but we also learn that a woman was seen entering the orchard at the time of the murder.  Obviously this suggests Anne, whom we know logically must be innocent.  On the other hand, the lurker is found with the dead womanís jewels, which makes him a prime suspect, although we know logically that he must also be innocent. On the other other hand, the dead woman was clutching one of the musicianís gloves, which we also know must mean that he is innocent as well.  Aunt Kate is looking like the prime candidate until we're told that the "woman" may have been a man in disguise.  That leaves Claude and the lawyer as the most viable candidates. 

Bruce discovers that the police plan to arrest him for the murder (even though they havenít a shred of evidence!) and hires Fleming Stone, who appears halfway through the book.  The police detective wonít listen to evidence given by the servants.  ďI donít approve of getting evidence that way.Ē   Muriel was flirting with both the musician and Claude behind her husband's back.  She was playing with voodoo dolls as well and Stone suspects that interest was an important factor in her death. Then the lawyer is poisoned and we learn that he has been in fear of his life for some time, for reasons unspecified, and since our only remaining serious suspect is Claude, there's not much mystery left.  There is a mysterious document that has been lying about for years that Stone learns of through a horribly bad contrivance so silly that I'm amazed Wells suggested it, but she frequently used absurd ways to advance plot points quickly rather than actually thinking them through.  The motive for the murders is based on a surprise revealed only in the final chapters - a pending estate in England, and it doesn't make much sense since Claude could not have profited from it.

All of this is told with Wellsí familiar clunky prose.  Characters keep secrets from each other for no good reason, assumptions are made on flimsy evidence, emotional reactions are exaggerated and not always logical, and no one seems to have to work for a living.  Other characters reveal secrets casually, including the lawyer who violates sworn confidences without a thought.  Wells usually didnít introduce Fleming Stone, the detective, until the last quarter of her books. so he shows up a little early this time.  Dated, awkward, with slightly better plotting than usual.  To someone who didn't read these decades ago, they're probably going to be impenetrable.  For a complete list of Wells' mysteries, click here.  3/7/08

Murder in Miniature by Margaret Grace, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21980-5

Dolly Departed by Deb Baker, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22051-1

Through a Glass, Deadly by Sarah Atwell, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22047-4

It seems as though the vast majority of mysteries nowadays have to have a shtick, so we here two mysteries involving doll houses and the people who make miniatures, plus one about glass blowing.  The latter even has a list of "glass blowing resources".  Elsewhere in the stack of mysteries on my desk are mysteries about card playing, funeral homes, race tracks, cooking, dogs, interior decorating, and political campaigns.  Whatever happened to detectives who were actually detectives and spent their time detecting?  My real objection to most of the current crop of mysteries is that they aren't detective stories at all.  They are romances or stories of humor or stories about hobbies that involve one or more murders, which are often peripheral to the story.  There is obviously an audience for such things, but I miss the days of Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, and Raymond Chandler.  I like the mystery to be central to the story, although there's no reason why there can't be strong characters and a good background story as well.  Writers like Christine Kling, Suzanne Arruda, and Charlaine Harris have demonstrated that this is entirely possible, but they seem to be in an ever shrinking minority.

So let's take a look at these, which I read in rapid succession.  The Margaret Grace appears to be the second in a series about a retired woman who indulges her fondness for miniatures in a big way, but who gets involved with crime as well.  Geraldine Porter is rather puzzled by the odd behavior of her friend Linda even before the latter turns up missing, followed by the inevitable murder and mystery.  Although Porter doesn't go out of her way to get involved, she is soon receiving threats that are clearly related to the crime, which means she has to solve it or risk becoming the next victim.  Nice clear prose but the mystery isn't particularly gripping, and I wasn't really surprised by the ultimate revelations.  In fact I had that feeling of deja vu while I was reading it, even though it's brand new.  A perfectly respectable light mystery but with nothing for aficionados.

Dolly Departed features a doll restoration specialist, Gretchen Birch, in her third outing.  She accepts an invitation at a new store, and that eventually leads to her discovering a dead body, possibly an accident, but if that was the case, it wouldn't be much of a story now, would it?  There is also the odd miniature room she finds, which is set up as a murder scene - reminding me slightly of a recent C.S.I. story arc, although the author takes it in a very different direction.  Birch enlists the aid of her friends in her investigation and gets involved with a police detective even though he is married.  There is a strong but not over powering romance element in this one, which is also well written, although I found the dialogue a bit choppy at times.  The murder and its resolution were slightly better, but I didn't care for the back story as much as in the Margaret Grace.  Overall, they were about the same.

Finally we have the glassblowing mystery, which is the first in a series starring Emmeline Dowell, a glass blower, obviously.  She teaches the art and sells her own creations, when she's not being distracted by dead bodies and suchlike. Dowell allows an unhappy young woman to stay with her, but the situation takes an ugly turn when she comes home one day to find her guest's husband in the building - quite dead.  Experienced readers will know that the wife is above suspicion because she's too obvious, and additional characters are quickly introduced to give us some suspects.  Everything is revealed in due course, and with only moderately artificial plot maneuvering, but I found this the least interesting of the three.  The characters seemed flat and I never got invested in the puzzle.  Unlike the other two, this one is copyrighted by the publisher, which leads me to believe it's a house name.  In general, none of these were actively bad, and sometimes the writing is quite good, but none of them are first class mysteries.  3/1/08

God's Spy by Juan Gomez-Jurado, Plume, 2008, $14, ISBN 978-0-452-28912-3

A quick glance at the cover text made me think this wasn't going to be my cup of tea, a serial killer lose in the Vatican, killing cardinals just as they're about to set about choosing a new Pope.  I am happy to say that I'm glad I resisted the impulse to set it aside.  The chief protagonist is a young female detective who specializes in psycho killers even though she has never actually had a hot case before.  She has to battle church politics and public relations people, as well as stifling her revulsion for the man who can commit such brutal mutilations.  Almost as soon as she becomes involved, a cleric from the US arrives and tells her that the killer is a former mental patient who is subject to fits of violence, who was a priest and child molester years earlier.  Knowing his identity doesn't mean that she can just order his arrest.  First she has to figure out where he is. And it gets even more personal when one of her closest friends becomes the next victim. There are inevitably echoes of Silence of the Lambs, including transcriptions of sessions with the killer before his escape from the treatment facility, but they are not so overwhelming that it feels derivative. The killer is gruesome and rather clever at times, but not the almost supernaturally intelligent killer that Thomas Harris created.  The police are more fallible, particularly since they are hampered at nearly every turn by the Vatican's desire to keep things hushed up - although I'm not sure I believe that three cardinals could die in just a few days without causing a stir no matter how carefully contrived the cover stories might be, particularly since they closely follow the Pope's death and at least one of them was a candidate to replace him. There's a big surprise toward the end which I won't tell you, but if you pay attention as closely as I did, you'll probably have a good idea of its general nature before it is revealed.  Not great, but very good. 2/29/08

 Real Murders by Charlaine Harris, Berkley, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21871-6 

A Bone to Pick by Charlaine Harris, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21979-9 

Three Bedrooms, One Corpse by Charlaine Harris, Berkley 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22052-8

 All three of these are murder mysteries featuring Aurora Teagarden, a librarian who gets involved in murder.  They were originally published back in the early 1990s, long before the author began writing her popular Sookie Stackhouse series of vampire mysteries.  Since I liked those, I was curious about her earlier work and Iím certainly glad that Berkley reissued them.  In the opener, Teagarden is part of a club that meets at night to discuss actual murders.  Their latest meeting becomes a bit too realistic, however, when she receives a mysterious phone call, then finds the body of one of the members, killed in a manner imitating the very murder they were supposed to discuss that evening. Coincidentally, I recently read another novel based on the same controversial British murder.  Obviously suspicion falls on all of the club members, including the victimís husband.  Then other crimes are re-enacted, some successfully, although the police are reluctant to accept that the separate incidents are related.  The resolution took me by surprise and didnít involve any significant cheating, and Teagarden is a quirky but likeable character.  Enjoyable and engaging from beginning to end. 

Teagarden returns in A Bone to Pick.  One of her almost casual friends dies and leaves her the bulk of her estate, including a small house.  Someone has broken into the house and searched it, and our heroine figures out the real hiding place with perhaps just a bit too little difficulty.  The hidden object is a human skull, apparently a murder victim, and at least two people have disappeared from the area during the appropriate time frame.  Unaccountably, Teagarden decides to hide the skull rather than contact the police, justified as an attempt to protect her friendís reputation, though I didnít find that entirely credible.  The scene setting for this one may be contrived but I actually enjoyed the character even more as the author reveals more details about her personality.  The resolution is a bit rushed but not enough to spoil what preceded it. 

The third in the series is Three Bedrooms, One Corpse.  Having quit her job as a librarian, Teagarden decides to try selling real estate.  That career gets stillborn when she shows two prospective clients a house and finds a dead body lying in one of the bedrooms.  Teagarden sheds beaus pretty quickly; despite her early claims that she isn't popular, she has four different desirable boyfriends in the course of the first three novels, but she ends up engaged at the end of this one. It's the least interesting of the threesome but still quite good. There are at least three more in this series yet to be reprinted and I'll be looking forward to them with more than usual eagerness. 2/22/08

Decorated to Death by Peg Marberg, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21982-9

It appears that almost all mysteries have to have themes lately, or that the detectives have to be in some unusual profession.  This is the second in a series about an interior decorator who solves crimes in her spare time and there are "decorating tips included".  No recipes though.  Anyway, our decorator protagonist is commissioned to make over a rustic cottage, but when she arrives to do some preliminary work, she finds her employer dead, and not of natural causes. She also finds herself on the list of suspects.   A couple of minor scenes don't ring completely true, including the initial encounter with the policeman at the crime scene. The story moves well and the author takes her crimes seriously, unlike some mysteries I've looked at recently, but I was never completely caught up in the process of detection this time.  It's a pleasant but unmemorable read, much better in the execution than in the conception.  There's also a character in it named Peter Parker, but he isn't Spider-Man.  2/20/08

The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall, 1965 

I read this novel by Elleston Trevor (under one of his several pseudonyms) when it first appeared during the 1960s, but for one reason or another I never paid attention to the sequels and only discovered recently that there were nineteen books in the series.  One of these days Iíll have to track them down.  The story is an elaborate chess game between Quiller and a secret neo-Nazi group in Berlin.  There are defectors, and double defectors, ruses and plots, chases and escapes, a very big explosion, and other customary spy story antics.  The novel is very heavily into the psychology of the various characters and it is quite exciting until the last few chapters, which should have been much better than they are.  They have two main problems, a gaping plot hole and a very serious cheat.  The plot hole is that the bad guys are watching the hero so that they can trace him to his people's secret headquarters, so naturally he can't contact them.  I'm quite sure that British agents were smart enough to call their home office in London rather than the local office if that happened, so that headquarters could make the call which would then be untraceable.  The cheat is more serious.  Quiller narrates the story himself and for much of the story he tells us that he believes the female lead character to be confused but honest in her story.  The story is then revealed to be an elaborate lie, which Quiller then says he recognized all along, but that in order to be convincing, he HAD TO MAKE HIMSELF BELIEVE THAT SHE WAS TELLING THE TRUTH ON A TEMPORARY BASIS!!!  Bull. 2/17/08

Murder Melts in Your Mouth by Nancy Martin, Obsidian, 2008, $22.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22311-1

As the World Churns by Tamar Myers, Obsidian, 2008, $21.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22302-9

I'm reviewing this two together for a number of reasons.  They are superficially very much the same, murder mysteries set in subcultures with female protagonists, and both are blends of detective fiction and comedy, and both are parts of established series.  Martin's novel is set within the world of high society.  Nora Blackwood takes temporary custody of her sister's children when the sister is injured in a non-life threatening automobile accident.  Nora and her husband are at least mildly estranged, presumably part of the back story from previous books in the series which I haven't read.  This leaves her a free hand with the children - all five of them - but that obligation complicates her attempts to prove that a friend of hers is not guilty of pushing a man off a balcony in a fatal plunge to the Earth.  But it turns out that a very large number of people had a good reason to want the man dead.  There are some additional plot complications as well, but you get the general idea.  Martin pokes fun at high society and provides an interesting puzzle as well. The humor is well integrated into the story and doesn't detract from the mystery at all.

Myers' detective is a Mennonite woman who is preparing to host a cattle breeding contest at her inn when she discovers that the murderous ex-sheriff from her home town has escaped from prison.  She is immediately concerned that he will seek vengeance on her family or friends - another case of a back story which I haven't read.  Through a series of comical incidents, she ends up briefly in the hospital, during which time her family disappears, presumably abducted.  But by whom?  And why?  And how does she get them back?  The reader will likely not care because the humor in this case has moved into the area of farce and I couldn't feel any empathy toward the characters at all.  The jokes lose their effectiveness when they come in such large numbers, and I was already starting to lose interest during the protagonist's quippy exchange with two snobbish guests when they arrive in one of the early chapters.  The Jewish mother in law is such a familiar caricature that she felt more like a cartoon character than a person.  Comes with Pennsylvania Dutch recipes.  The difference between the two books is fundamental.  Martin's is a detective story enlivened by humor; Myers' writes a broad lampoon with a mystery as one of the plot elements. 2/13/08

Hey Diddle Diddle, the Corpse and the Fiddle by Fran Rizer, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22091-7

Continuing the theme of the two reviews above, here are another pair of mysteries that try to mix the yucks with the yuck!  The first one comes perilously close to making the same mistake as the Myers novel, too much humor and not enough detecting.  The protagonist is a mortuary cosmetologist, which is certainly an original idea for a detective, although in this, her second case, she is on vacation at a bluegrass festival on an island when she stumbles on a body.   Then her best friend finds another, and the friend herself goes missing.  The tone gets more serious - although never entirely - as the story progresses and there was enough substance toward the end to keep me reading even though my interest had been in danger of expiring for most of the first half. 

A Vicky Hill Exclusive by Hannah Dennison, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22048-1

The last of four mysteries I read today, and yet another that tries to keep the tone light and the laughs regular.  Vicky Hill is a reporter whose normal subject matter is reporting on funerals.  Dennison and Rizer above ought to consider a collaboration.  Anyway, Dennison keeps the silliness under a close rein and this is probably my favorite of today's books.  It's always nice to end on a high note.  Hill gets suspicious of the death of a local sportsman and begins prying into the town's secrets.  Unfortunately, some people resent her nosiness and at least one of them decides that curiosity should kill this particular cat.  The interplay between Hill and an obnoxious reporter was particularly good.  I'll be careful not to give things away so I'll only say that the motivation of the killer's unwitting accomplice was unconvincing, the weak spot in an otherwise satisfying ending.  It's a first novel, possibly first in a series, and I'll probably read her next when it appears.  2/13/08

Wild Inferno by Sandi Ault, Berkley, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-21922-5

This is the second adventure of Jamaica Wild, who works for the Bureau of Land Management and interacts with several tribes of Native Americans.  The story opens with a fire raging through the forests, threatening to overwhelm the site of a religious ceremony among other things.  Wild rescues a firefighter who says something cryptic before losing consciousness, then becomes involved in the mystery of an elderly Ute who has disappeared in the vicinity of the fire, and the body of a man who appears to have been digging for something at or around the time of his death, and who was murdered while doing so.  The mystery is intermixed with more than a sprinkling of native lore and details about how a wilderness fire is dealt with.  And did I mention that Wild has a pet wolf?  The result of all this is a kind of cross between Tony Hillerman and Susan Wittig Albert.  Be prepared, however, to have the mystery element being a relatively small part of the story, or at least the detection part.  It's much more about folklore and firefighting than forensics.  2/10/08

Of Blood and Sorrow by Valerie Wesley Wilson, Ballantine, 2008, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-49271-5

Although this is apparently a well established series, it's the first I've encountered.  The detective - who really is a private detective for a change - is Tamara Hayle, a single mom trying to raise her son Jamal following the divorce, also trying to make a living as an investigator in Newark, New Jersey.  Her latest case is a somewhat convoluted one.  She is approached by an old acquaintance, Lilah Love, who wants her to recover her baby, currently held by a younger sister.  Hayle is reluctant to take the case, even in the face of veiled threats by the other woman directed toward Jamal.  Then a supposedly ex-gangster gone legit hires her to secure the same child, his grand daughter.  She accepts this commission with some misgivings, only to discover that the sister and baby are both missing and that her client has been playing his own game.  Then her son is wanted as a material witness to Lilah's murder and an already personal case becomes much more so.  Nice, crisp prose and an interesting evocation of Newark.  There is apparently some back story from earlier books that wasn't entirely clear at first, but it all gets cleared up in short order and you hardly notice the bump.  This one takes the PI story a bit out of its usual groove, which is all to the good, and Hayle's myopia about her own son rings true as well.  2/10/08

In Extremis by Ken Goddard, Pocket, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-7476-7

As the picture indicates, this is a C.S.I. tie-in novel, the Las Vegas flavor, one of my two favorite current television shows.  Actually, I only watch 3 so that's not as much of a distinction as it might appear.  Anyway, I was drawn to this one because (a) I was curious to see if a book could capture the feel of the program and (b) I've read a couple of SF novels by Goddard that weren't bad.  The answer to question one is "not entirely", because despite the use of the same characters, and to a degree the same situations, this didn't evoke anything of the crisp, rapid atmosphere of the television series.  It is, on the other hand, a reasonably good police procedural in its own right and the forensic information appears to be accurate.  The entire crew is called to a remote scene when a host of Drug Enforcement and other agents are involved in a fatal shooting, having cut a pickup truck and its occupant to pieces in a botched drug raid.  There's another element as well, a very professional assassin whose presence at the site they don't even suspect, an assassin who will soon be plotting to eliminate all of our investigators.  Reasonably suspenseful, although given the situation, I would have been a bit surprised if the bad guy hadn't killed at least a couple of his quarry before getting caught.  Now that would have made me sit up and pay more attention. 2/4/08

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre, 1964

 This was my third time reading what is arguably the best spy novel of all time.  The author is one of the spies whose cover was blown by Kim Philby, and his depiction of the spy networks in Europe is, presumably, far more realistic than not.  His underlying premise is that the game has become so incestuous that there is little difference between the methods of East and West, that both sides commit atrocities and injustices in the name of security and getting the job done.  Alec Leamas is a British agent who pretends to have become disloyal as part of an elaborate plot, he believes, to implicate a Communist spymaster and get him eliminated.  Unbeknownst to him, the target is someone else entirely, and he has been manipulated shamelessly to protect a brutal, racist man simply because he is of value to British Intelligence.  Great book. 2/1/08

The Serpent's Daughter by Suzanne Arruda, Obsidian, 2007, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-451-22294-7

I'm fond of African settings for novels, probably because there are relatively few, so I've enjoyed this new mystery series, featuring Jade del Cameron, right from the outset.  The protagonist is a feisty British journalist who goes to Africa during the 1920s and who has previously been involved with murder, poachers, and other villainy.  This time she moves north to Tangiers to meet her not entirely approving mother, but the situation takes a strange new direction when the older del Cameron is abducted and the police are suspicious of the family's involvement in a recent murder.  There's a whiff of lost world adventure in this one, with ancient secrets and secret organizations, and there is also a bit of Indiana Jones as Jade and her occasional and touchy love interest try to find out what's going on, who's responsible, and what's happened to mom.  Arruda does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere and setting the stage.  I actually thought this one was a better adventure story than murder mystery, but it's good no matter what direction you approach from.  1/29/08

Death of a Squire by Maureen Ash, Berkley, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21959-1

As a rule I don't care much for historical mysteries.  I got tired of the Brother Caedfel books after three or four and even the Judge Dee stories failed to hold my interest throughout the series.  There are exceptions, notably The Name of the Rose, but not many.  I think this is because the author has to split the focus.  If it's a good mystery story, it probably isn't a very good historical, and if it's a good historical, then it probably doesn't spend enough time on the mystery to please me.  I suspect that if I read all of this series - the Templar Knight mysteries - in close proximity, I would probably have a similar reaction.  Reading this one all by its lonesome was easier.  In the year 1200, a momentous political meeting is about to take place near the border between Scotland and England.  When a man's body is found hanging from a tree, our hero is asked to find out who is responsible, but his efforts are almost immediately hindered by the distracting abduction of his young servant.  Even more interesting is the possibility that the boy was kidnapped for just that reason.  The book does evoke the setting quite well and the mystery wasn't bad, although not as intriguing as I had hoped.  I'd say this was slightly above the average quality of new mysteries, and considerably above average for those with historical settings, but I'm indifferent to the idea of reading more in the same series.  1/23/08

Murder in Gotham by Isidore Haiblum, Berkley, 1/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21907-2

I used to enjoy most of Isidore Haiblum's science fiction, but he left that field for mysteries back in the early 1990s and it was their gain and our loss.  This is his fourth mystery, the first I've seen and the second in a series featuring Morris Wives, former boxer and soldier, now private detective based in New York City, specifically the lower east side during the 1940s.  He is hired to find a man who has disappeared, but his first real discovery is that a second man is also missing, and that both were involved in gambling.  The local gambling tycoon is Laib Domb, who doesn't care to have Morris asking questions.  Jake, the missing man, owes money because of his gambling, but Morris also hears that he has run off with the girlfriend of a local bookie and that the two of them are in hiding.  And then the first body shows up.

Although this is a surprisingly short novel, it is also very nicely textured, reflecting what I presume are Yiddish speech patterns.  The action is also very compressed.  Confrontations begin and end within two or three pages, conversations are pared down to the essentials with a slightly humorous twist, and physical descriptions are almost non-existent.  In most novels where this happens, there is a feeling that something is missing, but that's not the case here.  The story actually feels more like a short story than a novel, and the style is so clear and smooth that it carries you along.   Weiss is a very unique character with an unusual attitude, almost casual even in the most extraordinary circumstances.  I will be looking for his previous adventure.  1/10/09

The Water Clock by Jim Kelly, Leisure, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6000-6

Sixty pages into this, I took a break to go online and buy the only other title by the author that I could locate, although I believe there have been more in this series published in the UK.  Philip Dryden is a one time highly regarded reporter who now works for a small circulation newspaper so that he has more time to spend with his wife, who has been comatose ever since they were involved in an automobile accident.  The story opens with him covering the recovery of a vehicle from a lake, inside which is found a body with its head nearly severed from the body.  Then a second body, almost forty years old, is found perched on a gargoyle on top of a cathedral.  The only connections seems superficial.  The second dead man was a prime suspect in a robbery case being investigated by the father of the man investigating the more recent murder.  But then more evidence turns up, suggesting that the two dead men were involved in the same crime decades earlier, and Dryden finds himself right in the middle of things.

Among the many things that make this such a good book are the minor characters, including a gay Anglican priest and a perpetually sleep taxi driver.  Kelly has an obvious gift for creating memorable characters in a remarkably short time. Dryden is fascinating as well, a moody but intelligent investigator with a few quirks to make him more than just a generic detective.  I have no qualms at all about recommending this one highly.  1/4/07

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, 1903 

I had never read this before.  Itís generally considered the first modern spy novel, although some claim that honor for Rudyard Kiplingís Kim.  It was very clearly an influence on John Buchan and Eric Ambler, and is distantly related to the future war novels of that period.  Carruthers, the protagonist, is invited to join an acquaintance on a small sailboat and explore the coast of Netherlands and Germany.  His host survived an apparent murder attempt by an Englishman posing as a German, and that leads him to believe that there is something mysterious going on which would not bear the light of day.  The two men investigate in a very sedate, relaxed fashion and eventually discover that Germany is preparing for an eventual invasion of the British Isles.  Most of the novel actually consists of the two men sailing about, and itís based on an actual voyage by the author, who died a few years later when he picked the wrong side in the Irish Civil War.  It lacks much of the tension of traditional spy stories, but itís extremely well done.  I amused myself by following their course on Google Earth rather than their charts, which let me glimpse the actual scenery. 1/1/08