Sunday, October 29, 2006

MURDER 101 by Maggie Barbieri (St. Martin's Minotaur)

After Professor Alison Bergeron's old Volvo is stolen, she's shocked to find two detectives in her English Department office days later. Her surprise is appropriate—the're from homicide; her car has been found, with a student's body in the trunk. Alison loses her suspect status when she becomes the target of kidnappers—twice. In a non-traditional-cozy way, Alison doesn't succumb to terror, she fights back. Barbieri inserts several twists that prevent die-hard mystery readers from knowing who-done-it until the very end. This excellent debut mystery should be in the running for several major awards.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


This great chocoholic series is always on my "must read" list. I've followed former Texas beauty queen Lee McKinney since her debut in THE CHOCOLATE CAT CAPER, and I've always found the books well written and well plotted. The only drawback to the series is the mouth-watering descriptions of chocolate delights made in the TenHuis Chocolade which often require copious intake of lesser treats! In this outing Lee is getting ready for her wedding—and trying her best to keep it small. While dealing with Aunt Nettie's plan for redecorating the house (it's to be a home wedding) and Joe's mom's determination for a blow-out reception, Lee is completely blindsided when she learns of an earlier family wedding. Her mother ran away on the night before she was to be married—and the groom was found dead—an apparent suicide. Once again, the crimes of the past lead to the present, and Lee is right in the middle of murder.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cascade Mountain Railroad Mysteries by Anne Capeci (Peachtree)

When I was reviewing children's books I always looked for the most bang for the buck. This series for young readers fills the bill. The spot-on adventure series offers good mystery and excellent history without being "teachy." The first in the series, DANGER DYNAMITE, introduces a diverse group of children in a Cascade Mountain railroad village. Missing dynamite, school pranks, and an old wanted poster combine to set the stage for a well-crafted adventure. "Dynamite" was nominated for an Agatha award.

This excellent series also includes DAREDEVILS, GHOST TRAIN, and MISSING!

THE FIRST CUT by Dianne Emley (Ballentine)

In her first day back on the job after a brutal attack, Nan Vining learns that she'll be relegated to the burgulary division. Despite lingering post traumatic stress symptoms, Vining wants back in homicide. In an obvious example of be careful what you wish for, Nan is pressed into duty when the nude body of an LA police officer is found in Pasadena. Emley takes the reader on both sides of the crime—inside the horrific as well as through the police investigation. The characters are well drawn and the violence, though gruesome, is not gratuitous. Dianne Emley is a writer to watch!

ALL MORTAL FLESH by Julia Spencer-Fleming (Thomas Dunne Books)

Every good mystery has tension. When Spencer-Fleming introduced Clare Fergusson, priest, and Russ van Alstyne, sherrif, four books ago, the immediate attraction they had for each other was enormous. Both, however, were bound to a code that prohibited their acting on the attraction because Russ was married. Now, Russ's wife has kicked him out of the house—he's moved back in with his mother; Clare has determined not to see him again. Circumstances change. Linda van Alstyne is found brutally murdered by a neighbor; the spouse is the obvious suspect; and the state police officer in charge of the investigation is determined that Russ is indeed the killer. Loyalties are important in this riveting story which I couldn't stop until I finished. Spencer-Fleming has garnered a shelf full of awards in her short career. I'd suggest making room for more—ALL MORTAL FLESH is her best yet.

STRIPPED by Brian Freeman (St. Martin's Minotaur)

As detectives Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial investigate a rash of seemingly unrelated murders they realize that all the crimes have ties to the brutal murder of a Las Vegas headliner back in the days when the Ratpack ruled. The current murders are unique, clever, and professional, and they lead directly to the city's power brokers. This is definitely not a shining moment for tourism. STRIPPED is gritty, harsh, and spell-binding.

Friday, October 20, 2006

MURDER UNLEASED by Elaine Viets (New American Library)

I've been reading Elaine Viets since her first book came out, and the "dead end job" series is my favorite. Helen Hawthorne has settled into a series of truly awful jobs but she's tempered her life with truly caring friends and a new love interest. In this outing, the job isn't really so bad—she's working in the Pampered Pet Boutique—but the animal parents are frequently over the top. When she delivers one pampered pet to his owner, Helen finds the woman not dead drunk, but dead. In case murder isn't enough, the boutique's groomers are at war, Ft. Lauderdale's most valuable dog is pupnapped, and a hurricane is targeting the city. I always feel better after an afternoon with Helen—my problems pale!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

SHOOTING GALLERY by Hailey Lind (Signet)

Annie Kincaid has set her path on the straight and narrow, but it's hard to make a living as a faux finisher in San Francisco—especially when she could be making big bucks forging Old Masters. She also finds it's hard to stay alive when you've got a trouble magnet in your pocket. Annie's visit to a gallery exhibition not only nets her a new client, but she discovers a body. Her landlord offers her an opportunity to restore a damaged Picasso, and a charming international art thief offers her an opportunity to clear a friend of a crime. Clearly, Annie is a gal to watch as she stumbles through live, one obstacle at a time. I'm not only ordering the debut in this series, but I'm putting Hailey Lind on my not-to-be-missed reading list.

Friday, October 13, 2006

SILENCE OF THE GRAVE by Arnaldur Indridason (Thomas Dunne Books)

Competition among Icelandic crime writers might be low, but when one wins the the coveted Golden Dagger award, that's a different story! SILENCE is just the second of the author's books translated into English. Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and his team have a relatively benign case: old bones have turned up during construction of a new Reykjavik housing development. Then Erlendur gets a frightening call from his pregnant daughter, begging for help before she is cut off. In his efforts to help her, his mind is split—wondering about the case, worrying about his daughter, and remembering things from his own past.

The beauty of this book is not so much the story, but the way it unfolds. Flashbacks are woven in so skillfully, the reader often is tricked into making false assumptions about which storyline is being told. Then, an "aha" moment occurs, and the path becomes clearer, only to have a new fog drop and confuse one again. Then, as the final pages are read, one can look back and see—everything was there all along! This book is worthy of its honor.

ESCAPE CLAUSE by James O. Born (Putnam)

Some people are always in the right place at the right time; others aren't. Florida lawman Bill Trasker is the latter. Just off a stressful case, he was standing in line at the bank with his 8-year-old daughter when a bank robbery ensued. To help him unwind, his boss sent him to do a review on an inmate homicide at a secluded prison. Bill's trouble magnet, however, continued working at high capacity. Murder, attempted murder (of Bill), kidnapping, and a prison break move Bill's temporary duty from simple to complex and dangerous. Those same complications make for a compelling, fast-paced thriller! James O. Born is now on my must-be-read list.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

AS DEAD AS IT GETS by Cady Kalian (Forge)

I don't know much about Hollywood, but when I finished this book, I felt as if I did. Maggie Mars is a successful screenwriter, but it seems that in Hollywood, you're only as good as your next hit. She's working hard to write, serving on the board of her screenwriters' guild, and managing her life. When her mentor, Roger Urban, is found dead in women's sexy clothes, Maggie feels compelled to add another dimension to her life—amateur sleuth. This debut mystery is fast-paced and often funny; it also offers a look into the backstory of the entertainment industry. Cady Kalian is the pseudonym for Irma Kalish (award-winning TV writer) and Naomi Gurian (attorney and former executive director of the Writers Guild of America, west). Enjoy your brush with LaLa Land.

THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS by Nancy Pickard (Ballantine Books)

"The past is never dead. It's not even past." William Faulkner said that in REQUIEM FOR A NUN. A young woman whose body was found brutalized during a blizzard in Small Plains KS left an imprint on the town that is still alive 17 years later. Her gravestone has become a mecca for folks seeking healing and more recently, another body is discovered during another blizzard. Can this new body offer clues to the death of the first? Of course it can! This is a first-class mystery by award-winning Nancy Pickard! Nancy just picked up a Macavity and a Barry at Bouchercon—and she's nominated for an Anthony, but I haven't heard the results of that one yet. This suspense novel is great—with wonderful characters, flashbacks at just the right places, and a rewarding ending. I carried it around the house with me until I finished it.

Cool Mystery Website

Prolific Texas mystery writer Bill Crider has expanded his areas of expertise! He's got a great blogsite that's fun to read. Now, he's added interviews with other mystery authors at the Bouchercon mystery conference, this year in Madison WI. Check it out at you'll be glad you did!