Sunday, May 27, 2007

FORESTS OF THE NIGHT by David Stuart Davies (Thomas Dunne Books)

When London policeman John Hawke volunteered for duty during World War II, he dreamed of serving his country. He never considered the possibility of being wounded during training, losing an eye, and, consequently losing his ability both to serve his country and to return to his profession. Chosing to make virtual lemonade from life's lemons, he sets up as a private investigator. A job investigating the disappearance of a young woman offers an opportunity to prove his skills in his chosen profession. A chance meeting with a runaway boy awakens him to his humanity. More Johnny Hawke, please!

THE STAR by David Skibbins (Thomas Dunne Books)

What's an aging hippie to do? After being underground since 1970, Warren Ritter is still trying to keep a low profile in Berkeley. But when the daughter he never knew he had until this year asks for help, he knows he has to be there for her. After all, her underlying problem, bipolar disorder, is his problem too. Fran's marriage to a police officer is going down the tubes, and Orrin is trying to get custody of six-month-old Justin. Warren pulls out all the stops in his efforts to help Fran—including allowing his therapist to drive his prized Aprilia motorcycle. When I saw "A Tarot Card Mystery" on the front cover, I was skeptical. Once I met Warren, I was in for the ride. Now I'm going back to the bookstore to find EIGHT OF SWORDS and HIGH PRIESTESS.

So many books, so little time!

THE BLIGHT WAY & AVALANCHE by Patrick McManus (Simon & Schuster)

Stuck in a doctor's waiting room about 20 years ago, I idly leafed through a "Field and Stream" magazine trying to find something to fill the time. An article's title struck me as vaguely funny, so I began reading. In that few moments, I was hooked. I wrote the name Patrick F. McManus in my Palm Pilot and began searching for anything he had written. I devoured every book of outdoor essays and read them aloud to anyone who would listen.

Later, I drove an hour to hear him speak at a booksigning. The store was packed. He was an hour late but nobody left. We knew, from reading his books, that he'd probably gotten lost.

When I learned he'd moved on to write mysteries, I immediately ordered them from Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Meeting Sheriff Bo Tully was much like being introduced to an old friend. Once again, I reveled in being in the wild Rocky Mountains with a competent yet self-deprecating guide. Even as I laughed aloud, I appreciated the strength of the story-telling and the skill of dropping clues and placing red herrings. Welcome to the mystery world, Mr. McManus!

TRIAL AND ERROR by Paul Levine (Bantam)

When a new Soloman and Lord novel appears in my mailbox, I clear my docket for the rest of the day. Their cases are always wacky, always clever, and always endearing. Steve Soloman will try almost anything to win acquital for his clients; Victoria Lord will follow the law to the letter. When they're together, pandemonium is always waiting in the wings. What elevates this series, for me, is the overriding love they both have for Steve's brilliant nephew who has autism. This time, Bobby brings the case to his uncle—somebody has freed the dolphins from Cetacean Park. Of course, it's not that easy, and there's much more to it than appears on the surface.

Drag out your hammock, pour yourself a cool one, and kick back and relax with Florida's most loveable law team.

JIGSAW by Jerry Kennealy (Thomas Dunne Books)

Imagine Drew Carey as the entertainment critic for a San Francisco newspaper. Give him a zany mother, a dashing father, and a set of emails from someone giving clues to Alfred Hitchcock movies. Then watch as the clues foretell the murder of an industry friend. Imagine Drew's, er— Carroll Quint's, consternation as he investigates, only to find indicators that point him to his mother as the killer, while the police think they point to him. JIGSAW is a wonderfully plotted, charming look at murder. I hope to see more of Quinn.

BEADS OF DOUBT by Barbara Burnett Smith & Karen MacInerney (Berkley Prime Crime)

Family name and old money don't necessarily isolate one from trouble. Just ask Kitzi Camden, former Texas state senator and daughter and granddaughter of Texas governors. On the first day of a huge weekend fundraiser that she will host at her 8000 square foot mansion, she learns her cousin is trying to evict her from the family home and that a body was found in a nearby dumpster. Throw in a handsome man, a terminally ill friend, and an aging mother, and Kitzi has just about all she can handle.

Barbara Burnett Smith was nominated for an Agatha for the first in this series, BEAD ON TROUBLE, as she was for her first cozy several years ago. Sadly, she was killed in an accident before finishing this entry. Kaaren MacInerney did a fine job of completing the manuscript.

Barbara's sister died with ovarian cancer months before Barbara's accident. BEADS OF DOUBT was an attempt to raise awareness of the disease and, at the same time, to pay tribute to her sister. I miss my email correspondence with Barbara and miss seeing her at conferences. Still, this book brought back warm memories of my friend.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Highly Recommended

THE FINISHING SCHOOL by Michele Martinez (William Morrow)
Federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas has a tough new case: Two dead teenaged girls in a Park Avenue penthouse. Melanie also has a tough home life. She's not quite divorced and her baby daughter is sick. This one is a nail biter--don't start it at bedtime!

PIECE OF MY HEART by Peter Robinson (William Morrow)
Robinson frequently pairs an old crime with a contemporary one. In this outing, a young woman is murdered at a 1969 rock music festival and DCI Alan Banks and DI Annie Cabbot investigate the murder of a freelance journalist who's writing a story about one of the bands that played the weekend of the festival. As always, Robinson ties the stories together beautifully, revealing that the 60's weren't all peace and flower power--and that the past is always with us.

THE SPELLMAN FILES by Lisa Lutz (Simon and Schuster)
This quirky novel isn't really a mystery, but it is about a family-run detective agency in San Francisco. Family members follow each other, pick locks on bedroom doors, and leave the house through windows, but they rally round when one of their own is in peril. If you'd be embarrassed by laughing aloud, don't read this in public.

MURDER AMONG THE OWLS by Bill Crider (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Don't you hate it when you have to start work before you even get there? Sheriff Dan Rhodes' day began when a cat slipped into his back door. When he tried to return it to his elderly neighbor, he found--well, you know what he found. Who on earth would want to kill a member of the Older Women's Literary Society? Rhodes soon found that like in academia, the battles in clubs are often extremely bitter because the stakes are so low. Rhodes learns a lot about his town and the people who populate it when he investigates this murder. Dan Rhodes is my number two favorite sheriff of all time--right behind Andy Taylor!