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Masks of Murder

Author: C.C. Canby
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

MasksofmurderDying in the line of duty is one thing and almost expected by any law enforcement person. Dying in one's own garage as one removes groceries from the car off duty is something else entirely. That was the fate of Detective Zeke Mallard of the White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Police Department. Stabbed in the neck, slashed across the throat, and stabbed repeatedly in his left leg, he is left to bleed out and die on the floor of his garage. Which he does before being found by his wife Christine.

For his partner and fellow Detective Richard Lanslow, the murder is devastating. Not only has he lost a colleague; Zeke was his mentor and friend. Though they had worked together for only six months the two men had bonded on a far deeper level than just work and Lanslow had also become friends with Christine. In the aftermath, all he can do is promise her that he will find the killer. Instead of the usual spiel about not working a case that hits so close, Police Chief Bradbury assigns Lanslow and two other detectives to the case and the investigation gets underway.

Despite the fact that there is only one suspect, who quickly goes on the run early in the novel, the investigation soon bogs down. As the weeks turn into months, a second killing happens which may relate to the first in a rather obscure way. While Lanslow has to deal with the lack of success and his guilt over not having caught the killer, he also has to deal with the increasing pressure from his girlfriend Laura and a pending marriage.

Working off the premise that what people appear to be in public may be far different than in private, this complex and interesting novel slowly moves forward in a literary style. Gradually, along with numerous separate, but yet ultimately intertwined storylines, numerous characters are slowly revealed. Each character provides a detailed history via extensive internal monologues and interaction with other characters.

Slowly, a real suspect is painstakingly revealed. Much like the cover illustration, which depicts an actor putting on a mask, the mask covering the killer's face is gradually removed. In so doing, this novel becomes less a murder mystery and more a literary style work in that the action is slow moving and character development is used to advance the work. By novel's end, one man's inner delusions are revealed, as are the permanent repercussions of his actions.


December 30, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (1)

Money Shot

Author: Brian Rouff
Genre: Mainstream
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

MoneyshotAlan "Nick" (to all his friends) Nichols is doing pretty well in Las Vegas as an executive at a Las Vegas advertising agency. Not that he is exactly proud of his career choices or his current employment. After several promotions, he isn't doing the stuff he likes to do but he has a good handle on what the job is these days.

"Today, my job consists of selling stuff nobody needs to people who don't know any better." (Page 2)
That and dealing with moronic, ego driven clients, the occasional backstabbing coworker, a looming midlife crisis, a challenging teenage daughter, and a wife that knows him way too well and still loves him anyway. He has his hands full and everything is rocking along at the usual pace until he unwittingly purchases the winning soda on his way to work. Under the bottle cap, as helpfully pointed out by a co-worker, is the secret code and chance to shoot a three point shot at halftime of the coming NCAA regional finals in Phoenix. Should he sink the basket, he wins a cool million bucks.

We have all seen those shots on television sports over the years to the point that such promotions have become commonplace. But what author Brian Rouff does is to take a commonplace event and then dive into the backstory. The book isn't so much about the shot but the four weeks leading up to the event and the pressures Nick feels from all sides. Not only his internal expectations in that he wants the money and doesn't want to look pathetic on television, but also the sudden expectations of others as he puts everything on the line in a single minded quest to make the shot. Unlike the advertising stuff, this is work and as he goes about his temporary job, he learns more about himself and others than he ever thought possible.

Like in his extremely enjoyable first novel, Dice Angel, author Brian Rouff once again creates realistic, likeable characters, an interesting plot and storyline, and several twists to keep the reader guessing until the very last page. His affection for the city of Las Vegas comes through, as does his offbeat sense of humor. This is another great read and well worthy of your consideration.


December 21, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (1)

Red Tide

Author: G. M. Ford
Genre: Thriller
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

12210402Frank Corso isn't comfortable out in public attending social events but that is exactly what he is doing as this recent release opens. He is attending a showing and sale of his friend Meg Dougherty's photographic work at the Cecil Taylor Gallery in Seattle. Though surrounded by people, Frank Corso stands out and she knows he isn't happy.

"Dougherty heaved another sigh. 'I shouldn't have badgered him into coming,' she said. "He hates this kind of thing." (Page 10)

The showing is going well and should be a success and vindication of a lifetime of work until it is interrupted by the police who order a mandatory evacuation for unspecified reasons. They won't say why and as Frank and Meg walk the area towards a fleet of busses waiting to take evacuees away, it becomes clear that something very bad has happened. Frank, never known for being able to leave things alone, can't this time and sends an annoyed Meg on her way home in a cab, before going literally underground in downtown Seattle to find out what is going on. Before long, he finds himself undercover in a hazmat suit looking at a scene of carnage and death in the wake of the release of an airborne weapon of mass destruction. Terrorists have struck again, this time in Seattle, and this attack is the first of several planned on the city as a group of experts meet for an international symposium on chemical and biological weapons.

Meanwhile, across town, Meg goes to her home angry about the show, Frank, and life in general, only to find the man who disfigured her years ago loitering by the door of her home/studio. He leaves and she urges the cabby to follow his car because with the police tied up with whatever the emergency is, as well as how they treated her in the past, she knows she won't get any help. She has dreamed of this day for years and now with him in her sights, she isn't about to back down for a second.

G. M. Ford quickly weaves both compelling storylines together in this gripping read. As Frank and Meg both pursue the terrorists across the city with the aid of local law enforcement, the rift that has been growing between them over the last couple of novels in this series begins to widen. Frank is as reclusive as ever, despite being thrust into the limelight, and Meg is growing weary of her life and Frank's hard-nosed ways. But beyond all that, the author creates a gripping tale along with some very relevant social commentary about the specter of terrorism and our ability to defend the country and ourselves. Not only is this novel worth reading because it is a well written and suspenseful mystery, Red Tide is worth reading for his very astute political observations about freedom in America and the reality of our modern world.


December 21, 2004 in Thriller | Permalink | Comments (0)

Terlingua Ale

Author: Margaret Searles
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Frank McGourty

12210401Terlingua Ale may be the title but murder is the subject. Margaret Searles brings back her favorite sleuths, Mrs. Millet and Mrs. Hark, two ladies of a "certain age in this southwestern cozy."  During a visit to Big Bend, Texas, the only peril for Margaret Millet seems to be fending off her good friend Judy's attempt to be a matchmaker. But that was before the ladies found themselves involved in a four-year-old murder. As they investigate, the body count increases and one of Mrs. Millet's suitors is found with an ax, buried in his neck. The ladies are now on the trail of a murderer who intends to cover his tracks by making the senior sleuths his next victims.

Mrs. Millet and Mrs. Hark are determined to solve the mystery and bring a cold-blooded killer to jail despite his attempts to bring them to their grave. The killer causes an international incident that almost costs the ladies their lives, as their white water rafting trip is ambushed. The ladies can barely keep their heads above water as bullets from the killer's rifle puts a damper on their trip and holes in their raft, throwing them into the churning waters of the Rio Grande.

The author Margaret Searles bring us mystery and adventure, and into the southwest region of Texas just a rowboat ride across the Rio Grande from Mexico. With Mrs. Millet and Mrs. Hark we experience the lonely but beautiful vistas where a rocky outcropping is a display of art hung against an emptiness that only this Texas region can provide and murder can ruin.

A Cozy mystery, Tex-Mex style.


December 21, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Last Car to Elysian Fields: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

Author: James Lee Burke
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

LastcarNew Orleans is a place of painful memories for Detective Dave Robicheaux, and that has not changed in this novel of the series. Aided by his old friend, Clete Purcel, they are investigating the beating of another old friend, a Catholic Priest by the name of Jimmie Dolan. Clete and Dave have a very good idea who is ultimately responsible, but proof is elusive as ever and the case quickly stalls.

At the same time, back in New Iberia and Dave's home parish, three girls are killed in a drunk driving accident. The seventeen-year-old driver was the daughter of a local prominent physician who is incapable of accepting any possibility that his daughter, caught before for driving while intoxicated, could have made any mistake. He wants vengeance and blames police incompetence, but Dave doesn't want to just get the young clerk that sold the stuff. He wants proof to bring down the owner whom he suspects knew full well what was going on and had no problem with selling to minors. Before he can gather the proof he needs, the owner of the drive through store is dead and the enraged father is the suspect. But that would be simple and James Lee Burke books are always far from simple.

Throw in a toxic dump site, a decades old murder mystery, and his usual ingredients of child abuse, racism, pain, regret, and ghosts of the past, and the reader is faced with one of the darkest books produced by this author in a long time. Dave has plenty of reasons to be angry at the world, as made clear within the first few shocking pages. His answer to his pain this time is not to dive back into the bottle, something that has haunted him for years, but to instead obsessively work the cases, driven to find the truth and maybe self-destruct on purpose while he is at it. The result is a dark and twisting read as Dave attempts to deal with the pain - past and present.

While two of the main secondary characters are notable for their absence, most everyone else is back for this go-around. So too is Burke's obvious love for southern Louisiana as detailed in his elegant prose describing both the scenery and the past. At the same time, with just a few simple sentences, the author manages to convey both the beauty of an item as well as the dark side of the same item. It is a rare talent and one that should be appreciated by readers as they are pulled into this dark world.


December 17, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ten Big Ones: a Stephanie Plum Novel

Author: Janet Evanovich
Genre: Suspense
Reviewed by Kevin Tipple

12100402The latest is this long running series finds Stephanie Plum having one outrageous misadventure after another. She, somehow despite previous disasters and near misses along with some success, is still a Bond Enforcement Agent working for her cousin Vincent Plum. And she still manages to get herself into major trouble with or without Lulu's help. In this case, Lulu helped.

While standing in a parking lot debating lunch choices with Stephanie, Lulu decides to show Stephanie her gun. In so doing, she manages to shoot the rear tire of a bicycle leaned against the window of the local deli-mart. Seconds later, they witness the robbery of the deli-mart by a man in mask, known as the Red Devil robber. A number of things go wrong, including the fact that his escape vehicle, the bike, has a flat tire. In the ensuing chaos, not only does Stephanie lose her car to yet another fiery explosion, she can identify the robber. He is a member of the local gang known as the "Slayers." Of course, gangs thrive on violence and intimidation and they can't have Stephanie messing up their plans. So, while she is out chasing various people who failed to appear, the Slayers put out a contract on her life as well as three others.

All the usual characters are back in this adventure, which includes separate storylines on Grandma Mazur as well as Valerie and her love life. The sexual tension between Stephanie and Ranger continues while at the same time she might be finally ready to admit she loves Morelli. The humor is back as well, a hallmark of this series, with several downright hysterical scenes.

But, a word of warning as well. The risqué parts are back as well and more over the top with graphic descriptions than ever before. This is a trend that started several novels ago and shows no sign of stopping. As such, some of this may offend some readers. This is a good series but this novel certainly pushes the boundaries, as there is considerable sexual innuendo as well as graphic descriptions of suspects who have lost their pants, for one reason or another.

If you have read the series then you know what to expect. If you haven't, I would strongly suggest you start at the beginning, which was One For The Money. Not only because this is an ongoing series with continuous character development and exploits, but also because of the risqué factor.


December 10, 2004 in Suspense | Permalink | Comments (0)

Slow Kill

Author: Michael McGarrity
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Kevin Tipple

With his military wife and their new baby off at her duty station at the Pentagon, Santa Fe Police Chief Kevin Kerney takes some time off and goes to California to look at some horses. A friend and Kerney are going into business together and they need several quarter horses to serve as breeding stock. Kerney, on arrival in California, checks out the situation and goes to bed. The next morning he quickly becomes the number one suspect.

Kerney, by luck of the draw, is the first one to find the recently deceased Clifford Spalding. His wife, now a widow, happens to live in Santa Fe and is about Kerney's age. Like Kerney and his wife, Spaulding and his spent a lot of time apart. Those facts, as well as several other coincidences make Kerney a suspect as far as local law enforcement is concerned and Kerney has no choice but to investigate to clear his name.

In so doing, he uncovers clues to a separate case stretching back thirty years to the last days of the Vietnam War. As always, Kerney is a hands on investigator, set in his ways, and he manages to annoy quite a few folks in his search for the truth. But he knows only one way to do things and as such, this latest novel in the series is another riveting read.

This series features complex real characters that the reader quickly comes to care about. That fact, the obvious appreciation for the beauty of New Mexico and other parts, along with the complex mysteries and plenty of action, make every novel in this series just a bit better than the last. This latest effort is no exception and well worth your time.


December 10, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

R is for Ricochet

Author: Sue Grafton
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Kevin Tipple

RicochetThe job seems simple enough in the beginning. Kinsey Malone is to go to the California Institute for Women and pick up Reba Lafferty. Convicted of embezzlement, the daughter of wealthy Nord Lafferty is to be released early from prison on parole. Kinsey is to bring her back home, make sure she is settled in her father's house as she resumes her life, and complying with her parole instructions. Nord Lafferty has the money and is willing to pay for a job that will take just a few days.

And in the beginning, everything seems straightforward enough. Reba and Kinsey make a connection and Reba seems to be trying to adjust to being back out in the real world. Then, the man she went to prison for comes back in her life and the lies and deceit begin anew. Debts must be paid, and this time, Reba has a plan and drags Kinsey willingly into the middle of it.

This latest read from Sue Grafton becomes a complex novel on many different levels. Kinsey has a dark side to her, which is quickly exploited by Reba in a way never done before. In so doing, she and the reader are pulled into a murky world of relationships and money laundering where being a good person can get you killed in more ways than one.

This is a much better novel that several of the recent ones have been. While Kinsey still seems to make bad decisions from time to time, as any of us do, there isn't the emotional waffling that we have seen in the past. And while set in the same time frame as all the other novels, mid eighties, there is a sense in this one that she has learned a few things about herself along the way. The result is an enjoyable read.


December 10, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Degrees of Separation

Author: Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

Degrees This first book in the Falcon's Bend series opens with adoption case representative Stephan Kelley trying to convince himself he did the right thing by breaking up a pair of newborn twin girls and giving them to two different sets of parents. His guilt isn't simply from separating the twins, though. It's because one of the twins was born healthy and strong, and the other one small and sick. In the interest of keeping them both healthy, he assigned the twin who will need immediate medical care to a wealthy couple, while the strong and healthy twin got assigned to a poorer couple. And although the couple passed every possible check and test, Stephan can't seem to feel comfortable with them. As he drops the baby girl off with her new parents, it's not long before the reader feels equally uncomfortable too.

Cut to a young stripper. She's just broken up with her bouncer boyfriend because her other boyfriend, the club-owner, threatened her. On her way home from work, regretting her decision, she gets strangled to death.

Enter Detectives Pete Shasta and Daniel Vincent. They get assigned to the case, and it's not long before the trail leads them back to the strip club where the victim worked. Once there, they encounter the truly creepy and controlling Andre Trelawney. Besides having a strange svengali hold over the five dancers he employs at the club, a couple of whom appear to be grotesquely underage, he has another very curious relationship. His wife, the charming and demure Melody, is a twin to one of the dancers at the club, the harder-looking and acting Cherry.

Thus, the reader gets sucked into this mystery as surely and quickly as Dan and Pete do. This first book delivers a fast paced, riveting storyline wrapped in a well-crafted mystery that's sure to please fans of the genre. It also sets the stage nicely by introducing Shasta and Vincent. Though very different characters, they play well off each other and are both well realized within this engaging plot. This is an extremely promising first book, and if the series can retain this level of quality, it will surely pick up a nice, devoted fan base.


December 9, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Pacific

Author: G. Miki Hayden
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by Kevin Tipple

"A society that depended on companies for its daily sustenance could not mandate restrictions in those companies." (Page 28)
12010401Years ago, when I was a teenager and thought I knew it all, a certain domestic car company produced a car that they knew would detonate and kill passengers when struck from behind during an accident. That a certain number of people would die was considered acceptable by this company as a cost of doing business. Such a concept is the theme behind this highly disturbing, yet very enjoyable novel penned by G. Miki Hayden.

In this not too distant future, the NEW WORLD ORDER has actually come to pass. Along with the effects of a steadily increasing population and global warming, large monolithic corporations have completely replaced governments. National boundaries and interests no longer exist, and instead, corporations ensure peace and stability worldwide while taking care of all. Those that die, beyond those that die from natural aging, do so due to accidental technology glitches and the survivors are well paid. The world is a controlled safe place but dissent and freedom still simmer in mankind.

For Tanizaki Takashi, those issues do not exist, as he is a small part of the huge corporation known as Moritomo, and he is acutely aware of his place in it. Summoned to Singapore by his supervisor, Najita, he goes and follows rigid protocol. His role is what it is and Najita reminds him of that repeatedly before assigning him the task of finding a missing scientist, Dr. Sato. Dr. Sato has created a living weapon system that could be targeted to a number of variables, including a person's age, gender, race, etc. Dr. Sato may have taken a part of it with him and they want their property, both Dr. Sato and his weapon system, returned to them.

Takashi begins the hunt, which will lead him to the Moon and Moritomo's lunar colony. In so doing and while coming to terms with the realization that he is an expendable pawn in a high stakes power game, he begins to question his own life and reason for existence. When the pawn becomes self aware, it ceases to be a pawn and becomes something more.

Filled with social commentary about a world that may be coming, this intriguing science fiction mystery presents a dark tale that does not seem that far fetched at all. As the book moves forward, the levels of corporate deception become more complex as do the possibilities for escape. Ripped from his place in the world where he had become all too complacent, Takashi looks deeply into the abyss in search of himself. The question becomes: can he survive long enough to find the answers he seeks?


December 1, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)