Deadly Illusions

Author: Chester D. Campbell
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

Durban House

DeadlyThis soon to be released third book in the series finds Greg and Jill making things official by having opened their own private detective agency, McKenzie Investigations. While their office in a strip shopping center on the east side of Nashville, Tennessee is modest, it suits their purposes fine. It is there where they meet a walk-in client by the name of Molly Saint.

Molly has a problem with her husband, Damon Saint. She does not really know the man, even after several years of marriage. He never told her much about his past beyond the fact that he was a Vietnam vet and that he claimed to have done some sort of covert operations on behalf of the Government. Then there is the shadowy group he says he belongs to that consists of a number of former vets who occasionally need his help. While there were a lot of things she didn't know about him, or why he forbade her to go into the basement of their home for any reason, what has her concerned now is that his behavior has changed in recent weeks. While nothing has actually happened, she feels threatened by him. Greg does not really feel anything is going on but since Jill is concerned, they take the case.

Molly soon vanishes and as the McKenzies dig into Damon Saint's background while they look for her, it begins to look like she was right and her disappearance might have been foul play. At the same time, they are working a case of financial fraud at a local restaurant and Greg might have figured out who fired the fatal shot that took down the Federal Reserve Chairman at a local hotel. In short, the McKenzies have their hands full before Damon begins to get seriously annoyed with their snooping.

Picking up a short period after the very enjoyable Designed To Kill, this book continues the author's track record of strong writing, realistic characters and complex mysteries that makes this series so good. Greg and Jill are a very realistic pairing, especially to those readers that have been married quite a few years. The mysteries are always complex and twisting, and this one is no exception.

While this novel could be read as a stand alone, due to the frequent allusions and explanations of the earlier books in the series, it would be best to read them in order. Therefore, start with Secret Of The Scroll which introduces the McKenzies and others and then follow it with Designed to Kill, which will lead you right up to this novel. Regardless of what you do, enjoy these, as this is one author a reader can count on.


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February 8, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Carnosaur Crimes

Author: Christine Gentry
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

CarnosaurIntroduced in Mesozoic Murder, Ansel Phoenix returns and finds herself once again in the middle of a law enforcement investigation. This time, a badly burned body has been found hanging from her multi-foot high Allosaurus statue outside the local museum on Bureau of Land Management land. Apparently, a thief was trying to cut out dinosaur tracks from the stone and the machine exploded. The resulting fireball not only killed the thief but also threw him high into the air and into the gaping jaws of her statue.

In the aftermath, not only is she unable to repair the damage, but also the museum is closed indefinitely while various law enforcement agencies fight turf battles over who will handle the case. That is, until a small task force arrives, led by Special Agent Outerbridge of the FBI who claims immediate and total jurisdiction over everything. This case fits a pattern of dinosaur bone thefts across several Western states that seems to be feeding the growing market for dinosaur bones by rich collectors who don't care about the legality of ownership. With the BLM threatening to move the tracks permanently to protect them, as well as hurting the economic livelihood of the town by doing so and closing the museum, Ansel agrees to use her Indian heritage and her dinosaur expertise to assist the FBI and their planned sting of the poachers.

Combining some science concerning dinosaurs and their history as well as her obvious love for the Montana countryside, the author has created a very enjoyable and worthy sequel. Ansel Phoenix is a strong, talented woman, yet utterly realistically drawn as she ponders the choices she must make, romantic and otherwise, as the novel moves forward. At the same time, this work features an intriguing cast of supporting characters, some familiar and many new that are all realistically drawn and never once play on stereotypes.

The complexity of the characters is in direct balance to the complexity of the story. Once it seems clear that things are going a certain way, the author deftly performs a slight of hand and shifts the focus of the work elsewhere. Appearances are deceiving and just like in real life, Ansel begins to wonder whom she can really trust. The resulting violent showdown in the badlands of Montana creates quite a thrill ride for the reader and caps off a very good book.


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February 8, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Acts Of Judas

Author: Georgiann Baldino
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

WhooDoo Mysteries

Cover artFor archeologist Linda Rhodes, it seems that everyone and everything is conspiring against her and the expedition she leads in the Jordanian desert. The attacks of September 11, 2001 have yet to happen but the old blood feuds, religious hatreds and distrust that fuel everything in the Middle East continue unabated. Her expedition has been attacked by the weather, a camel spider, food poisoning, deliberate stupidity by some expedition members and a host of other problems. Still, she persevered in her search despite all obstacles, including the sudden arrival of the Jordanian Police and a minister, Dr. Fawzi, to investigate the latest problems that have occurred.

While the police take away a large group of her expedition for questioning, Dr. Fawzi and his bodyguard assistants are still present when the expedition finds the object they have been searching the desert for these past many weeks. Buried in a cave, a relic that seems to be a scroll written by Judas explaining his actions is found sealed in a jar. Beyond determining that the ancient text, which will need extensive work to be translated, seems to be consistent for the time period, little more is determined before Dr Fawzi wields his considerable governmental authority and takes possession of the artifact.

His plans to move the artifact to Amman for study and safe keeping, away from outside influences, are quickly thwarted by the arrival of gun-toting terrorists. After removing the token resistance permanently, they take the artifact and vanish into the desert. In the resulting aftermath, as an investigation in this matter is conducted by the Jordanian government, Linda is captured by members of the same terrorist group. They need a translator and have decided she is to be their translator. If she refuses they will execute her. She knows once she finishes they will execute her. But in the meantime, she has a chance to work with the ancient scroll and attempt to translate a document that will fundamentally change mankind's understanding of the history of the Middle East.

On one level this is a thriller featuring chase and adventure across the Middle East, along with a hint of romance. On another level, this is a complex work that provides a deep insight into the religious differences in the region that shape behavior and politics still today. Using her extensive research into various religions via a number of sources, the author explains the religious and cultural history of a large portion of the Middle East while at the same time telling an engrossing story. This is not something that is an easy thing to do, but in this case, the teaching and the fiction blend almost seamlessly together. In so doing, the author has created a read that is a very good book and leaves the reader with plenty to think about after turning the last page.

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January 31, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Merry Mascot

Author: Bobby Jaye Allen
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

MerrymascotFor Detective Brady Kinkaid life has been pretty good lately. The small town life of Early, Michigan suits him well and he likes working in the Police Department. He has turned fifty and despite minor concerns about his age is handling himself well. Then there is the fact that he has found love in the form of his fellow Detective, Alice Drinker. While both are very happy, neither one is entirely sure of the other's actions, since both have been burned so badly before. The death of someone will once again have a lasting impact on both of them and those they know.

As students and staff at small Brewster State in the neighboring town of Brewster get ready to celebrate making the final sixteen of the current NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, their mascot is found dead. Professor Didi Terry, who doubled as the school's mascot, has been found hung in the school's bell tower. But, whoever set it up to appear as a suicide botched it badly. It was murder and Detective Brady begins to work the case. So too does Geraldine Pozy, ace reporter for the local paper, the "Early Eagle."

Before long, against a backdrop of small town politics and the basketball tournament, Geraldine and Brady begin to uncover clues from their opposite positions in the case that point towards a possible suspect. They aren't the only ones and soon a killer has to take matters in hand once again to cover up the original crime. But cover-ups and taking care of the messy little details can get easily complicated.

Everyone is back in this cozy style mystery, which follows On The Chopping Block. The romance between Alice and Brady continues, as does the one between Geraldine and Lincoln despite the occasional stumbles in each relationship. So too does the author's ability to keep readers guessing the identity of the mastermind which is hidden skillfully right to the end. Fans of this series won't be disappointed in this latest installment and new readers will enjoy this tale of murder in a small town against the backdrop of politics and sports.


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January 23, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Still Life With Crows

Author: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kim Richards

Still Life With Crows CoverThe place is rural Kansas. A small town named Medicine Creek. Gruesome murders have begun and so have the rumors. Is it the work of Indian Ghost Warriors?  A curse laid long ago? Is this a serial murderer? Is it an outsider or someone who lives in Medicine Creek? Unusual tidbits bring out Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s most interesting hero, FBI Agent Pendergast.  You might remember him from these authors’ previous works like Cabinet of Curiosities.
 
This time he is paired with a local Goth girl as they investigate a rival town’s interest in seeing Medicine Creek fail to become the testing grounds for a nearby university’s genetically enhanced crops. Together they explore the many avenues of possibilities which take them through underground caverns and a closer look at the area’s legends. They discover the murderer’s identity but are surprised right along with the reader as to why the victims were killed in the ways they were.
 
This is an excellent book filled with intrigue, action and suspense. A great story to curl up with on a cold winter night.

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January 12, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pier Pressure

Author: Dorothy Francis
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

PierpressureIn this latest, soon to be released novel from author Dorothy Francis, readers are returned to Key West to consider a different heroine and supporting cast than in Conch Shell Murder. This time it is Keely Moreno, foot reflexologist, who faces death, romance, and the daily stress of living in paradise. Despite the fact that her abusive ex husband lives on Key West, and could be ignoring the restraining order against him, Keely has made a new life for herself and is doing rather well.

That is, until on a visit to a patient's home for a scheduled appointment, she finds Margaux Ashford dead from a gunshot wound. While the list of suspects for killing the wealthy woman is long, no one else's gun was used to fire the fatal shot. That fact, as well as the fact that she found the body make Keely the number one suspect in the eyes of the police. Knowing how the local police operate and being not at all impressed, Keely, with a little pushing from her friends, decides to investigate the case herself by asking the suspects, many of whom are her patients, where they were at the estimated time of death. As everyone knows, asking questions can get one into trouble fast, which is exactly what happens for Kelly.

Written in the same style as her cozy, Conch Shell Murder, Dorothy Francis shows her love of Key West. Lush descriptions of the area abound, as do the characters that populate her novel. Many of them are amusingly eccentric and one gets the feeling they are based on real people the author has known. The list of suspects is long and often entertaining as their various eccentricities are covered. At the same time, underneath it all is a tight mystery that provides a rich and enjoyable read for adults of any age.


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January 5, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (1)

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.


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

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.


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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.

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

Slow Kill

Author: Michael McGarrity
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Kevin Tipple

12100401
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.


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