Monday, November 23, 2020

Newest Mickey Haller Crime Fiction from Michael Connelly, THE LAW OF INNOCENCE

 [Originally published in New York Journal of Books]

“Connelly spins a story where the risk is life itself, and the collateral damage may be integrity. Watching Mickey Haller work out how to balance the two makes this a compelling crime novel that lingers in value long after the last page.”

What is the difference between innocent and not guilty? Michael Connelly’s The Law of Innocence, extending his “Lincoln Lawyer” series, confronts Mickey Haller with that important issue, in painful ways. Mickey knows he hasn’t murdered a former client who never paid the bill for Mickey’s defense work. But when the man’s corpse is found by police, jammed in the trunk of the Lincoln that Mickey drives, with the killing bullet smashed on Mickey’s own garage floor … who’s going to believe he didn’t do the job?

Connelly writes two significant California mystery series. One features police investigator Harry Bosch, always in pursuit of criminals and punishment for crime. Mickey, on the other hand, is a defense attorney whose demand for justice takes a very different form: If the State can’t prove a case against his clients, they shouldn’t lose their freedoms. That’s the “not guilty” side: when a jury concludes the crime hasn’t been successfully (“beyond reasonable doubt”) pinned on someone.

The frustration for Mickey in this book is, he knows he’s innocent. A handful of people—his staff, his ex-wife Maggie, his daughter, and thank goodness, his half-brother Harry Bosch—accept this innocence. But the frame against him is so clever and complete that even his attorney friends have doubts about him.

In placing Mickey in the hands of the law and a furious prosecutor who’s convinced he committed the crime, Bosch sends his protagonist to prison for months. Living on three meals a day of bologna sandwiches makes Mickey’s clothing hang loose, and he struggles to stay alive as the people he’s offended in the past, including sheriffs who run the prison system, see a chance for brutal revenge.

Connelly spins this series as a first-person narrative, which slows the pace. There are plenty of action scenes, but also a lot more inner conversation than in the Harry Bosch books. Micky reflects:

I had no illusions about my innocence. I knew it was something only I could know for sure. And I knew that it wasn’t a perfect shield against injustice. It was no guarantee of anything. The clouds were not going to open for some sort of divine light of intervention.

I was on my own.

… In the law of innocence, for every man not guilty of a crime, there is a man out there who is. And to prove true innocence, the guilty man must be found and exposed to the world.

The back story of the murder itself—who profits, from what looks like a pure case of revenge against Mickey?—must be determined in order to find that “guilty man.” Working under a near-impossible deadline, and directed by Mickey from his cell much of the time, his team quickly finds promising threads. But they lead, in multiple ways, to dead ends.

Along the way, two big changes take place in the people around him, as Mickey sweats his way to discovery of the pieces: his half-brother Harry Bosch aggressively takes his side (even financially), and Mickey falls back in love with this daughter’s mother. The feeling might even be mutual. Will it make them more successful in solving the crime in time to get Mickey off the hot seat, though?

Passionate followers of the Bosch series may not find much to enjoy in The Law of Innocence: Bosch’s appearances are brief and not very interesting, compared to the character himself. That’s part of the cost of Connelly’s choice to write Mickey “from the inside.” The criminal enterprise that forms the back story of the murder is also rather weak. That said, Connelly carries out what he’s endlessly powerful in doing: He spins a story where the risk is life itself, and the collateral damage may be integrity. Watching Mickey Haller work out how to balance the two makes this a compelling crime novel that lingers in value long after the last page.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Brief Mention: New Cozy Vet Mystery from Eileen Brady, SADDLED WITH MURDER

Eileen Brady already has four earlier "Kate Turner, DVM, Mysteries" from Poisoned Pen Press, but with the press transition to an imprint of Sourcebooks, Brady's books are also making a transition, positioning SADDLED WITH MURDER as a "cozy." Making it especially appealing for this season is its Christmas theme, twisted with an office holiday party that goes frighteningly awry.

Kate's staffers open up a game about saying out loud a "selfish Santa" Christmas wish. Frazzled and exhausted, Kate is foolish enough to wish she didn't have to deal with a couple of the practice's most challenging (human) clients -- and a staffer catches this on video and releases it on social media, without thinking about what could follow.

Soon Kate herself is taking deep breaths but unable to corral the tumbling emergencies: 

After a few more breaths I'd started to calm down, when the speakers came to life with a loud and lively chorus of "On the First Day of Christmas." I replaced their words with my own.

Two dead clients, one ex-boyfriend, and a present dumped in the trash.

From tender moments with dogs and other companion animals, to a struggle with an out-of-control adopted wild horse, to the machinations of staff, family, and boyfriends, Brady provides a generous set of veterinary and very human sidelights to her mystery in process. 

SADDLED WITH MURDER is a treat for animal lovers and for collectors of veterinary, horse, or dog mysteries, and a delightful lightweight treat for relaxing before, during, or after Christmas. 

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Brief Mention: THIRST FOR JUSTICE, Medical and Environmental Thriller by David R. Boyd

Canadian author David R. Boyd has an interesting background for his fiction: A UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, and an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability (University of British Columbia), his online presence features nine works of nonfiction, almost entirely environmental.

In his debut thriller, THIRST FOR JUSTICE, Boyd presents a trauma surgeon struggling to meet overwhelming health care needs in the Congo. Michael McDougall is gifted in the operating room -- but like the other volunteers for the fictional International Medical Assistance Foundation, he's seeing casualties that result from simple needs for food and clean water. By the end of the first chapter, we also know he's a desperate risk taker on behalf of his patients, opening up his own blood vessel to create an emergency blood transfusion.

But it's the events of the next chapter that turn his mind, soul, and life inside-out. Caught out on the road by a merciless crew of Mai Mai brigands, he sees his driver murdered, his colleague raped, and he can't shake the notion that his own "by the book" response to a demand for money has resulted in these horrors. Sent home to America to recuperate from the trauma, he instead spirals into both posttraumatic stress disorder and the conviction that he can hold the US government to ransom and "make" it pay for clean water for destitute populations.

Boyd presents a neat plot possibility for Michael's threat to his country, and the plan initially works smoothly. But then things twist far out of shape, as both corruption and brutality in the halls of power distort Michael's intended results and turn him into an international criminal.

Although Boyd is a skillful narrator, his shifts among points of view and his portraits of power both suffer from his lack of expertise in this field. The book's ending is also a bit hard to buy into. Then again, Michael Crichton's books had similar issues, and look how people have enjoyed those, anyway!

If you are collecting Canadian mystery authors, or environmental thrillers, THIRST FOR JUSTICE belongs on your shelf. Since Boyd's fiction craft is still a work in progress, this won't make a casual gift book -- but on the other hand, it's always exciting to snag a debut where there's a good chance the author's going to continue to mature and deepen. This is one of those opportunities.

Published by ECW Press of Toronto. 

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Crime Fiction from Canada: RUNNING FROM THE DEAD, Mike Knowles

Other than Louise Penney's work, books by Canadian authors are often slow to reach the US. I was glad to receive (from ECW Press) a copy of the eighth book by Mike Knowles, RUNNING FROM THE DEAD, for review this season. The book came out in June, and it's well worth tracking down via bookstore order on an online retailer.

Private investigator Sam Jones has spent six years searching for an abducted 8-year-old. He's taken plenty of other cases during that time but hunting for Ruth Verne's child never left his priority list, and he regularly reports in to the grieving but ever-hopeful mom.

What he certainly never expected was losing his own tight control upon discovering what had happened to the child and confronting the perpetrator. As Jones starts to face his own shattering reaction, he believes he has only a short time—maybe days—before he'll have to answer for what he's done, to the police and the justice system.

So when he finds a cryptic pair of scrawls in a coffee-shop bathroom that sound like they're from a girl or young woman being held captive, his inner clock starts ticking: If he couldn't save Ruth Verne's son, can he at least rescue someone else's daughter?

Of course it's more complicated than that, and more horrifying, too, as Jones digs into the worst corners of his city on the hunt for the young victim who's asked for help. 

And he can't get away from what the young women's former foster mom says to him:

Norah wiped away her tears with the back of her hand. "You're not here for her. You're here for you."

"Yes," Jones said.

"You're here for hope."

Jones nodded.

Norah took two fists of his coat. "I don't care if you're not here for her. I don't care, because you think you can bring her back. She's still out there and you think you can bring her back. Please—please bring her back to me."

"I'll try."

"Do better than that. Promise me."

Jones gently took hold of Norah's hands and pulled her fists away from his chest. "This world hates promises. All I can do is try."

Knowles leavens the plot by including some unforgettable characters, from the barista willing to pitch in, to an aging reprobate doing his best to cast off his daughter's efforts to make him go straight. RUNNING FROM THE DEAD swerves back and forth between emotion and action, with tight twists of plot and highly satisfying surprises. 

It may have taken a while to get hold of a Mike Knowles crime novel—but now I'll be watching hard for more. And by the way, if you need a comparable to think about ... think Travis McGee, but even better.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Stuart Woods Reinvents James Bond in SHAKEUP

 [Originally published at New York Journal of Books]

“Woods provides a lively romp of a book, but it’s built for entertainment, not solving puzzles. Pick up a copy to update your sense of why James Bond was and is adored.”

The newest Stone Barrington mystery from Stuart Woods, Shakeup, offers a lively fantasy world of being rich, attractive, and surrounded by great friends and wonderful lovers. Add a touch of crime and investigation, and you have a perfect luxurious visit to a New York City version of Bond—James Bond.

Spoiler alert in terms of earlier books in the series: Stone’s longtime and delightful lover Holly Barker has indeed reached the US Presidency, so Shakeup opens with the Inauguration. Of course, Stone’s not obvious about his relationship with Holly in public, but he’s there for the big event, witnessing (in his world) the second woman to  step into the top US leadership role. It’s all good, including the warmth between Stone and Holly, and the civilized game plan of neither person being sexually exclusive when the other one’s not in town.

The tough part begins when Stone returns to his hotel suite and finds a newly dead woman on the floor in front of him.

Good thing Dino Bacchetti is both Stone’s suitemate and able to directly call in the chief of the DC police, Deborah Myers. Dino is also Stone’s former partner from their New York Police Department days. That means he’s one of the few that Stone can entirely trust, as the victim’s identity and the several individuals with motive to frame Stone become clear.

Meanwhile, Stone’s adjustment to his own new situation involves finding federal agents at his own home.

“‘Oh, hello, Mr. Barrington. I’m Agent Jeffs.’

‘Hello, Agent Jeffs,’ Stone said. Jeffs holstered his weapon and shook Stone’s hand. ‘I’m alone, so you can stand down.’

‘I’m afraid not, sir. Washington has listed your residence and the Carlyle Hotel as places frequently visited by the president, so we’ll have one person on duty here at all times.’

… It was damned inconvenient, Stone thought.”

Rearranging almost everything at this point, including how he and Dino go out to dinner and where, keeps Stone hopping. So do the women in his life; his staff is adept at quickly rearranging his place, all fresh and welcoming, for the next one arriving. It’s all a sweet life of affection and pleasure—or, as Stuart Woods describes one of the new president’s arrivals where Stone is staying, “They enjoyed a long kiss, then more of each other.”

Interrupted, of course, by gunshots and another death or two, scattered around.

Things quickly heat up, and only Stone and Dino are really on top of all the possible suspects and motives involved, until the President sends her own powerful help to pitch in.

Don’t count on solving the crime before Stone; Woods provides a lively romp of a book, but it’s built for entertainment, not solving puzzles. Pick up a copy to update your sense of why James Bond was and is adored, and have fun imagining how the other half might investigate and celebrate.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

First Texas Red River Mystery from Reavis Z. Wortham, THE ROCK HOLE (Re-Release)

At first it sounds confusing -- THE ROCK HOLE is the first of seven Texas Red River mysteries from Reavis Z. Wortham, with the eighth one coming out next January. So how is number one an October 202 release? Answer: It's a Re-release. Here's the explanation from the author's website:

"His first award-winning novel in the Red River series, The Rock Hole, was originally released in 2011. With the merger of Poisoned Pen Press and Sourcebooks, this debut novel re-releases in October, 2020, with a fresh, updated cover and an introduction by legendary Texas author, Joe R. Lansdale."

Now that we've got that taken care of, let's get to the book. In the summer of 1964, 10-year-old Top arrives at his grandparents' home up on the Red River, for some stability and good cooking. His Grandpa is the local constable, and soon Top is seeing more of the exciting and terrifying world of deadly crime than most kids get exposed to. Constable Ned Perkins, as Grandpa is known to adults, is on duty to take a look at a dead dog on their way home, the fifth killed, and Top gets a look at the horrible carcass -- but more importantly, he gets trusted with a secret, as his Grandpa says, "That's your Uncle Cody's bird dog someone stole out of his pen last week. But don't you say anything to him about it. I'll tell him." When Top asks why, Grandpa replies, "Because I said not to."

Top, of course, has no idea of the significance of someone escalating in grisly kills, or of how close and meaningful the kills are to his own family. But his Grandpa has. "Townspeople on official business passed Ned, recognizing the familiar constable elected only six years after Bonnie and Clyde passed through town." And when Ned checks in with his ally, Judge O.C. Rains, the two men pool their memories, goaded by a news clipping left behind with the dog's carcass.

With two fingers, O.C. pulled the newspaper clipping out of the envelope and spread it on the scarred desk in front of him. He waved at half a dozen flies that were immediately attracted to the odor. "You don't think he'll go to killing people now, do you?"

"I don't think anything yet, except this is cranking up a notch. He's liable to do anything."

And sure enough, the killer does escalate. Disturbingly, he's aiming at the circle of people closest to Ned, and Top and the other kids around him are quickly at risk. So is Top's Uncle Cody, his "favorite black sheep relative," a Vietnam veteran with an exciting tendency to get into trouble.

The tension ramps up, and it's hard to set the book down, since the action is nonstop. For Top, every twist, from Uncle Cody's lady friend and dance hall fist fight to his grandfather's law enforcement allies. could bring disaster. "Constable Raymond Chase passed the highway from the other direction, so I knew some people were going to jail. I hoped he wouldn't come to the house and get Cody, too."

Hard for some of us to recognize 1964 as the distance in the past that it actually represents, from "the War" to the slow inching along of "color" barriers at the time. THE ROCK HOLE will refresh all of that, while laying out an action thriller from two points of view and tearing open childhood's tender observations. Shelve this next to To Kill a Mockingbird for a look at another side of personal darkness and small-town caring. 

It makes sense that C. J. Box blurbed this book -- not just for the terrain, but for the flawed and family-bound people in it. Worth reading without distraction, so go ahead and spring for the newly released chunky paperback and clear

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

London Historical Mystery, MURDER AT QUEEN'S LANDING from Andrea Penrose

[Originally published in New York Journal of Books]

“Murder at Queen’s Landing is a high-paced adventure with a light feathering of attraction between the protagonists. After all, it’s hard to take time for courting when you’re protecting the people you care for, in the face of a powerful criminal mastermind.”

This is the fourth in Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford & Sloane historical mystery series, as Lady Charlotte Sloane takes the bold step of re-entering London society in Regency England. Her partner in crime solving, Lord Wrexford, has a private laboratory for his chemical research, as well as wealth and grand homes. His description of Charlotte is “A lady of infinite textures, woven of complexities and conflicts … After all, she clothed herself in quicksilver shadows.”

But in Murder at Queen’s Landing, to resume her position in polite society, Charlotte needs to set down her sardonic quill, and instead summon courage for a new venue:

“Lady Charlotte Sloane slowed her steps and drew a deep breath as she eyed the ornate archway leading into the ballroom. Music floated out of the open doors, the notes twirling a merry dance with the effervescent laughter ad discreet clink of champagne glasses … It was the stuff of every wellborn girl’s dreams … To her horror, Charlotte felt a prickling against her eyelids. Damnation—I ran all the way to Italy to escape living in just such a gilded cage.”

Fortunately, even a society ball can be a source of intrigue, and soon Charlotte realizes that her friend Lady Cordelia, who in turn is a brilliant mathematician, is involved in a murderous plot. But is she responsible for the death? What about Lady Cordelia’s brother Woodbridge? When these siblings vanish amid secrets and revelations surrounding a high-finance trading scheme, even Charlotte has grave doubts.

Lord Wrexford, in turn, has the benefit of a masculine world of assistants like his valet Tyler, and worldly insights. When he considers the banking list unearthed, he’s more prone to deep thought:

“He drew in a pensive breath. And released it in a low snort. ‘Is it just me, or do you also smell a rat?’

Tyler took a sip of his brandy. ‘The odor is definitely teasing at the nostrils.’ He turned the glass in his hands. ‘But if it was planted, who did it? And why?’”

What neither of these high-born sleuths could have guessed is that the complexities of finance would pit them against some of the most potent forces of England, including the government-shielded East India Company. When this direction becomes clear, Lord Wrexford’s valet admits, “Unlike our previous opponents, the East India Company has both the resources and the power to crush anyone who stands in the way of their plans.”

Each sleuth must recruit team members to tackle this, and Charlotte’s own, whether garbed in silks or recruited from the boys of the street, bring passionate loyalty and insider information to the tasks ahead. In addition, Charlotte’s secret livelihood, crafting clever and cutting cartoons about the figures around her, can slice into even the realms of power.

Penrose’s writing is tight, smooth, the experienced narrative of a seasoned storyteller. Although her back list includes many a Regency romance, Murder at Queen’s Landing is a high-paced adventure with a light feathering of attraction between the protagonists. After all, it’s hard to take time for courting when you’re protecting the people you care for, in the face of a powerful criminal mastermind.

However, the book’s ending hints not only at sequels to come, but at a deeper commitment between the daring and dashing investigators—one adventure at a time.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Second Forensics Mystery from Sara E. Johnson, THE BONES REMEMBER (New Zealand)

Ready for some armchair travel with a hint of JAWS? Sara E. Johnson provides the ride in her second New Zealand-set Alexa Glock Forensics Mystery, THE BONES REMEMBER. Once you discover, with this dauntless forensic investigator, the wilds of Stewart Island, you'll want more pages. And the shark attacks and treachery along the way will keep the pages turning.

Never heard of Stewart Island? It's not fictional -- it's the third largest land mass making up New Zealand, and it's challenging to get to and very, very cold even in summer. On the wild ferry ride, Glock's already coming to grips with the local controversy over "cage diving," a way to see sharks close up. It's not just the presence of tourists -- the 300-plus full-time locals are dependent on their money, anyway -- but the sharks get teased onto coming to the cages, through baiting that's just enough to leave them hungry, and some of the locals feel the sharks then become more dangerous for local divers and anglers.

Alexa is on assignment, her first time being sent a substantial distance by the Forensic Service Center in Auckland where she's managed to find work. An expert in the forensics of teeth, she'll have a chance to extend her experience to shark bites and related murders, starting with a body some distance into the extensive Department of Conservation lands. Is the death hunting related? Animal caused? The body's on a pile of kelp, and at first glance looks like a mutilated seal. Alexa asks the question pertinent to her examination:

"How much time do we have with the tide?"

 "Fifteen, twenty minutes."

The examination would need to be quick. Cause and time of death were her main goals. Massive tissue and blood loss, from the looks of it, for cause, and time of death? She looked for a watch on the victim's wrist. There was only one wrist left, and no watch—rarely was TOD that simple. Body temperature may have been influenced by water temperature. She gently lifted the man's right arm, noting rigor mortis was presnt. The man had been dead anywhere from six to forty-eight hours. It was a start, but she wondered how much of that time he'd been immerse or beached. Cold water would delay rigor mortis, so she guessed he had been beached for at least six hours. Probably washed up during the night.

She backed up and looked around, at the beach, at the bystanders watching, at the expanse of Pacific hiding the monster responsible for this carnage. She photographed the body from different angles. "Sketch the scene, please," she told Constable Kopae, who had joined them. A sketch would provide depth of field that photos couldn't.

 Wallace interrupted. "Can you tell if the bloke was Maori?"

That's an important question, but the answer will have to wait—pretty rough on the families waiting in the village for word of who this is. Meanwhile, a shark expert with his own show has arrived on the island, with his own agenda. And a different way of seeing things.

Duffy came close. "Mother of God." Against the white sheet, the plundered eye socket gaped like violent art. "The shark clamped the head in his jaws," Duffy said his voice so close Alexa could feel warm puffs. "It's called the killing bite. Then comes the lateral head-shake, which ruptures the neck. It's broken, yeah?'

She reached her hands under the paper cover and gently manipulated the spinal cord. Rag doll snapped, the image of a shark with a man's head clamped in its jaws, body whipping back and forth, flashed in her mind. The floor undulated. She grabbed the exam bed to keep from crumpling.

Johnson's abundant details of forensics, crime investigation, and New Zealand itself make her crime writing authoritative and intriguing. She leavens this with quick twists of plot and suspects, and a minor thread of romance, as Alexa ponders whether she wants a romantic connection with Detective Inspector Bruce Horne (see the first book in this series, Molten Mud Murder). When Horne takes over her island investigation, it's just in time to keep her from seriously overreaching her position. And that too is a pleasure -- that the many mistakes of amateur sleuths are replaced in Johnson's crime novels by expertise, eagerness, and racing forward.

Johnson steps carefully around potential issues of cultural appropriation; it would take the expert eye, of course, of a Maori reader to say whether she has fully avoided it, but casual readers will probably be comfortable with the distance she has selected for this New Zealand exploration.

The series is published by Poisoned Pen Press, a Sourcebooks imprint; add it to the TBR stack for enjoyable reading with a less common setting and a mostly sensible sleuth.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

"Rachel Savernake Golden Age Mystery" MORTMAIN HALL, Martin Edwards

The "Golden Age" mysteries from the 1920s and 1930s elevate a sense of style, although which style depended on which continent the authors called home. A striking number of women's names are among the top writers of that period, a good reminder that feminism was neither new nor fragile at that point. Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham were among the British authors (along with Phillip MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, Freeman Wills Crofts, and more). The American authors included John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and Erle Stanley Gardner, and some like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain introduced what's still known as hard-boiled style.

So by placing his Rachel Savernake series of mysteries as "Golden Age," Martin Edwards gives himself a lot to live up to! Book 1 of the series, Gallows Court, was a bold start.

In MORTMAIN HALL, "nice guy" British news reporter Jacob Flint is still struggling to develop front-page stories for his London paper. What seems like an accidental connection with a spectator from the courtroom becomes ominous, though, when he learns that Mrs. Dobell has a serious chip on her shoulder about Judge Savernake, father of the woman Jacob most admires (and, truth be told, fears). Mrs. Dobell continues:

"I believe you are acquainted with the late judge's daughter." The woman's sharp chin lifted. "Rachel Savernake."

He stared. How did Mrs Dobell know of his connection with Rachel?

He cleared his throat. "That's right."

She relaxed into a mischievous smile. "Next time you speak to Miss Savernake, please tell her to get in touch with me at the Circe Club. I should like to talk to her about murder."

With Rachel's somewhat cryptic hints to propel his research, Jacob quickly discovers that the odd and rather threatening Mrs Dobell has re-created herself from a victim into an expert, an author on murder and murderers. "Her single-mindedness reminded him of Rachel. But what had inspired such devotion to the study of crime and the machinery of law and justice?"

Edwards weaves a clever mystery that reaches its peak in a country-house scene, classic for the Golden Age genre. His twists and red herrings are neatly placed. He provides a parallel story in the behind-the-scenes machinations of Rachel and her "servants," who are always at least a mile ahead of the often clueless (but kind) Jacob. Rachel Savernake's back-story in crucial to understanding her maneuvers, and is not completely revealed here, so readers will enjoy MORTMAIN HALL more if they've read Gallows Court; it would be wise to purchase the two books at once if you're new to this series.

It seems likely that Edwards will continue to rise as an author, and if his path includes more of the edgy nastiness of Rachel Savernake, the books will be worth savoring as an arc of development of both characters and author. [The Poisoned Pen Press imprint of Sourcebooks is the publisher.]

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.


Hauntingly Delicious Irish Crime Fiction: THE TRAVELLER AND OTHER STORIES, Stuart Neville

Devouring and pondering the character-rich crime novels from Stuart Neville has been a delight since his debut in 2009 with The Ghosts of Belfast. Not only does he give us criminals and investigators torn by their loyalties and losses, but he evokes the abiding presence of The Troubles — Ireland's violent internal war — as a force that nurtures long-term resentment, revenge, and personal damage. When his characters brush up against an opposite force such as redemption, it's often with a raised shoulder or calloused fingers.

After interrupting this string of powerful novels with a couple of thrillers in a different direction (under the nom-de-plume Haylen Beck), Neville returns this season to his earlier characters and scenes in THE TRAVELLER AND OTHER STORIES. Of course, of course, this author must have written short fiction along the way, but it's been less visible. Now the stories are gathered for easy access, along with a hitherto-unpublished novella, The Traveller. In his introduction, Neville notes that it is 

a response to the messages I've received over the years asking what happened to Jack Lennon and his daughter, Ellen, after the events of The Final Silence. Although I've always known exactly where Jack wound up—the coastal village of Cushenden, working as a security guard—I'd put off writing about it for several years This collection  offered the opportunity to finally put that right, as well as tie up several loose ends, including the eponymous villain coming back to take his revenge.

Each of the dozen shorter tales offers insight into other characters, suspense and delight in the reading, and a sideways squint into the author's diverse interests. "The Last Dance," following up on the life of Gerry Fegan from The Ghosts of Belfast, is a great gift to Neville's regular readers.

If you want to give friends an unexpected and highly memorable trick-or-treat, get a couple of extra copies of this collection. Make sure to ink your name into your own copy, so it won't walk away lightly. It will be, indeed, haunted.

[Released this week from Soho Crime, an imprint of Soho Press, with a fascinating foreword by the remarkable John Connolly.]

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.