Monday, August 31, 2020

Billy Boyle World War II Mystery #15, THE RED HORSE, from James R. Benn

How long can a mystery series about six years of warfare last? How complicated can the plots become, when we all "know the ending" -- our side won?

The answer that James R. Benn makes me think of is, how many people have complicated stories of the war? (Hint: Many thousands.) Well then, that's how many mysteries there may be room for along the way.

THE RED HORSE takes two enthralling facets of the British side of the war -- the use of an asylum as a recovery center for people whose information and importance shouldn't be risked in ordinary medical care, and the espionage teams playing back and forth between the Allies and the Axis -- to spin a risky and highly suspenseful tale of detection that our investigator, Captain Billy Boyle, feels compelled to sort out. Not only is the conduct of the war at stake, but so are his friends. And in every James Benn mystery, those friendships forged in mutual risk are the vital threads of the action.

In the preceding Billy Boyle mystery, Boyle raced around occupied Paris confronting crime and trying to liberate his beloved Diana. Reaching the end of When Hell Struck Twelve didn't resolve all of Boyle's issues, and the new book opens with his struggles to get hold of himself again, as he's locked away in an asylum where doctors may be trying to wipe out his memories, as he sees it: He's witnessing extensive forces of guards, and terrifying maneuvers around him. On the way to an appointment with the psychologist in charge, he admits to himself that he's "scared as hell." And against his own inner rules, he admits out loud:

"Everything's wrong. Shattered. I don't know how to get back. It feels like it's going to be like this forever."

"When you were brought here, you were severely exhausted, in a state of profound confusion," Robinson said. "It takes a while to come back from that. You were physically and emotionally spent. Add to that the effects of the drugs you'd taken, and anyone would have a hard time."

"It was only a few pep pills, Doc, come on."

"You continue to minimize the seriousness of the drugs you took. It was methamphetamine, and from what you said, you took enough to win the Kentucky Derby without a horse. Just because the Germans gave them to their troops doesn't mean they're safe. We're talking about Nazis, remember."

All of Billy's instincts for self-preservation argue against letting the doctor try the rest cure suggested, a medically induced sleep for some 40 hours, to reset his mind. But there are two vitally important things Billy needs to do: find a way to help his very close friend Kaz recover from a heart ailment, and resume the effort to rescue his beloved. When it looks like he can't do those without taking the cure, he yields—and for a while, even the reader won't know whether he's made the right choice.

As it turns out, some things go well from that cure. But not everything he's "witnesssed" while his mind was malfunctioning was a delusion: He's seen a death that looks increasingly like murder, and even for the sake of helping his friends, Billy can't let go of his hunt for the criminal and justice:

So far, there was nothing anyone had said about [the victim] Holland that hinted at a motive. Or even a relationship with a single person at Saint Albans.

Except for Doc Robinson, and he wasn't talking. From what I'd learned, Holland was likely to have been as uncommunicative with him in his sessions as he was the rest of the time. Maybe the files would tell the real story.

Maybe not. After all, the SOE and the OSS were not known for their fidelity to the truth.

Of course, Billy recognizes the kinds of trade-offs being made around him. And he's honest about his own limitations: "In a place so far down in my heart and soul that I might never find my way back from it, I could sacrifice hundreds of people, maybe thousands, to get Diana back ... they could all vanish in a flash if it would bring Diana safely home from Ravensbrück."

Fortunately, he won't have to go that far. But he will have to convince his superiors that a crime (or more than one) has been committed, that he's recovered enough to be the investigator, and that he's willing to put himself into the hands of the asylum staff again, to get to the truth.

James R. Benn is in no hurry to "finish" Billy Boyle's war; there are many marvelous quirks and twists of real history for him to braid into the investigative adventures that Boyle undertakes on behalf, in the long run, of his "uncle" General Eisenhower and staff, and the Allies. In the process, readers get more than the breath-taking risks and close-shave escapes of Captain Boyle and his friends: They get to witness a brash young American growing up in the theater of war, and see the groundwork that will in turn, after the work of many more men and women, lay a basis for a lasting peace.

Benn's writing is well polished, paced with suspense and surprises, and historically trustworthy. As he lays out the war, on multiple fronts, he also lays out the strength of friendship and loyalty. His books are a smooth blend of both facets, and worth every minute of exhilarating reading. You won't need to devour the other Billy Boyle titles before this one, but give yourself the great pleasure of catching up with them afterward. 

Publication date is September 1, from Soho Crime, an imprint of Soho Press.

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

THE DEADLY HOURS: Four Authors, Four Historical Eras, One Cursed Watch ...

And multiple deaths and lovers.

Although THE DEADLY HOURS (Sept. 1 release) is labeled "An Anthology," it's actually much more exciting -- it's a chained set of four novellas that reach from 1733 to 1944, bringing a set of English mystery tales into exhilarating conjunction. Each is written by a different author; all four are well known for their historical and romantic suspense. A true page-turner, crammed with risk, suspense, and satisfying investigations, it showcases Susanna Kearsley, C. S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, and Christine Trent.

Hear this: It begins with lovemaking, piracy, espionage on behalf of the Scottish succession, and a curse placed on an elegant watch, for which the gold was stolen from a religious group in the New World.

That should be enough for a reader to decide, really. If you want a bit more, know that Hugh McPherson in 1733 considers that his wife Mary, whose love he has earned, is his angel: "She'd brought him back to the light." Now a team, the couple collides in Portofino with a dangerous Spanish captain, an assassin, royalty, and, indeed, the dangerous object that carries its own name, for the mermaid etched upon it: La Sirène. By the time Kearsley completes her tale, "Weapon of Choice," there's no choice -- one must continue to find out more.

Yet each succeeding novella in this set of four is enchantingly different. Anna Lee Huber presents "A Lady Darby Novella" in her contribution, "In a Fevered Hour." The timeline has jumped to 1831, and again we have a wife and husband who adore each other and collaborate in their intelligence and daring. Kiera and Sebastian Gage find themselves collaborating with a well-known vicious criminal whose need for their help involves the fate of all Edinburgh. For "A Pocketful of Death," Christine Trent enables Violet Harper, a highly unusual undertaker, to cross paths with the watch that has drawn a trail of death and betrayal through the other novellas, and now in 1870 seems to evoke coincidental deaths in Violet's neighborhood. "Siren's Call," from C. S. Harris, opens in 1944 and soon reaches this ominous point: 

Jude glanced over at him. "Hitler does have a well-known interest in occult objects."

"True. But it seems far-fetched to me."

"The idea of an unstable buffoon like Hitler managing to seize power in the first place is far-fetched," said Jude, setting the shadow box aside. "Yet it happened."

To find a conclusion to the devastation caused by the accursed timepiece, Rachel Townsend-Smythe will have to sort out both espionage and family loyalties, to save the people she cares about.

Praised on the cover by no less than Anne Perry, THE DEADLY HOURS is a marvelous four-course meal of lively and intriguing writing, a great way to sample the work of these four authors, and a true gift to readers from the Poisoned Pen Press imprint of Sourcebooks. Tuck it into your travel bag or sweep the bedside table clear and let this one launch your fresh season of exploration.

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


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

New Key West Food Food Critic Mystery from Lucy Burdette, THE KEY LIME CRIME (Yummy!)

 [Originally published at New York Journal of Books]

“This is a perfect mystery for summer beach reading—or for motivating yourself to plan a Key West vacation, as long as you can stay clear of the business end of a chef’s knife or heavy-duty rolling pin.”

Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic Mysteries feature Hayley Snow, a “food critic and frantic foodie fanatic,” and The Key Lime Crime is the tenth in the series: packed with cuisine-related arguments, Key West traditions and festivals, the tang of romance, and always a well-motivated criminal willing to ignore friendship for the sake of, say, money or revenge. Although the books are presented as recipe cozies, they are solid traditional mysteries underneath the delicious details.

This time, Hayley’s still a newlywed. She’s finally married the hunky police officer she’s longed for, Nathan Bransford, and they’ve worked out, more or less, how far out of her food critic role she’ll reach when motivated to pry into a crime. Now it’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so Key West is packed with vacationers eager for a good time. For Hayley in her journalist role, that means covering a key lime pie competition arranged by one of the noted chefs on the island.

Ask anyone familiar with Key West and they’ll assure you that there seem to be unlimited variations on the recipe for key lime pie. There’s the controversy over meringue or whipped cream, the preference for pastry crust or tart crust or a graham cracker version, and Burdette’s culinary curiosity adds even more ways to make the dessert rich and zesty.

Of course, when murder happens, it’s related to the pie competition. Hayley certainly knows better than to get involved with investigating this. But an unexpected factor has entered her life: Her mother-in-law, who couldn’t make it to the wedding (because she was prepared to hate Hayley?), arrives with hardly any notice, and instead of staying placidly at home with Hayley’s own folks, Mrs. Bransford hops into Hayley’s scooter with her and in every way possible partners up on sleuthing into the bakers and their confections. Hayley’s astonished when this leads to signing up for a pastry course for the two of them:

“’I didn’t know you were interested in baking,’ I said, once we were back on the sidewalk.

Mrs. Bransford laughed. ‘Not at all. But I didn’t believe for a moment that she did not know Claudette. Her shop is only one block from the French place. She admitted she knew the woman wasn’t Parisian, and I suspect there was lots more she could say. I figured we’d hear more over an hour while keeping our hands busy in the class. She struck me as the kind of woman who was bursting to gossip if given the right opportunity.’

I stared at her, impressed. That was exactly what I was thinking.”

While Hayley and her mother-in-law chase motive, means, and opportunity, of course, they run afoul of the actual murderer(s), and there’s a highly satisfying and kitchen-related scene of danger and disaster. At stake the entire time, and adding to the suspense, is the issue of whether Hayley will be accepted by Mrs. Bransford. When she finally figures out her mother-in-law’s own motivations, she discovers multiple secrets that need airing, and realizes she’s still a newbie in getting to know her spouse.

Trust Burdette to pack the back of the book with tasty recipes, too, from hors d’oeuvres to a key lime parfait. This is a perfect mystery for summer beach reading—or for motivating yourself to plan a Key West vacation, as long as you can stay clear of the business end of a chef’s knife or heavy-duty rolling pin.

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

Curl Up with a Cozy (Mystery): MUMS AND MAYHEM, Amanda Flower

[Originally published at New York Journal of Books]

“Mums and Mayhem from Amanda Flower is light reading as mysteries go, and lacks vibrancy in the romantic strand so typical of this subgenre of ‘cozy’ mysteries, but it embraces a charming part of the world, in eastern Scotland near the coast, and spins a sweet tale in the process.”

Fiona Knox owns a florist shop in the small quaint Scottish village of Bellewick. And, incidentally, a magical garden created on the former estate of Duncreigan, walled and vibrant, with its own elderly gardener. In two previous books in Amanda Flower’s Magical Garden Mystery series, Fiona’s learned that her inherited role as “Keeper” of what was once her uncle’s place connects her somehow to a mystical stone in the garden, as well as to its vibrancy and beauty.

So when her nightmare this time of seeing the garden shrivel and die turns out to be a vision of its actual condition, she’s knows she’s immediately responsible for its healing. Which, actually, she has no idea how to accomplish.

Making her less able than usual to concentrate on both her garden and her business is the arrival of her American farmer parents, presumably to summon her “home” along with her sister Isla, who’s followed her to Scotland and plunged into a romance with a jobless local. Most distracting of all is the music festival the town’s about to host, a return-home performance by a noted Scottish fiddler with his backup musicians. And, of course, there’s a romantic thread, since Fiona’s been developing a romance with Chief Inspector Neil Craig of the County Aberdeen police.

That’s a fortunate connection to have when Fiona discovers a musician murdered and learns her father, who’d once lived in this very village, was the last person known to see the victim alive. Not only will he not share details of why he went to see the musician, but he’s not talking about a recently revealed family secret, either: that he’s not Fiona’s biological parent. Her genetic father was “Uncle Ian,” the man who’s left her the garden.

Skeptics will be relieved to know that Fiona’s investigation of the crime has no major magical influences to it—the garden is definitely a background stress—so her focus is entirely on clearing her father of any possible role in the murder. Of course, as happens often with a series like this, Fiona’s presence in town has already coincided with death:

“’It’s hard to believe there’s been another killing in Bellewick,’ one of the constables said. ‘It’s almost like this place is cursed.’ …

‘Go,’ Craig said, and his voice left no room for speculation. He wanted the scene secured and now. The constables went off to do what he asked.

He glanced at me. ‘I’m going to go in the bus. Are you all right to wait here?’ He studied my face for even the slightest hint of a breakdown.

I straightened my shoulders. ‘I’ll be fine. Do what you have to do.’

He nodded and entered the tour bus.”

 Though Fiona is not a very adept sleuth herself, she’s plucky, and her motivation pushes her through, and by the time the pieces come together, she also knows the mysteries that her own family has hidden for so long. Mums and Mayhem is light reading as mysteries go, and lacks vibrancy in the romantic strand so typical of this subgenre of “cozy” mysteries, but it embraces a charming part of the world, in eastern Scotland near the coast, and spins a sweet tale in the process.

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

Sunday, August 16, 2020

High-Suspense Maine Mystery from Jenny Milchman, THE SECOND MOTHER

The virus pandemic continues to sweep publication dates with it, so THE SECOND MOTHER, the chilling new thriller from Jenny Milchman, hits the shelves -- virtual and real -- on August 18. Thanks to Sourcebooks, Milchman is on a roll again (for her up-down-up story, see her website). With a dark, spooky cover (that bears little resemblance to the Maine island where the action takes place), the book offers a warning of terror to come, right from the start.

Julie Weathers, desperately mourning her baby daughter Hedley who died, and mostly unsupported by her increasingly distant husband, makes a leap of desperation, out of the community where she's been teaching, Wedeskyull, New York (in the Catskills). Grabbing an online ad for a job for a K-8 teacher on a remote island off the Maine coast, she applies and, to her own surprise and maybe even new pleasure, snags the position. Her large and friendly dog at her side, she packs for colder weather and prepares to ride across an almost wintry ocean, to meet her new administrators and the children she hopes will restore some purpose to her life.

She's leaving behind her uncle Vern, who unexpectedly stops in to caution her:

"I know something about escape," he said. "It don't always work out like you want it to."

Julie looked at him over the rim of her still-full cup. "What do you mean?"

"I'm sure you've heard the saying," Vern replied. "Wherever you go, there you are. Are you looking to get away from Wedeskyull—or what you think happened here?"

"It did happen here," Julie said. The coffee sizzled in her stomach, and she set her cup on the table with a thwack. "I'm looking to get away from the memories I relive every time I do the same thing in the same place or in the same way that I did it with Hedley." ...

"What happened to your little girl ain't nothing like what I did," Vern said. "You suffered a tragedy nobody could've done anything about. The finest policing, all the integrity in the world, would've had no effect on what happened to Hedley."

Still, Julie knows she needs to leave. But what is she jumping into? Warned that she'll have little ability to communicate with people off the island, or even to leave it from time to time, she can't stop her forward motion and the boat ride she's committed to.

Farther and farther away, smaller and smaller, until their last connection to land was gone, as invisible as if it had never existed at all.

It was the loneliest feeling Julie had experienced in a long time. Knee-buckling, nearly bowling her over, except that of course she'd gone through far worse. She suddenly missed her daughter anew, felt every vacancy Hedley had left, and to which Julie had just added immeasurably by abandoning the last places the baby had inhabited. Stinging spray settled on Julie's face, convincing her that she had made the worst mistake since the day her daughter had been lost. And there was not one thing she could do about it now.

Almost immediately, it's clear the island and its school system are run with an iron and perhaps frightening hand, by a family that's got no boundaries to keep it out of Julie's life and classroom. Her efforts to get to know, teach, and bring healing to her students are rebuffed by a grandmother figure who definitely frightens people, and who's clearly determined to have Julie under her thumb. Risk, threats, and betrayal line up; kids may be the ones most deeply wounded; and even the small return to life of Julie's ability to love another person could be crushed.

From the first page, this thriller speaks to both the heart and the urge for self-protection. Suspense mounts steadily, both human and oceanic, and the storms roll in.

Yet Milchman's loyal readers already know she'll find a way to return both choice and affection to Julie —if the circumstances don't either cause her death, or banish her from the people she's coming to love.

First time reading a book by this author? Lucky you: There are four other titles already in print, and another racing toward publication with Sourcebooks. Milchman has mastered a rare art, merging suspense with a badly needed second chance at life, and lifts up the crime fiction genre to new heights in the process.

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Love, War, and Espionage, in THE DOCTOR OF ALEPPO from Dan Mayland

Dan Mayland's Mark Sava "spy novels" gave him a solid platform of plot-centered espionage fiction to write from. But his 2020 novel, released August 11, takes him well beyond expected forms, into a tale of a Syrian doctor and an American woman whose commitments to justice turn their lives inside out.

Dr. Samir Hasan, an orthopedic surgeon in Aleppo, Syria, already walks the ragged edge of political danger: He has family members who oppose the ruler of the nation, Bashar al-Assad, and in 2012, in the third phase of Syria's civil war, to take care of his relatives is treason. But how can he refuse? Even so, the hours he spends beyond his hospital work, patching up injured protesters, puts his wife and children into a more direct jeopardy, since he's no longer home for enough hours to protect them from the erupting conflict. Warriors for Allah, the soldiers begin to interfere with the doctor's son ... and then, inevitably, his wife.

Crossing paths with this doctor is an American woman, Hannah Johnson, who needs his care for her wounded Swedish lover. Hannah's working with humanitarian relief, ferrying medications and other hospital supplies to the beleaguered occupants of the city. A further accident, at the hospital, places Dr. Hasan—Sami—and the American woman into jeopardy as the son of a secret police official unexpectedly dies in the care of this hard-hit hospital.

Neither can continue as they have been. For Sami, the change is most terrible: To gain protection for his family, he seeks help through his dangerously rebellious sister-in-law:

"Your protester friends—yes, I know you are one of them—some of them have connections to the Free Syrian Army, I assume?"

"I do not need to hear your accusations now, Sami."

"I am not accusing you. I ask because I need your help."

"What help?"

"I need for you to take a message to the Free Syrian Army—to tell them that I am willing to work for them. Heal their wounded and train their medics. But in exchange, Beit Qarah [his home] and my family will be protected."

For Hannah, betrayal reaches her personally: The boyfriend she assisted not only leaves the country without her, but turns out to have a "regular" girlfriend at home, one he's lined up to marry. She feels like a fool. But that doesn't stop her commitment to making the runs with humanitarian aid, even though she keeps fooling herself into thinking she'll stop at some point.

The twists of war reconnect her to Dr. Samir Hasan in new ways, circling more around his children and their need for protection than any other reasoning. But Hannah has crossed the line into a culture far different from what she understands, and her efforts to again try to save individuals may cost her far more than she expects to pay. Because the secret police officer has linked her with the doctor who failed to save his son—who perhaps actually killed his son—and Rahim has never stopped searching:

At times there had been leads. In January she had been seen passing through a checkpoint in Bustan al-Qasr, in May through a checkpoint in Sheik Saeed. But her schedule was seemingly random, and when she had been observed, the people doing the observing had been unable to pursue her without exposing themselves as regime spies.

Until yesterday.

This is an ambitious book spanning the years from 2012 to 2016. It offers readers an entry into both a period of history and a set of intersecting cultures, by playing out the tension within the middle and upper classes in Lebanon, where history's challenges linger, and art and literature are as important as religion, or more so. In this season after an epic explosion in Beirut, in neighboring Lebanon, followed by a change of government there, THE DOCTOR OF ALEPPO offers an intriguing and page-turning route into understanding more of this region's roots in terror, passion, and the value of ordinary human loyalties. 

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

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Powerful Fourth Ryan DeMarco Crime Novel from Randall Silvis, NO WOODS SO DARK AS THESE

Technically, Sergeant Ryan DeMarco has retired from the Pennsylvania State Police. He and his beloved Jayme Matson are struggling to hold it together, after a devastating firefight in which Jayme's injuries led to the miscarriage of their baby. For Jayme, the death of the moving life within her is shattering. But when she can spare emotional bandwidth, she'd terrified for Ryan, for whom this is the second lost child.

However, Trooper Mason Boyd's been told by his Captain to recruit DeMarco to investigate a newly discovered horrific death, really a lynching, of a Black man in the area. With this victim are two others, who were probably forced to witness the killing—the remains of the bodies look like women.
Jayme asked, "Have they been identified?"

"We're working on it. The bodies in the car were still smoldering when a father and his two boys found them."

"Children?" she asked, and Boyd nodded. "How old?"

"Thirteen and nine. The youngest one saw them first."

Jayme turned, moved her eyes to DeMarco. He cocked his head, his mouth in a thin-lipped frown.

"They need us," she said.
Of course, it's a way to focus on something beyond the inner pain they're both experiencing. A curious side effect of their loss seems to be a willingness to adopt strays at this moment—first an abused dog that immediately adapts to them, then a young would-be crime reporter with odd boundaries but whose connections with the younger people in the region open doors for their investigation.

Randall Silvis writes tightly and smoothly, and the criminals he offers have clear roots in poverty and in lack of an affectionate and honest upbringing. Plot twists and tension come rapidly, and what Ryan and Jayme choose to risk is clear and compelling.

But Silvis also writes a deeper set of questions into his novels. At one point DeMarco, tormented by a terrifying dream, picks up the phone and asks a scientist friend (in the middle of the night," Do you believe in the soul? Do you believe that we have one?" DeMarco is half convinced he's lost his or never had one.

His scientist friend reminds him:
"Nobody understands consciousness. It is clear that the physical brain is somehow related to consciousness, is perhaps a kind of receiver, but there is not a speck of evidence that the brain is capable of producing consciousness."

"And this is related to ...?"

"Everything," Hoyle said. "To every question that has haunted you ever since you were a boy. And to the questions that haunt you now."

DeMarco found himself short of breath. He did not fully comprehend what Hoyle was saying in his disjointed, cryptic way, but some part of it had stolen his breath, had bent him over his knees in the darkness, left hand against his chest.
It's a mark of how tightly braided Silvis's plot lines are, that a conversation like this one can take place without interfering with the pace of pursuit of the criminal. Or in this case, criminals, plural, since someone's hunting DeMarco from outside the case, even as he struggles to nail down what's happened, and why.

If you're not yet reading Randall Silvis, this is the moment to get going. You don't need to read the earlier three books before this one, although they'll add depth (and disturbance); reading them later is just fine. Leave room on the shelf for these—and I hope for more.

Other Randall Silvis books featuring Ryan DeMarco are Two Days Gone, Walking the Bones, and A Long Way Down.

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

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Peter Lovesey Comes Full Circle in THE FINISHER, with 50 Years of Mystery

It's been 50 years since his first novel was published, and Soho Press is collaborating with Peter Lovesey to bring this British mystery writer full circle: THE FINISHER, like the book that started his career (Wobble to Death), is framed around a foot race. And it's set in Bath, featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond and his compulsively nasty superior, Georgina Dallymore.

Georgina's manipulations, always political and self-focused, land Diamond and his force with security for a half-marathon in Bath, among historic buildings, old roads, and underground features like a railroad tunnel. But there are more underground routes than most people realize, in and around the ancient British "watering hole" with its mines and industry. Some of them are ideal for murder.

Lovesey frames the story from the point of view of the race runners at first, especially a local woman and a wealthy Russian not-quite-lady. Training, trainers, spouses, stalkers (how many are running to St. Ives?). It's a wildly diverse crew in which criminals and accidental cross-purposes abound. When Peter spots a seriously abusive criminal among the runners, he's stunned to realize that prison time's been completed by someone he once arrested, who should never have managed to gain unsupervised release.

There are highly memorable passages in here from all points of view. I like this one from the thoughts of "The Finisher," the career criminal we know is behind at least one Bath murder, maybe more:
The body was unlikely ever to be found. No one had any reason to go down there. The Finisher had no conscience about what he'd done. He didn't allow morbid thoughts to burden him. The act of murder had become necessary. End of story.

Now is now and then was then.

The final stage to getting away with murder is that you do nothing different. You carry on living at the same address, rise at the same hour, eat the same food, use the same shops, meet the same people and give the impression you're no different from any of them ... The others he indulged were always women and Bath was the ideal place to meet them. He loved their company and they responded to him, his good looks, his sense of humor and his infectious laugh, his delight in everything they said and his interest in their stories.
Peter Diamond suspects that someone just like that has lured or chased a young woman racer. And if he's wrong, it won't be for long. The perpetrator he's spotted can't stay away from abuse for long.

Lovesey's Diamond is irascible and aging, but that doesn't mean he can't run a crime scene or hunt down a murderer. And with age, he's getting even better at distracting Georgina—this time through encouraging her to use drones and other public relations delights.

As with the earlier Diamond mysteries, THE FINISHER provides a smoothly told, dryly humorous and cleverly twisted set of scenes. When the plot finally hits the home stretch of the race, Diamond and his team manage to catch even Georgina in their resolution.

Special treat for Lovesey readers, new and seasoned: That title from 50 years ago (40 books ago), Wobble to Death, will be re-released by Lovesey's publisher, Soho Crime, in October. This makes it easy to backtrack the Grand Master (on two continents) to the crime novel that started his sterling career. The strand that shows most clearly in both? "A policeman's life is not a happy one" -- except when he solves the crime.

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

Monday, August 03, 2020

New Crime Fiction from Hank Phillippi Ryan, THE FIRST TO LIE

This thriller should raise more than goosebumps—it’s a raceway of red flags signaling the possible connections of corrupt officials and money-hungry drug developers.”

The warning is right up front in this wild-ride thriller from TV investigative journalist Hank Phillippi Ryan: “If you could start your adult life over as someone else, would you do it? … To get what you always wanted? Sure, you would. All you have to do is lie.”

And it’s obvious that Nora Quinn at the start of The First to Lie is faking a lot of things. Out on a carefully choreographed date—her own choreography—with a doctor whose clinic promises fertility miracles, she’s tracking possible misuse of a dangerous pharmaceutical. Then there’s a quick switch of narrator, to Ellie Berensen, whose new neighbor in her apartment building seems way too pushy and invasive. If Ellie’s hiding something too, new neighbor Meg Weest seems determined to find it. Maybe Meg is even getting into Ellie’s place when she’s not home. Who’s lying the most, and what are the stakes?

Ryan’s tight-twist plot careens forward, ramping up suspense every couple of pages and putting everyone in danger. When it looks like Meg intends to steal Ellie’s news job as well, the tension grows almost unbearable.

And at that pont, Ryan introduces yet another woman with something at stake: Lacey Vanderwald, marrying into Big Pharma. And her new about-to-be sister-in-law Brooke, victim of the magic drugs her family is marketing. Just how intentionally evil can one profit-motivated family become?

For a while, this thriller switches characters in flashes like a Shakespearean drama, storms and treachery rattling off stage. Then, as the dangers move to center action, the characters spin: All of these women are performing, with deep compelling motives, and none of them is who she pretends to be. “The first to lie”? It’s hard to tell who hasn’t been lying. The motives are life, death, and major money.  Never mind love. By a third of the way into Ryan’s pulse-pounding crime novel, even terror steps forward:

“Ellie stared at the coffee table, at the coffee cup, at the yellow pad and the pencils. What a reporter would use. What she would use. Did use, in fact. The cup, one from the kitchen supplies that came with her apartment, she drank from every morning. … She felt her fingers tingle, and a clench in her chest as if a vise were closing around her lungs. ‘Offi—Officer? I didn’t put that stuff there. I didn’t.’

A siren screamed by outside, the sound fading as it passed.

‘You didn’t?’ Adomako narrowed his eyes at her. ‘Then who did?’”

To anyone watching the scandals of Big Pharma over the past few years, every twist feels like it could have been reported in last week’s news. And in a world now dependent on pharmaceutical companies to develop, spread, and administer a vaccine against the pandemic disease COVID-19, this thriller should raise more than goosebumps—it’s a raceway of red flags signaling the possible connections of corrupt officials and money-hungry drug developers.

Ryan provides an extra tang of satisfaction as all the most potent characters in The First to Lie are tough, savvy, scientifically sharp women with skills that could slide effectively into the original James Bond series. Watch for the money. And then keep a close eye on who’s lying to whom. Because it’s all performance, and it’s all deadly serious.

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

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Outstanding British Crime Fiction from Michael Robotham: WHEN SHE WAS GOOD

When She Was Good makes a desperate plea for the forces of love and justice to prevail. And with each tense additional revelation, it’s clear there’s only disaster ahead. The question is, whose lives will be sacrificed?”

MichaelRobotham’s second crime novel to feature forensic psychiatrist Cyrus Haven (his 15th overall) pits two good people and one abused teenager against a possible network of pedophiles in Britain with unlimited power. When She Was Good is a page-turner from the start, and only in part due to the rapid and terrifying action taking place. The really compelling aspect is, these three people deserve so much better.

Take Evie Cormac, being hidden in a secure children’s home—except the place has few homelike characteristics, is run by grim people without humor or affection whose main role seems a cross between a school principal and a jailer, and the only friend she’s got is a younger girl unable to remember the insults and rebellions that pattern Evie’s life with others. It’s not just that Evie’s blunt to the point of rudeness most of the time. It’s that she knows if someone’s lying to her, and won’t put up with it. So who’d want to be her friend or share power with her?

Actually, Cyrus Haven is desperate to find the keys to freedom for Evie. Dodging the police departments and national security team with which he’s supposed to collaborate, he’s set himself a mission of finding out what really happened to Evie before she was rescued. And then corralling the perpetrators, so she can have a life.

But when he locates and tries to recruit Sacha Hopewell, the woman who rescued Evie, Sacha’s not optimistic. After Cyrus does his best to convince her that Evie needs the help that only openness and revelation can provide, Sacha admits to Cyrus that she’d tried to reassure the child herself:

Sacha looks up from her empty bowl. ‘Do you know what she did?’

I shook my head.

‘She gave me this look that laid me to waste inside. It was so full of despair, so bereft of hope. It was like dropping a stone ito a dark well, waiting for it to hit bottom, but it never does, it just keeps falling. That’s what frightened me. That and her voice, which came out all raspy and hoarse. She said, “Nobody can protect me.”’

Alternating voices, between Cyrus and Evie, Robotham lays out terrifying experiences and threats, one on top of another, like a fearsomely tall stack of misaligned playing cards. Any touch or breath could send the whole stack toppling. And although Cyrus won’t realize it for a while, his own connections and careful inquiry into Evie’s past are the triggers that lead the deadly forces who can’t afford to have the teen survive and speak.

While Cyrus tumbles over and over into the self-deception that he’ll be able to protect this battered child to whom he’s given his heart—for her courage, her honesty, her disarmingly dangerous refusal to collude with liars—Evie’s correct when she denies his ability to save her. Even the police force can be corrupted by the politically potent and wealthy circles that Cyrus has pried open.

When She Was Good makes a desperate plea for the forces of love and justice to prevail. And with each tense additional revelation, it’s clear there’s only disaster ahead. The question is, whose lives will be sacrificed—beyond that of Evie’s only friend Ruby, whom she discovers dead in her own bed:

“Poor Ruby. Dumb Ruby. Deep as a puddle. Thick as a plank. As friendly as a puppy. She’s dead because of me. … Ruby’s eyes were open and one arm lay across her waist, another on the pillow. My pillow. … They expected to find me. They thought they killed me.”

Word of Evie’s survival is all it takes to launch further attacks. Don’t try to get anything else done; just keep reading. The only way this book will let you go is if you walk, or run, with Evie, Cyrus, and Sacha to the last page.

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