The Next Widow

Lyons’ The Next Widow features Police Detective Jericho and ER Doctor Leah Wright, appropriate because the author herself is an ER doctor. It opens with a fantastic opening scene as Leah comes home to find her entire world torn apart in a maelstrom of blood and despair. You can feel her anguish and shock as she deals with the ensuing situation. It’s then a mystery as to who ripped her world to shreds and whether it’s over or there’s more to come. Dr. Wright has a backstory of estrangement and abandonment from her hippie mother. Detective Jericho has his own demons in the form of his drug addict sister.

After the high-octane pace of the opening scene, the pace slows down quite a bit and the investigation leads in different directions and suspicions fall upon everyone, even Leah. Also, there seems to be no where safe for her.

The resolution of this situation isn’t necessarily resolved as cleanly as the exciting opening scene. In fact. The whole plot is unnecessarily complicated, but certainly foreshadowed in so many different ways.

The 6:20 Man

Baldacci’s latest thriller, right now a stand-alone but with all the makings of a first novel in a new series, is a blast of excitement that will push you into a nonstop readfest, blowing up any plans you might have of going to bed early. Set in Manhattan’s towering financial district among the movers and shakers of monetary trading, our story takes an ex Army ranger, Jack Reacher like in his fighting ability, and throws him kicking and screaming into a constantly changing investigation into financial fraud, murder, and international intrigue. Conspiracies are big here and are guy is about to find out what happens when you are at the center of a conspiracy and all the evidence points to him as the crazed killer and the wheels of Justice turn inexorably against him. Don’t think you know what’s really going on till you get to the end.

Not everything falls neatly into the believability camp from the hackers at hand to the 6:20 bikini princess to the secret black ops agency and even the bad guy is perhaps a bit too much out of central casting. Nevertheless, the story moved along so well and the reader wants so much to find the answers that it remains a great in-put-downable read.

Fatal Witness

Bryndza’s Fatal Witness is the seventh novel in his Britain-based Erika Foster police procedural series, but don’t feel that it is too late to start this series. This one works just fine as a standalone novel. Erika is a Slovak-born police detective whose husband, also a police officer, was killed by a drug dealer in the line of duty. As this novel opens, Erika has just moved to a new neighborhood in London and has not even furnished her new home yet. However, such nesting instincts can wait because no sooner does she land there then, on the way home from fish and chips, she hears a cry for help. What follows is a well-constructed story of a murder investigation with all the usual twists and turns that is an easy read and leaves the reader guessing who the ultimate culprit is until the bitter end.

The Furies

The Furies is the twentieth novel (or to be more precise, a collection of two interrelated novellas) in Connolly’s Charlie Parker series (although only the third in the series for this reviewer). Parker, now living in the quiet backwoods of Maine (or perhaps not so quiet), is a former New York City Police Officer whose world fell apart when his wife and one of his daughters perished. Still haunted by his daughter’s ghost occasionally, Parker now works as a private investigator in Portland, Maine, sometimes employing Angel and Louis, two hard cases from New York. The fact that Parker is a former cop and the often-introspective narrative coupled with the wry sense of humor reminds this reviewer of Block’s Matt Scudder, although Parker is an entirely different character and there’s no connection between them.

These two novellas are incredibly well-written, thoughtful, and intense. In both, Parker takes on cases that perhaps he should not for there is little to be gained for him and a lot to be lost. In the first novella, the Sisters Strange, we meet two sisters, who might be old spinsters except for their strange connection to one Raum Buker, a degenerate whose most recent prison tattoos might lead one to think he dabbles in the occult. It is a portrait of evil and its grip on people who ought to know better. It begins with the death of a coin collector, an old eccentric coin collector, and leads to shady areas where darkness lurks. This is so well-crafted that it is meant to be savored rather than quickly devoured.

The second novella here is the Furies, the title piece, which has Parker returning to the same decrepit motel as in the Sisters Strange, but confronting a different set of evil. Here, he tackles two separate cases at once, one where a mafia widow is haunted by her husband’s misdeeds and the theory that she still had the thousands of dollars her husband skimmed from the organization. She only wants to be left alone in peace, but evil in the form of two rather odd gentlemen has followed her and Parker has to use his connections to find if they are acting on their own or on orders from above. The other case is Parker dipping his foot into intervening in domestic violence and these cases have a way of turning on the do-gooder.

In both novellas, the atmosphere is always dark, dank, with some supernatural things lurking in the background. Parker works at the edges of society, not in the world of the glitterati. A must read!

You Must Be Kidding

You Must Be Kidding

In his 1979 novel, written towards the end of Chase’s illustrious career, he returns once again to Paradise City and Detective Lepski. Yet, here, Chase does his best Stephen King with a bloody serial-killing maniac who preys on the hippies gathered on the beach. The plot starts with a mild-mannered insurance salesman who, though married, can’t resist the charms of his assistant, Karen, the boss’ daughter. This salesman is the humorous foil to the cold killer, nervous, bumbling, and definitely over his head. It’s no mystery fir much of the story who the killer is, but the fun is getting to the final deadly confrontation.

The Girl From Midnight

The Girl From Midnight is a 1962 gold medal publication by the writing team of Robert Wade and Bill Miller. In it, they go to town on theme of a beautiful nearly nude woman showing up and asking for help. Here, she claims two men tried to kidnap her and bury her in a hole in a ground. She admits she was on parole. The veterinarian whose property the girl showed up in doesn’t know what to do with her or whether to turn her in or hide her in the cheetah’s house. From there, the plot takes quite a few turns for the worse. There is a great scene where the haughty veterinarian’s wife shows up and the two women go toe-to-toe with the poor vet caught in the middle. This one’s a quick short but enjoyable read.

Believe this … you’ll believe anything

“Believe this … You’ll Believe Anything” has a number of stock character types and, if you’ve read a number of these types of books, you’ll probably guess some of the directions the plot takes. It has the clueless joe (Burden) who falls head over heels for a hot to trot bombshell of a secretary (Val) who promptly drops him like a hot potato. It has the sloppy woman who he settles for after Val brushes him off and shrilly cross-examines him about the millionaire’s wife “Slinky” he’s now working closely with. And the caustic controlling manipulative millionaire who couldn’t possibly be this demanding.

Nevertheless, it is quite readable and, even though you know Burden is over his head and has no idea how he’s being manipulated and what he’s in for, Chase makes it a compelling read.

The Soft Centre

In his Florida thriller, James Hadley Chase offers a novel about a rich but troubled married couple. From the outside, they are American royalty, rich, well-dressed, well-mannered, and oozing all kinds of sex appeal. Val and Chris Burnett may be on the cover of every fashion magazine, but as is so often the case, once you scratch the surface, that pound of gold is only gold plated. See the thing is Chris isn’t right and hasn’t been for a long time. He’s lost interest in everything including Val, who loyally sticks by him. She still goes to the resort bar and orders her martinis but they know Chris only drinks juice. Little do they know Chris has been certifiable since a car crash two years ago and has been in a sanitarium. He hasn’t been behind the wheel of a car in that long either and it’s no t a good thing when he grabs the car keys and takes off and disappears.

Though what Chase does so well here is that the novel doesn’t center around the Burnetts so much as it does the swirling maelstrom of violence, murder, and blackmail that all coalesces on the night Chris disappears. Indeed, through much of the novel Chris and Val become almost bit characters as the sharks start circling sensing the blood in the water till they go into their feeding frenzy in one of the bloodiest climaxes in any of Chase’s novels.

More Deadly Than The Male

Originally published in 1946, More Deadly Than The Male is a Chase original in every sense of the word. In it, he takes a noir crime novel and turns it on its head. The star of the novel is George Fraser, who is nobody’s idea of a tough guy. A mild-mannered loner living in a rooming house and working a dead end job, George lives in a fantasy world where he’s an American gangster who worked right with the toughest of them all. George not only indulges in his fantasies but tells these tales to those who befriend him. Of course, not everyone is a good guy in the real world and when George starts palling around with unsavory types, they put him and his bragging and his gun to the test. It’s a long con and you know they are playing dear old George for a sucker even if he doesn’t have a clue, bewitched as he is by Cora’s sweet promises. But hang on to your hats because there’s more to dear George than first meets the eye and he just may turn out to be more than anyone’s ever bargained for.

Killer

Originally published as Passion Killer in1965, now republished by Black Gat, Killer crosses genres between crime fiction and the soft core novels Silverberg published under the Don Elliott pseudonym. The crime plot revolves around a businessman having an affair who asks his mistress to find a hitman (Floyd) to off his wife. The book opens with the hard-edged hitman coming to town and getting ready to do his job. Meanwhile, the mistress, Marie, entertains herself by hopping from the businessman’s bed to her friend Dolores’ bed to the hitman’s bed and eventually an airline pilot’s bed and so on. While much of the “action” takes place between the sheets, the plot thickens as Floyd prepares to deliver the death blow. This is one of the better novels in the “sleaze” genre that was popular from about 1955 through 1965 or so.

Bad Bastards

Heatley’s Bad Bastards is a fast paced thrill ride that blends Sons of Anarchy with a story of two young lovers. The story centers on Patton and Tammy, the captive daughter of the feared leader of the local motorcycle club who will not tolerate his daughter dating anyone other than a handpicked club member. It is a story told fast, furiously, and without letup.

The Case of the Petticoat Murder

The Case of the Petticoat Murder was the fifth of eight books in Craig’s Peter Selby police procedural series. Expertly written, it opens with Detective Selby explaining to a young patrol officer all the reasons that the young woman dressed only in stockings hanging from a pipe in her apartment could not have been a suicide despite appearances. From there, Selby uncovers links between the dead woman and a scheme to use her apartment, her past which is following her, dogging her footsteps, and someone from another continent entirely. Set entirely in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan, this is an easy read that is hard to put down.

Other books in the series include The Dead Darling, Morgue for Venus, Case of the Cold Coquette, the Case of the Beautiful Body, the Case of the Nervous Nude, the Case of the Village Tramp, the Case of the Laughing Virgin, the Case of the Silent Stranger, and the Case of the Brazen Beauty, all of which appear to have been published under the Gold Medal label from 1955 to 1966.

Have a Change of Scene

Chase’s 1973 thriller, Have a Change Of Scene, is at its root, a caper-gone-wring story, but before you even get to the caper part of it, there’s a lot of ground to cover. The story starts with Larry Carr, Paradise City diamond salesman to the rich and famous losing his fiancé in a horrendous automobile accident. The solution the doctor orders is a change of Scene to a downtrodden industrial city where Carr finds himself volunteering to help a social worker in between facing off with a gang of juvenile delinquents. And, then, he’s struck like lightning with out of control lust for a redheaded temptress of the first order.

Then again, all that introductory storyline is a lot of extra weight unnecessary to the overall plot. It’s a scheme whereby Carr shoots for the stars in a scheme to obtain riches he now wants much too badly. And what follows is a robbery gone off the rails. The caper gone wrong is so obvious from the start although it doesn’t go wrong in all the obvious ways that one would suspect.

Dead of Night

Dead of Night is one of eight novels (or novelletes) Prentice Winchell wrote under the psuedonym Stewart Sterling starting hotel detective Gil Vine. Most of the series has “dead” in the title so the reader can be certain there is a homicide mystery involved and include Dead Wrong, Dead Sure, Dead of Night, Alibi Baby, Dead Right, Dead to the World, The Body in the Bed, and Dead Certain, all published from 1947 to 1960. Hotel detectives were a big thing back in the day, always present to smooth things over and protect the hotel’s reputation. Sterling does a fantastic job of giving voice to Vine and his deadpan attitude in Dead of Night.

Here, Vine is house detective to a fairly large and well-known hotel that includes numerous clubs and bars and has suites so grand even the stars stay there. This particular fiasco involves a glittering star of the skating rink so famous that everyone recognizes her except apparently when she wears a wig and an eyepatch (all the sexiest models were into the eyepatch scene). Vine ends up in her hotel room after becoming suspicious of the sleazy types who had attached themselves to this star and starts finding a trail of blood and a corpse (thus, the “dead” in the title). Of course, it appears to be another of the locked-room mysteries because who could have been in her suite besides her assistant, her manager, and half a dozen hotel employees.

It would have been a fascinating mystery perhaps if it stopped there, but Sterling had big eyes when he wrote this and made a plot so complicated you need a flowchart to follow who is involved with whom and why.

Hand Me A Fig Leaf

Hand Me A Fig Leaf was first published in 1981 at the tail end of Chase’s long career. Featuring Dirk Wallace of the Parnell Detective Agency, it’s the story on the surface of a search for a missing grandson, but Wallace quickly realizes that there is far more to be uncovered than he could have ever guessed. As he investigates, he inadvertently reveals family secrets and drug scandals tarnishing a hero’s reputation. The theme running throughout is that nothing is quite what it appears to be and that’s the key to this riddle.

Like A Hole in the Head

Like A Hole in the Head, first published in 1970, is set near the fictional city of Paradise City, Florida and includes a brief cameo by Detective Tom Lepski, who frequents a number of James Hadley Chase’s later books.

It’s the story of a couple in the Florida marshlands and how they found themselves facing off against organized criminals from Latin America. Jay Benson is a Vietnam Vet and achieved a bit of fame there as a sniper. Now out of the Army, Jay has hopes of harnessing his reputation by running a shooting school. There are of course few takers and he and his wife Lucy have little in their hands but time. Jay’s eyes light up When he’s promised a small fortune to teach a wealthy patron’s son how to shoot like an expert in nine days.

But, of course, there is always a catch. And, this kind of dough doesn’t just fall into one’s hands easily. Indeed, there’s more than a few catches. First off, the whole reason Jay is hired makes almost no sense at all. The idea that the kid has nine days to become an expert shooter in payment of a gambling debt is ludicrous. As is other stories that Savanto offers such as the honor killing that his son has to do. Moreover, not only is Savanto a piece of work who thinks he is Scarface with armed thugs surrounding him and camping on the Benson’s property, but Timoteo is always a strange man. Not a good shot and barely a willing student, Timoteo is some kind of boxing or judo expert and a charmer of women as well. Nevertheless, most of the time the reader is given the impression that Timoteo is like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

Chase does a great job of building up the suspense here so that the setup itself is not so important. As the story goes on, Jay knows he is isolated and has to play along with Savanto’s demands at least until Jay can figure a way out. But, the end does kind of come up a bit short. As to the model on the book cover, she is just there to sell books and has nothing to do with the story whatsoever.

What She Found

What She Found is the ninth novel in Dugoni’s acclaimed Seattle-based Tracy Crosswhite police procedural series. Crosswhite is the very epitome of a cold case Detective, dogged, determined, and unwilling to let go. Dugoni’s offers us a police novel that is so fascinating that it’s hard to put down even though it lacks the gratuitous sex and violence most crime novels center around. Although Crosswhite is tasked with resolving cold cases where new testing procedures such as DNA can unearth new evidence, a phone call from a woman whose investigative reporter mother disappeared 24 years ago gets Crosswhite’s attention, particularly when investigation starts to show her disappearance might be related to another homicide and an unreported drug raid in a marina. Soon Crosswhite finds herself in the middle of a story bigger than she could have imagined.

Tough Tender

Tough Tender offers the readers two of Collins’ classic Nolan novels wrapped in a spectacular new cover and with a new introduction included.

The theme behind the novel “Hard Cash” seems to be what happens when a crook retires from the life and his past catches up with him. Nolan and Jon have had a few adventures together in the first four novels of this series (Bait Money, Blood Money, Fly Paper, and Hush Money). In this book, although Nolan and Jon are trying to play it straight, as they walk down the street, the dark shadows from their past are nipping at their heels.

In “Scratch Fever,” the follow up to “Hard Cash,” Jon and Nolan are again trying to retire from their bank robbing days, but retirement just isn’t meant to be for them. Although Nolan and Jon are trying to play it straight, as they walk down the street, the dark shadows from their past are nipping at their heels.

Nolan is an ex-mafia guy who, after having his differences with members of the family, went off on his own for some years, getting involved in heists and robberies, well-planned, well-executed heists for that matter. Nolan was considered the best in the business and had never ended up behind bars.

Jon is about as unlikely a guy to be paired with as Nolan could imagine, but their sometimes-partnership works well. Jon’s uncle was known as “The Planner” and, under the cover of being an antiques dealer, the Planner would case jobs and put together packages for jobs consisting of plans and contacts. That is, he did this prior to getting killed when some thieves broke into his antiques shop and stole the $800,000 that Nolan and Jon had reaped from their first job together.

Jon is a twenty-one year old baby-faced kid with little experience in the life. He collects comic books with a passion few could imagine and has as his life’s dream becoming a comic book artist. He hoped that his first job with Nolan would finance his way to pursuing his life’s dream, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Jon has looked up to Nolan as the personification of his action hero fantasies.

The Next Time I Die

Jason Starr’s The Next Time I Die might as well be called When Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life meets Jim Thompson. Buckle up. You are going for a ride. And the way this is plotted takes you slowly into the maelstrom and Starr keeps upping the ante little by little. First, the divorce demands that come out of nowhere. Then, the stabbing. Then, well, just imagine what if the whole world tilted upside down and someone shook it all up. Science fiction aficionados would definitely get where Starr takes this crazy ride or the whole game of how things change so suddenly with what us known as the Butterfly Effect. Indeed, while no one wants the return of Al Gore, maybe that will work out for the best. In short, this short novel is one tasty bit of noir that will leave your head thumping against the wall.

Soulless: Inspector Mislan and the Faceless Girl

Soulless is the fifth book in the Inspector Mislan police procedural series, set in Kualu Lumpur, Malaysia, home to the Petronas Towers, situated south of Thailand and extending south to the city state of Singapore. What strikes one reading his series is how much like a familiar American police procedural it is and how universal stories are. Nevertheless, it is steeped in Malaysian culture which sets it apart and makes it unique.

Here, Inspector Mislan is faced with a corpse which is unidentifiable as the face has been burned off and the body tortured. Without a cloud as to who the victim is or whether she is even of local origin, Mislan doggedly pursues justice for her, a quest that takes him and his abrasive manners across international borders. It is an entirely absorbing story even though there is very little shoot-em-up type of action. Mislan’s personal life takes a backseat to his work here although his ongoing romance with the coroner takes a surprising turn.

Savage Lane

Savage Lane is one of those literary addresses that will stick in your head with it’s all too vivid description of the dirty secrets lying below suburban life. Starr offers the reader a Westchester suburb with professionals who commute into the city, unhappy couples, and of course the country club. As they dress for work and pack the kids off to school, these suburban parents are busy fantasizing about the divorcee with the knockout body across the street, the young Gardner at the country club, any normal guy on a dating site, or another dude on the down low. Between drunken cat fights in the clubhouse, stalker-like persistence by the horny neighbor caught in his fantasy world, and blended families that don’t mix too well, Starr offers us a sardonic twisted suburbia that is as outrageously funny as it is tragic.

Untamed Shore

Untamed Shore is an unexpected thrill ride that starts quite softly in a small Baja town that was barely a speck on a map. Shark fishing is the whole local economy and the theme of sharks circling the water for chum is a repeated theme in this novel. Viridiana is an 18 year old who has taught herself four languages and wants more out of life than the few dusty blocks. She works as a translator for the few American tourists to lose themselves there. Her life changes when an American writer, Ambrose, comes to town with his wife, Daisy, and her brother, Gregory, and Viridiana is hired to act as Ambrose’s Secretary and to take dictation whenever inspiration strikes him. Living with this trio, she finds them oddly obnoxious, rude, and condescending, especially the married couple. Of course, the two singles in the household get acquainted or is seduced the better word.

It seems like a great character study in the slow languid Baja desert. But that’s where you realize this author has led you down a rosy garden path and all is not as it seems and, in fact, no one is who they seem to be either. And suddenly you have a great crime novel with sharks circling and the innocent being fed but by bit to them. Along the way, Viridiana’s innocence is metaphorically taken from her. It’s a novel about grifters and innocents and perfectly set up.

Velvet was the Night

Velvet Was the Night is historical fiction, set in the midst of Mexico’s Dirty War in 1971 when CIA trained thugs known as the Hawks infiltrated hippie protests to root out alleged Communists and Trotskyites and often resulted to beatings to break up demonstrations. Moreno-Garcia brings the time period to life through the use of two parallel stories, that of Elvis and Maite, who share a love of rock n Roll vinyl and little else. Elvis is a Hawk street thug, housed with other Hawks, following orders from his boss. Maite is a thirty year old legal secretary with sad eyes who lives through romance comic books and vinyl albums. She cat sits and thinks of herself as an old maid at thirty, not pretty enough or stylish enough. The two end up separately tracking a missing neighbor of Maite’s who has some film canisters of what the Hawks did at a demonstration, incriminating evidence if you will that everyone in government wants. Ultimately it is a story of two lost souls caught in the middle of something they never bargained for.

COLD FEAR

Cold Fear is the thrilling sequel to Webb and Mann’s novel Steel Fear. The difference between the two novels is that the setting is not the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, a sort of locked room mystery at sea, but the giant aircraft carrier in the northern Atlantic, Iceland. Former Navy Seal Finn is on his own, AWOL, with another Seal hunting him. He is out to find out what really happened in Yemen because his memory is foggy. He is haunted by the bodies of the dead civilians in the farmhouse that he is being blamed for. He is also haunted by his past, having killed his own brother when he was only eight. His self-imposed mission to track down the three Navy Seals in Reykjavik and force them to tell him what really happened so he can clear his name and his conscience. Basically, a black ops thriller. Meanwhile, not all is well in peaceful little Iceland where a woman seemingly walked into the freezing bay and drowned herself, now to be coined the frozen mermaid. Finn, caught on surveillance cameras, near the scene, is suspected by Icelandic authorities, of foul play, especially when his movements at the airport and his obviously false name being used, come into play.

This is a non-stop thrill ride of a lone man, even one with all kinds of training, facing overwhelming odds, tracking down three equally well-trained warriors, and trying to avoid a seemingly invincible killer on his trail. Not knowing if there is anyone he can trust, Finn, loner that he always has been, has his work cut out for him. This is a book you should only open up if you can afford to stay up all night. It is that good.

Shifty’s Boys

Shifty’ Boys is Offutt’s sequel to The Killing Hills and is a top-notch journey into country noir. Offutt perfectly captures the tucked-out-of-the-way society of Kentucky hill country and people’s both novels with authentic complex characters. CID Officer Mick Hardin is on a lengthy medical leave, still at home a year after the earlier novel. His sister Linda who lucked into the Sheriff’s job when the previous jobholder passed away and is now running for reelection in a county where few believed a woman could handle the job. Mick came home knowing that, with his being seldom home, his wife strayed. A year later, she now has a one year old and it isn’t Mick’s. He is sitting on the divorce papers, not knowing how to close the door on the last decade and a half of his married life. He’s shuffling around the old country where everyone knows everyone and, when the story opens he is asked by a backwoods matriarch to find out who killed her son. The official investigation isn’t going to go anywhere what with her boy being a drug dealer. Few tears are being shed for him. It’s an investigation that will lead Mick to a place he couldn’t have imagined and eventually have him questioning who he is and what he stands for. The novel though is about Mick, alone, adrift, neither belonging here or belonging there and, in the end, not knowing what good any of it was. Although the action doesn’t really pick up until later in the novel, the entire novel is compelling from start to finish.