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BOOK REVIEW: Sisters on the Case: Celebrating Twenty Years of Sisters in Crime edited by Sara Paretsky


It’s astonishing to think that not long ago female mystery authors had difficulty staying in print, being purchased for library collections or getting review attention from mainstream media. In response to these disturbing facts, a group of 26 female authors came together in 1986 to found Sisters in Crime, an international organization designed promote female mystery and crime writers. Now, on the 20th anniversary, Sisters on the Case: Celebrating Twenty Years of Sisters in Crime has been published to mark this important milestone and highlight some of the writers integral to the success of the collective.

When faced with 26 short stories, it is difficult to select only a few highlights; however, even in this strong collection there are few stories which stood out from the rest. “Not Just the Facts” by Annette Meyers features an innovative approach to the structure of a short story. Meyers chose to break her story into sections which mirror the segments of a police investigation. Each section begins with a heading to indicate the perspective it provides: The Medical Examiner, The Witness, The Interviews, part I, etc; providing insight into the anatomy of an investigation and encourages readers to see beyond the facts of the case.

“The Whole World is Watching” by Libby Fischer Hellman provides an alternative perspective of the social movement of the late 60s – that of the police rather than the usual viewpoint of the demonstrators. In this story, Fischer Hallman examines the concept of duty through the eyes of Kevin, a police officer assigned to crowd control during one of Martin Luther King’s rallies. Her story is remarkable for the significant growth Kevin achieves in only a few pages without the story ever feeling forced or “off-pace”.

“The People’s Way” by Eve K. Sandstrom stretches the definition of what a “mystery” story is/should be and was the only story in the collection which brought me to tears. “Guardian Angel” by Rochelle Krich deserves a mention for writing which evokes true “creepiness”.

Sisters on the Case is the perfect way to discover new voices while revisiting the work of favourite authors. These sample-size stories will have you saying “just one more” long into the night.

ISBN10: 0451222393
ISBN13: 9780451222398

Mass Market Paperback
352 Pages
Publisher: Obsidian
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch


Victorian gentleman Charles Lenox recently assisted Scotland Yard in solving the Isabel Lewes case; a simple case the Yard should have easily solved despite their appalling lack of imagination. Now, on a bitterly cold late afternoon, all Lenox wants to do is sit in his library and enjoy the bliss of a warm fire. So when he receives an urgent message from Lady Jan Grey, his closest friend and next door neighbour, he ventures forth to brave the cold, despite his inadequate boots.

Lady Grey’s former servant, Prue Smith, has apparently committed suicide-by-poisoning at the home of her new employer George Barnard, the current director of the Royal Mint. At her request, Lenox visits the crime scene and is quickly convinced that Prue’s death is murder, despite assurances from the Yard and Barnard that it is suicide. Thomas McConnell, a surgeon and close associate of Lenox, determines the cause of death to be a rare poison called bella indigo (beautiful blue). The Yard does not welcome Lenox’s assistance which leaves him little access to the Barnard household, forcing him to investigate discreetly and utilize the services of Graham, his butler and friend. It is not until a second death occurs that Lenox begins to piece together the puzzling crime.

A Beautiful Blue Death is Charles Finch’s delightful debut novel. The pairing of Lenox and Graham brings to mind the famous pairing of Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet Bunter. Like Wimsey and Bunter, Lenox and Graham share more than a purely professional relationship. Despite the friendship and amity they feel for each other, the barriers of class keep them separated. “This matter of asking Graham for help on a case was part of that unusual bond – a result of trust in Graham as a man, first of all, and in his competence too. In the end, each man relied on their deep mutual loyalty, which would be hard for anyone to test.”

What elevates A Beautiful Blue Death from just another historical mystery is the relationships Lenox has with the people around him; with Lady Jane, his brother Edmund and Graham. While the central mystery is fascinating, what captivates readers is the exploration Lenox’s relationship with Lady Jane and the window it provides into the life of a gentleman of leisure. Their habit of taking their daily tea illustrates the depth of their relationship, unusual for a time when the intersection of men and women’s lives was quite minimal. It is the man these relationships illuminate which will draw readers to future volumes about Charles Lenox.

ISBN10: 0312359772
ISBN13: 9780312359775

320 Pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur
Publication Date: June 26, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: The Keep by Jennifer Egan


Twenty years after the tragic event which ended their childhood friendship, Danny has been summoned to a Gothic castle under renovation by his cousin Howie. Once subjected to abuse for his “geekiness,” Howie has made a fortune in bond trading and retired in style, with his retinue, to a crumbling castle somewhere in Eastern Europe which he plans to remake into a luxurious hotel.

Danny is eager to leave New York where his peripheral involvement with the mob is causing trouble, even if it means confronting uncomfortable family history and dealing with uncertain cellular service. Despite early promise, Danny has failed to establish himself in any career, instead making a study of power and knowing instinctively if wireless services are available purely by a crawling of his skin.

After he arrives, Danny learns that the castle has another resident, the last remaining member of the von Ausblinker family, the original owners. Danny sees a beautiful young woman in the keep’s windows, although the eccentric Baroness barricaded within is at least 90. She’s determined to outlast Howie (as she has numerous attempts in the past to oust her from her home) and Howie is resolved to remove her to gain access the dungeon’s secrets below the keep.

Just as the reader succumbs to The Keep, Jennifer Egan adds another layer. Danny and Howie’s story is narrated by Ray, a convict imprisoned for an unspecified crime, who is developing the story as part of a creative-writing workshop. When challenged, Ray insists that he is merely relating a story passed on to him by another man.

Everyone in The Keep is imprisoned in some manner, whether in jail, the physical keep, the grip of addiction or in a struggle for power. Egan uses every trick to convey the feelings of unease and paranoia which imprisonment can bring, all while suggesting imagination may provide the only escape. While at times her manipulations have the elegance of a battering ram, overall Egan manages to create a labyrinthine novel sure to leave readers questioning what prisons contain their life.

ISBN10: 1400079748
ISBN13: 9781400079742

Trade Paperback
272 pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: July 10, 2007
Author Website:
Book Website:


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BOOK REVIEW: The Cruel Stars of the Night by Kjell Eriksson


Laura Hindersten’s father has gone missing and, while he may have just took off without telling her (though tyrannical, he is exceptionally eccentric), she is convinced something horrible has happened to him. The members of the Uppsala Violent Crime Division are certain the professor – an expert on the Renaissance poet Petrarch – will turn up, much more concerned with the murders of several elderly men in the region and how that may affect the upcoming visit by Queen Silvia, scheduled to arrive in a few days to open the new Academic Hospital.

Police Inspector Ann Lindell suspects there may be links the murders and the missing Professor, a hunch born out by evidence presented by a colleague of the Professor. As the body count and public anxiety increases, the pressure on Lindell and the rest of the team to determine if the deaths are the work of a serial killer.

The Cruel Stars of the Night, sequel to Kjell Eriksson’s critically acclaimed debut The Princess of Burundi, once again features the Uppsala Violent Crime Division and Police Inspector Ann Lindell. Police procedurals are standard mystery fare, yet Eriksson takes this well-worn formula and crafts something extraordinary. His character-drive mysteries feature an ensemble “cast” and the personality and motivation of each member of the Uppsala Violent Crime Division is fleshed out in tandem with the details of the case. Eriksson’s police men and women are very human, each with their own way of balancing work and home. Lindell, a single parent raising a young son, wonders if she is a “good” parent while coping with loss and loneliness.

This is not an action-filled thriller. Eriksson lets the tension build slowly, playing out the psychological clues like an expert angler – ensuring his audience is hooked before ratcheting up the tension. Readers may be able to takes breaks from Eriksson’s work in the early chapters; however, once the pieces begin to fall together, The Cruel Stars of the Night becomes impossible to put down.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0312366671
ISBN13: 9780312366674

320 Pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: Volk’s Game by Brent Ghelfi


Honed by years of fighting in the war in Chechnya and months of torture which resulted in the loss of his foot, Alexei Volkovoy has become a legendary figure in Russia’s black market. At his side is the enigmatic and exotic Valya, his lover and body-guard. Her beauty and slight frame hide a dangerous ferocity which equals Volk’s, forged through years of abuse. Together they navigate the dangers of a lawless Russia, shifting allegiances and an underworld where nothing is as it seems.

Volk owes allegiance to two equally deadly masters: Maxim, a psychotic Azeri kingpin, and “the General,” a military commander. Both have commissioned Volk to steal a long-lost painting from a hidden room within the Hermitage Museum – the luminous Leda and the Swan by Leonardo Da Vinci. Unfortunately for Volk, his masters aren’t the only ones seeking Leda and it will take more than luck to get out with his life – and the painting.

Volk’s Game is the debut thriller from Brent Ghelfi, whose extensive travel is evident in the compelling portrait he paints of life in modern-day Moscow and St. Petersburg. Against this backdrop, Ghelfi positions his modern-day Robin Hood, a “wolf” (the meaning of Volk’s name in Russian) who shares his ill-gotten gains with military widows and amputees less fortunate than himself. The weekly visits of “mercy” he makes, and the flashbacks to the six months spent in captivity in Chechnya, are the only windows Ghelfi provides into his character, yet they provide insight into this troubled anti-hero.

A gangster with scruples, Volk knows that the distinctions he makes (he doesn’t trade in children) mean little within the broader picture: “contemplating the sad truth that I use children in the same ways he [Gromov] does. My reasons may be different, and pictures and petty crimes might not be as horrible as forced prostitution and slavery, but the price of wasted lives is unchanged no matter what they are used to purchase.” As exciting a ride as the central mystery is in Volk’s Game, the part which makes the book impossible to put down is the inner battle Volk fights daily between his natural violence and his hidden compassion. He flips on a dime, one moment exacting horrific retribution on an enemy and the next he spirits away the neglected baby of a drug-addled prostitute, determined she’ll have a better life.

Through everything Ghelfi throws into this merciless ride, Volk is still shown with to possess human weaknesses. He may possess a super-human ability to battle through pain but he is still affected by his love for Valya and his scruples – weaknesses which can ultimately be used against him in the race for the Leda.

Inevitably, readers may wonder if Ghelfi means Volk to be a mirror for the current state of Russia, portraying the two sides of a country attempting to adjust to the aftermath of decades of war, corruption and poverty. An open and “compassionate” country to visitors willing to leave behind their money, the violence against her citizens and those who “cross” politicians is the stuff of legends.

ISBN10: 0805082549
ISBN13: 9780805082548

320 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publication Date: June 12, 2007
Book Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert


Gabriel Blackstone is an information pirate. He began his career as a “remote viewer (RV)” for Eyestorm, a government-run institution which trained psychics and individuals able to tap into the consciousness of others and “slam the ride.” After a ride ends with a murdered child rather than an incarcerated kidnapper, Gabriel walks away from Eyestorm and focuses solely on making money. His chosen profession is hacker for hire, getting his thrills from riding the information highway and penetrating closely guarded corporate networks.

Life gets complicated when Cecily Franck reappears in Gabriel’s life, asking him to investigate the disappearance of her stepson Robert. Cecily is an RV, as well as his former lover, a relationship which ended with his departure from Eyestorm. Reluctantly Gabriel looks into Robert’s relationships and soon believes that Robert was murdered by one of two sisters – Morrighan or Minnaloushe Monk. Descendants of occultist John Dee, the Monk sisters are “solar” witches engaged in alchemy and the “Art of Memory,” a process of building memory palaces in the mind to achieve transformation and ultimate power. After hacking into their computer, Gabriel discovers a diary written by “M” and soon is captivated, falling deeply in love with the writer. Now to save himself, he must uncover which sister is the writer – Minnaloushe, the romantic intellectual or Morrighan, the daring adventurer – and find out if the woman he loves killed Robert.

As Season of the Witch opens, Gabriel is little more than a cardboard character, the stereotypical action hero brashly confident of his own abilities. Instead of being repulsed by this, readers should persist with the story for Mostert slowly peels away the layers to show Gabriel as a flawed human, hiding within a shell of arrogance and superiority. Mostert’s writing immerses readers within a world of artifice and construction, where everything possesses multiple layers of meaning. She ensures that by the critical plot moment, readers care deeply about Gabriel and identify with him, flaws and all.

Mostert’s attention to character development does not end with Gabriel. Minnaloushe and Morrighan are both lovingly drawn with each possessing a distinct personality and manner of speech. The secondary characters are also infused with the necessary small details to flesh out their character. Isidore, Gabriel’s business partner, is quickly defined by his love of loud music and the virtual world and early on in the novel his personality comes close to overwhelming that of Gabriel.

Season of the Witch is a carefully constructed mystery, one which exposes greater depths with each reading. Extensive research into alchemy, history, the occult, theories of memory and philosophy has obviously been carried out by Mostert and she possesses vast knowledge of her chosen subject. Mostert has placed the Monk sisters’ grail quest within a modernistic setting, fusing the modern with the data storage methods of an earlier age to create a wholly unique commentary on memory within the information age. As an academic explains to Gabriel “Our memories have become flaccid because of all the technological tools we use…Citizens of Ancient Greece and Rome would find your attention span laughable…Modern man is increasingly incapable of internalizing knowledge…we…forget what we’ve read almost as soon as we’ve read it.” Her choice of topic – the drive for gnosis, knowledge of the universe and enlightenment – dares readers to engage with her novel as more than just entertainment. She expects readers to face her challenge and expand their knowledge and understanding of the world.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0525950036
ISBN13: 9780525950035

416 Pages
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: April 24, 2007
Author Website:


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BOOK REVIEW: Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein


Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper is facing one of the most challenging cases of her career, the high-profile murder case against Brendan Quillian for the strangulation of his wife Amanda. Cooper is convinced that Quillian hired someone to kill his wife while he was conveniently out of town but has little but circumstantial evidence and the testimony of the murdered wife’s best friend Kate with which to win the conviction. When the defense attorney tears Kate apart on the witness stand, exposing her affair with Quillian, Cooper is sure the case is lost – that is, until a devastating explosion in Water Tunnel #3 rocks New York City and a link to Brendan Quillian is found in the wreckage.

With only a few days to rebuild her case, Cooper, Mercer and Wallace race to understand Quillian’s connection to the new water tunnels, and find the evidence to ensure a conviction. Yet, as they explore the “city of death” underneath Manhattan, they may have unearthed more than just an insular society of “sand hogs” and Amanda’s death may not be the only one requiring investigation.

Bad Blood is the ninth thriller by Linda Fairstein to feature Alexandra Cooper, the lead prosecutor for the Sex Crimes Unit at Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office. Fairstein, for years the head of the same department in Manhattan, uses her extensive experience to create a story full of the nuances and myriad details that provide authenticity. Only an intimate of this world would be aware that the prosecutor’s current favoured method to move case files is shopping carts.

Fairstein’s thrillers include a great deal of action, more than lovers of legal thrillers may appreciate; however, she consistently presents aspects of New York City that for many are hidden, bringing it to life as a secondary character. She incorporates the history of New York’s water system into the plot without it feeling clunky or manipulated. The inclusion of the city as an essential character is what set her thrillers apart from the rest of this crowded genre.

Blair Brown’s reading flows smoothly as she effortlessly switches between the distinct voices and accents with which she portrays the various characters. Whether she is describing the historical and engineering facts about New York’s water tunnels or the social history of the “sand hogs” (the tunnel workers), the expressiveness of her reading suggests she is as engaged with the subject as the author. Especially notable is her portrayal of the bitter feud among the sand hog families. Her voice reflects the vitriol and animosity without becoming melodramatic.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0743555953
ISBN13: 9780743555951

Audiobook, 5 CDs
Read by: Blair Brown
Abridged by: Judith Benenson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: January 2007


BOOK REVIEW: How to Marry a Ghost by Hope McIntyre


Lee Bartholomew is having relationship troubles so she jumps at the chance to leave London and travel to the Hamptons to attend her mother’s commitment ceremony to the Phillionaire. Plus it gives her the opportunity to interview for the job to ghostwrite rock legend Shotgun Marriott’s autobiography. The aging rocker is more reknown for waking up beside a dead groupie in the 60s than for his music but has always refused to talk about it until now. Lee isn’t pleased to discover that her ghostwriting competition, Bettina Santa Cruz, has been in New York for two weeks and appears to have won the ghostwriting job.

A Miss Havisham-like woman briefly interrupts her mother’s beachside commitment ceremony but it doesn’t seem to bother the happy couple. Unfortunately the body of Shotgun Marriott’s son washing up on the beach dressed in a wedding dress marks the end of festivities. When Bettina is also murdered, Lee suddenly finds herself filling her rival’s shoes investigating Shotgun’s past. Faced with a bevy of suspects, none of whom she wants to believe is guilty, Lee undertakes her own investigation. Since Shotgun is also the prime suspect in his son’s murder, should Lee worry about ending up in the same state as Bettina?

How to Marry a Ghost is the second mystery book by Hope McIntyre featuring neurotic ghostwriter Lee Bartholomew. McIntyre has taken an acerbic recluse with minimal social graces and turned her into a winning heroine. As Lee slowly learns to know the residents of the East End of Long Island and their secrets, readers uncover details of her turbulent relationship with Tommy.

McIntyre has woven together not only an interesting cast of characters but several fascinating plot lines. Lee’s search for a new family circle, Franny’s secret past and possible relationship with Rufus, “Miss Havisham’s” story, and, of course, Shotgun Marriott’s history all intertwine with the central mystery to create a complex and satisfying novel.

At times readers may become frustrated with Lee’s obsessive nature and “undercover polar bear” nature (the males and females don’t live together, coming together only to mate – her picture of the ideal marriage); however, in this cast of eccentrics she becomes a shining star. Long before Bettina’s body is found, readers will be firmly in Lee’s corner.

Hope McIntyre is the pseudonym of well-known author and editor Caroline Upcher. She is perhaps best known for her work as ghostwriter on Naomi Campbell’s novel Swan.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0892960140
ISBN13: 9780892960149

368 Pages
Publisher: Mysterious Press
Publication Date: January 3, 2007
Author Website:


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BOOK REVIEW: Find Me by Carol O’Connell


Mallory, on “unofficial” leave from the NYPD, has disappeared from New York at the same time a dead woman is found in Mallory’s apartment. Several states away a dead body is found pointing the way down old Route 66, its hand removed and replaced with the bones from a child’s hand. For years a serial killer has been murdering little girls along this highway. Does the message carved into the face of this new body refer to these old cases?

Mallory is on a trip into the past, chasing her own demons on the legendary highway, when her path intersects with that of a caravan of parents seeking their missing children. The serial killer has begun targeting the parents, positioning them so that the bone hand points to a new grave along the highway. Now Mallory, along with her partner Riker and psychologist Charles Butler, must shepherd the caravan to safety and stop the serial killer before he takes the penultimate victim.

Fans of the Mallory novels know that the protagonist is not that different from the criminals she hunts. Adopted and raised by NYPD officer Lou Markowitz and his wife Helen, Mallory has learned society’s rules but chooses only to follow those she deems necessary. Cold and self-assured on the outside, inside Mallory remains a lost child and as Find Me begins, Mallory’s exterior is beginning to crack.

Mallory operates as a lone wolf, giving away very little information to those she works with or to readers. Her normal world is absolutely orderly and controlled; however, as the ninth novel in this series opens, that control has begun to slip. Mallory’s trip into her past is beginning to highlight the cracks in the veneer. Mallory’s car has is filthy, her nail polish is chipped and she has become forgetful. Most telling of all, she has left New York without a computer.

In Find Me, Carol O’Connell has not only provided a complex and intricately woven mystery but has also a window into Mallory’s history, motivations and character. By placing her personal story in counterpoint to the grief, loss and anguish of the haunted caravan parents, O’Connell shares a great deal about Mallory through inference. The expected meltdown never fully occurs, however, all the signs are there and, even though Mallory allows no human warmth to show, readers will care deeply for the sociopathic protagonist.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0399153950
ISBN13: 9780399153952

352 Pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam & Sons
Publication Date: January 2, 2007


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BOOK REVIEW: Empire of Light by David Czuchlewski


Matt Kelly lost track of ex-girlfriend Anna Barrett after she dropped out of Princeton. So when she shows up on his doorstep looking for a place to stay, Matt is torn. He desperately wants to believe that she is clean but it’s taken him a long time to get over her. Within a few days Anna has begun counseling run by Imperium Luminis, an arm of the Catholic Church and a group Anna studied in a course on cults at Princeton.

Matt is suspicious of the “Empire of Light” and their intentions toward Anna, who has disappeared. When Anna’s step-father suggests that Matt infiltrate the cult, Matt is dismayed to find he is strangely attracted to the philosophy of their founder Giuseppe Conti. As Matt learns more about the group, he discovers his feelings about the group are no longer black and white. Will Matt be able to extricate Anna before he becomes fully indoctrinated?

David Czuchlewski’s second novel, Empire of Light, is both a mystery and a philosophical novel, with the philosophical far outweighing the mystery. Matt’s search for Anna quickly becomes a personal quest for meaning and faith. The narrative alters between Matt’s search for Anna, his reminiscences about their days at Princeton and excerpts from The Pilgrim, a treatise from the sect’s founder Giuseppe Conti.

At the beginning of Empire of Light, Matt’s faith is shaky but his opinions on the sect are black and white. Except for his family, Matt appears to live in isolation so it is not inconceivable that he is quickly pulled back into Anna’s orbit. In a sense, his life has been on hold awaiting her return. What is difficult to fathom is how easily Matt accepts what he is told by both the sect and Anna’s father.

As events progress, Matt’s opinions on the group move from black and white to grey. Matt is certain of only one thing – something is missing from his life – and he wonders if faith may be the answer. By this point in the novel, readers may wonder why Matt hasn’t just walked away from Anna. His desire to abandon his job and life to “save” her doesn’t ring true.

While the twists in Czuchlewski’s novel are cleverly managed, the novel’s pacing is disrupted by the lengthy passages cited from The Pilgrim. In the end, Empire of Light reads more like philosophical fiction rather than a mystery novel and its early promise is not realized. Empire of Light feels unfinished and readers, like Matt, may feel something is missing.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 014200491X
ISBN13: 9780142004913

Reprint, Trade Paperback
226 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2005


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