IT IS PURELY MY OPINION - Reviews by L. J. Roberts

EX – Will probably make my top 10 of the year
VG – I probably started and finished the same day.
Good  – Enjoyed very much (Good Plus) or with reservations (Good Minus). 
OK – Had some problems with it.  May read more, but this is probably not an author
I’ll collect.
NR – Didn’t work for me.  May not read more by this author.

W. Y. BOYD - A Rendezvous with Death  (Elton-Wolf Publishing, hardcover, 2003; Amateur Sleuth / Soldier)

Set in the midst of battle during WWII, an officer hears a woman’s cry, and by the time he reaches the barn where she is, he finds her with her throat cut and an officer, nephew of unit Commander Coleman, who’s been shot.  Coleman appoints Second Lieutenant Charles Donnelly to find the killer at the same time that he’s trying to keep his men and himself alive during battle.
***  Although the mystery is a little thin and the dialogue a bit awkward, the descriptions of the men and their experience of battle alone make this a book worth reading.      Good Minus

EDNA BUCHANAN - Cold Case Squad  (Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 2004; paperback: Pocket Books, 2005; Police Procedural.)

Twelve years ago children at a birthday party witnessed a garage explode, which accidentally killed Charles Tarrell.  Now his ex-wife comes to the Cold Case Squad, telling them she has seen her husband, even though she knows he’s dead.  Although the Squad is ready to pass on the case, their lieutenant, K.C. Riley, insists they make it a top priority.  In a separate case, one of the members of the squad discovers that someone has killed nine lonely, elderly women across America.
***  Shades of the 87th Precinct.  Cold Case Squad has a wonderful cast of characters with diverse pasts and lives, yet working well together as a team.  There is excellent dialogue, humor and descriptions of Miami, but balanced with interesting procedure and good suspense.  While it helps to have read Buchanan’s earlier book, The Ice Maiden, it’s not completely necessary, as this is a wonderful book on its own.  I hope to see a lot more of the Cold Case Squad.    VG

LILLIAN STEWART CARL - Time Enough to Die  (Wildside Press, hardcover, 2002; Gothic Suspense)

Dr. Matilda Gray, an parapsychologist specializing in art, archaeology and architecture, is teamed with Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Gareth March in investigating the murder of a young woman suspected of stealing artifacts from an archaeological dig.
***  Take a town in England, interesting history, the spirits of a Roman couple and a Celtic woman, a hint of romance, the threat of death, a suspenseful conclusion, mix them together and you have a very good read.  I appreciated that neither the romance nor the parapsychology overwhelmed the basic investigation of a murder and thefts.  The characters were human and fallible.   I’d say this is one of Carl’s best books.    VG

MARK COHEN - The Fractal Murders  (Mysterious Press, hardcover, 2004; paperback: Warner, 2005; Pepper Keane: Private Investigator; 1st in series)

Math professor Jayne Smyers is convinced that the probability of three other professors, experts in fractal geometry, must be related, despite what the FBI says, so she hires investigator Pepper Keane, a former Marine JAG and prosecuting attorney, to look for the link, and the killer.
***  Pepper is intelligent and fully dimensional, a man who is still on the search for who he is.  There are wonderful relationships between him and his family and friends, and well as some good humor.  I even learned something about fractal geometry and philosophy along with way without it miring the plot.  There’s not a lot of suspense, but it’s the characters that drive the story, and the killer is a complete surprise.  I also enjoyed the inclusion of small towns and cities as settings: Nederland and Boulder, Colorado; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Walla Walla, Washington.  I really enjoyed this book, and I will be interested to see where the series goes from here.   VG

MICHAEL CONNELLY - The Narrows  (Little, Brown; hardcover, 2004; Harry Bosch: Private Investigator; 10th in series)

When now private investigator Harry Bosch is asked by the widow of Terry McCaleb to investigate her husband’s death, he finds Terry was actively investigating a case whose path led to a serial killer in Nevada.  At the same time, FBI agent Rachel Walling receives a call telling her to travel to Las Vegas because of a package sent to her, putting both her and Bosch back on the trail of “The Poet,” a serial killer who nearly cost each of them their lives in the past.
*** I was so disappointed in this book.  I kept feeling that Connelly was so upset with the way Blood Work had been handled as a film that he killed off the main character and derided it in nearly every chapter of this book.  The characters were flat, Harry was almost unappealing as a character, and there was very little suspense until the end.  It’s not a terrible book, but it’s certainly not what I’d have expected of an otherwise excellent author.    Good

Editorial comment: What with several characters and plot lines from several preceding books converging together into this one, it certainly doesn’t sound like this is the Michael Connelly novel to start with.  (Steve)

BARBARA D’AMATO - Death of a Thousand Cuts  (Forge; hardcover; 2004; Police Procedural)
During a reunion weekend, famed doctor and author, Dr. Jay Schermerhorn, is found brutally murdered in the basement of Hawthorne House, once a home and treatment center for autistic children.  Chicago Detectives Emily Folkestone and Oliver Parks must quickly find the killer of this high-profile victim among the former staff, doctors, family and patients.
***  Marvelous descriptions of Chicago and Hawthorne House build the foundation for this well-written book. However, it’s the relationship between the two detectives and the characters of the patients, particularly Jeffrey, that draws you in and keeps you reading.   While the mystery is good, it’s the in-depth look at autism that makes this a fascinating book    VG

BRENDAN DuBOIS - Buried Dreams  (St. Martin’s Minotaur; hardcover; 2004; Lewis Cole: Amateur Sleuth / Reporter, 5th in series)

Reporter Lewis Cole’s friend Jon Erickson has made finding evidence of a Viking settlement in New Hampshire his avocation.  It seems he’s finally found proof and has invited Lewis over to see it.  But when Lewis arrives at Jon’s house he finds the police there and Jon murdered.
***  DuBois is something of a buried treasure.  Even if you’ve not read others in the series, you have a sense of who the characters are.  You feel Lewis’ pain of losing his friend and how that friend has impacted Lewis’ life.  But there’s good suspense as well and a well-done twist at the end.  I have always enjoyed this series, and this is certainly one of his best.    VG

L. T. FAWKES - Lights Out: A Working Man’s Mystery  (Signet; paperback original, 2004; Terry Saltz: Amateur Sleuth, 2nd in series)

The not-yet-ex-wife of carpenter and pizza-delivery man Terry Saltz is found when a gun in her hand at a murder scene.  Terry, certain of her innocence, enlists the help of his roommates and friends to find the real killer.
***  The plot is light but the characters are wonderful.  You truly get to know Terry and his friends as you join them in their day and work.  There’s very good dialogue and light humor.  It’s heavy on profanity, but not inappropriate for the characters.  I read the first in the series and will probably keep following Terry and the gang.  This is a fun, quick read.    Good Plus

G. M. FORD - Red Tide  (William Morrow; hardcover, 2004; paperback: Avon, June 2005; true-crime writer Frank Corso: Amateur Sleuth/Police Procedural; 4th in series)

When the police evacuate an area in Seattle, including a gallery with Meg Donovan’s first showing and Corso in attendance, Frank decides to find out why.  Terrorists have released a controlled form of the Ebola virus into a subway stations, and over a hundred people die.  In the meantime, Meg sees, follows, and loses the man responsible for marking her, only to have him turn up later, dead in her kitchen.
***  It was nice to see Corso working with the police, for a change, and there were a couple other very good characters in the policeman Hart and reporter Sexton.  The pace is tense and fast and keeps you turning the pages late into the night.  Although I was disappointed with the very end of the book, I shall certainly be first in line for his next one.      Good Plus

MARTHA GRIMES - The Man with a Load of Mischief  (Onyx; paperback reprint, 2003; hardcover: Little Brown, 1981; Inspector Jury: English Police Procedural; 1st in series)

It’s Christmas time in Long Pittleton, and when the second of two murders occurs with the bodies found in two separate pubs, one with his head stuck in a beer keg and the other draped over the pub sign beam, Det. Chief Inspector Richard Jury is sent to investigate.  
***  Talk about a full cast of characters, that word being truly appropriate, including two small children, the annoying Aunt Agatha, the brilliant Melrose Plant and his butler Ruthven, pronounced Rivv’n.  The season and locale also play an important role; I loved Jury’s delight in an unbroken field of snow.  This was a delightful book with wonderful humor.   I enjoyed it very much.     VG

JOHN KATZENBACH - The Madman’s Tale (Ballantine Books; hardcover, 2004; paperback: Fawcett, March 2005; Psychological Thriller)

Francis Xavier Petrel, named C-Bird by his former fellow inmates at Western State Hospital, is now living on this own.  But an invitation to the hospital, closed for 20 years, being made a museum, draws Francis back, both to the place and the memories of the events, people and murders there.
***  An incredible book which draws you in and keeps you there to the very end.  This is not a quick airplane read, but the type of book one savors.  The descriptions of the inmates and life within the hospital are wonderfully done, but never with a sense of pity or condescension, nor are the administrators and doctors stereotypical “bad guys.”  Francis is a hero unlike any other in an environment where “normal” does not apply.   This is, to me, Katzenbach’s best yet.    EX

JACK KERLEY - The Hundredth Man (Dutton; hardcover, 2004; Police Procedural; 1st book; 1st in series?)

Det. Carson Ryder is one-half of new team supposed to investigate crimes which suggest that they have been committed by someone with psychological disorder; i.e., crazy.  For their first case, they have a serial killer leaving headless bodies lying about with very small writing on them as messages to be interpreted.
***  The character of Ryder and his history is intriguing if a bit familiar.  I really enjoyed his experienced partner Harry.  The crimes are suitably unusual enough that you really want to know who and why, and really don’t know until the end.  But the secondary characters were, for the most part, easy stereotypes, and their issues are much too easily overcome.  All in all, it’s a good first effort, but I’ll hope for more from his next book.      Good

ED McBAIN - Killer’s Choice  (The Armchair Library, hardcover, 1991; paperback original: Permabooks, 1958; 87th Precinct: Police Procedural; 6th in series)

The detectives of the 87th Precinct are looking for the killer of one of their own, have gained a new member of the squad, Cotton Hawes, and are looking for the person who murdered a young woman.
***  This edition is particularly enjoyable as it includes an introduction by the author talking    about introducing Hawes to the series.  Reading the books in this series is always a delight: tight plots, crisp dialogue, well-drawn characters, good humor and excellent sense of place and time; all in fewer than 200 pages.  McBain’s books are truly a master class in detective fiction.  It doesn’t get better than this.     VG

ANN McMILLAN - Chickahominy Fever  (Penguin Books; paperback, 2004; hardcover: Viking Press, 2003; Narcissa Powers & Judah Daniels: Historical Mystery, 4th in series)

It is 1862, and with Richmond is surrounded by the Union Army, nurse Narcissa Powers is attempting to locate the body of a missing Confederate soldier, while Judah Daniel, a free black herbalist, searches for the mother of an abandoned infant.  A crucial letter, which could change the course of the war, brings these two together again.
***  I found the plot of this fragmented and although loosely based  on an actual incident, improbable.   The red herrings, rather than being effective, made the protagonist seem naive.  The only thing that saved this book, for me, was the history, but that’s not enough for me to recommend it as a mystery.    OK

BILL PRONZINI - Masques  (Leisure Books; paperback, 1999; hardcover: Arbor House, 1981; standalone)

Photographer Steve Giroux is vacationing in New Orleans, but his stay turns into a nightmare when a voice on the phone demands a photograph Steve never had, and he finds himself being stalked..
***  Pronzini has truly captured the feel of New Orleans in this dark, creepy, scary book with a really poor ending.  However, he is a master at first person and at bringing you into the thoughts and fears of his protagonist.  While definitely not his best book, he kept me turning the pages way past my bedtime.    Good

J. D. ROBB - Visions of Death  (Putnam; hardcover, 2004; paperback: February, 2005; Eve Dallas: Future/Police Procedural; 19th in series)

A serial killer is murdering young women and leaving them posed naked with a red ribbon around their neck, their hands posed in prayer, and their eyes removed.
***  This series has always been something of a guilty pleasure for me.  Yes, there’s still her billionaire husband Roark, but he is less involved with the case than he once was.  I love the cast of characters, the crisp, witty dialogue, and Eve’s constant battle with her cars and the chocolate thief.  But there were also scenes that brought tears to my eyes and others that made me catch my breath in suspense.  The books in this series are always good reads.           VG


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               These reviews previously appeared in Mystery*File 46, November 2004.   Copyright © 2004 by Steve Lewis.  All rights reserved to contributors.                                                                                                                                                                                   
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