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.

PAUL ADAM - Sleeper (Time Warner-UK, 2005; Paperback; Amateur Sleuth; Italy; 5th book)

    Giovanni “Gianni” Castiglioni is a luthier – a violin maker – at whose home his friends – a policeman, Guastafeste, a priest, Father Arrigh, and a fellow luthier, Rainaldi – gather each month as an informal string quartet.  After one of their sessions,  Guastafeste and Gianni find Rainaldi murdered in his studio by.  His widow tells them he was searching for “The Messiah’s Sister,” the twin to a perfect, unplayed, priceless violin made by Stradivari.  Gianni is asked by Guastafeste to help in the investigation.
*** This book is being released in hardcover by St. Martin’s as The Rainaldi Quartet in February 2006.  No matter the title, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The character of Gianni, the supporting characters and the settings in Italy were well done.  The killer, and the motive, weren’t ones I anticipated.  But it was the history of violins and violin making I found fascinating.  The information enhanced, rather than detracted, from the story.  If this is an example of Mr. Adam's writing, I should definitely read another book by him.    Good Plus

JANE ADAMS -  The Greenway (Macmillan (UK), 1995; hardcover; Suspense/Police Procedural; England; 1st book)

    Cassie Maltham’s cousin disappeared while they were taking a short-cut home through the Greenway, an ancient passageway in Norfolk.  Cassie couldn’t remember what had happened, but has suffered from depression and nightmares ever since.  Now, 20 years later, Cassie has returned to Norfolk trying to let go of the past.  But when another young girl disappears, it draws Cassie back into her nightmares.  Detective Inspector Mike Croft, through the urging of Sergeant Bill Enfield, elicits the help of John Tynan, the retired detective who investigated the disappearance of Cassie's cousin.
*** Ms. Adams has written a haunting, yet very human book about guilt and loss.  Cassie suffers survivor’s guilt; why did her cousin disappear rather than she.  Croft knows the anguish of losing a child, although his son had been killed in a hit-and-run.  The story was absorbing with good twists along the way and touches of the supernatural.  I shall definitely read more of Ms. Adams’ work.    Good Plus

BRIGITTE AUGER - Death from the Woods (Berkeley Prime Crime, 2005, Paperback; Suspense; France; 1st book)

    As the result of a car bomb, Elise Andrioli is a blind, mute quadriplegic.  Left by her caregiver Yvette in a park to wait, Elise is befriended by Virginie, a 7-year-old who tells Elise she knows who is killing young boys.  When Elise is attacked, she is faced with finding a way to communicate and to stay alive.
*** Translated from French, the story, for the most part, flows well and was only occasionally in the dialogue aware of it being a translation.  Aubert did a very good job conveying the protagonist’s emotions of frustration, anger, determination, humor and fear.  But that was the strength of the book.  The plot became more convoluted as it progressed and the ending was anticlimactic as the mystery wasn’t resolved through a series of clues, but by the recitation of one of the characters.  So, while I felt the character of Elise was well done, the overall story was only good.    Good

LEE CHILD - Die Trying (Jove; 1998; paperback; Suspense; Montana; 2nd in Jack Reacher series)

Jack Reacher, former MP and expert sharpshooter, just tries to be a nice guy to a woman having trouble folding her dry cleaning.  In exchange, they both end up being kidnapped and taken to a paramilitary camp in Montana.  The woman isn’t just anyone; Holly Johnson is an FBI agent with a very powerful father and godfather.  The militarists don’t want money, they want to start their own country.
*** Strong characters, excellent dialogue and non-stop, albeit very violent, action combine to make this a fast, entertaining read.  I’d categorize this as a perfect airplane book — a great book in which to escape for a few hours, but not one you’re likely to collect or reread.    VG


MICHAEL ALLEN DYMMOCH - White Tiger (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover; 2005;  Police Procedural; Chicago-1970s; 5th in John Thinnes series)

    Detective John Thinnes views the body of a murder victim at the morgue, and realizes she was the Vietnamese wife of his best friend when serving as an MP during the Vietnam War.  Upon meeting the late woman’s son, he remembers his friends’ wedding night, waking up hung over and naked and now wonders whether he could be the boy’s father. 
    Thinnes goes to his friend Dr. Jack Calab, a psychiatrist, who served in Vietnam as a medic and is in a veterans’ group dealing with his own memories of that experience.   When one of the group members is murdered, it links the two cases together with tales of the White Tiger, a mysterious criminal from Vietnam, now in Chicago.
*** I have been an admirer of Ms. Dymmoch's work from the beginning and regret more people are not aware of her.  While I love her previous titles, they may have caused people to think her books are light.  This book, with its succinct title, will certainly remedy that perception. 
    For those of us with friends and/or relatives who fought, and died, in Vietnam, this is a painful but wonderfully written book.  The story is told in alternating perspectives of Thinnes and Calab, as well as the present and the past, but it absolutely works.  While there is a present-day case to be solved, the story is really about the experiences and impact of war on those who fight it.  One of the members of Calab’s group is from Desert Storm.  The mystery and suspense serve almost as a backdrop, but it’s absolutely a book well worth reading.    VG


KJ ERICKSON - Alone at Night (St. Martin’s; paperback original; 2005; Police Procedural; Minneapolis-1984/present; 4th book in Mars Bahr series)

    In 1984, Chief of Police Sigvald “Sig” Sampson handled the case of a beautiful young clerk who disappeared from a convenience store where she worked alone at night.   That case was never solved.  Now, in 2003, Marshall “Mars” Bahr has reopened the case.
*** This starts out really well, and I didn’t even mind the dual time periods as Erickson quickly tied the events of the past into the present.  The characters of Mars Bahr – okay, I’ll admit I'm a little tired of cute names for protagonists – and Nettie Frisch are interesting, although I did feel there was a lack of development without having read the previous books.  Bahr’s son, Chris, supposedly 11, reads more like 16 to me.
    The plot started out well, but rather this being a suspenseful police procedural, it degraded into involving Viet Nam at one end and Osama bin Laden at the other.  I kept feeling as though the author was trying to integrate political views rather than focus on a mystery.  There was only one suspenseful scene toward the end, and its outcome was projected and predictable.  I’m afraid I just wasn’t very impressed.    OK


CHRIS FREEBURN - Dying for Redemption (Quiet Storm Publishing; trade paperback; 2004; PI/Fantasy; standalone)

    Calamer “Callous” Demar is a private investigator.  He also died in 1953.  His agency, located in Limbo, helps the recently murdered find out who killed them.  Callous’s secretary, Ann, has brought him the case of Willow Flannery, a millionaire businesswoman, who was killed in a car accident, except that the brakes were cut.  But Callous must also help his great-grandniece Abby accept her death and find her killer.
*** The story alternates points of view between Callous and Abby.  I found this very distracting as at times  I had to check the chapter heading to know which POV was speaking.  Callous’s ‘notes’ to himself were amusing but not completely logical as you assume he has been a PI in Limbo since he died and would have been exposed to the changing times through his
clients.  Still in all, it was clever and entertaining and had some interesting points about life and death.  The two mysteries were well plotted with good twists.  I should recommend this to those who enjoy the paranormal and want something a bit different.    Good.


ASHLEY GARDNER - The Sudbury School Murders (Berkeley Prime Crime, paperback original; 2005; Amateur Sleuth; England-1817; 4th in Gabriel Lacey series)

    Retired dragoon Captain Gabriel Lacy  and his manservant, Bartholomew have left London for the Sudbury School, where Lacey has taken the post of secretary to the school’s headmaster, Everard Rutledge.  The school has been beset with pranks and Rutledge wants Lacy to find out who's behind them.  But it’s no prank when there’s a murder.
*** These days, it’s not easy to find a true mystery with a murder, clues and a solution.  This is just such a book!  Captain Lacey is an interesting character, one whose merits are seen and valued by others much more than him.  He is a strong, appealing character with a history and unresolved issues.  Lacey is supported by interesting secondary characters and a vivid depiction of the time period.  The dialogue is well done; neither so focused on being of the period it slows down ones reading, nor so modern as to be anachronistic.  The story is so involving that I read it straight through.  I very much enjoyed this book, but it is best to read the series from the beginning.  The good news is that the 5th book is already out,
and the 6th is due in June 2006.    VG


SIMON R. GREEN -  Paths Not Taken (Ace; paperback original; 2005; Fantasy; Nightside; 5th in series)

    John Taylor is a private investigator in Nightside, a hidden part of London where it is always 3 a.m. and the residents are anything but ordinary.   John has learned that his mother is Lilith, the first wife of biblical Adam.    He, Suzie Shooter and Tommy Oblivion travel back in time to learn how his mother created Nightside and find a way to stop her from destroying it.
*** This series that must be read in order and is not for the faint of stomach.  It is for those who enjoy action and fantasy.  Personally, I’ll admit I’m a bit disappointed in the path the series has taken.  The first two books were truly a PI in a fantasy world.  Now, Taylor is on a quest and each book is a bit more of the same.  Taylor and his friends are engaging characters, but the story seems to be stuck on a theme.  The story moves well and doesn’t lack for excitement, but I’d like to see this thread wrapped up and John get back to fighting crime in Nightside.    Good Plus


KERRY GREENWOOD - Urn Burial (Poisoned Pen Press; trade paperback; 2005; Private Investigator; Australia-1920s; 7th in Phyrne Fisher series)

    Phryne Fisher, her maid Dorothy, her lover Lin Chung, and his man Li are headed for a holiday at Cave House in the Australian countryside.  On the way, they hear a rifle shot and find a hysterical maid who has been molested.  Later. after their arrival, Phryne finds the maid dead, but when she returns with help, the body is gone.  Phryne discovers each of the houseguests has a secret and the host is receiving threatening letters. 
*** This is a delightful book with an equally delightful and capable protagonist.  Phryne can fly her own plane, shoot, and ride and take lovers with delight.  She’s also clever and solves crimes through skill and observation.  Greenwood does a wonderful job of creating strong, interesting characters, excellent dialogue and tight plots.  She also teaches me something in each book – in this case, it’s the geology of caves – without beating me over the head or slowing down the story.  There is even a delightful homage to Agatha Christie in this book.  While this entry may not be quite as strong as others in the series, it was still very enjoyable.    Good Plus

SUSANNA GREGORY - An Unholy Alliance (Time Warner-UK; paperback; Medieval Mystery; England/1300s; 2nd in Matthew Bartholomew series)

    The plague has passed and physician Matthew Bartholomew wants only to train his students and attend to his patients.  As senior physician, he is called to examine a body mysteriously discovered inside the treasured and supposedly secure University chest, which holds all the most valued documents.  Witchcraft is also on the rise and someone is brutally murdering prostitutes and marking their feet with a small circle of blood.
*** Ms. Gregory has created an interesting 14th Century physician protagonist who would rather be teaching and attending to his patients rather than conducting investigations.  With strong supporting characters and rich historical detail, this is another very good book in a well-done series.  The stories are just a bit overlong and the plot over-complicated, but it all works together well.  I recommend reading the series in order, and I do recommend reading the series.    VG

HARRY HUNSICKER - Still River (St. Martin’s Press; hardcover; 2005; Private Investigator; Dallas; 1st book)

    PI Lee Henry “Hank” Oswald is a Gulf War approached by a former schoolmate to find her brother, a former drug addict and alcoholic.   Hank’s dying partner Ernie asks Hank to help his niece, Nolan, also an investigator.  The case expands to include murder, violent drug dealers and a major real estate scam.
*** Some have compared this book to Lehane and Connelly.  While I understand the comparison, to me this book just didn’t have the same cachet as those.  Hank is interesting, and he has as sidekicks a well-armed and violent gay couple sidekicks, but I never felt connected to them.  Hank gets beat up and shot, and shot, and shot, but he is the proverbial Timex.  There are a lot of bad guys without any of them being memorable.     
    The dialogue is good, although the author needs to ensure he does not overuse the phrase (paraphrasing) “If someone knows of a better … I wish they’d show me.”  The author works too hard at clever names for his characters: Lee Henry Oswald, for a book set in Dallas; Vera Drinkwater, client with an alcoholic brother; and bad guys Clairol and Fagen.  For all that, the story moves well and there are some clever moments.  The book was good, but it didn’t knock me out.    Good Minus


JOHN LESCROART - 13 Dead Irish (Signet; paperback; 2005; Police Procedural/Amateur Sleuth; San Francisco; 1st in series)

    Dismas Hardy is a Viet Nam vet, former cop, and former attorney who works in a bar.   Abe Glitsky is a homicide cop and Hardy’s former partner.  The son of a mutual friend is found dead and it looks like suicide.   Glitsky and Hardy disagree and decide to work together to find the killer.
*** It’s always good to read the first book of a series, as it lays the groundwork for the characters and their relationships.   This book did a very good job of creating and defining the principal characters by making them interesting enough that I want to read more about them.  The setting was well done.  However, the story had too many red herrings, and I found myself disappointed by the ending.    Good Plus


MARTIN O’BRIEN - Jacquot and the Waterman (Headline; trade paperback; 2005; Police Procedural; Marseilles, France; 1st in series)

    Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot is still recognized for scoring the winning try (touchdown) in a Five Nations final 20 years' earlier.  He faces a new challenge now with a serial killer, dubbed the Waterman, who is leaving nude, sexually abused dead woman in various watery locations around Marseilles.  The investigation takes Jacquot among both the criminal set and the wealthy, who have secrets of their own to hide.
*** Good police procedurals are one of my favorite types of mysteries, and this was good!  Jacquot is an interesting and memorable character who is tied to his city, his friends and his past.  He may not be lucky at love, but he loves what he does.   He is out to get the bad guys, but has a certain realistic viewpoint about it.   There were a lot of characters, but I never felt confused. 
    The suspense begins at the opening chapter and, while not nail-biting, it is maintained through the story.  The dialogue is excellent.  Not knowing Marseilles at all, I’d have liked a stronger sense of place, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment.  There are very good twists along the way, and even for the one bad guy who gets away, you have a sense fate will catch up with them down the line.  Book two of the series is already on my shelf.  I highly recommend this to fans of police procedurals.    VG

Happy Reading,


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