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.
Poor- It wasn't awful, but it wasn't good either.  Finished it with difficulty.  Probably
wont read more by this author.
NR – Didn’t work for me and/or Did not finish (DNF).  Will not read more by this

DOUG ALLYN - A Dance in Deep Water (St. Martin’s Press; 1997; Hardcover; Suspense; Michigan; Contemporary; 3rd in Mitch Mitchell series)

    “Mitch” Mitchell is a former deep water diver who has returned to Northern Michigan to run her late father's café and reacquaint herself with her 11-year-old son, Corie.   After she meets a man who knew her father, grandfather and her mother, who died giving birth to Mitch, she is led to suspect that her father killed her grandfather and left his body in a defunct and now flooded mine.  For Mitch, trying to find the truth now results in small town encounters with local citizens, drug dealers, para-militarists, local law enforcement and the FBI.  
***  Allyn knows how to write a strong, independent woman with a sense of humor and her own insecurities.  I liked that Mitch was as much trying to solve her personal mysteries as the external one in which she becomes involved.  The supporting characters are developed more with each book, which is also a small fault, but Allyn does a very good job at providing a sense of place and building suspense.  This is a very enjoyable series and one I recommend.    Good Plus

ANNE ARGULA - Homicide My Own (Pleasure Boat Studio; 2005, Trade Paperback; Police Procedural; Washington State; Contemporary)

    Spokane Police officers Odd Gunderson and Quinn are sent to Shalish Island, near Canada, where they are to pick up fugitive Charlie T. Houser, charged with having intimate relations with a 14-year-old girl.  Once there, they find Charlie, his young girlfriend, and her mother.  But they also find the Odd is strongly attracted to the pictures of two murder victims, killed over 30 years ago.  Why is it Odd knows things about people he has never met?
***  …and now for something completely different.  Quinn is a grouchy 40-plus-year-old woman suffering of deadly hot flashes.  Odd is a 20-plus-year old Swede who seems to be the reincarnation of a murder victim.  Quinn and Odd are saddled with Charlie, his young girlfriend Stacey and her mother Gail, while trying to solve an old murder.  The result is a strange, funny, and highly unusual mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed.    VG

UPDATE:  Homicide My Own has recently been nominated by the MWA for Best First Novel of the Year.  (Steve)

BLAKE CROUCH - (A) Desert Places / (B) Locked Doors (St. Martin’s Press; 2004/2005; Hardcover; Suspense; Contemporary; 1st and 2nd in Andrew Thomas series)

(A) Thriller writer Andrew Thomas is set up as a serial killer and has no way of proving he is not.   (B) It appears on of the bad guys from book (A) is still alive and again out to terrorize Andrew.
***  I grouped these together as I accidentally started book(B) first, couldn't get into it and thought it might be better if I read book (A) first.  I was wrong.  These are books that are light in character development but very heavy on gore and violence.  I should like the author to have taken the “less is more” approach.  His suspense is effective, but for me, the overt violence and gore made it impossible for me to stay with either of them.  True horror lovers will probably enjoy these but they just weren’t for me.    NR / DNF.

TESS GERRITSEN - Vanish (Ballantine Books; 2005; Hardcover; Thriller;New York City; Contemporary; 5th in Isles and Rizzoli series)

    It’s a medical examiner's worst nightmare when Dr. Maura Isles discovers a female body in her morgue is still alive, while Det. Jane Rizzoli is one week overdue having her first baby.  When she goes to the hospital for an exam, the last thing she expects is to be taken hostage by a woman who had pronounced dead.  After several of the hostages end up dead, the Feds take over the crime scene, leaving many questions to which Jane wants answers.
***  Ms. Gerritsen knows how to create a suspenseful situation.  I enjoy the characters of Isles and Rizzoli and recommend reading the series in order.  The beginning of this book sets up the situation and creates excellent tension as does the ending scene. But it seemed abrupt and the story less suspenseful than some of her medical thrillers.  Still, it is a fast-paced and very enjoyable read.  Gerritsen is a terrific author and always on my “must read” list.    VG

CAROL GOODMAN - The Lake of Dead Languages (Ballantine Books; 2006; Paperback; Suspense; Adirondacks; Contemporary; 1st novel)

    Jane Hudson teaches Latin and lives in a cottage at the Heart Lake School for Girls, where she had also been a student and graduated.  While there, two of her roommates died by committing suicide; or did they?  Pages from Jane’s lost journal from 20 years ago are now turning up.   Now Jane has three students who seem to be repeating the past.
***  When you identify the villain almost from the beginning, there’s almost no way you can continue.  Add to that characters about whom I really didn’t care and a story that seemed built on coincidence, and it was doomed.  The best part of the book was describing how ice forms on a lake, but that certainly wasn’t enough to keep me going.    NR/DNF.

JAMES W. HALL - Forests of the Night (St. Martin’s; 2004; Paperback; Suspense; North Carolina; Contemporary; Standalone)

    Miami policewoman Charlotte Monroe has an extraordinary ability to read people’s faces; so much so that the FBI want her to join them.  She also has a young daughter who is schizophrenic, and a husband who is a defense attorney who grew up learning Cherokee history.   A boyhood affair with a Cherokee girl resulted in a son he never knew, but who is now on the FBI most wanted list.  Charlotte, her husband and the FBI all travel to North Carolina when the son shows up and the daughter disappears.
***  I can make this short; it was awful.  I did finish it, but I’m not certain why.  There wasn’t a single character about which I cared; the plot was just plain absurd and the ending silly.  I kept reading to learn more about Charlotte’s talent, which isn’t employed in the story until the very end by which time I was no longer interested.  It was incredibly bad.    NR

RANDALL HICKS - The Baby Game (Wordslinger Press; 2005; Hardcover; Amateur Sleuth/Lawyer; Southern California; Contemporary; 1st in a series)

    Toby Dillon is the adoption attorney for his best friends, movie stars Brogan and Rita.  The baby is born in a condo but, when taken to the hospital, is found to have a medical condition.  When the doctor asks about the baby’s twin, Toby finds that both the twin baby and the mother have disappeared.  The search for the missing baby is on, resulting in murder and secrets uncovered along the way.
***  Hicks has written a particularly engaging character in Toby.  I also appreciated his making the celebrity couple real, grounded people.  There was interesting legal information which didn’t bog down the story, and some good twists along the way.  But it was Toby’s relationship with his grandfather was particularly touching.  The book is a bit mystery light, but it is an entertaining first book and a series I shall definitely
follow.    VG

QUINTIN JARDINE - Skinner’s Round (Headline-UK; 1995; Paperback; Police Procedural; Scotland; Contemporary; 4th in Chief Constable Robert Skinner series)

    A new, very elite golf course has opened in Scotland, and they are about to hold a major, international tournament when one of the co-owners and a millionaire is found murdered in his bath at the club.   Skinner and his team hope to keep the death quiet, but an article appears in the newspaper quoting a letter received which links the murder to a 400-year-old curse.
***  The supporting characters are interesting and well developed.  The sense of place is well done, and I even found the golf interesting.  The side story was particularly effective.  What put me off to the point of almost not finishing the book is the character of Skinner — he is just too perfect.  
    He is the perfect husband, lover, marksman; he’s an excellent golfer, physically strong, capable, and well respected by both his reports and his bosses.  He only showed a slight rough edge in relationship with his daughter and her boyfriend, but even that worked out, as you know it will.   I don’t necessarily need the angst of Rebus, but a character a little more human would be easier to take.  And it’s a saying, but underneath it all is a very good police procedural.    Get past Skinner and read this book – and the series – for the story.    Good Plus.

JACK KERLEY - The Death Collectors (Dutton; 2005; Hardcover; Police Procedural; Mobile, AL; Contemporary; 2nd in Carson Ryder & Harry Nautilus series)

    Detective Carson Ryder and his partner Harry Nautilus are back as the only members of PSIT — the Psychopathological and Sociopathological Investigative Team.  A woman’s body has been found in a cheap motel room.  She’s nude, wearing only cheap rings, covered in flower petals, and surrounded by candles.  But as the case progresses, they find it ties back to case in 1972, a serial killer and people who collect death art: objects involved in serial killings.
***  As much as I liked Kerley’s first book, The Hundredth Man, I thought this book was even better.  Kerley has created great characters, an excellent sense of place, and wonderful dialogue.  He knows how to perfectly balance humor and horror.  The plot is tight and takes turns I never saw coming.  
    There was only one small spot that could have used a sharper editor, but that’s a very small criticism and certainly didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story.  On Mr. Kerley’s website he writes “All I can say is, if you’re going to plunk down twenty-five or so bucks for a book, I’ll do my best to make it worth your while.”  Trust me, he succeeded.  I’m definitely ready for the next book.    EX

NICHOLAS KILMER - Man with a Squirrel (Poisoned Pen Press; 2000; Trade Paperback; Amateur Sleuth/Art Expert; Boston; Contemporary; 2nd in Fred Taylor series)

    An antiques dealer, Oona, sells art expert Fred Taylor a painting which, when removed it from its frame, looks to be a portion of a painting by Jon Singleton Copley, a well-known 18th century artist.  Days later, Fred learns that Oona is dead but has left another segment of the painting for him.  Fred’s lover, librarian Molly Riley, has been asked to look into the activities of Dr. Eunice Cover-Hoover, a professor who claims to be helping people with repressed memories.  These two elements appear to be tied together and it’s up to Fred to find out how.
***  Kilmer has a very interesting style.  There is humor in his turn of phrase, but you have to pay attention or you might miss it.  While the first book might have given me a greater history of the characters, Kilmer did fill things in as the story progressed.   The dialogue is well done; the sense of place could have been stronger.  I did enjoy the book; it did keep me reading, and it did have an excellent climatic scene.  Although it is not a “wow” book for me, I enjoyed it and would read another book by Kilmer.    Good.

GAY TOTL KINMAN - Castle Reiner (Clocktower Books; 2000; Trade Paperback; Gothic; California; 1899; 1st book)

    It’s 1899 England, and young Lavinia “Vinney” Cathcart, must make her own way.  Her minister father has died, and she how has nowhere to live.  She accepts the post as governess to the son of the European Baron whose father built a castle in California.  But things are not as they seem; the castle has a dark history of strange activities and death.
***  I love a good gothic and am always looking for new ones.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t it.  While I liked the character of “Vinney,” she was oblivious to the most obvious clue that I, as the reader, picked up on almost immediately.  There was very little development of the “hero,” and absolutely none of the “villain.”  
    I never really felt involved and so was unaffected by what little suspense there was.  The climax was too abrupt and the very end, just plain silly.  Guess I’ll have to re-read Victoria Holt and Mary Stuart.    Poor.

MICHAEL KRONENWETTER - F1rst Kill (St. Martin’s; 2005; Hardcover; Private Investigator; Wisconsin; Contemporary; 1st book)

    Private eye Hank Berlin is divorced and caring for his young son while his ex-wife is in Paris.  His childhood best friend married the girl he loved in high school.  Now, the best friend is dead and the wife wants Hank to investigate his murder.  The case raises difficult feelings for Hank and uncovers secrets many people would rather remain unknown.
***  Hank isn’t your stereotypical PI; he’s a normal guy trying to do his best with his business, son and life.  Even Harry, Hank’s six-year-old son seemed realistic.  The plot was interesting, took some great twists.  I did not see the end coming and was reminded a bit of Lehane.  The events and impact of Vietnam was effective yet didn’t overwhelm the story.  This is a very enjoyable debut and I look forward to Kronenwetter’s next book.    VG

NOTE: It is also worth mentioning that F1rst Kill was the winner of St. Martin’s Best Private Eye Novel contest in 2004, in conjunction with the Private Eye Writers of America.    (Steve)

ARCHER MAYOR - St. Albans Fire (Mysterious Press; 2005; Hardcover; Police Procedural; Vermont/NJ; Contemporary; 16th in Joe Gunther series)

    Vermont Bureau of Investigation agent Joe Gunthur is called out to the scene of a barn fire; an arson that became a murder with the discovery of a young man’s body.  As the investigation proceeds, it’s discovered that this is only one of a series of recent arsons.  The trail leads to New Jersey and a mob-connected “torch,” but the question is; who hired him?
***  Mayor really knows how to write an effective police procedural.  He creates strong, realistic, interesting characters, including very good female characters.  The sense of place and dialogue are excellent.  I particularly liked the way the story builds on itself, revealing the clues and building to an excellent ending, which surprised me, and made me think.  Each year, I look forward to his new book.  This year he met – and exceeded – my expectations.    VG

DEBRA MURPHY - The Mystery of Things (Idylls Press; 2004; Hardcover; Amateur Sleuth; Milwaukee; Contemporary; 1st book)

    James Ireton is a bright Shakespearian scholar with a bright future.  He is also struggling with his past, faith, a new relationship, the death of his mentor and nightmares of a knight, a lady and a dragon. Two men close to him have died by falling head-first from a height.  Were they both suicides?  
***  This is a very difficult book for me to review as the author very kindly sent me her book.  I was raised Methodist, but have a fairly decent understanding of Catholicism, and I do have a great love of Shakespeare, so I don’t think that’s it.  But I read this as a mystery, and that’s where I had a problem.  The story starts out with a death and there is a second death, but they almost seemed incidental to the story.      I often comment on lack of character development; that wasn’t a problem here.  I like good development, but I didn’t need approximately 38 pages of it.  James struck me as immature; his juvenile recitation of previous lovers when sexually rejected by Lupe, his girlfriend, almost made this a DNF.
    I loved the elements of Shakespeare’s work, but I felt excluded by the lack of translation of the Latin.  By the time the story circled back to the mystery of the deaths, I had nearly given up.  There is a good, story here which I’d probably have enjoyed with some very strong editing.  Conversely, I have a friend who would love all the detail and relish looking up every Latin phrase.  It just didn’t work for me.  But this is purely my opinion.    Poor.

ANN PARKER - Silver Lies (Poisoned Pen Press; 2003; Hardcover; Historical; Colorado, 1879; 1st in series)

    Inez Stannert lives in Leadville, Colorado at the height of the silver boom.  She shoots, plays poker, owns a salon along with her partner Abe, a free black man, and has a husband who has been missing for eight months.  When local assay-agent Joe Ross is found dead in the alley next to Inez’ saloon, she promises to help his pregnant widow and son settle Joe’s business interests.  What she finds are secrets, greed, graft, danger and an attraction to J.B Sands, a minister—or is he?  
***  Parker has written a wonderful first book.  Her descriptions of 1870’s Leadville are vivid and integral to the story.   Her characters are diverse, real, interesting and fully developed.  Inez is a smart, independent woman, capable of holding her own yet will doubts and insecurities of her own.  
    Her dialogue is appropriate to the period.  The plot is interesting and compelling; it caused me to read way too late into the night in order to finish it in one read.  There is a romance, but it doesn’t overwhelm the story or the character and very good suspense.  I highly recommend this book.    VG Plus.

J. D. ROBB [aka NORA ROBERTS] - Memory in Death (Putnam, 2006; Hardcover; Police Procedural; New York City, 2059; 22nd in Eve Dallas series)

    Lt. Eve Dallas has her past come back to visit her in the form of Trudy Lombard who was, for a short time, her foster mother.  It is not a happy reunion, particularly when it becomes clear the woman is there to blackmail Eve and her husband Roark.  When Trudy is murdered, it is Eve’s job to “stand for the dead” while dealing with Trudy’s son, Bobby, his wife, Zana, and Eve’s own memories of the past.
***  Because this book deals with Eve’s past, it’s less of a suspenseful police procedural than some of Robb’s books.  But all the classic trademarks of her writing are still here; excellent dialogue, great characters and interaction between them, well-done sense of place and, lest we forget, hot passion.  Personally, I prefer cases where Eve past is less involved, but that certainly doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading the series.  These are definitely books I read as soon as I receive them.  Good Plus.

M. J. ROSE - The Halo Effect (Mira; 2004; Trade Paperback; Amateur Sleuth/Psychiatrist; New York City; Contemporary; 1st in series)

    Psychiatrist Dr. Morgan Snow is a sex therapist.  One of her clients is Cleo Thane, a very high-priced prostitute.  When Cleo disappears, Detective Noah Jordain approaches Morgan for information.  Someone is ritualistically murdering prostitutes.  Cleo has left with Morgan the manuscript of a book she’s written about her life and her clients.  Due to client confidentiality, Morgan can’t give Noah any information but decides to interview five of Cleo’s clients herself in an attempt to find Cleo.
***  There are some very interesting characters in this book: Cleo is beautiful, smart and a survivor; Noah is a dedicated cop with a secondary life as a jazz composer and pianist; and Morgan is a leading psychiatrist in her field, a mother and a woman struggling with her own needs and barriers.  
    But it was also the character of Morgan that caused me to lower my rating.  I identified the villain very early in this book, and ifMorgan as good at her profession as she was supposed to be, so should she have.  Also, the interviewing of Cleo’s clients not only put Morgan in the TSTL (too stupid to live) category, but felt like filler and a reason to expound on the acceptance of different sexual needs rather than anything more crucial to the investigation.  
    I think I’d have like this book better had Noah been the primary character and have it have been a police procedural with Morgan as a secondary character, than vice versa.  Parts of the romance between Noah and Morgan felt extraneous and gratuitous.  That’s not to say the book is bad, just that it feels to me to be more a romantic suspense than a traditional mystery.    OK

Happy Reading,


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