Mystery Reviews | December 15, 2005

By Michele Leber

New Year, New Series
Worthy of note are three promising new series debuting in 2006. American author Suzanne Arruda transports readers to 1919 colonial Africa; Swedish writer Kjell Eriksson sets his award-winning contemporary police Amber Jewelry, Tea Sets, Sleeping Bags, Wholesale Tea Sets procedural in his home country; and British author Martin O’Brien places his series start in modern-day Marseilles. As the window of opportunity for hardcover availablity is short, don’t miss these.

Arruda, Suzanne. Mark of the Lion: A Jade del Cameron Novel. NAL: Penguin. Jan. 2006. c.352p. ISBN 0-451-21748-9. $23.95. M

There’s something for everyone in this new series debut – mystery, history, adventure, travel, even a bit of romance, plus one of the most appealing heroines to appear in the pages of a mystery. American Jade del Cameron, driving an ambulance on the battlefront in 1919 France, sees her RAF pilot fiancé crash in a dogfight and vows, as he dies in her arms, to find his half-brother, a quest that takes her to Africa. With an assignment for a travel magazine, Jade’s off to Nairobi, where she stumbles onto a possible murder and finds herself the target of a shape-shifting witch, repelled only by an ill-smelling paste made by a Kikuyu sorcerer. Arruda evokes the landscape of colonial Africa beautifully, creates a fine cast of characters, and spins a spine-tingling story, all of which should create demand for her next book. Arruda lives in Kansas.

Camilleri, Andrea. The Smell of the Night: An Inspector Montalbano Mystery. Penguin. Dec. 2005. c.229p. tr. from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli. ISBN 0-14-303620-3. pap. $12. M

When smooth-talking "financier" Emanuale Gargano disappears along with the pensioners’ savings he’s been investing, Sicilian inspector Salvo Montalbano (The Snack Thief) figures Gargano is either lounging with beautiful women on a tropical isle or feeding the fishes, courtesy of the Mafia. But Gargano’s young male associate also is missing, and the inspector learns that both men are gay. Meanwhile, pensioners clamor for their savings, and Montalbano outfoxes his supervising commissioner on a personal matter while bickering with his lover Livia by telephone. A crisp, sassy series, even laugh-out-loud funny at moments, with a grounding of humanity that shows particularly at the end; Montalbano is a character worth getting to know. Camilleri lives in Rome.

Clement, Blaize. Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter: The First Dixie Hemingway Mystery. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2006. c.240p. ISBN 0-312-34056-7 [ISBN 978-0-312-34056-8]. $23.95. M

Catchy (if misleading) title aside, this first in a new mystery series is a keeper, with its plucky protagonist, cats galore, and a nice sense of place. Dixie Hemingway (no relation to Papa) has left her job as a Sarasota, FL, sheriff’s deputy after a family tragedy to become a pet sitter, only to find a man taped face down in the water dish of one of her charges, the lovely Abyssinian cat Ghost. Dixie herself becomes a focus of media attention – and risks losing her business – when she first finds a teenaged neighbor of Ghost’s badly beaten, then Ghost’s owner dead. Expect just rewards to be delivered and the cat sitter not to be killed (of course), and look forward to the next in this smart series. Clement lives in Sarasota.

Dymmoch, Michael Allen. White Tiger. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2005. c.304p. ISBN 0-312-32302-6 [ISBN 978-0-312-32302-8]. $24.95. M

When a Vietnamese woman is murdered in Chicago’s Little Saigon neighborhood, Detective John Thinnes (The Feline Friendship) doesn’t recognize her as an old friend until he attends her autopsy. Then he’s named as the father of her son and only child, so he turns to psychiatrist and police consultant Dr. Jack Caleb to retrieve an old memory from Vietnam to see if the charge could be true. Interspersed with murder investigations are Caleb’s searing accounts of his tours in Vietnam as a conscientious objector medic. Dymmoch spins a solid police procedural with a good sense of place (Chicago), and if the resolution of the White Tiger case seems too abrupt, it can be forgiven for its piercing evocation of Vietnam; describing a war from a grunt’s point of view is an excellent argument against it. Dymmoch lives in a suburb of Chicago.

Eriksson, Kjell. The Princess of Burundi. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2006. c.288p. tr. from Swedish by Ebba Segerberg. ISBN 0-312-32767-6 [ISBN 978-0-312-32767-5]. $23.95. M

Could Eriksson become Sweden’s Ed McBain? This solid police procedural, winner of the Swedish Crime Academy Award for Best Crime Novel, is reminiscent of the "87th Precinct" series, with its emphasis on the work and lives of the cops. When the tortured and mutilated body of tropical fish fancier John Jonsson is found, Uppsala police resist tying the murder to other cases committed by Jonsson’s mentally unbalanced school classmate and instead seek a money motive. (The novel’s title is the popular name for a particular tropical fish, as well as John’s pet name for his wife, Berit.) Not as dark as recent mysteries by fellow Scandinavian mystery writers Åke Edwardson (Sun and Shadow) and Arnaldur Indridason (Jar City), this has its own tone, with strong echoes of McBain in characters, plot, and prose. Don’t miss it. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 10/1/05.]

Fulmer, David. Rampart Street: A Valentin St. Cyr Mystery. Harcourt. Jan. 2006. c.352p. ISBN 0-15-101024-2. $25. M

When a well-to-do white businessman is killed on the most disreputable street in New Orleans in 1910, powerful politico Tom Anderson, the "King of Storyville," sends Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr (who solved serial murders of prostitutes and jazzmen in Chasing the Devil’s Tale and Jass) to investigate. But what’s intended to be a quick cover-up is treated seriously by St. Cyr: others are murdered, he and his contacts become targets, and his leads start pointing toward the high and mighty of the city. Fulmer again blends historical figures with fictional ones in the third of his award-winning, richly atmospheric series, here posing a scenario deeply involved with prejudice. Fulmer lives in Atlanta. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 9/1/05.]

Geagley, Brad. Day of the False King. S. & S. Jan. 2006. c.272p. ISBN 0-7432-5081-8. $24. M

This sequel to the well-received Year of the Hyenas is more history than mystery, with a little less edge than the first book but plenty of action. Set in 1150 B.C.E., it finds Semerket, Egypt’s clerk of investigations and secrets, off the sauce (he orders wine and simply looks at it) when Pharoh Ramses IV sends him to Babylon to offer support for new king Kutir in exchange for a state visit by the Babylonian god Bel-Marduk, whom Ramses hopes will heal his worsening illness. As a bonus, the mission gives Semerket the chance to search for his beloved ex-wife, Naia, who was banished to Babylon. But conspirators lurk, Semerket is at risk, and – success this time notwithstanding – there’s likely trouble ahead. Authentic historical detail adds to the pleasure here. Geagley lives in Palm Springs, CA. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 10/1/05.]

Miscione, Lisa. Smoke. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2006. c.336p. ISBN 0-312-34185-7 [ISBN 978-0-312-34185-5]. $23.95. M

True-crime writer Lydia Strong (Angel Fire) and her ex-F.B.I. husband Jeffrey Mark, in an uneasy alliance with a pair of NYPD detectives, undertake a search for one of Lydia’s former students, Lily Samuels. All roads lead them to the New Day, a contemporary church that is not what it seems. Secrets are unveiled throughout: in the Samuels family and its involvement with the New Day, in the private lives of the two detectives working in Missing Persons, in the background of Lydia and Jeffrey’s colleague Dax Chicago, and in the life of Lydia, who’s still dealing with demons from earlier family tragedies and the recent death of the father she didn’t even know. The prose could be tighter at times, but the action wraps up nicely in this fourth psychological thriller in the series. Miscione lives in Clearwater, FL.

O’Brien, Martin. Jacquot and the Waterman: A Mystery. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2006. c.416p. ISBN 0-312-34998-X [ISBN 978-0-312-34998-1]. $24.95. M

The pedestrian title doesn’t do justice to this smashing series debut that introduces Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot of Marseilles, still known to rugby fans for his brilliant run more than 20 years ago. In his latest case, someone – soon labeled the Waterman – is drugging, sexually assaulting, and drowning pretty young women. O’Brien introduces his characters in short chapters and brisk, even staccato, prose; their sheer number may overwhelm, but they’re soon enough tied together toward a blockbuster ending. And the sense of place, in Marseilles, is a particular pleasure. Get in at the beginning with this series. O’Brien lives in Gloucestershire, England. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 9/1/05.]

Roberts, David. A Grave Man: A Murder Mystery Featuring Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Brown. Carroll & Graf. Jan. 2006. c.320p. ISBN 0-7867-1596-0. $25. M

Covering the time span August 1937 to February 1938, this seventh in the series finds aristocratic Lord Edward Corinth and Communist war correspondent Verity Browne lovers at the start but increasingly at odds. First, their divergent views of Churchill get in the way, then Verity’s affair with Nazi-hating German Adam von Trott develops into more than just a fling. Meanwhile, there are murders to solve – of a prominent archaeologist and, shortly after, his daughter – just as concerns increase about whether an Institute of Beauty may be conducting illegal experiments involving eugenics; tensions rise about the possibility of war. Just the ticket for Dorothy Sayers fans. Roberts divides his time between London and Wiltshire.

Mysteries In Brief

Bland, Eleanor Taylor. A Dark and Deadly Deception: A Marti MacAlister Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2005. c.288p. ISBN 0-312-32667-X [ISBN 978-0-312-32667-8]. $23.95. M

Black homicide detective Marti MacAlister (Windy City Dying) juggles a cold case and a new one – the victim a bit-part Hollywood actress on location in suburban Chicago – along with worries about husband Ben’s suspected prostate cancer in this 13th outing. Family and friends are at the heart of this series, but MacAlister makes an enemy of her irrationally demanding female lieutenant – fireworks ahead? Bland lives in Waukegan, IL.

Dunham, Tracy. Yes, the River Knows. Berkley Prime Crime. Dec. 2005. c.304p. ISBN 0-425-20577-0. $23.95. M

Introduced in Wishful Sinful, Talbot Jefferson, a former big city lawyer back home practicing in Wynnton, SC, here defends and helps her secretary and friend, African American June Atkins, whose estranged husband is discovered decapitated. This has elements of romance (provided by Tal’s former schoolmate, artist Travis Whitlock) and danger, plus lots of female feistiness. Dunham lives in Richmond, VA.

Elkins, Aaron & Charlotte Elkins. On the Fringe. Severn House. Dec. 2005. 202p. ISBN 0-7278-6286-3. $28.95. M

Golf pro Lee Ofsted (Where Have All the Birdies Gone?), now 43d on the money list, journeys to Hawaii to help her old mentor run his posh Royal Mauna Kea Golf and Country Club’s centennial celebration and to wed her fiancé, cop – turned – security consultant Graham Sheldon. However, she ends up investigating the murder of the club president. Good entertainment from the husband-and-wife authors, who know their way around a golf course. The Elkins live in Rhode Island.

Graves, Sarah. Nail Biter: A Home Repair Is Homicide Mystery. Bantam. Dec. 2005. c.260p. ISBN 0-553-80310-7. $22. M

Handy (with a sledge hammer) protagonist Jacobia "Jake" Sorenson (Tool & Die), who takes too many risks while sleuthing with gal pal Ellie White, scatters tips for household repairs the way that caterer and chef detectives include recipes. In her ninth outing in Eastport, ME, Jake contends with multiple murders, witches, drugs, and leaky faucets (good hint there). Graves lives in Eastport, ME.

Ripley, J.R. Death of a Cheat. Beachfront. Jan. 2006. c.267p. ISBN 1-892339-13-7. $25. M

When St. Barts’s aged Lothario Remy Deval is murdered on the eve of the annual World Marbles on Sand competition, likable Gendarme Charles Trenet – whose own love life is foundering – investigates, learning that his neighbors take marbles seriously. This second in the "Gendarme Trenet" series (after Murder in St. Barts) provides nice, light entertainment. Ripley divides his time between Belgium and Florida.

Additional mysteries

Allen, Conrad. Murder on the Oceanic. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2006. c.288p. ISBN 0-312-34285-3 [ISBN 978-0-312-34285-2]. $23.95. F

Mysteries can be set anywhere and at any time, but Allen’s are distinctive for taking place not on land but on water: specifically, on the great ocean liners that plowed the waves at the beginning of the last century. In his latest (following Murder on the Marmora), ship detectives (and husband-and-wife) George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield are aboard the Oceanic with an interesting set of passengers that includes effervescent young Blanche and her stiff fiancé; the roué chasing both Blanche and Genevieve, who like George is working undercover; a satyric French painter traveling with both his artist wife and his model/mistress; and J.P. Morgan. But it’s hardly smooth sailing; several important artworks are lifted from Morgan’s stateroom, and his bodyguard is brutally murdered. George and Genevieve must work their way delicately through the list of suspects to arrive at a nicely surprising ending. No blood-and-guts thriller, this work is consistent with the series in its light charm; these are definitely cozies afloat. For most collections, especially where other books in the series have been popular.Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Cabot, Meg. Size 12 Is Not Fat. Avon. Jan. 2006. c.368p. ISBN 0-06-052511-8. pap. $12.95. M

Heather Wells was a rock star, a teen sensation by her freshman year of high school. A few years later, she loses her recording contract by insisting on using her own lyrics. A break with her philandering rocker boyfriend, Jordan Cartwright, soon follows. Alone, a has-been, and broke (her mother stole her money and left the country), Heather is offered a room by Jordan’s older brother, hunky private investigator Cooper Cartwright, in exchange for doing his billings. And for income, and the possibility of free classes, Heather lands a job as one of New York College’s assistant residence hall directors. When two students are murdered under circumstances that the police deem accidental, Heather, suspicious, investigates. Unfortunately, her decision to become an amateur sleuth looks as though it might be the last one she makes. Cabot (The Princess Diaries) has written another book that’s sure to delight readers. With its spunky heroine, witty dialog, unforgettable characters, great plot, and outrageously funny situations, this hilarious first installment of Cabot’s new mystery series is the perfect book for those patrons looking for something to read while waiting for Janet Evanovich’s next Stephanie Plum novel. Cabot lives in New York City and Key West, FL.Shelley Mosley, Glendale Community Coll. Lib. Media Ctr., AZ

James, P.D. The Lighthouse. Knopf. Dec. 2005. c.337p. ISBN 0-307-26291-X. $25.95. M

Nathan Oliver, a famous novelist, is murdered on a remote island off the Cornish coast. Set up as a low-profile retreat for men and women of responsibility seeking to escape from everyday life, Combe Island is inhabited only by a handful of guests and staff. Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team, Det. Inspector Kate Miskin and Sgt. Francis Benton-Smith, are called in to find the killer, who is surely one of the islanders. The investigation is routine until another murder occurs, and Dalgliesh inexplicably contracts SARS. James (The Murder Room) clearly plays to her strengths here; the writing is beautiful and complex – even if elements of the plot are unruly – and as always, she takes time developing her characters, their motivations, and stories. Readers will be especially satisfied with the continuing relationship between Dalgliesh and Emma Lavenham, who was first introduced in Death in Holy Orders. Recommended.Andrea Y. Griffith, Loma Linda Univ. Libs., CA

Lawton, John. A Little White Death. Atlantic Monthly. Feb. 2006. c.448p. ISBN 0-87113-932-4. $23. M

It’s the early 1960s, a time in Britain of sexual scandals at the highest levels of government (e.g., the Profumo affair), Cold War defectors (e.g., John Burgess), and a general fear that society is coming apart. Series Scotland Yard Commander Frederick Troy (Bluffing Mr. Churchill) is on sick leave with tuberculosis but persists in trying to unravel the murders of a prominent physician and a politician’s underage paramour, who turns out to be the granddaughter of a cop; plus the apparent defection of an old friend. Spy novelist Lawton uses the milieu and ambiance of a time of social and ethical turmoil to write a graceful story that is peopled with historical and fictional characters and features. "Antispooks and pols" only hint at the complex plot, interesting characters, and literary and historical allusions that make up this mystery/thriller. First published in Britain in 1998, this book makes a strangely delayed appearance here but certainly deserves a wide audience. Highly recommended. Lawton lives in England and Manhattan.Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

McNab, Claire. The Quokka Question: A Kylie Kendall Mystery. Alyson, dist. by Consortium. Dec. 2005. c.186p. ISBN 1-55583-915-0 [ISBN 978-1-55583-915-4]. pap. $13.95. M

In her third case (after The Wombat Strategy and The Kookaburra Gambit), Kylie Kendall, a transplanted Aussie apprenticing as a private detective in L.A., has to pose as a graduate student at an academic conference. Her client, Oscar Braithwaite, is alleging plagiarism, and when he turns up dead, his sister Penelope insists that Kylie keep investigating. Meanwhile, Kylie struggles with her somewhat requited feelings for her business partner, Arianna Creeling, who is discomfited by Penelope’s knowledge of her romantic past. Kylie is engagingly rendered, full of energy and good humor, not too perfect. Her Australian background adds colorful expressions and an outsider’s perspective, and, overall, her character and motivation are more interesting than those of your average – i.e., adequate but unexciting – mystery. Think of this book as an American Australian urban cozy. A fun read, recommended for mystery and gay fiction collections. McNab, the author of the long-running "Carol Ashton" series and the shorter "Denise Cleever" series, lives in Los Angeles.Devon C. Thomas, Chelsea, MI

Miyabe, Miyuki. Crossfire. Kodansha, dist. by OxfordUniv. Mar. 2006. c.408p. tr. from Japanese by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi & Anna Husson Isozaki. LC 978-4-7700-2993-5. ISBN 4-7700-2993-4. $24.95. M

In some of the current mystery and suspense novels coming from Japan, like Randy Taguchi’s Outlet and Natsuo Kirino’s Out, female empowerment has played a central role. In this newest novel by awarding-winning mystery author Miyabe (All She Was Worth), the power of one woman is taken to new heights. Junko Aoki is a young single woman with pyrokenetic abilities who has been avenging women attacked and killed by the Asaba gang of the Tokyo underworld. On her trail is veteran police detective Chikako (introduced in Shadow Family), who sets out to tie the fires and murders together. As these two women draw closer together, a twisted plot unfolds that tests the limit of taking the law from the hands of the powerful and giving it to the powerless. This novel goes well beyond the concept of Stephen King’s Firestarter (Miyabe herself has been called "the Stephen King of Japan") with beautiful subtlety and suspense. Recommended for all public libraries.Ron Samul, New London, CT

Todd, Charles. A Long Shadow: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery. Morrow. Jan. 2006. c.424p. ISBN 0-06-078671-X. $23.95. M

When Constable Hensley is shot in the back with an arrow and left for dead in gloomy Frith’s Wood, Inspector Ian Rutledge becomes convinced that this strange attack is connected in some way to the disappearance of young Emma Mason several years earlier. Will he find Emma’s body in the woods as well, or did she start a new life for herself in London? Psychic Meredith Channing has uncanny insights into both cases, but Rutledge is reluctant to trust her. Meanwhile, he keeps discovering spent cartridge casings carved with skulls and poppies. These sinister casings, left only where Rutledge will see them, make him worry that an old enemy from the war might be stalking him. As with previous novels in the series (A Cold Treachery), this entry excels at intricate relationships among characters and the slow unveiling of Rutledge’s personality. Another winning story from the East Coast mother-son duo. Strongly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 9/1/05.]Laurel Bliss, PrincetonUniv. Lib., NJ

Briefly Noted

The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) announced that author Laurie King will chair the 2007 Edgar Awards, which will honor books published in 2006. A Best First Novel Edgar winner for A Grave Talent, King succeeds current chair Steve Hamilton. In other MWA news, crime novelist Stuart Kaminsky has been named a 2006 Grand Master by the MWA board of directors. The award will be presented to Kaminsky at the 60th annual Edgar Awards dinner gala, to be held April 27, 2006 in New York City.

A note to readers: With the tremendous diversity of mysteries, it seems like a good idea to have a diversity of mystery columnists as well. For the next few months, LJ will welcome a series of guest columnists, who will give us their take on the genre. For this issue, we’ve invited longtime LJ reviewer Michele Leber, winner of our first Fiction Reviewer of the Year award. – Ed.

Michele Leber was Assistant Coordinator of Collection Development at Fairfax County Public Library, VA, until retiring in November 2003 and LJ’s Reviewer of the Year for Fiction in 1997