Mystery Reviews | February 1, 2014

Speeding, careening, throttling, and skidding: typical verbs for the high-­octane world of mystery thrillers. What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang than by reading David Burnsworth’s crackling Southern Heat, which features the iconic vehicle? Or consider Robert K. Lewis’s decidedly grim Critical Damage, also chock-full of specialty cars. Even the British procedurals get into the act with Nick Oldham’s Judgement Call pulling in some dramatic chases. Not to be outdone, Parker Bilal (The Ghost Runner) puts Land Cruisers to the test in his Saharan setting.

Classic mystery allure doesn’t necessarily need four wheels, counter the genealogy buffs. For them, offer up two dandy new cozies by Gigi Pandian (Pirate Vishnu) and Triss Stein (Brooklyn Graves) that explore U.S. immigrant histories through their historian protagonists. And, finally, get your green on in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day. Several titles make the mark including newcomer Lisa Alber’s stirring debut Kilmoon. See the Series Lineup for more.

redstarBilal, Parker. The Ghost Runner: A Makana Mystery. Bloomsbury USA. Feb. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781620403402. $27. M

The year is 2002, and the world is on terrorist theghostrunner021314high alert. Musab Khayr, an Egyptian political dissident banished to Denmark, has been secretly hauled back to Egypt to do covert work. Makana, a Sudanese ex-police inspector who lives in Cairo, is hired by Magdy Ragab to find out whether a young woman’s death was a suicide. For complicated reasons, Magby suspects Musab of murdering her. Thus Makana makes the trek west to Siwa, where he believes Musab would go. Once there, Makana encounters a wall of silence that he patiently chips away at, surviving several dangerous encounters. Consequently, he’s not entirely surprised when old enemies arise seemingly out of nowhere. The conclusion will startle and exhilarate readers. VERDICT This superb novel executes a slow build-up, exploring Middle Eastern cultural practices and explaining historical context. Thus drawn in, readers will be mesmerized by the rippling events that occur in quick order. Bilal is a pseudonym for literary novelist Jamal Mahjoub. His third lone wolf Makana title (after Dogstar Rising) will appeal to lovers of dark international crime fiction.

redstarHarrod-Eagles, Cynthia. Hard Going: A Bill Slider Mystery. Severn House. Feb. 2014. 236p. ISBN 9780727883315. $28.95. M

hardgoing021314A nice man, by all accounts, Lionel Bygod has shockingly been bludgeoned to death in his study. DI Bill Slider and his team must tease apart the victim’s life both for motive and next of kin notification. They subsequently investigate the housekeeper’s shady family, the law practice Bygod abandoned abruptly several years earlier, and, most surprisingly, his connection with one of England’s most popular stage actresses. Good old-fashioned detective work eliminates the wide pool and finally exposes the killer. VERDICT Harrod-Eagles has neatly updated a typical British procedural and given it 21st-century flair with believable protagonists, a diverse ensemble cast, and contemporary issues. Her knack for making the supporting characters stand out is particularly notable. Additionally, her excellent dialog peppered with sly humor (cleverly titled chapters, e.g., “Driving Miss Crazy”) gives it an episodic tone. Readers new to the series can enjoy this 16th entry (after Blood Never Dies) without having to turn to the earlier titles.

redstarBrody, Frances. Murder in the Afternoon: A Kate Shackleton Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2014. 388p. ISBN 9781250037022. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250037039. M

murderintheafternoon021314One Saturday afternoon, stonemason Ethan Armstrong is murdered. Oddly, his ten-year-old daughter, Harriet, was the only one to see his corpse in his workshop. When the authorities arrive later, the body has disappeared. Harriet’s observations are not taken seriously, except by her mother, Mary Jane, who asks PI Kate Shackleton to investigate. Over the period of a week, Kate gradually untwists a number of village secrets, including some of her own. While Ethan’s political leanings (he was a leftist union organizer) made him many enemies, it may be that other long-held secrets led to his death. VERDICT This meaty historical set in post–World War I England succeeds as a satisfying traditional mystery and as a fascinating historical novel tackling women’s roles in the early 1920s. Brody’s series, now at three (after A Medal for Murder), merits serious attention. While leisurely paced, it never lags, instead inviting quiet time on the couch with a cuppa. Partners well with Jacqueline Winspear and Kerry Greenwood.


redstarBurnsworth, David. Southern Heat. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Feb. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781432828004. $25.95. M

southernheat021314Troubled Brack Pelton, a young widower and ex-Marine recently back from his Afghanistan stint, is mostly guided by self-preservation. When Reggie Sails, his beloved, crusty bar-owning uncle, is shot and killed in a Charleston, SC, alley, Brack captures only Reggie’s puzzling final words. His uncle left him clues here and there, and Brack attempts to assemble a fuller picture of the man’s dealings. Mysteriously, Reggie had been working with an informant who fed him documents about an environmental cover-up in the region. Brack meets with him, but, soon after, the informant is killed. Fighting back, Brack assembles an unlikely team ranging from Reggie’s high-society ex-wife, a gutsy newspaper reporter, and a minister with valuable connections. But the villains have no moral compass, and everyone on Brack’s side is vulnerable. Brack must fire up his Marine training and power through. VERDICT Hop on board for a hard-edged debut that’s fully loaded with car chases (particularly Mustangs), war veterans, old grudges, and abundant greed. A choppy start belies a well-executed plotline enhanced by the atmospheric Palmetto State setting.

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

Mystery Encore

Hart, Carolyn. Castle Rock. Seventh St: Prometheus. Feb. 2014. 172p. ISBN 9781616148737. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616148744. M


“Makana walked out into the open air and lit a cigarette. The lights across the river glittered in the water below him. What was it that made him feel so uneasy? Makana had the sense that he was on the trail of something much bigger than he had bargained for. He wasn’t sure he could see where the edges were and he didn’t like that.”—Parker Bilal, The Ghost Runner

Check These Out

Alber, Lisa. Kilmoon: A County Clare Mystery. Muskrat. Mar. 2014. 348p. ISBN 9780989544603. pap. $14.95. M

Lewis, Robert K. Critical Damage: A Mark Mallen Novel. Midnight Ink. Apr. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780738736235. pap. $14.99. M

Oldham, Nick. Judgement Call: A Detective Superintendent Henry Christie Novel. Severn House. Feb. 2014. 220p. ISBN 9780727883339. $28.95. M

Rhodes, Kate. A Killing of Angels. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781250014313. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250014306. M

COzy corner

Brett, Simon. The Strangling on the Stage: A Fethering Mystery. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. Feb. 2014. 204p. ISBN 9781780290560. $27.95. M

Pandian, Gigi. Pirate Vishnu: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery. Henery. Feb. 2014.

308p. ISBN 9781938383977. pap. $15.95. M

Stein, Triss. Brooklyn Graves: An Erica Donato Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Mar. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9781464202179. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464202193. $14.95. M

Additional Mystery

Coleman, Reed Farrel. The Hollow Girl: A Moe Prager Mystery. Tyrus. May 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781440562020. $24.95;

pap. ISBN 9781440573019. $16.99. M

redstarShaw, William. She’s Leaving Home. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Feb. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780316246842. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316246835. M


This month I’m going back to C.J. Box’s New Year’s reading resolutions (see Mystery, LJ 1/14, p. 76, for the full report). Box resolved that he would read Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke. In an email he noted, “I’ve read most of his other books and I’m a huge fan, but for some reason I missed the one considered a classic. It’s on my list. So is Hombre by Elmore Leonard.” Box also heartily endorsed Scottish author Denise Mina, describing her as “brilliant” and “a fantastic stylist.” When last sighted, he was reading Mina’s Gods and Beasts. No slouch himself, Box has a new Joe Pickett mystery, coming out in March (Stone Cold). A collection of Box short stories (Shots Fired) publishes this summer. He promises another chilling stand-alone (after The Highway) for 2015. One of Box’s talents is his ability to appeal to both male and female readers; statistics indicate that his fan base is split right down the middle.


Don’t let winter hold you in its grip! SleuthFest 2014 ( comes to Orlando, FL, on February 27 and runs until March 2. Librarian’s Day, with special rates, is February 28. All sorts of show-stopping authors will be featured, including

Laura Lippman, Ace Atkins, and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Or, head west to Left Coast Crime (, being held on March 20–23 in Monterey, CA. Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, Cara Black, Louise Penny, and Sue Grafton are among the honorees, with the irrepressible Brad Parks as toastmaster.

Teresa L. Jacobsen, retired librarian, was a training coordinator for Solano County Library, and previous to that, a fiction evaluator/reference librarian for Santa Monica Public Library. She has written occasional feature articles for LJ and reviewed fiction regularly since 2004. She is an unabashed mystery fan who enjoys bringing new readers into the fold