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Mystery / Thriller

  • Dirt: Evil in the Heartland

    by John Goetz

    Rating: 6.00

    Goetz's novel focuses on three teenage friends who grew up in a small town in North Dakota and are reunited by the grisly discovery of a dead body, a rash of missing women, and a serial killer who feeds his victims to pigs. Big on imagination and gory details, this novel is both engaging and truly disturbing. Solid prose and sympathetic characters make for an entertaining read that is not for the faint of heart.

  • The Jacq of Spades

    by Patricia Loofbourrow

    Rating: 5.75

    Strong world-building drives this tale of organized crime families, differentiated by the suits of a card deck: Spadros, Diamond, Hart, and Clubb. To slip out of the stringent social order, Jacqueline Spadros spends time with her dressmaker, supposedly having gowns created -- but in reality she slips into other disguises to move freely and solve crimes, such as the disappearance of a young boy named David Bryce. David’s disappearance is connected to a much wider web of intrigue, reaching into Jacqueline’s past. World-building, setting, and touches of steampunk help a sometimes convoluted plot and a few dangling story lines that might be developed in upcoming volumes of the series. An intriguing start and interesting premise.

  • Private Universe

    by Cornelia Feye

    Rating: 5.75

    Teenaged Vega discovers sex and drugs with her boyfriend Tom in late '70s Germany, and soon finds herself traveling in the Mediterranean due to the consequences of her choices. Vega rarely compels as a protagonist and often feels tossed from one situation to the next. The prose is also stilted at times, though the story is well-paced and the settings vivid.

  • Quiet Road To Murder

    by morgan james

    Rating: 5.50

    Fans of twisty whodunits with a slight supernatural tinge will enjoy this well-constructed mystery set in North Carolina. After the sheriff dies in an explosion, mostly-retired psychologist Promise McNeal’s husband Daniel takes over his duties on an interim basis, and finds his hands full with multiple inquiries, including one into his predecessor’s death. The characters are well-rounded, and the author does a solid job of creating a sense of place that will attract readers to future series entries. Readable prose and an unsurprising but sturdy plot make this a worthwhile read.

  • The Blue Silence

    by Tim Chapman

    Rating: 5.50

    When his daughter's college roommate disappears, forensic scientist Sean McKinney is called in to locate her. But as he works to find the missing girl, he own daughter is kidnapped. Solid prose and an interesting premise are among the novel's strengths. And while many of the characters are well drawn, the narrative can be confusing at times and not all the plot elements mesh in the end.

  • Somethin' for Nothin'

    by M.T. Bass

    Rating: 5.50

    Bass offers up an exciting, fast-paced novel set in 1976 in which two students, Albert and Waxy, drop out of college and head to Alaska to work the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Featuring well drawn characters and solid prose, Bass's novel is an entertaining -- if somewhat predictable -- read.

  • Truth in Hiding

    by Matthew Frick

    Rating: 5.00

    Frick's formulaic thriller presents dual crises as modern Iran conducts an underground nuclear test and think-tank analyst Casey Shenk defies melodramatic warnings to probe The Council, a covert top-level government group. Conspiracy-conscious Shenk's lofty denunciations of official falsehood peg him too unambiguously as the guy with the right stuff, while other characters tend to populate the canvas as duplicitous agents or declamatory mouthpieces for policy issues. The plot complexities of the spy-vs.-spy clashes ultimately sound too familiar to sustain interest in the unmasking of the powers in hiding.

  • indigo

    by Krista Wagner

    Rating: 5.00

    In Wagner's suspenseful novel, marine biologist Rian Field's memories of a brutal attack two years ago are triggered by an almost-fatal encounter with a shark near the Southern California Marine Institute where she works. While Wagner’s plot is strong and will keep readers guessing until the quick conclusion, her overly sympathetic tone toward Rian's emotions make the character less likable. Additionally, the novel’s awkward pacing doesn’t help the story hang together as tightly as it should.

  • A Racket in the Burbs

    by Ben Broeren

    Rating: 4.50

    Broeren treads little new ground in his depiction of strip club bouncer Ron McCallister and exotic dancer Carey Sullivan, who predictably form a relationship despite threats from Chicago area gangsters in 2008.  The stereotypical collusion of civic officials with conventionally despicable criminals and the repetitive killings are familiar genre elements, and are less appealing than the often quirky dialogue of the main characters.  Too often, the author describes, rather than develops, character background.  Broeren's steady pacing provides interesting reading, yet the melodramatic note of menace at the conclusion feels contrived.

  • Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway

    by Brigitte Goldstein

    Rating: 4.25

    Set in New York City in 1941, this novel follows German immigrant Misia Safran after she becomes involved in the investigation of theater star Stella Berger’s murder. Misia’s encounters with those who are involved in the investigation are overshadowed by sections recounting drawn-out personal and family histories as well as Eastern European history. While the basic premise is interesting, readers may find themselves bored by the book's many digressions.

  • Hell City

    by Allen Shadow

    Rating: 4.25

    Graphic language, jumpy plot lines, and half-baked characters hobble a good idea for a terrorism thriller set in New York City on New Year's Eve. There's little sense of mounting tension and ratcheting suspense as NYPD detective Jack Oldham discovers a plausible plot from an unlikely cadre of new Al-Qaida recruits. Still the book's culmination is impressive -- and not simply a case of good unambiguously triumphing over evil.  

  • Framed (Boston's Crimes of Passion Book 2)

    by Colleen Connally

    Rating: 4.00

    Riley Ashcroft, a black-sheep scion of a prominent and wealthy clan, becomes romantically involved with Josh Kincaid, an award-winning reporter investigating her family’s entanglement in murder and scandal. Characters meander with excessive backstory and exposition, the plot is overly complicated, and the ultimate villain is improbable and grandiose. Though the mystery aspects of the story strain credulity, the romantic subplot between Kincaid and Riley succeeds, and their physical interactions are well-written and effective.

  • Kwong's First Two

    by Vic Warren

    Rating: 4.00

    Warren's launch of The Inspector Kwong Mysteries offers a surprisingly bland tour through the culinary and criminal offerings of Hong Kong and Beijing. The story -- which includes the kidnapping of Kwong himself by a criminal triad -- is  presented in unengaging language that fails to sustain interest, and character and plot development are overshadowed by the seemingly interminable eating. The author's unquestionable familiarity with the locale lacks the precision needed to convey a genuine sense of place to readers.

  • Vendetta: In Pursuit of a Scoundrel

    by Bert Silva

    Rating: 3.75

    Silva provides promising short, punchy beginning chapters as the murder of investment broker Matthew Serling propels his son Hank on a voyage, first of revenge, later of self-understanding. Coincidence takes too large a role in the plot, as former SEAL Glen Maddox links up with fugitive crook Wilbur Gammon, who arranged Matthew's murder. Moreover, the stumbling plot inertia of the Isle de la Boca scenes, offering "native" girls speaking fragmented English, leave the reader benumbed. The authentic-sounding descriptions of sailing offer more value than the reflections on the dubious merits of seeking revenge.

  • These Boots Are Made for Butt-Kickin'

    by Kalan Chapman Lloyd

    Rating: 2.75

    A feisty lead, Oklahoma attorney and investigator Lilly Atkins, is the best part of this formulaic cozy from Lloyd. Lilly has a mixed bag of clients -- including a man being sued by PETA for having drop-picked a bunny, an act of cruelty captured on video -- but after one of them ends up dead, Lilly must play the sleuth. The formulaic plot is too familiar to be memorable, while the characters -- aside from Lilly -- are underdeveloped.

  • Major Crimes

    by Michele Lynn Seigfried

    Rating: 2.25

    Fans of cozy mysteries who want a heavy dose of romance in their whodunits are most likely to enjoy this novel -- although readers will need to be willing to suspend disbelief from the outset. The book opens with PI Chelsey Alton finding that a love-interest, cop Bryce Kelly, has broken into her home after becoming the prime suspect in the murder of a police chief. Of course, Chelsey doesn’t turn him in, but works to exonerate him. While the approach is clearly tongue-in-cheek -- and at times very entertaining -- the characters are underdeveloped and the story less than original.