The Dark Room

Jonathan Moore’s latest novel, THE DARK ROOM, combines an unexpectedly complex plot with equally unexpected character empathy. Call it a thriller if you like, but certain plot elements and the character intimacy especially make it an engaging and thoroughly contemporary mystery.

Gavin Cain, a homicide inspector for the San Francisco Police Department, is supervising an exhumation at a cemetery just outside of town as the novel opens. Suddenly his phone rings, and Cain is told that a helicopter is on it way to bring him to the mayor’s office. The exhumed casket – central to a cold case Cain has worked on for several weeks – will have to wait.

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The Trapped Girl

I had never come across Robert Dugoni’s mystery series featuring Seattle Detective Tracy Crosswhite, but I will now actively look for them. There are four full-length novels starting with MY SISTER’S GRAVE, HER FINAL BREATH, IN THE CLEARING and culminating with the book under review, THE TRAPPED GIRL.

He also has a five-book series starring Attorney David Sloane and a couple of one-offs including a non-fiction book. If they are anything like THE TRAPPED GIRL, then all his books will be eminently readable and exciting.

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Bryant & May: Strange Tide

strangetideChristopher Fowler is here to brighten our winter season with BRYANT & MAY: STRANGE TIDE, the latest Peculiar Crime Unit mystery featuring lead senior detectives Arthur Bryant and John May. Like previous titles in this series the mystery is enhanced with esoteric facts about London, the Unit’s home base. And, like previous titles, it is an unyielding joy to read.

A woman is found drowned in the Thames River after being chained to a concrete pillar at low tide. But only one set of footprints lead to where the woman was found. The odd nature of the death is brought to the Peculiar Crime Unit (PCU), who immediately researches the dead woman’s background to determine if the single set of footprints indicate suicide.

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The Hollow Men

hollowmenTHE HOLLOW MEN is a powerful and exciting debut novel from Rob McCarthy, and it starts what promises to be a series of riveting police procedurals. It’s not just a police procedural however, it’s also a medical procedural because McCarthy’s protagonist, Dr. Harry Kent, is a police surgeon for the London Metropolitan Police. The opening hundred or so pages seamlessly weaves together the worlds of coppers and medicos, the specialized language and details of the job peculiar to both, along with all the violence and the blood.

The book opens with a young down-and-out man who has taken a number of hostages in a fast-food restaurant. He’s coughing spasmodically and Dr. Kent is called to treat him while the cops are trying to negotiate during the standoff. If the doctor can help the boy, he will release some of the hostages.

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Echoes of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon

echoessherlockAlmost 130 years have past since Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print. Yet the popularity of the world’s greatest “consulting detective” and his partner, Dr. Watson, is as strong as ever (witness the success of the recent BBC-TV updating of the Holmes stories, staring Benedict Cumberbatch).

Small wonder then that editors King and Klinger – both actively immersed in the world of Holmes as authors and researchers — filled two previous collections of original short stories “inspired by the Holmes canon.” ECHOES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is the third and latest collection. Again, the editors approached writers who are not known as Holmes devotees and gave them free range to express their admiration for the Conan Doyle’s creation. The resulting stories – and how they incorporate Holmes and Watson — are as varied and individual as the authors themselves.

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Plaid and Plagiarism

plaidplagiarismI like cozies. It’s a genre that is much harder to write than most readers credit, and it’s nice to have a mystery in a setting that’s more believable and characters that are more relatable than most of the physical and mental superheroes we encounter in best-selling thrillers. Molly MacRae has been writing in this genre for many years, so it is no surprise to find that her professionalism comes across well in a new endeavor: The Highland Bookshop Mystery Series.

Book one in this series is PLAID AND PLAGIARISM, and while there are a few missteps, she has set the baseline for what promises to be a dynamic line of stories with a rich cast of characters and a charming setting.

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The Big Book of Jack the Ripper

bigbookjackripperIt’s fitting that for his latest Vintage Crime BIG BOOK anthology, editor extraordinaire Otto Penzler has followed up 2015’s THE BIG BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES STORIES with THE BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER. After all, despite one of them not being real, the two icons have met many times before, both in a theater (notably James Hill’s A STUDY IN TERROR and Bob Clark’s MURDER BY DECREE) and a library near you (Edward B. Hanna’s THE WHITECHAPEL HORRORS and David Stuart Davies’ THE RIPPER LEGACY, to name just two).

But at 865 pages, this back-buster belongs to the sultan of stabbings, as Penzler aims to make good on the book’s subtitular promise to be “The Most Complete Compendium of Ripper Stories Ever Assembled.” No shock here: He succeeds.

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Hold a Scorpion

holdascorpionMelodie Johnson Howe’s HOLD A SCORPION is the second book in her series featuring Hollywood actress Diana Poole (the first was CITY OF MIRRORS; there is also a collection of short stories titled SHOOTING HOLLYWOOD). Howe’s protagonist, Poole, is mostly believable, likable, has a strong personality with realistic deductive powers, and can certainly hold her own with greasy talent agents and narcissistic fellow actors. The pacing of the book and its brevity are also refreshing after so many 300+ page mysteries.

We start out with a bang, or maybe more with a sickening thud. Diana is standing outside her front door, adjacent to the Pacific Coast Highway, when she sees a woman on the other side waving to her. The woman sees a large black car pull up along the berm and then, deliberately, she walks into traffic and is instantly run over and killed. When Diana investigates the actual scene of the “accident”(?), she discovers a bejeweled scorpion, the very same scorpion that Diana’s mother had on her bedside table right up to the day she died.

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Mad Dog Barked

maddogbarkedRick Ollerman’s latest, MAD DOG BARKED, starts out like a typical detective novel. Before long, however, the Stark House Press release becomes something way beyond typical. Truth is, Ollerman has somewhat redefined the detective novel for contemporary crime fiction readers, and gives us a complex and intriguing story at the same time.

Scott Porter owns and operates a detective agency in Sarasota, Florida, that specializes in criminal court cases. One morning a man names Edwin Morton Holmes appears at the agency carrying what looks like a rare first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE.

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Smoke and Mirrors

smokemirrorsYou may know the author Elly Griffiths from her eight-book Ruth Galloway series. Galloway is an archaeologist who studies old bones and is often brought onto contemporary crime cases by the local police inspector. Galloway has slept with that inspector, and they have a child together, but the inspector remains firmly married to his glamorous and beautiful wife who knows all about the affair. The series, while often producing rollicking good police procedurals, also concentrates on the emotional dynamism of the characters’ lives.

It’s a great series and highly recommended, but the policework is at one distance removed, since the protagonist herself is not a member of the police. In Griffiths’ other mystery series, The Magic Men mysteries, of which SMOKE AND MIRRORS is the second published, the police procedural takes front and center stage since the main character is Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens, who along with his magician friend, Max Mephisto, attempt to solve crimes in 1950s Britain.

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