June Killer Books from the Independent Mystery Bookseller's Association
STALKING DEATH by Kate Flora (The Mystery Company, $25), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, Mich, _www.auntagathas.com_ (http://www.auntagathas.com/) : Like Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, Thea Kozak takes a licking and keeps on ticking. In this book she's smashed into a car windshield, knocked from behind and given a concussion, and chased by a bad guy with an axe. She's a truly kick-ass, righteous, feminist heroine, something that in a world that seems to be post-feminist is a very refreshing thing. Unlike V.I., though, Thea isn't a detective for hire, she's a consultant for independent (i.e., private boarding) schools.
She's called in when there's a crisis of some kind, and the one in Stalking Death is a doozy. The swanky St. Mathew's School seems to have a problem with a female African American student, Shondra Jones, who claims she's being stalked in a particularly vicious manner. The administration says Shondra is simply crazy and they want to expel her - ostensibly, they want Thea to sign off on a letter they're sending to parents explaining that their own students are safe and no allegations have been proved. Even reading those last few sentences should have alarm bells going off, and Thea, a woman who suffers neither fools nor moral laxity gladly, hears them clanging loudly even before she discovers that the alleged stalked is the grandson of the school's biggest donor. Things get more complicated when Shondra's brother is later discovered standing over the body of the dead stalker.
Flora's books are always tight and suspenseful, and this one is no exception to that rule. It's very difficult to put down, and impossible not to be drawn into the story, to care about Thea and Shondra, and to hope that the talented Ms. Flora has another Thea Kozak novel up her sleeve.
DARKLING by Yasmine Galenorn (Berkley, $7.99), recommended by Fran Fuller, Seattle Mystery Bookstore, Seattle, WA, _www.seattlemystery.com_ (http://www.seattlemystery.com/) ; I knew the third installment of Yasmine Galenorn's Otherworld series, Darkling, was going to be the darkest so far, and boy was I right! This one, told from the point of view of Meolly, takes us through not only the challenges that are facing the sisters as the turbulence in the Otherworld spills into ours, but allows us to see what happened to Menolly, how she was turned into a vampire. This series has made Yasmine a national bestselling author for a reason.
She has three distinct voices for each of her protagonists, and she has developed multiple threads and plotlines that run through not only each book but an ongoing storyline that is becoming more complex and rich with each book. I love the excitement of waiting for the next one, but I do envy the people in years to come who find this series and who can sit down and read them all at once. I'm extraordinarily pleased that she's got more in this series in the works! Darkling explores the need for revenge, even when it means you might lose everything. There were moments when I wasn't sure I was ready to keep reading, because the story was becoming so intense; not a situation you expect from what is being looked at as a cozy type "romantic suspense" novel. You'll be hearing more about Yasmine and the Sisters of the Moon after this one hits the stands, I promise!
STALKING SUSAN by Julie Kramer (Doubleday, $22.95), recommended by Maggie Mason, Lookin' for Books, email@example.com_ (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org): Debut novel. Riley Spartz is trying to recover from the horrific death of her police officer husband, as well as revive her career as an investigative reporter for a Minneapolis TV station. Riley was deeply depressed, which is to be expected after losing a spouse. What made it worse was that they had fought right before he left for work. Riley needs to find new stories to get back on the air, and luckily she gets a tip from a former cop. Nick Garnett is now head of security for the Mall of America. He has information on the deaths of two woment named Susan. Riley wants to determine if there is a serial killer out there as the women were both murdered on November 19th, though different years. One woman was a waitress, the other was a drug addict who prostituted herself to buy drugs.
As the investigation goes on, Riley finds another Susan who was murdered on the 19th as well; she was the wife of a respected doctor. It may not be tied in, as her murderer was found and is in prison. Riley still wants to look into the murder of Susan Redding, to make sure her murderer was indeed found. While this is going on, Riley gets an assignment which she dismissed initially. It seems that people who pay for the cremation of their beloved pets are being cheated by a crooked vet. Riley uncovers the scam, which gets high ratings, and makes Dr. Redding open up to her a bit more.
Eventually, Susan ties everything together in a very satisfying manner, making it a very enjoyable debut novel. The insight into the workings of a television news show was intriguing, and I also loved seeing the nasty vet get caught. I'm hoping this will be a series.
TKO by Tom Schreck (Midnight Ink, $14.95), recommended by Jim Huang, The Mystery Company, Carmel, IN, _www.themysterycompany.com_ (http://www.themysterycompany.com/) : Tom Schreck takes the private eye as social worker paradigm “PIs who don't just solve the case, they make lives better“ and turns it around. Duffy Dombrowski is a social worker who tries but fails to resist the urge to act like a private eye when his clients get into trouble. Howard Reinhardt has plenty of trouble. After years of torment in high school, Rheinhardt snapped and murdered four of his classmates. He's released after serving 25 years in jail, with mandated visits to Duffy's agency for psychiatric care. He's a model client, and Duffy's developing some sympathy for him when he fails to show up for an appointment and a high school girl is murdered in a manner reminiscent of the first of Howard's original killings. Duffy has good reason not to investigate. His colleagues at the agency believe Howard is beyond help. His cop buddy thinks that a social worker has no business playing private eye. Duffy moonlights as a boxer, and he has the opportunity to realize a dream and fight a bout in Madison Square Garden.
But as the body count rises, Howard keeps telephoning Duffy, first to profess his innocence then, in an odd reversal, to confess. And Duffy knows there's no one else in Howard's corner. TKO is a lot of things, all at once. It's crude but clever, foul mouthed but intelligent. Duffy spends a big hunk of the novel doubting himself “for good reason“ but finds a way to stand up for Howard and himself in the end. The boxer/social worker/investigator might sound like a goofy combination, but Schreck doesn't shy away from the goofiness, delivering a fresh take on a venerable paradigm, with attitude and heart.
THE DAWN PATROL by Don Winslow (Knopf, $23.95), recommended by Jeff Mariotte, Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA, _www.mystgalaxy.com_ (http://www.mystgalaxy.com/) : Sometimes a book comes along that ought to be read by everyone living in a particular geographic area. This one, conveniently, should be read by all San Diegans, and the sooner the better. It offers historical and cultural insigts into San Diego, from the surf at Pacific Beach to the fields of North County and just about everyplace in between, all disguised as a rocket-paced, witty crime novel.
Don does dialogue better than just about anyone in the business, and it crackles in this tale of a surf-bum P.I. who gets more involved than he wanted in the case of a missing stripper on the eve of a record swell soming towards the shore. As an added bonus, The Dawn Patrol features an appearance by Mysterious Galaxy co-owner Terry Gilman (albeit in a decidedly different profession). You don't have to know San Diego to love this book, but for those who do, every chapter carries that extra thrill of recognition that comes when a writer really gets an area and conveys his love for it on the page.