Frozen by Ann Cleeves

Frozen: A Vera Stanhope Short Story by Ann Cleeves
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

For once, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope is managing to have a good day off. Strolling around town, she ducks into a new bookshop in a renovated chapel. But just as she does, a skeleton is discovered in the old baptismal font. Soon, a decade old mystery is revived, and Vera must uncover secrets long buried before this case once again goes cold.

Frozen is a short and exciting introduction to a detective inspector (DI) series. Even as an intro, it is a self-contained story, complete, and entertaining.
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Vera Stanhope is a DI having a normal day when she chances upon chapel being redone into a bookstore. Then, to her surprise, there is a skeleton there! One thing leads to another, and a mystery unfolds. This is a cold case. The victim had died many years before. The clothes alert Vera to an unsolved case about a missing girl.

Vera searches for answers and comes across as clever and intuitive.

She approaches relatives and acquaintances of the poor victim and digs deeper for answers. Who could have killed the girl? The details are just right, bringing readers along for the ride.

Even though this is a short story, it is told in such a manner and with a few twists to lead readers to a satisfying conclusion. Why not give this little mystery a try?

Murder Off the Page by Con Lehane

Murder Off the Page by Con Lehane
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full length (323 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

A note from bartender Brian McNulty, Raymond Ambler’s friend, confidant, and sometimes adviser, sets the librarian sleuth off on a murder investigation, one that he pursues reluctantly until a second murder upends the world as he knows it. The second victim is a lady friend of McNulty’s―and the prime suspect is McNulty himself.

As Ambler pursues his investigation, he discovers that the murdered woman had a double life. Her intermittent visits to the city―a whirlwind of reckless drinking and illicit liaisons with men she met in the cocktail lounges―had their counterpart in suburban Fairfield County Connecticut where, as Dr. Sandra Dean, she practiced dermatology and lived in a gated community with a doting husband and a young daughter.
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While Ambler looks into the past of Dr. Sandra Dean to understand the murder of Shannon Darling in the present, NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove investigates the men in Shannon Darling’s life. She might have been murdered because she frustrated the wrong man. It could have been a jealous wife. In fact, any number of people might have murdered Shannon Darling. Or, as Ambler suspects, did someone murder Dr. Sandra Dean?

Yet, no matter which way he turns, McNulty emerges as a suspect. Ambler’s dilemma seems insurmountable: Should he keep searching for the truth behind the murders if the deeper he probes, the more evidence he finds that points to the morally rumpled bartender as a murderer?

I enjoyed a story which has a mild-mannered amateur detective in the plot. I also thought the other characters were interesting. However, much of the interaction between the characters was very subtle so it took me a while to discover what the relationship was between them.

I used the word subtle previously and I think it’s the right terminology to use for the whole story. This was a plot that you really had to pay attention in order to create your own mental image of what was happening. I wouldn’t say any of this was bad; more like a mystery for intellectuals. Or maybe you might call it a “softcore” mystery genre.

I’m not familiar with the LeHane books and I must admit I was a little confused at first. I think it was because there were a lot of side stories or subplots going on at the time. Maybe it was more that I was not used to LeHane’s writing style or possibly it’s not wise to read this as a stand-alone.  Nonetheless, it was still an enjoyable book worth my reading time.

This is Book 3 in a series titled “The 42nd Street Library Mysteries” . Con Lehane also has another series called “Bartender Brian McNulty Mysteries”. Be sure to check them out.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (321 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Nobody knows what happened to Sarah Cook. The beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton―black and from the wrong side of the tracks―was convicted of the murders and is now on death row. Though he’s maintained his innocence all along, the clock is running out. His execution is only weeks away when his devoted sister insists she spied Sarah at an area gas station. Willing to try anything, she hires PI Roxane Weary to look at the case and see if she can locate Sarah.

Brad might be in a bad way, but private investigator Roxane Weary isn’t doing so hot herself. Still reeling from the recent death of her cop father in the line of duty, her main way of dealing with her grief has been working as little and drinking as much as possible. But Roxane finds herself drawn in to the story of Sarah’s vanishing act, especially when she links the disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl.

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Everyone has baggage, even those that we ask to help us.

Roxane Weary knows this better than anyone else. Working as a private investigator, jobs come and go, and she feels that she does okay, even well at her line of work. When Roxane is hired to complete one last ditch effort to save a man from his execution date, Roxane’s bank account and liquor cabinet are running low. When she begins the investigation, she has no idea of where it will lead.

The Last Place You Look is a wild ride from start to finish. The demons that Roxane faces are only compounded by the loss of her father and the frustrating family dynamics that are set into motion. While trying to remedy her past and understand her own future, Roxane struggles with keeping up with each day-although some days get away from her.

The character development, deep plot lines, and dynamic conversations all add to the depth of this wonderful read. The story is smooth flowing, full of energy and never a dull moment. Yet, the story flows and does not feel rushed or forced. As a reader, we experience life from Roxane’s eyes, we see how she analyzes the case, the developments and interestingly, when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong! Roxane is a person, a real character that the reader can fully comprehend. The ups and downs of the story do not feel like they were set to create a plot, but feel like a natural reaction to the world of the characters.

The story comes to a pivotal point when Roxane realizes that she cannot keep going on like she has, she must either back down or push forward-but there is no stagnation. This is a resolution for the reader-our lives will change and we can choose to have a direction of the flow or we can back down and crash with the waves-this is illustrated deeply by Roxane’s choices and the shaping of her development throughout the story.

The Last Place You Look is an amazing suspense story with a strong amount of action/adventure and an awesome amount of human character development-make sure you don’t miss this amazing read!

You Are Dead by Peter James

You Are Dead by Peter James
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (417 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

THEY WERE MARKED FOR DEATH. The last words Nick Walton hears from his fiancée, Logan Somervile, are in a terrified mobile phone call from her. She has just driven into the underground car park beneath the block of flats where they live in Brighton. Then she screams and the phone goes dead. The police are on the scene within minutes, but Logan has vanished, leaving behind her neatly parked car and telephone.

That same afternoon, workmen digging up an old asphalt pat in a park in another part of the city, unearth the remains of a young woman in her early twenties, who has been dead for 30 years.
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At first, to Roy Grace and his team, these two events seem totally unconnected. But then another young woman in Brighton goes missing and another body from the past surfaces. Meanwhile, an eminent London psychiatrist meets with a man who claims to know a piece of information about Logan. Later Roy Grace makes the chilling realization that this one thing is the key to both the past and the present . . . Brighton has its first serial killer in over eighty years.

Logan Somerville has gone missing, and other women are vanishing as well. Workmen have discover skeletal remains of a young woman that has probably been dead for 30 years. The past and the future of these women all have something in common. Will Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and his Major Crime Team be able to save Logan and any future women from this twisted killer?

From the first chapter the suspense started and I was drawn in. Leading character Roy Grace is in the process of moving, preparing a eulogy for the death of a fellow officer, someone he once loved that went missing may have been spotted and now women are being kidnapped, and skeletal remains have been discovered. Roy has a lot on his plate. He is a hard worker, a lover of his family and teammates and a man that is dedicated to saving the women of Brighton. Roy is a strong character, and I like that he is written in human likeness showing him dealing with life’s conflicts.

The author goes in great detail to display the case from the fear and cries of the kidnapped victim, the killer with his reason and ways of tracking his next project and finally Roy’s detective skills in tracking down this killer. I love the author’s writing style. He tells details and builds a visual but doesn’t over do it. The suspense is on target, and the plot is so amazingly well thought out and planned all the way to the very end. The main character is well defined in his personal life and his work life. There are an over whelming number of character names mentioned but the author didn’t try to go in to unnecessary details about them.

I am a reader that doesn’t typically like to read lengthy novels. However I found each page a pleasure to read.  Each was filled with such suspense and I was so wrapped up in how the story would play out, the length of the novel didn’t even phase me. This is a pleasurable read and as a reader this book left me saying ‘I am so glad I picked this book’. The novel revealed the reason behind the kidnapping and killing and also ended with surprise suspense meaning I will be reading the next book in the Roy Grace series.

This book is highly recommended for those that enjoy a well researched suspenseful novel that is sure to give its reader a thrilling heart pounding climax.

Once a Crooked Man by David McCallum

Once a Crooked Man by David McCallum
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (352 pgs)
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

From the beloved actor known for his roles on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS comes a quirky crime novel featuring a well-intentioned young actor, a trio of suave crooks, and a series of untimely coincidences.

Readers looking forward to David McCallum’s first Book Release, Once a Crooked Man are counting the days until its January release,  and if they’ve been hoping it will be ‘as advertised’ they surely will not be disappointed.

McCallum (Ducky of NCIS fame, among others) has played the role of some quirky characters in his career and Once a Crooked Man – billed as a quirky mystery – is all that and more.  A quirky main character starts us off. Harry Murphy, aspiring actor, happens to overhear plans for the crime.
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Other ‘quirky’ characters follow, like Carter A. From the get-go, we readers have no idea what’s up with him, but its not good; it should be good given his situation, but its not looking good at all.

And here, its worth noting that more than the characters are quirky. McCallum jumps from one to the next, easily switching characters yet maintaining, even increasing, reader curiosity. Stylistically, its not unheard of, but it was not this reader’s favorite.

We start to run into the bad guys. Sal, Max and Enzo. Max looking to retire…he’s looking for that final score to ‘set up’ retirement. He almost gains reader sympathy, but among these characters so much (unexpected? unneeded?) bad language litters the text, its hard to see these guys as anything but caricatures. It is funny but also distracting; my one quibble with the entire story.

In Once a Crooked Man all the characters are at a turning point, and the opening pages flip from character to character. It could be annoying but its intriguing…in a kind of annoying way. But, we want to know and there it is: Author McCallum has us, we keep reading, keep wanting more.

Brilliant funny and wonderful. Even the dedication is quirky. A risk to read but utterly satisfactory. I have to give this one 5 stars, as I think those looking for a fresh original take on mystery/crime will love it.

Cheers to Dr. Ducky! from Snapdragon: a fan.