Thursday, October 17, 2013

Speaking of Long-Awaited...Nadia Stafford Trilogy from Kelley Armstrong

EXIT STRATEGY (Nadia Stafford #1)
Kelley Armstrong
Bantam Books

Exit Strategy opens with a "hit" in a NY City Subway Station on a mafia thug. The difference here is that the assassin is a woman, a disgraced Ontario cop and now hunting lodge owner. Nadia was kicked off the force for taking justice in her own hands. A rapist and pedophile had just been released by a jury and something snapped in Nadia. What most people don't know is that Nadia and her cousin Amy were kidnapped by a pedophile when in their early teens. Nadia survived; Amy did not and the killer got away with it. Now Nadia takes on a contract or two a year from a small NY "family", usually another mafia thug. The work helps her keep the lodge afloat as well as satisfy the need to dispense her own brand of justice. But when it becomes clear that another hit man has gone rogue and become a serial killer Nadia must team up with her mentor, Jack, and other hit men to find him. Rogue hit men are bad for business. What follows is an exciting ride as the group looks for the rogue and a fascinating look at the culture of professional assassins.

MADE TO BE BROKEN (Nadia Stafford #2)
Kelley Armstrong
Bantam Books

Nadia is at home at the lodge when one of her employees along with her baby goes missing. Sammi is a not too bright and usually hostile, but beautiful, teenager who works for Nadia. Brought up by a drunken and abusive mother, Sammi is one of those kids that the town expects nothing of, but she is a devoted mother, determined to get away and bring up her child with love. When the two go missing no one seems interested except Nadia. Jack is recovering from a broken leg at the lodge and the two investigate the disappearances, leading them into a world of murder and baby trafficking with a hit man connection. 

The Nadia Stafford books were not all that well received when they first came out. Armstrong was in the midst of her very successful "Women of the Otherworld" series and these are very, very different. It's hard to make a hit woman sympathetic but Armstrong succeeds brilliantly. Jack and the other recurring characters are utterly believable. There is the retired hit woman, Evelyn, and Quinn, a vigilante hit man who is still a federal cop. Wild Justice is coming from Sphere on November 26 and should wrap up the series. I am really looking forward to seeing how Armstrong wraps up the story and whether Nadia and Jack overcome their mutual reticence. 

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rose Strickland Returns in DINER IMPOSSIBLE

DINER IMPOSSIBLE: A Rose Strickland Mystery
Terri L. Austin
Henery Press
November 2013

I have been waiting what seems to be a long time for the third entry in Terri Austin's Rose Strickland series. It felt so long in fact that I actually re- read the first two books, something that I almost never do! So I was delighted when Henery Press and allowed me to read a digital galley.

After two previous successful amateur investigations taken on for her extended family of misfit friends, Rose is stunned when she is approached by Andre Thomas (Officer Hard-Ass). Officer Thomas wants her to investigate the murder of the secretary and mistress of Martin Mathers, the Police Chief. He knows that Mathers is a sleazy character but does not think he killed her. Rose is even more stunned when her social butterfly mother, Barbara, also asks her for help. Mathers' wife is a friend of Barbara's and she wants to help her. Rose did not know that Barbara even HAD a friend that she will go to bat for and risk social disapproval. A secondary mystery involves her friend Ax and his Trekkie friends. Much hilarity (from the Trekkies) and tragedy follows in the form of Mather's messed up teenage children. Rose also has to juggle her relationship with Sullivan, bad boy and blossoming love interest.

The Rose Strickland series is almost perfect escapist reading. Ma and Roxy from are back in Diner Impossible; along with Ax they are a formidable back-up for Rose. My only quibble was the interference from Barbara. I can only take her in small doses and she was very much present in the book. However, there are plenty of laughs and just the right amount of romantic tension. Highly recommended!

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Friday, October 4, 2013

Charles Paris Makes a Welcome Return in A Decent Interval

Simon Brett
Creme de la Crime
July 2013

It has been nearly fifteen years since the last Charles Paris mystery from Simon Brett and I was delighted have him return in A Decent Interval. Charles Paris is a mediocre actor, unfaithful husband, terrible father and alcoholic. Just about the only thing he really seems to be good at is amateur sleuthing, or is it just plain snooping?

Charles has been out of work for eight months so he is delighted to get a dual role in a new production of Hamlet to start out in Marlborough and travel to the West End. He will be playing both Hamlet's Ghost and The First Gravedigger.The play is being produced by one of those bottom-line companies that are so prevalent everywhere, and feature two young "stars"- winners of two different reality talent shows. Our Hamlet refuses to do read throughs and thinks that rather than learn to project to the back of the house, he should just be mic'ed. Ophelia thinks that she should sing something from her upcoming pop album in the mad scene. The objective of the production is to get "bums in the seats" after all. The set design is meant to represent Hamlet's cranium. When part of the set collapses one actor is injured, and another is found dead in a dressing room a few days later. Charles of course begins to snoop.

The first hundred pages or so of A Decent Interval are vintage Charles Paris. Despite his shortcomings, Charles has always been oddly appealing and lovable. Watching him try to navigate the brave new world of Twitter, Facebook, celebrity culture and reality shows is simply hilarious. His quoted reviews, such as "With Charles Paris as Julius Caesar, I was surprised that Brutus and his cronies didn't take action earlier" are as funny as ever. After those first pages the cracks begin to appear. Charles is  barely on the sunny side of 60 but still looking for action with younger actresses. His drinking is worse than ever and despite multiple vows, it is obvious that he can't quit. His estranged wife, who decamped long ago and raised their daughter on her own, is showing strong signs of not even wanting to tolerate even their limited communications. In short, Charles is isolated, lonely, and has no real career any more. At the book's end I thought this would surely be the last Charles Paris. However, there is another forthcoming. The series has always been a mixture of comedy and tragedy, but I hope there is some light dawning in the next as I just felt sad when I finished A Decent Interval.

A Decent Interval is a difficult book to rate. The first hundred pages are a solid four and the remainder two, so I will average it out to three.

RATING- 3 Craniums

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

'Tis the Season for the SCARY!

HALLOWEEN: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre
Paula Guran, Editor
Prime Books
September 2013

'Tis the season for the scary and Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre delivers. Prime Books and Paula Guran have put together a great collection of stories built around the legends of Halloween. The anthology features traditional tales and some very non-traditional ones from a wide range of authors, some well known to me and some not. As I was reading I was amazed by the different interpretations and flights of imagination that inspired these stories.

All of the stories are excellent but Maria V. Snyder's "The Halloween Men" and Carrie Vaughan's "Unternehmen Werwolf" particularly struck a chord for me. I also enjoyed A. C. Wise's "For the Removal of Unwanted Guests" and Jonathan Maberry's "Long Way Home: A Pine Deep Story". One of the joys of an anthology is the opportunity to discover new authors so I will be looking into the work of many of these authors in the future. Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre, with it's 18 stories is a great way to get into the spirit of the season.

Thanks to Prime Books and for an advance digital copy in exchange for a free and fair review.

RATING- 4 Jack O'Lanterns