Bertie & the Crime of Passion by Peter Lovesey

Mysterious (first), 1995 As if the high-jinks of England’s current royal family aren’t enough, it now seems that Queen Victoria’s son has joined the fun — or so Lovesey would have us believe. In this third of a series, Prince Edward, or Bertie as he likes to call himself, visits Paris only to become entangled in the unraveling of a classic crime of passion. Out of friendship for a man whose daughter’s fiancé has been murdered, and also out of delightfully snobbish mistrust in the competence of the French police, he turns amateur sleuth, aided by no less a personage than Sarah Bernhardt herself. This mystery should appeal to readers […]

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The Juror by George Dawes Green

Warner (first), 1995 The jury is being chosen in the murder and conspiracy trial of a very bad mob boss. Juror 224, also known as Annie Laird of Pharaoh, New York, is a bit odd and not quite with it; she relies on her twelve-year-old son Oliver for a translation of the import of the trial. An employee (if that’s what he is) of the mob boss known as “the Teacher” and Vincent and Eben and Zach decides that she’s his candidate to get an acquittal. So he threatens her, lets her know that he can get Oliver any time he wants. She learns he’s bugged her home, her studio, […]

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Pray for Us Sinners by Philip Luber

Fawcett (first), 1998 Psychiatrist Harry Kline, Concord, Mass. widower, reluctantly agrees to help his girlfriend, FBI agent and former prosecutor Veronica Pace (although Kline’s daughter and others think he’s too old to have a “girlfriend”) discover who killed her mother in a break-in twenty years earlier. A nine-year-old Veronica had been in the house, saw her mother killed, held a gun on the intruder but couldn’t fire, and she has lived with the terror of the moment ever since. Luber writes very well, his characters are fully-formed and attractive, and the introduction of a couple of the Boston mob is a neat touch, but with all that and a good […]

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The Company of Knaves by Simon Shaw

St. Martin’s (first), 1998 English actor Philip Fletcher is furious when his thespian archrival is nominated for a knighthood. But the death of an actor friend of Philip’s opens up an avenue to knighthood when an unknown man blackmails the dead actor’s son, a promising young politician, by threatening to turn his father’s diary over to a tabloid newspaper. The son knows that his father’s private life was anything but quiet and appeals to Philip for help. The job involves more than the usual undercover work: although he does not care about his friends’ sexual proclivities, Philip, who is straight, must infiltrate a gay S&M nightclub in search of the […]

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Slow Burn by G.M. Ford

Avon (first), 1998 PI Leo Waterman isn’t easy to keep up with, but it’s worth the effort. In Slow Burn, the royalty running competing steak house chains has descended on Seattle for a haute cuisine convention; Waterman takes on the job of maintaining an uneasy balance among them. Waterman’s Boys (and a couple of Girls), denizens of the streets, are cleaned up, sobered up and dressed up so that they can help Leo prevent the public roasting of a prize bull raised by one faction by the nasties of the other faction. Ford owns the rights to the capsule character creation. His pavement residents have developed individual personalities in the […]

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Aunt Dimity Digs In by Nancy Atherton

Viking (first), 1998 The fourth in the series featuring Aunt Dimity, the caring ghostly presence resident in the rural English cottage, finds Lori, husband Bill and infant twin sons up to their ears in local conflict. Archaeologists have descended on the town of Finch upon the uncovering of Roman artifacts which, Lori learns, may have been planted by a disaffected resident many years earlier. The treatise in which he confesses to the burial has been stolen from the vicarage, so the only residents privy to its contents are the minister and his wife. It’s discovery becomes crucial when the town’s residents begin to take up sides and tempers escalate. With […]

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What’s the Worst That Could Happen? by Donald E. Westlake

Mysterious (first), 1996 Discovered in the act of burgling a house that was supposed to be empty, John Dortmunder is robbed of his lucky ring by the superstitious business mogul who caught him. The normally deliberate Dortmunder’s outrage slowly boils over into a series of schemes designed to get the ring back, and incidentally to offer a profit incentive to the many colleagues who offer their assistance. Westlake tellingly juxtaposes the mogul’s amoral, rapacious behavior with the professionalism and bonhomie of Dortmunder and his criminal friends. Westlake hasn’t lost his ability to write humor: a breathtakingly clueless dialog about bar codes in chapter 38 is one of the funniest things […]

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Fowl Play by Patricia Tichenor Westfall

St. Martin’s (first), 1996 This first novel features a well-realized setting in the Appalachians of southern Ohio, deft characterizations and plenty of insights about rural society. The mystery, involving a woman killed in the back office of her agricultural supply business, isn’t too difficult to solve, but getting there passes the time pleasantly enough. Westfall covers lots of interesting subjects, including cockfighting, county fairs and Down syndrome, but often adopts a lecturing tone that distracts from her story. Occasionally the tone descends from lecture to propaganda, as in the following exposition: “Worldwide, experts on Down syndrome agree that early at-home care and teaching improves the potential of these children.” I […]

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Mandarin Plaid by S.J. Rozan

St. Martin’s (first) ,1996 Rozan’s unique concept for her series featuring New York City private eyes Lydia Chin and her sometime partner Bill Smith is firmly established with Mandarin Plaid, the third in the series, the second in ABC (American-born Chinese) Lydia’s smart and lively voice. Last year’s Shamus-winning Concourse featuring the tough, almost-but-not-quite world weary Bill Smith was a corker, and although Lydia’s case seems pale by comparison, it stands up well on its own. The debut show for “Mandarin Plaid,” the collection created by fashion designer Genna Jing, is jeopardized when the sketches for the collection are stolen. Lydia is hired to pay the ransom and retrieve the […]

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Diagnosis Impossible: The Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne by Edward D. Hoch

Crippen & Landru (first), 1996 Life just keeps getting easier. Publishers Crippen & Landru, sweeter-natured than their murderous namesakes, are providing gorgeous surprises for mystery lovers. Here we have a dozen of the best “Dr. Sam” stories by the ingenious Edward Hoch, attractively packaged with an afterword and chronology by Marvin Lachman and an introduction by the author (who is, to our joy, still authoring). Rather than scouring through anthologies and back copies of EQMM, here the stories are, ready to read and relish. Each is steeped in the history of early twentieth century America, and each is a perfectly plotted vignette in which an impossible event is neatly explained […]

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An Unholy Alliance by Susanna Gregory

St. Martin’s (first), 1996 In 1350, right after the plague of the Black Death, the last thing Cambridge University needs is a series of murders. Doctor Matthew Bartholomew has his hands full: with Brother Michael, he must investigate the killing of an itinerant monk who has broken into the chest in which all the university’s valuable papers are kept; someone is murdering prostitutes in the town, and the university’s vice-chancellor has gone missing. Gregory paints a vivid portrait of Cambridge recovering from the plague, not just in terms of the reduced population, but also in how the Black Death had shattered — and reshaped — the philosophical and religious beliefs […]

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White Star by James Thayer

Simon & Schuster (first), 1995 After the deaths of two people within arm’s reach and the occurrence of a third tragedy, Owen Gray realizes that a mystery marksman is challenging him to a duel. When he served as a Marine, Gray was America’s best sniper, with 96 kills, most of them at a distance of up to three-quarters of a mile. Gray plans to confront the challenger. From Big Apple to Big Sky, this near supernatural sniper stalks Gray as relentless and as unstoppable as a hockey-masked Jason. The identity of the sniper is an irony — deep, rich and delicious as dessert food for thought. The attention to character […]

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Play with Fire by Dana Stabenow

Berkley (first), 1995 Spring has come to Alaska, and new growth is springing up where the land has been burned over by a forest fire. Kate Shugak is one of many Alaskans picking the bumper crop of mushrooms that buyers from all over the lower 48 states are flying in to purchase. It’s surprising, and sometimes appalling, where fungi will grow; as she picks, Kate uncovers a corpse. The mystery Stabenow tells is a compelling one: there are no missing persons reports to account for the body, and no reasonable way to explain that the dead man apparently died running, barefoot and naked. On another level, Stabenow has retold a […]

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The Venus Throw by Steven Saylor

St. Martin’s (first), 1995 This fourth in the Gordianus the Finder series begins in Rome, in 56 BC. Gordianus discovers that his old mentor, the Alexandrian philosopher Dio, has arrived from Egypt to ask the Roman Senate to grant official recognition to Egypt’s new ruler. Most of the envoy Dio traveled with has been murdered; within days he suffers the same fate. Soon an ex-neighbor of Gordianus’ is accused of the crime. Saddened by Dio’s death but unwilling at first to get involved, Gordianus finds himself hired to search out evidence against him. Saylor breathes vibrant life into several of ancient Rome’s most notable historical characters. Tinges of strange Eastern […]

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Playing Happy Families by Julian Symons

Mysterious (first), 1995 The Midway clan has been a happy family for thirty years when daughter Jenny disappears leaving no trace. As Detective Superintendent Catchpole investigates, a missing person case turns into a murder trial with no body. Too many false leads make the case a tough one to crack. True to Symons’ form, the crime in the book really exists as background. Jenny’s disappearance and the endless investigation act as a test of the characters’ personalities. The reader watches almost with a magnifying glass as they react, evolve, and in some cases change completely. Catchpole himself comes across as moralizing and old-fashioned when inquiring into the very modern, free-spirited […]

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If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him… by Sharyn McCrumb

Ballantine (first), 1995 McCrumb’s three series can be placed on a continuum of laughter to tears. Her science-fiction-groupie series which led off with Bimbos of the Death Sun is laughter; in her stunning ballad series, set in Appalachia’s present and past, she displays a kaleidoscope of human tragedies, and shows us also endurance and the possibility of joy. If I’d Killed Him is the eighth book of her in-the-middle series featuring forensic anthropologist and Anglophile Elizabeth MacPherson, a series that has been weighted toward the funny side, sometimes resulting in a feast of laughter (The Windsor Knot; MacPherson’s Lament) and occasionally in an uneasy compromise between the humorous and the […]

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Grave Music by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Scribner (first), 1995 A concert by the Royal London Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Stefan Radek. Two pleasant romances linking the police force and members of the orchestra — Detective Inspector Bill Slider reunited at last with his lovely Joanna; his elegant assistant Jim Atherton charmed by the second violinist. Two deaths — with both victims as notable for their power over others as for their singularly unpleasant natures. Even more startling, when Stefan Radek dies in the midst of rehearsal, his right hand in spasm clutching at his collar, struck down by a bullet fired by the trench-coated figure who entered and left the rehearsal hall unrecognized, there were two […]

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Kiss the Girls by James Patterson

Little, Brown (first), 1995 This novel is two much. There are two good guy detectives, Dr. Alex Cross and John Sampson. Two Chapel Hill, North Carolina cops. Two FBI agents. Two of the baddest of bad guys: serial or “recreational” killers. They operate on both coasts. In LA, “the Gentleman Caller” always leaves flowers, saves a body part for a souvenir and leads the police to the crime scene. On the opposite coast is “Casanova,” who abducts young women in the southeast and keeps them in a bizarre boudoir; unless they displease him, in which case they are discovered in the woods, nude, dead, and pumped full of exotic drugs. […]

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The Wizard of La-La Land by Robert Campbell

Pocket (first), 1995 When a chum tells Mike Rialto, a glass-eyed card shark, that twangy boy (male prostitute) Kenny Gotch, who is dying of AIDS in a local hospital, knows “something” about the brutal mutilation murder of ten-year-old Sarah Canaan ten years ago, Mike visits Kenny. He finds him apparently sleeping, and as he tugs at his shoulder to talk to him, Kenny rolls over and spews a mouth full of blood in Mike’s face. Kenny is dead, and Mike is freaked. He runs to private investigator Whistler and his sidekick, one-armed, avid reader, intellectual counterman Bosco Silverlake. As Mike relates his story to Whistler and Bosco, Isaac Canaan, who […]

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Murder at Monticello by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown

Bantam (first), 1994 Has Rita Mae Brown no shame? Having saddled her cat with an embarrassingly cute name, you’d think she’d let the poor animal live out its days in obscurity — as much for her own sake as for the cat’s, because we know the cat didn’t name itself. But no; Brown must advertise her error by giving her pet co-author credit for a series that now comprises three volumes. That said, Murder at Monticello isn’t as bad as I’d feared. There are several animal characters, and they can talk (though only to each other), but they all have pretty reasonable names, and they participate in the unfolding of […]

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Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie

Scribner’s (first), 1995 Operatic in the dramatic colors and shadows of their relationships, Julia Swann’s family takes its style from its matriarch, bel canto soprano Dame Caroline Stowe, rather than from Sir Gerald Asherton, Dame Caroline’s husband and Julia’s father, or from Julia herself, a reclusive artist living with her parents rather than with her flamboyant, unfaithful, erratic husband Con. When Connor Swann’s body is pulled from the stream near his parents-in-law’s home, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James are sent by Scotland Yard to investigate his death, their presence justified by the marks of violence on Swann’s body, and the illustriousness of his connections. Ironically, this death echoes […]

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Buzz Monkey by Sam Hill

Carroll & Graf (first), 2003 “Top” Kiernan does Clark Kent one better. He’s no “mild-mannered reporter,” instead he’s a research librarian. Who would suspect a librarian? Mind you, Kiernan isn’t your everyday librarian. He founded and heads a firm called Polymath (“someone who knows everything”), a high-tech, internet savvy team of 35 researchers who field 200 questions each day from publishers, authors and consulting firms. Polymath is based in Athens, Georgia, in an old elementary school building that Kiernan’s gradually renovating into both work space and living quarters — his bedroom is the school’s former basketball court. It’s great cover — but for what? Is Kiernan caped crusader or evil […]

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Cops for our times: K.C. Constantine and Barbara D’Amato

Brushback by K.C. Constantine Mysterious (first), 1998 Good Cop, Bad Cop by Barbara D’Amato Forge (first), 1998 The present febrile atmosphere may have long-term effects, such as limiting the appetite for public life to all but the most ego-enthralled office-seekers. In the end, this could be one of those periods in history remembered more for the ferocity of their prosecutions than for the severity of their crimes. Few such eras are remembered fondly. Joe Klein, The New Yorker, February 2, 1998 The protagonists of these compelling new mysteries are office-holders, rather than office-seekers, but the impulse to hold a position — or at least not to leave it unwillingly or […]

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Death’s Autograph by Marianne Macdonald

St. Martin’s (first), 1997 A satisfying but flawed first novel. Dido Hoare is nearly run off the road one night, then her antiquarian bookshop is robbed and searched, then her apartment is surreptitiously rifled. Meanwhile, Dido’s ne’er-do-well ex-husband Davey turns up, ostensibly looking for work. The object of the searches and of Davey’s attentions is a book in which a familiar poem was scribbled centuries ago, possibly by the author himself: Shakespeare. Despite all this, Death’s Autograph is slow to engage the reader. Dido is a merely competent narrator blessed with a good story to tell; the more interesting character is her father Barnabas, a clever retired professor who is […]

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Jane and the Wandering Eye by Stephanie Barron

Bantam (first), 1998 “The actress’s magnificent form limned itself on the paving stones at my feet, like an enchantress materialising out of the common snow and dirt, and I knew her immediately for a woman any man might die to possess.” Surely Jane Austen would not have described a glimpse of a shadow in these grandiloquent terms. But  though Stephanie Barron cannot approach the style and talent of her protagonist, in presenting her readers with Austen-as-sleuth she is on to a very good thing. In the third mystery in this series, a guest at a masquerade ball is stabbed just as a Shakespearean actor is declaiming lines from Macbeth – […]

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