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Killing Secrets: A Nan Vining Mystery (Nan Vining Mysteries)
Killing Secrets: A Nan Vining Mystery (Nan Vining Mysteries)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumphant, satisfying return for Detective Vining, July 23, 2015
“You’re going to be flying solo. You okay with that?” — Sergeant Early

Detective Nan Vining is used to being in situations where she has to fly solo. Both professionally as an investigator with the Pasadena Police Department and as a single mother raising a teenage daughter, Vining has reached a point where she’s learned to trust her instincts and go where they take her.

In Killing Secrets, however, the first entry in the Nan Vining series in five years (Read more from author Dianne Emley about revisiting Vining after such a layoff.), Vining finds herself farther out on a solo ledge than ever before.

The book opens with Vining’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Emily, and her boyfriend stumbling across a gruesome crime scene while out in a city park at dusk. Two people, one of their classmates and a popular teacher from their school, have been killed. As the investigator with the most seniority and experience, Vining naturally expects to be assigned the case. Upon arriving at the scene, however, she’s surprised to learn that two other investigators, one of them extremely inexperienced, have been given the assignment instead.

Her surprise turns to confusion, and then frustration, as the case is handled both in an unorthodox manner and with lightning speed. Someone high up in the PD is apparently in a hurry to chalk things up as a murder-suicide and be done with it. Vining isn’t convinced, and decides to dig deeper.

Along the way, Vining learns that the student, a recent transfer to the area, was a troubled teen whose father committed suicide—or did he? The young man was working with his English Lit teacher, the one who was also killed, on a story that would supposedly prove his father, a former prosecutor who’d been responsible for bringing some big fish down, was actually murdered, his killing staged to look like a suicide. Now, Vining has to find out not only if that’s true, but if history is repeating itself in her backyard.

After a five-year absence, one might think an author would find it difficult to slip back into the skin of a character, but LA Times bestseller Dianne Emley’s return to the Nan Vining series feels as comfortable as slipping on a favorite old sweater. Back is the same confident, capable detective readers of the series have come to know and love. Back also, in spades, is the frustration Vining feels trying to juggle her career and single mom status. Daughter Emily has hit the rebellious, defiant stage at a full run, a situation that would be challenging enough even if two dead bodies weren’t involved.

Adding to the frustration for Vining, Emily’s boyfriend is a cocky smartass, and one with an overbearing defense attorney stepfather and known gangbanger friend to boot. Familiar characters like Vining’s grandmother, who has slipped farther down the Alzheimer’s path, Jim Kissick, Vining’s sometimes partner in both policing and romance, and Kendra Early, Vining’s commanding officer/mentor/friend, are all back, with varying degrees of participation.

It all makes for a complex, challenging and engaging mystery for Vining to unravel, and readers will love tagging along for the ride.

A Murder Country: A Novel
A Murder Country: A Novel
by Brandon Daily
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.87
47 used & new from $11.70

4.0 out of 5 stars A tale of vengeance rich with philosophical and spiritual implications, July 17, 2015
The setting: late eighteenth century. The players: three men moving through a violent and unforgiving world, two looking for earthly revenge, one the self-appointed hand of God. The stakes: a quest to understand man’s place in the world and how the power of belief—and a single act or decision—can set the course of one’s life.

Young Josiah Fuller’s life is irrevocably altered when, upon returning home from a multi-day hunting trip, he finds his parents have been brutally murdered. Not content simply to kill, whoever was responsible tortured the Fullers before stringing them up from a tree and burning down the homestead.

Josiah makes a vow to avenge their murders, and sets out on a quest to track and find the person(s) responsible. Along the way, he is forced through his interactions with the people he encounters to deeply examine his life, and to ask the question whether trading his eternal soul for the satisfaction of earthly vengeance is something he’s truly prepared to do.

William Corvin was once a man of violence, but has reformed his life and now oversees his family’s coal mine. When a random encounter with two drifters visits violence upon Corvin’s pregnant wife, like young Josiah, Corvin is forced to confront the question of whether slipping back into his old skin is worth the loss of his peaceful, hard fought for new life.

A man known as The Rider is the thread that weaves the entire tapestry together. Long ago he had a vision, one in which he was tasked with the mission of exacting the Lord’s vengeance on those unfortunate enough to cross his path whom he believes to have sinned against God. The Rider is utterly without pity for those he judges and finds lacking, and before the story’s over each of the players involved will have to confront what he stands for and find out how they measure up.

In a time and place where people are forced to live hard, often violent lives, debut author Brandon Daily explores the concept of whether man is in an almost no-win situation, life’s circumstances damn-near necessitating for survival’s sake that he engage in acts at odds with living a godly life. Is man simply too fragile, his conviction and faith too weak, to overcome his earthly plight? On the other hand, Daily does not let God off the hook either, questioning what kind of god would saddle man with such brutal lives and faith-crushing burdens and still expect them to walk a righteous path.

Make no mistake about it, A Murder Country is not light reading. Writing with a self-confidence it usually takes authors getting several books under their belts to muster, Daily jumps into the deep end with gusto and spins an engrossing yarn that elevates what could otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill, historically set tale of vengeance to one rich with philosophical and spiritual implications. It’s a challenging read, but one you’ll relish both while in it and for some time after.

Price: $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful, multilayered narrative - Kostoff should be a household name, June 13, 2015
This review is from: WORDS TO DIE FOR (Kindle Edition)
Raymond Locke is a fixer. His official job title at PR firm Public Domain is public relations specialist, but make no mistake about it, what Locke does is fix problems. Big, ugly, career and business torpedoing problems—the type of scandals that keep the supermarket tabloids of the world in business.

The year is 1986, and in the Reagan-era, greed is good, Iran-Contra fueled American cultural climate, Public Domain has no shortage of extremely rich clients with extremely embarrassing problems to fix before the damage sets in too deeply. Having become something of a rock star amongst fixers for his work on a case involving allegations of impropriety at a daycare center, Locke is known as the go-to guy for the dirtiest of problems. But even Locke couldn’t have imagined just how far down the rabbit hole his newest client’s case would take him.

Lamar Ditell, owner/CEO of Happy Farms, a giant poultry company, has a Grade A scandal on his hands. Previously just a chicken producer/supplier, Happy Farms recently expanded into the fast-food business. Unfortunately for Ditell, over 100 people were stricken with serious food poisoning following the grand opening of Happy Farms’ first two franchises. And while such an outbreak would normally only be an embarrassing bump in the road, one of the victims, a ten-year-old girl, suffers serious complications and ends up in a coma. It still might be a PR hurdle someone with Locke’s skills could easily clear, until both a crusading journalist and a high-profile activist with Hollywood ties latch onto the scandal like dogs with a bone, determined to bring down Ditell and his empire, which had previously garnered bad press for an anti-union incident at Happy Farms’ processing plant.

Things take a turn for the seriously bizarre, and increasingly dangerous, when Locke meets with Ken Brackett, father of the stricken young girl. Himself an employee at the Happy Farms plant—as well as a devotee of an eccentric, reclusive Robert Bly-esque guru—Brackett appears reluctant to throw Ditell/Happy Farms under the bus by engaging legal counsel…but why? Add to the mix some high-profile and powerful political enemies of both Locke and Ditell, and for the first time in his career Locke finds himself in the very uncomfortable position of not riding the wave of spin control, but getting pulled into its undertow.

Words to Die For, the latest from the immensely talented Lynn Kostoff, is a richly layered journey through the mid ‘80s collective American psyche, as personified by Raymond Locke. Though he likes to think of himself as a good person—he loves his wife and struggles to do right by her and their autistic son—Locke has to increasingly confront and wrestle with doubts about his rapidly eroding morality.

***As long as he continued to feel appalled, Raymond told himself, he’d be all right. Appalled kept him from getting lost. Appalled was good. Appalled was the line of bread crumbs he dropped in order to find his way back home.***

Except, as both the Happy Farms scandal and his life start to come apart at the seams, the harder it becomes for Locke to find his way back home, his moral compass seemingly irreversibly misaligned.

Through the lens that is Locke, Kostoff explores a time in America’s history when, seemingly more than at any other, flash mattered over substance, where just the right “spin” on a story was more important than the underlying truth, or its implications, and Americans were all too happy to swallow a good narrative hook, line and sinker as long as they were riding high and feeling good along the way.

Examination of the darkest facets of character are nothing new for Kostoff, his novel Late Rain is a Southern Gothic masterpiece told from four different first person perspectives, but with Words to Die For he raises the bar to another level, presenting a masterful, multilayered narrative that examines where the tipping point of morality is from both a micro (Locke) and macro (American culture) perspective. It’s a sublimely enjoyable, (intentionally) challenging and thought-provoking read, one which has me once again wondering why the hell Lynn Kostoff isn’t a household name amongst readers.

Tequila Sunset
Tequila Sunset
Price: $8.53

5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling look at three lives caught up in border violence, September 24, 2014
This review is from: Tequila Sunset (Kindle Edition)
Matías Segura, a member of the Policía Federal Ministerial in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, has seen more than his share of dead bodies. From gang members gunned down in the streets in broad daylight to mass graves and scenes of unspeakable torture and brutality, dealing with the carnage that flows from the Mexican drug trade has become a part of Segura’s daily routine.

Just across the border in El Paso, Texas, Detective Cristina Salas is all too aware of the atrocities occurring far to close to home for comfort. When in the course of her work with the El Paso Gang Unit she learns of a possible connection between the notorious Mexico-based Barrio Aztecas and gang activity in her city, she is determined to do whatever it takes to make sure El Paso doesn’t become another Ciudad Juárez-style killing field.

Caught in the middle is Felipe “Flip” Morales, a minor criminal who ended up in prison when one of his crimes took a turn for the unexpectedly serious with devastating results. Unfortunately for Flip, while in prison he became indebted to the Barrio Aztecas, who provided Flip with protection from the other gangs inside. Now free from confinement, Flip is far from free of the hold the Aztecas have on him. Though he has the support of a loving mother and the inspiration of a new girlfriend to fuel his desire to go straight, the Aztecas have other ideas for Flip’s future.

How the lives of those three characters intersect forms the basis for multiple CWA Dagger Award nominee Sam Hawken’s Tequila Sunset. The subject matter—the cross-border trade in drugs and guns and its resulting violence—is not new territory, but few have shown the ability to handle the topic with the deft combination of matter-of-fact brutality and despair infused with just enough hope to take the edge off as Hawken has consistently demonstrated in his work. Like his previous forays across the border, The Dead Women of Juárez and Juárez Dance, in Tequila Sunset Hawken does not make the mistake of trying to glamorize the violence. Rather, he tackles the subject head-on, allowing both his characters and the reader to feel the brunt of a culture that threatens to overrun the Mexican side of the border and spill over into Texas.

Unlike in The Dead Women of Juárez, however, where the characters were necessarily hardened and tottering on the brink of losing all hope of a way out, those who populate Tequila Sunset are cut from stronger cloth and are less willing to throw in the towel. Despite the very real threat of being swallowed up by violence and evil, Matías, Cristina and Flip all see the light, both at the end of the tunnel as well as in themselves and (the potential for it) in those around them. They are unwilling to roll over, instead choosing to fight for a better world even at great personal risk. Through their fight, Hawken is able to put faces on an issue that has become so pervasive and amorphous that it threatens to lose its sense of humanity.

The fact is, there are real people on both sides of the border—good people who want nothing more than to lead violence-free, productive lives—struggling with these issues on a daily basis, and in Tequila Sunset Hawken masterfully shows us how three such people step up to the challenge.

The Night Visitor
The Night Visitor
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Electrically Compelling Read, September 24, 2014
This review is from: The Night Visitor (Kindle Edition)
Up-and-coming artist Junior Lara returns home one night to find all the windows open and his loft apartment filled with doves. As he makes his way through the dark rooms shooing the birds out and closing widows behind them, a deep feeling of unease overtakes him as he realizes something very wrong has occurred—all of his canvases are in tatters, ripped to shreds. When he slips in a patch of something wet, but disturbingly sticky, Junior barely has time to comprehend he’s stepped in the blood of his girlfriend, supermodel Anya Langtry, whose lifeless eyes stare up at him from the floor, before he has a terrible sense of falling…and everything goes black.

And with that wonderfully eerie, atmospheric opening, The Night Visitor, the newest offering from LA Times bestselling author Dianne Emley, is off and running.

Fast forward five years, where we learn Junior survived being shot in the head that night…if you call being in a persistent vegetative state surviving. We also learn that his girlfriend was an illicit one, and that in fact Junior had been engaged to Anya’s sister, Rory, at the time. The police have long since written off the events that occurred that evening as a murder/failed suicide, a theory that Rory and Anya’s family agrees with. Junior’s family, on the other hand, believes it was Rory who shot both Anya and Junior in a jealous rage upon learning of their affair. Under the skilled and nuanced storytelling of Emley, the reader is taken on a journey that reveals the truth to be far more complicated that anyone could possibly have imagined.

Though Rory has moved on with her life, building a cosmetics empire and getting engaged to a successful LA attorney, the lives of the Langtry and Lara families are far from through being intertwined. When a new tragedy strikes that awakens in Rory a connection with Junior that calls into question everything she thought she knew to be true about the events of that night five years ago, she’s drawn into a mystery that will take more than normal sleuthing to solve.

The Night Visitor, a standalone novel, is somewhat of a departure for Emley, who is best known for her Detective Nan Vining thrillers and the Iris Thorne mystery series. On the surface, The Night Visitor is an engaging, entertaining mystery, but there is more going on at a deeper level. The story has a supernatural edge not present in any of Emley’s previous work, and Emley deftly uses that wrinkle to explore the nature of the ties that bind people together, probing whether there is, in fact, a deeper level of connection possible than what we consciously perceive in our everyday interactions.

As Emley has revealed, she has personally gone through the experience of having a family member in a deep coma followed by an extended period of questionable state of consciousness, and that experience informs the storytelling in The Night Visitor in a way that adds an undeniable verisimilitude to events, elevating them above a simple jaunt into the paranormal—there is real, painful soul searching going on, potentially life-changing questions being asked and answers to same being sought. And that combination of a well-written whodunnit intertwined with some deeper philosophical exploration makes for an electrically compelling read.

Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities
Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities
Price: $4.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From tongue-in-cheek humor to in your face brutal, with a solid backbone of intelligence and incisiveness running throughout, April 21, 2014
I first came across David James Keaton’s writing via the short “Mosquito Bites,” which was included in the outstanding Pulp Modern. The story is told from the perspective of a recently paroled con whose determination to stay straight is immediately derailed by a betrayal, and includes a passage so descriptively disgusting – and I mean that in a good way – that it still makes me shudder when I think about it.

I immediately began seeking out other work by him, not too difficult considering he has appeared in over 50 publications, including Noir at the Bar, Chicago Quarterly Review, Thuglit, Beat To A Pulp, Needle and Grift. Still, I wanted more, and so was very happy for both Keaton and myself when he announced awhile back that he had been signed and would be releasing a collection of his works under the title Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities.

As the title implies, the collection of 30 stories, which includes the aforementioned “Mosquito Bites,” all revolve in some way, shape or form around people in positions of authority, specifically police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Unlike the heroic light in which those first responders are often cast, however, Keaton’s stories all explore a decidedly darker aspect of those in uniform, taking an unflinching look into the shadows at the occasionally less than honorable motives some men have for seeking positions of power and authority.

Of course, the other characters populating the stories aren’t exactly upstanding, mentally stable individuals themselves, the result of which is a collection of train wrecks waiting to happen as seriously flawed antiheroes hurtle headlong through their screwed up lives on collision courses with even more flawed villains, often leaving the reader wondering exactly whom the real criminal was. The stories range from short bursts of just a couple pages to a few that have some significant heft to them, and vary in tone from borderline horror to surreal to unapologetically pulpy.

Over the course of the collection, Keaton deftly demonstrates that he’s as at home writing the intense as he is the irreverent (check out his novella Zee Bee & Bee (a.k.a. Propeller Hats for the Dead) for a serious shot of the irreverent), as the tone easily drifts from tongue-in-cheek humor to in your face brutal, with a solid backbone of intelligence and incisiveness running throughout it all. Packed with dark humor and even darker violence, Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities is not a collection for the timid. It is, however, a powerful showcase of writing, one which should solidly establish Keaton as a “must read” author.

Paying The Piper
Paying The Piper
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cat-and-mouse battle with a master villain, August 29, 2013
This review is from: Paying The Piper (Kindle Edition)
Eight years ago a serial kidnapper known as the Piper terrorized San Francisco. He successfully snatched child after child from the city's wealthiest families, holding them until a ransom was paid. In every case, he collected the ransom and returned the child unharmed. Until crime reporter Scott Fleetwood got involved, that is. Contacted by someone claiming to be the Piper, Fleetwood withheld information from the police and FBI, bent on chasing the story-and resulting book deal and fame. Only Fleetwood wasn't really dealing with the Piper, merely a wannabe copycat.

What should have been simply a career embarrassment turned into a disaster, however, when the Piper killed the child he was holding at the time of Fleetwood's spectacular blunder then disappeared without a trace. The resulting backlash from the public, his employer, police and FBI branded Fleetwood with a scarlet letter, though arguably no one was harder on him than he was on himself.

Now the Piper has returned, apparently up to his old games. Except, this time it's about more than money. With the selection of one of Fleetwood's own sons as the first target in his renewed career, the Piper serves notice that he's come out of retirement for more than money-he's back to collect his pound of flesh as well.

In Paying the Piper, author Simon Wood has crafted the ultimate page-turner. After all, what could possibly be more compelling than a man doing cat-and-mouse battle with a master villain, with the life of his son at stake? The pace is relentless, as is the Piper's determination to exact revenge for what he sees as being Fleetwood's fault that the Piper was "forced" to cross a line he never had before and kill. Neither Fleetwood nor the reader gets a second to rest, with Wood rocketing events along at breakneck pace toward a showdown and conclusion which, while craftily unfurled, is possible for the careful reader to potentially deduce.

On a deeper level, however, there are some very interesting character studies going on as well. Though on the one hand Fleetwood obviously wants his son back, on another level, one he almost can't consciously control, he also sees the situation as a chance for redemption. As a result, he's not content to sit back and do what the authorities request of him, instead choosing to insert himself into the case, often over their objections. Naturally, this leads to more than a few confrontations, especially with the FBI.

FBI agent Tom Sheils was involved in the first Piper investigation, and his absolute loathing and contempt for Fleetwood have simmered to the boiling over point in the eight years since the two last saw each other. As the new Piper investigation unfolds, Sheils is constantly forced to reconcile his feeling of disgust about Fleetwood's past actions with the fact that in the current situation Fleetwood and his wife are the victims, and that a little boy's life hangs in the balance.

All of which adds up to a book that strikes a nifty balance between popcorn action and something more substantive. If you're looking for a fast-paced beach read, but one with a little depth, look no farther than Paying the Piper.

No Show
No Show
by Simon Wood
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.99
46 used & new from $2.06

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fast-paced, twisting ride with a "didn't see that coming" ending, August 28, 2013
This review is from: No Show (Paperback)
Despite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he's ready to start his new life with American wife, Sarah. The two met while on holiday in Costa Rica, and after a whirlwind romance were married. Now, after being apart for 6 months due to bureaucratic red tape, things have finally lined up for the newlyweds.

Only, Sarah isn't there to meet him at the airport. After waiting for several hours, hoping she was just stuck in traffic, Terry finally takes a shuttle to "their" house, a place he's never actually been. Sarah isn't there either, which forces Terry to break in...something a watchful neighbor dutifully reports to the local sheriff. A brief arrest and long explanation later, Terry is left with a skeptical sheriff, wary new neighbors, and still no wife.

Terry can find no explanation for her disappearance, but does find evidence that she left voluntarily-there's no sign of struggle in the house and a bag, some clothes and personal items seem to be missing-and has to wonder if the police are right: did the woman he married just get cold feet and take off?

When a dead woman fitting Sarah's description turns up, her tongue cut out, Terry's brought to the scene to identify the body. He's relieved to see that it's not her, but disturbed that the sheriff now sees solving the murder as more important than finding Sarah, whom the sheriff is still not convinced didn't just run off. It isn't until more women start turning up dead that the sheriff begins to entertain the idea there may be some connection, but the connection he's looking for isn't exactly the one Terry had in mind.

Given her profession of freelance investigative journalist, Terry's forced to wonder if Sarah's disappearance has something to do with a story she's working on. But if it does, was the disappearance deliberate, or sinister? And what, if anything, do the dead women have to do with it? Only adding to his frustration and anxiety, the place where he's lined up a job, biotech company Genavax, isn't exactly what he was expecting. Actually, nothing about what he finds-or doesn't, as the case may be-in America is quite what he was expecting. In fact, the more Terry pokes around, the more complicated things become.

As do all his books, Simon Wood gets No Show off to a galloping start, plunging both Terry and the reader immediately into mystery and confusion from the moment Terry steps off the plane. Terry's status as an outsider, not just new to town but to the very country, provides Wood with fertile ground for tension, miscommunication, and appropriately timed doses of wry humor. It, and the couple's brief courtship, also provides Wood with the chance to explore the very nature of relationships-particularly those of a romantic nature-and to ask how well does anyone really know someone...even the person they're married to.

There's nothing especially groundbreaking about the plot of No Show, and there's nothing wrong with that. Not every book needs to contort itself into a pretzel trying to prove how clever and original it is. No, Wood is happy to just dig in, grab the reader's interest, and tell a page-turning mystery/whodunnit story, and you'll be more than happy to go along for the fast-paced, twisting, "didn't see that coming" ending of a ride.

Pushover: Iris Thorne Mysteries - Book 5
Pushover: Iris Thorne Mysteries - Book 5
by Dianne Emley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.92
26 used & new from $6.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emley saved the best for last, July 8, 2013
Having worked her way up to the position of branch manager at the brokerage firm of McKinney Alitzer in downtown Los Angeles, Iris Thorne is pretty confident she can handle anything life throws at her. That is until her ex-fiancé, Todd Fillinger, calls up with a major investment opportunity for Iris in Russia. Her instincts tell her to skip the trip and let the past be the past, but lingering guilt over the way their relationship ended-Iris left Todd at the altar, in Paris no less-overrides Iris's instincts and she finds herself on a plane to Russia.

Almost immediately upon her arrival it becomes apparent something isn't quite right with the situation, or Todd. When pressed, Todd admits he's been having trouble with the Russian mafia, which is trying to elbow in on Todd's art brokerage business. The seriousness of the situation is made graphically clear when, as Iris looks on in horror, Todd is gunned down outside the restaurant where the two were to have dinner.

Initially taken in for questioning by the Russian police, and a shady man who doesn't identify himself, Iris is eventually extracted from the sticky situation by a member of the US Consulate. Feeling a sense of obligation to Todd now more than ever, Iris agrees to carry an urn containing his ashes back to the US for delivery to Todd's sister, figuring it's the least she can do. If only she'd trusted her instincts and never gotten on that plane to begin with...

Iris has no sooner landed and delivered the urn to Todd's sister, who meets Iris at the airport, when she finds herself up to her eyes in threats and conspiracies, with everyone from the FBI to a decidedly determined and dangerous art thief to the Russian mafia demanding Iris turn over a priceless, and stolen, statue they are all under the impression she has returned from Russia with. Now Iris has to figure out a way to get to the bottom of things before she gets arrested, or killed.

As author Dianne Emley has been so kind to share in her retrospective on the Iris Thorne series, the evolution of Iris is really both the evolution of a character and a writer. With every book since her introduction in Cold Call, Iris has noticeably progressed as a character, evolving from that of a somewhat superficial and borderline irresponsible pseudo-adult into a more responsible and reasoned woman. It's a progression fueled in no small part by Emley's own growth as a writer, the evolving confidence in Iris mirroring that of Emley in her own ability as an author.

Indeed, Pushover, the fifth and (for now) final entry in the series, shows yet another leap forward. While Iris herself had grown in depth and complexity with each previous outing (Cold Call, Slow Squeeze, Fast Friends, Foolproof), it is in Pushover that the seeds for what was to come next for Emley are clearly sown from a pacing and plot point of view. Whereas the previous Thorne books tended to be more rooted in the mystery arena, Pushover has a noticeable infusion of the thriller genre, complete with international intrigue, conspiracies, shootouts and double crosses. Pushover clearly set the table for what was to come: The First Cut, the first entry in Emley's (ongoing) Detective Nan Vining series, in which Iris actually makes a cameo appearance.

Not many authors would take the time-or be brave enough-to rerelease a series which saw its initial publication two decades ago...and to "resist the urge to make major changes, wanting to respect the books as they had been published." I, for one, am incredibly happy that Emley did. For all the amusing era-specific details that pepper the Thorne series (think big hair, late 80s excess, and the "greed is good" mentality), Iris is actually a deceptively complex character. If you missed her the first time around, please do yourself a favor and discover what a wonderful series this is. And if you're of a certain age, like me, not only will you enjoy the mysteries, you'll enjoy the touch of nostalgia you'll get while reading them as well.

Evil in All Its Disguises (Lily Moore Series)
Evil in All Its Disguises (Lily Moore Series)
by Hilary Davidson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.91
87 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Davidson creates a creeping claustrophobia and rising sense of menace and paranoia., May 22, 2013
"Lily, by now you've learned people never really know someone as well as they think they do, right?" - Bruxton

If travel writer Lily Moore didn't understand that reality after her adventures in the first two books in author Hilary Davidson's award-winning series, The Damage Done and The Next One to Fall, the situation in which she finds herself in the series' third entry, Evil in All Its Disguises, will make it painfully, unquestionably clear.

Initially Lily's latest assignment, an all-expenses-paid trip to the upscale Hotel Cerón in Acapulco with a small group of fellow travel writers, seems like the perfect getaway. A fan of all things from Hollywood's Golden Age, Lily is excited to be headed to the place many of that era's biggest stars made their personal playground. Upon arrival at the beautiful, if extremely remote resort, Lily meets up for a drink with Skye McDermott, one of the other writers on the trip.

Lily finds herself slightly concerned by Skye's behavior, which swings from acting upset and on the verge of tears to raging about getting vengeance on an ex-boyfriend via a devastating exposé about his business practices. Lily's concerns shift into high gear, however, when Skye excuses herself from the table for a moment...and never returns. Even more concerning, Lily can't get the hotel staff to take Skye's disappearance seriously, even though she points out that Skye left all her personal belongings, including passport and medication, behind.

It isn't until Lily learns that the Hotel Cerón is owned by the Pantheon Group, a company headed by her ex-fiancé and shady real-estate tycoon Martin Sklar, however, that Lily begins to suspect she's been lured to Mexico under false pretenses. When hotel manager, and Sklar's right-hand man, Gavin Stroud cites the danger and high crime levels in the city and flat-out refuses to let Lily leave the hotel one evening, Lily finally understands that Skye isn't the only one in serious trouble.

In her previous two adventures with Lily, author Hilary Davidson made extensive use of setting on a large scale-Spain, New York City, Peru-but Evil in All Its Disguises does a complete 180 in that regard. While Lily is still technically somewhere exotic, almost the entirety of the book takes place within the confines of the Hotel Cerón, making Evil just one small step above a locked room mystery. The cast of characters is also kept deliberately small, the better to cast suspicion and doubt on those to whom Lily is closest, both literally and figuratively. The result is a story that unfolds with a creeping claustrophobia and rising sense of menace and paranoia.

Lily is already carrying around some pretty heavy emotional baggage as a result of her family history and the events of the prior books in the series, which makes the dance Davidson does with Lily's investigation into Skye's disappearance vs Lily's self-doubt that something sinister has actually happened all the more exquisite-are Lily's suspicions justified, or is she overreacting based on her skewed personal perspective? One thing that's not in question, however, is that Lily is damned if she's going to sit around and do nothing. Head on a swivel and unwilling to trust anyone, Lily dives headlong into a morass of deception, double-crosses and danger, determined to get to the bottom of things, one way or another.

It's hard enough to write a decent book, but to write one that strips away all plot crutches and "big ticket" diversions and relies on nothing more than the interactions of a handful of key players in a confined location takes serious skill, something Davidson once again demonstrates she has in abundance.

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