Mystery/Thriller Book Reviews

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Trouble Comes Back by Keith Snyder

Walker & Co., Oct., 1999.
Hardcover, 256 pages.
ISBN: 0802733387.
Ordering information:
Amazon.com.


Trouble Comes Back
by Keith Snyder Musician Jason Keltner and his buddies Robert and Martin are back in another adventure in their Southern California playground. This time out, through a series of strange circumstances, Jason and his friends get hired as bodyguards for the daughter of notorious rock legend Dwight Cooper, otherwise known as "Uncle Trouble." It seems that Dwight's former wife has made kidnapping threats against the child. Of course, with Uncle Trouble, who can't stay away from drugs, nothing is ever that simple, and soon Jason and friends are hip deep in violence, intrigue, and kidnapping.

The joy of the Jason Keltner series is the fabulous, almost noir atmosphere that Keith Snyder creates in his rendering of the Southern California music scene. A musician himself, Snyder's flair for dialogue and the sound of the words is superb. The best scene of many has got to be Jason and his Southern Cal born and raised friends confronted by the bizarre reality of New York City. A shade darker than the first two entries in the series, Show Control, and Coffin's Got the Dead Guy on the Inside, Trouble Comes Back lets us in on a bit more of Jason's past with his oh-so-flaky ex-wife, and with Martin's relationship with his mother and little brother. Crime fiction and mystery fans will tear through this one -- and likely pen notes to the author wanting to know when the next adventure will occur. Highly Recommended.

--Claire E. White


The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison

St. Martin's Minotaur, Sept., 1999 .
Hardcover, 403 pages.
ISBN: 0312204787.
Ordering information:
Amazon.com.


The Skull Mantra
by Eliot Pattison In modern day Chinese occupied Tibet, former police inspector Shan Tao Yun has been sentenced to a hard labor camp for offending a high Party official when he was working in Beijing. While out breaking rocks on a windy mountainside, the prisoners find a headless corpse, and immediately refuse to work until the area has been cleansed by the Buddist spiritual leaders. The Red Army Colonel in charge of the district, Colonel Tan, has a real problem on his hands: the prisoners won't work on the road they are building, and an American tourist delegation is scheduled to arrive soon. Desperate to solve the case and write a report which will be acceptable to the powers that be (while absolving him of any responsibility), he drafts Shan to investigate the case and write the report. A reluctant Shan agrees, in order to spare the prisoners harsh reprisals. During the course of his investigation he will encounter the Buddhist resistance movement, an American mining operation, a secret monastery and ancient Buddhist lore about a savage demon who gives every appearance of being responsible for the murder.

Respected nonfiction author Eliot Pattison has hit a home run with his first fiction outing. Pattison's writing is lyrical and suffused with energy: a perfect combination for a thriller set in the mysterious and ancient land of Tibet. The inmates of the prison camp are not your usual prisoners. In fact, many of them are Buddhist monks who were thrown in jail by the conquering Chinese communists who have little use for religion, especially when it serves to reinforce individuality of the Tibetan people and culture. Pattison skillfully creates a picture of modern-day Tibet: battered, bruised, but retaining its dignity. The protagonist, Shan, is an interesting man, whose perceptions and understanding of Tibet are irrevocably changed by his investigation. Altogether, this is not a book you'll soon forget.

--Claire E. White


The Subtle Serpent by Peter Tremayne

St. Martin's Press, June 1998.
Hardcover, 339 pages.
ISBN: 0312186703.
Ordering information:
Amazon.com.


The Subtle Serpent
by Peter Tremayne In 666 A.D., a headless female corpse turns up in the well of the Abbey of the Salmon of Three Wells in southwest Ireland, and the Abbess calls for an advocate of the Brehon law courts to investigate. On her sea voyage to the Abbey, Fidelma encounters a Gaulish merchant ship sailing dangerously close to shore. When Fidelma and her shipmates investigate they find that the ship is totally deserted -- the crew and cargo have simply vanished. After Fidelma lands at the Abbey (which has more than its share of suspicious characters) she begins to think that the murder and the deserted ship may be connected. Her investigation will take her into real danger and she will need all of her skills to resolve the mysteries and emerge unscathed.

Sister Fidelma once again works her magic upon readers in this latest entry in the popular series. Tremayne, as always, makes 7th century Ireland seem accessible and absolutely fascinating. But it is Fidelma's wit and force of character which really drive this series. Fidelma's sparring with the haughty Abbess is especially entertaining, and the characters with which Tremayne peoples the Abbey and environs are varied and interesting. A complex plot and good characterization make this one a winner, especially for historical mystery fans who prefer an intellectual style in their mysteries.

--Claire E. White


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