Mystery/Thriller Reviews

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Burning Down the House by Lev Raphael

Walker, October, 2001
Hardcover, 290 pages
ISBN: 0802733654
Ordering information:

Burning Down the House
by Lev Raphael Associate professor Nick Hoffman has unwittingly become a celebrity at the State University of Michigan at Michiganopolis. His penchant for tripping over dead bodies (and subsequently solving the associated crime) annoys the hell out of the school administration, and Nick's chances for the much longed-for tenure are looking pretty slim. In the midst of this professional turmoil enters Juno Dromgoole, a visiting professor whom Nick finds irresistible (given the fact that Nick is gay and in a committed relationship, this is especially alarming to him). Juno implores Nick to help her find out who has been stalking her. As Nick gets more involved with the over-the-top Juno (she thinks leopard print cat suits are casual day wear), the more torn he becomes. Why is he so obsessed with Juno? Will he ever get tenure? Or should he leave teaching altogether?

Burning Down the House certainly has several mysteries in it, but the focus of the book is really Nick's growing midlife crisis, and the effect that his actions are going to have on the rest of his career and his professional life. As he struggles with his attraction to Juno and his growing disgust with the bizarre politics at SUM (Whiteness Studies are on the horizon and the entire faculty is in an uproar over one of the secretary's "Diversity Tree" which flouts the rule against Christmas trees in the workplace), Nick himself seems to be changing in subtle ways. He even considers buying a gun -- after all, Juno has one and he does seem to be keeping company with murderers quite a bit lately. The book raises more questions than it answers, but fans are hardly likely to notice or care. It is Lev Raphael's smooth prose, brilliant wit and skill at creating vivid characters which brings readers back time and time again.

--Claire E. White

Hope to Die by Lawrence Block

William Morrow, October, 2001
Hardcover, 336 pages
ISBN: 006019832X
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Hope to Die
by Lawrence Block After attending a charity concert at Lincoln Center, Bryne and Susan Hollander decide to walk home to their $3 million Manhattan brownstone. When they arrive home, their lives are shattered when they walk in on a burglary. The couple is beaten, the wife raped and they are both murdered in a truly horrific manner. The police find the perpetrators with the stolen items, but the burglars are both dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Unlicensed p.i. Matt Scudder gets interested in the case when he is approached by the daughter of the slain couple. Scudder and his street-wise sidekick TJ look into the seemingly simple case, and find evidence of another murderer entirely -- one who may have killed a number of times before.

It's hard to believe that readers have been following the life of Matthew Scudder for twenty-five years. An ex-cop and recovered alcoholic, Scudder's early adventures were filled with Scudder's fascinating struggles with his own demons. But Scudder is older now -- he's 62 -- and quite sober. But his keen insights and complex personality still fascinate. In a departure from the previous Scudder novels, several chapters are written from the point of view of the killer; they are absolutely riveting. The ending hints at a sequel -- another departure for this series -- which is nothing but good news for Scudder fans. Highly recommended.

--Claire E. White

Seduction in Death by J.D. Robb

Berkley, August, 2001
Paperback, 368 pages
ISBN: 0425181464
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Seduction in Death
by J.D. Robb Tough as nails cop Eve Dallas is back in this 13th installment of the gritty, futuristic detective series written by Nora Roberts under her pseudonym, J.D. Robb. Eve's latest foe is a gruesome serial killer who romances young, single women in poetry chat rooms, meets them in person, then dopes them with a lethal date-rape drug. Further investigation seems to reveal more than one killer, and the case is complicated by the fact that the murderer seems to be a master in computers and disguises. With the help of her sexy billionaire husband Roarke, her assistants Peabody and McNabb (who are in the throws of an on-again, off-again steamy affair) and her own considerable detecting skills, Eve sets out to trap a killer, using herself as bait.

The In Death series is an unusual blend of science fiction, romance and hardboiled detective action which has struck a nerve with both mystery and romance readers. The world explored in this series is not a pretty one, although the futuristic setting does provide a very luxurious lifestyle for the very wealthy. Eve and Roarke continue to grow in complexity as characters and Roberts' knack for dialogue and plot continues unabated. This is a gripping and unique series that keeps getting better as time goes on.

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