Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mystery Book Contest: Win a Signed Book by Mary E. Martin

Mystery Book ContestNew! The Final Paradox Contest is now available on The Mystery Book Contest Website. Enter daily through March 19, 2007, for a chance to win a prize package generously provided by author Mary E. Martin.

Final Paradox by Mary E. MartinThe prize package includes:

Final Paradox, signed by the author, and a copy of the cover photograph, taken by the author in Venice.

The Final Paradox Contest is sponsored by Mary E. Martin (author of Final Paradox), and Mysterious Reviews.

If you are an author of a mystery book, or represent a mystery book author, and would like to have your book featured on our Mystery Book Contest website, please contact us at [email protected].

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Mystery Book Review: A Hard Bargain by Jane Tesh

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of A Hard Bargain by Jane Tesh. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.A Hard Bargain by Jane Tesh

A Hard Bargain by Jane Tesh
A Madeline Maclin Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-354-X (159058354X)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-343-2 (9781590583432)
Publication Date: January 2007
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): After solving her first big murder case in the small town of Celosia, North Carolina, Madeline Maclin hopes at last to be taken seriously as a private investigator. She's opened an office in the home of her best friend Jerry Fairweather, a man haunted by his past who enjoys running harmless scams.

Jerry doesn't feel worthy of anyone's love--bad news for Madeline--although she thinks Jerry's sister Harriet knows more about the accident that killed their parents than she'll say.

Madeline is hired to find Kirby Willet, an eccentric inventor who left boxes of his belongings, including one filled with money, at Frannie Thomas’ house. Meanwhile Voltage Films director, Josh Gaskins, is in town and thinks Jerry's old house will be perfect for his horror film, "Curse of the Mantis Man," about Celosia's mythical beast. Is this monster actually real?

Celosia is also hopping with the Pageantoids, rabid fans from Madeline's days as a beauty queen, who have come to Celosia to produce more pageants. And then there's Rick Rialto, one of Jerry's shady con artist friends.

When Gaskins is murdered, Madeline uncovers several suspects and is forced to make--and investigate--some hard bargains. At least one of which is with Jerry …

Review: Former beauty queen Madeline Maclin returns in A Hard Bargain, the second mystery in this series by Jane Tesh.

One of Madeline's first cases as an independent private investigator is to locate a man whose belongings were placed in the care of a neighbor who is now eager to get rid of them. While searching through boxes belonging to the missing man for clues to his whereabouts, she finds $10,000 in cash, money no one thinks he could legitimately have earned. In parallel to her investigation, she's also trying to understand what really happened on the night her best friend's parents were killed over 20 years ago. There are a couple of other subplots that are peripheral to the story but help introduce additional characters.

Madeline is a well-drawn and appealing lead for the series and A Hard Bargain is mildly entertaining as a cozy mystery. There are, however, some fairly obvious inconsistencies in the plots of each of the main storylines that must be either overlooked or forgiven in order to enjoy the story. The missing person's case really isn't much of one (Madeline locates him with minimal effort), and it's hard to believe that the police investigating the deaths of her friend's parents decades ago didn't put forth the very same questions Madeline asks the family today. And for all practical purposes, Madeline accidentally stumbles onto the solution of the only real mystery in the book, the murder of the director of a movie that is being filmed in her community.

A Hard Bargain is probably not the best choice for that inclement afternoon, but it won't disappoint either.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of A Hard Bargain for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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Mystery Bestsellers for January 26, 2007

Mystery BestsellersA list of the top ten mystery hardcover bestsellers for the week ending January 26, 2007 has been posted on the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books website.

There were no new additions to the bestseller lists at Amazon.com or Barnes&Noble.com this week. Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich and Cross by James Patterson hold the top positions on both lists with a reshuffling of recent bestsellers in positions 3 through 10.

Be sure to check out our new, updated Mystery Bestsellers aStore to purchase any of the bestselling mysteries featured on our website!

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mystery Book Review: Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer
A Rumpole of the Bailey Mystery

Viking (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-670-03804-0 (0670038040)
ISBN-13: 978-0-670-03804-6 (9780670038046)
Publication Date: November 2006
List Price: $23.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): While defending a mind-numbingly dull theft charge, Rumpole finds that the new terrorist laws have hamstrung his beloved courts. Meanwhile, a Pakistani doctor has been imprisoned without charge or trial under suspicion of aiding al Qaeda in its plans for a terrorist attack. With the doctor’s wife begging him to help her husband, the Great Defender is determined to bring the case before a jury.

Trouble is also brewing at home as Hilda—She Who Must Be Obeyed—sits down to write her own memoirs describing her view of Rumpole and her own love life. Rumpole’s battle on the home front threatens to derail his case but where there’s a Rumpole, there’s a way!

Review: Though John Mortimer has been publishing short stories featuring London barrister Horace Rumpole for decades, Rumpole and the Reign of Terror is only the second full-length novel dedicated to one of his cases.

Rumpole's bread-and-butter clients, the Timson family, whose constant brushes with the law keep his financial balance sheet healthy, have decided to seek other legal counsel after Rumpole agrees to defend the Pakistani husband of an extended member of the Timson clan who has been accused of terrorism. Though Rumpole bemoans his loss of income, he is outraged that Mahmood Khan is being held without being informed of the crimes for which he is charged. When Khan is ultimately released from prison but subsequently held under house arrest in his own home, Rumpole fights to get him a jury trial, one in which he is confident Khan will be found not guilty.

The clever plot of Rumpole and the Reign of Terror and the way in which it unfolds is to be savored. Rumpole is quick to act when unexpected circumstances allow him to intervene on behalf of his client, and when they serve to benefit the judicial system at large, so much the better. After Rumpole gets the trial to which Mahmood Khan is entitled, he begins to doubt his client's innocence. But he never wavers in his defense of the basic tenets of British law. Once the trial is underway, Rumpole is in his element. "It's in the public interest that I establish the facts leading up to an inevitable conclusion ...", he declares. And then, in his best courtroom manner, he compels the guilty party to admit to the conspiracy. It's all exceedingly entertaining and very well done.

The book is written in a semi-autobiographical manner from the perspective of Rumpole, and he refers to this case being a part of his personal record. Interspersed between chapters written by Rumpole are those penned by his wife, Hilda, who reflects on her married life, her friends, and, somewhat improbably, her relationship with one of Rumpole's colleagues. Hilda's memoir extracts, as they are called, are no doubt intended to complement and contrast with those of her husband, but seem oddly out of place. They're interesting in their own right, and they provide an additional dimension to the characters, but at the same time, and it's hard to specifically identify why, they just don't work in the overall context of the book.

Special thanks to Viking for providing a copy of Rumpole and the Reign of Terror for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Press Release: Novel Writing Contest Announced by Iota Publishing

(PRWeb) January 24, 2007 -- Iota Publishing, a regional publishing house based in Irvine, California, introduced its 2007 novel writing competition today. Iota seeks unpublished authors who have completed manuscripts in the thriller, mystery, suspense, or sci-fi genres. The winner will receive a $1000 prize and a publishing contract with Iota. Submissions are via the Iota website.

The regional publisher is focusing on manuscripts with a Southwest connection, either by the author's personal connection or by some element in the manuscript. To be eligible, authors must not be previously published in these genres.

Terry Cooper, Iota President, said, "Iota's mission is about finding new regional authors. This contest is another way to reach out and encourage authors to give this path to publication a try."

The three finalists' manuscripts will be read by judges Sherri L. Board, Wendy Hornsby and Neal Stevens. Board is the author of the Katlin LaMar Mystery Series, Angels of Anguish and Blind Belief. Hornsby won the Edgar Award for her short story Nine Sons and is also the author of the Maggie McGowan Mystery Series. Stevens is a literary agent and a TV and film producer in Los Angeles. His films include Gunshy and The Money Shot. All three judges live in Southern California.

Iota's debut book, a new mystery novel, Anatomy Lesson, by Edgar-Award nominee Raymond Obstfeld will be the first in a series about an Orange County district attorney with an almost supernatural memory she's kept a secret from everyone. Obstfeld teaches creative writing at Orange Coast College and is the author of over forty works of fiction and non-fiction. His non-fiction work, On the Shoulders of Giants: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, co-written with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, published by Simon & Schuster, is available now. A documentary based on the book, also written by Obstfeld, will be released shortly.

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News: Barbara Seranella, Mystery Writer, Dies at 50

The Orange County Register is reporting that Barbara Seranella, an auto mechanic-turned mystery writer, died Sunday in Cleveland (OH) of end-stage liver disease while awaiting a third liver transplant. She was 50 years old.

Seranella wrote mysteries based on the adventures of Miranda "Munch" Mancini, an auto and motorcycle mechanic and amateur sleuth with a checkered past not unlike that of the author. A new book, Deadman's Switch, based on a different character, is scheduled to be published by St. Martin's Press in April, 2007.

Read the complete article by Robin Hinch on the OCRegister.com here.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mystery Book Review: Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich

Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich
An Alexandra Barnaby Mystery

HarperCollins (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-06-058403-3 (0060584033)
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-058403-0 (9780060584030)
Publication Date: October 2006
List Price: $26.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Those Metro maniacs Alexandra "Barney" Barnaby and NASCAR driver Sam Hooker are back!

Miami is still freakin' humid. The nights are even hotter. And there's a body on ice. And that's just the beginning of this adrenaline-rush of a hot-wired ride from phenomenal #1 New York Times bestselling author Janet Evanovich.

A woman with a taste for speed and a talent for breaking the rules, Barney also knows a little too much about cheating. First there was Hooker and that salesclerk. Now she's convinced one of the competitors is up to no good on the track. Snooping to find evidence, Hooker and Barney "borrow" a NASCAR hauler. Turns out, the hauler is carrying two race cars and a dead guy. Now Barney and Hooker are facing multiple counts of grand theft auto and homicide.

So buckle up as Barney, Hooker, a 150-pound-bundle-of-St. Bernard-love named Beans, and the Super Cigar Ladies Felicia and Rosa shift into gear on a wild race around South Florida and Concord, North Carolina.

Everything you always wanted to know about righteous indignation, stealing an eighteen-wheeler, and sex in the fast lane.

Review: Alexandra Barnaby returns for her second adventure in Janet Evanovich's Motor Mouth, an enjoyable through completely forgettable mystery by the author of the Stephanie Plum series.

There isn't (pun intended) an idle moment in this book. The action is literally non-stop. The reason "Barney" and NASCAR driver Sam Hooker are seem to be constantly stopping for food (usually a local drive-through) is that they need all the energy they can get to keep pace with the plot.

And what a plot it is. The basic premise of this series is, why bother with a simple solution to a problem when a far more complicated, intricate, and, to be fair, thrilling one can be manufactured. When an associate of Barney's calls to say he's locked himself into a competitor's truck, she solves the problem by stealing the truck. That happens to contain an illegally modified race car. And that also happens to contain a dead body. And not just any dead body, but the owner of the competition which has just won a race under suspicious circumstances. At the center of all this is a microchip that has the potential to alter the balance of power in the world of NASCAR, nay, the world itself.

There are a lot of parallels between this series and the typical Nancy Drew mystery. The most obvious is that Barney is an R-rated, some might argue X-rated, version of the girl sleuth. Both are smart and independent. Friends and family are important and worth taking risks for. Bending the rules (or in the case of Barney, committing outright felonies) is a perfectly acceptable means to an end. And, as Barney puts it in Motor Mouth, they are "simultaneously horrified and impressed" with themselves when they narrowly escape a dangerous situation.

Motor Mouth is one of those mysteries that readers probably need to invoke the 30-page rule: if you're not hooked by this page, it's unlikely you're going to be entertained by what follows.

Special thanks to The Book Report Network for providing a copy of Motor Mouth for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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News: Hotel Dusk Room 215 for Nintendo DS Released

Games of MysteryHotel Dusk: Room 215 for Nintendo DS was released yesterday and is the latest mystery game available for this platform.

Nintendo - Hotel Dusk: Room 215Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a hard-boiled crime story set in Los Angeles, 1979. Players take the role of Kyle Hyde, an ex-cop turned salesman trying to track down a missing friend. Clues lead to an eerie, old hotel rumored to have one very strange room -- a room where wishes are granted. Players check in and get ready for a night of surprises as they meet a cast of unusual characters and try to unravel the mystery of Hotel Dusk: Room 215.

Players hold their Nintendo DS like a book and use the touch screen to grill characters, search for clues, and solve mystifying puzzles. Simple point-and-click touch screen navigation allows for players of any skill level to play.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 uses branching storylines to tell its tale, giving you many options for how to go about solving the mystery. Should you strong-arm a suspicious stranger in the hallway? Be friendly to the hotel maid? Pretend to be interested in the manager's rambling stories? It's all up to you, but choose wisely. One false step could get you thrown out of the hotel and forever seal the mystery of what happened on that dark Christmas eve so many years ago.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is rated T (Teen).

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Mystery Godoku: Weekly Puzzle for January 22, 2007

Mystery GodokuMystery Godoku Puzzle for January 22, 2007A new Mystery Godoku Puzzle has been created by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books and is available on our website.

Godoku is similar to Sudoku, but uses letters instead of numbers. To give you a headstart, we provide you a mystery clue to fill in a complete row or column (if you choose to use it!).

This week's letters and mystery clue: A B D H J N O R Y. The Inspector Matt Minogue mysteries are written by this author (9 letters).

Previous puzzles are stored in the Mystery Godoku Archives.

Enjoy the weekly Mystery Godoku Puzzle from the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, and Thanks for visiting our website!

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Friday, January 19, 2007

News: Mystery Visitor Makes 58th Appearance at Poe's Grave

The Associated Press is reporting that for the 58th straight year, a mysterious visitor left birthday cognac and roses at Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore on Friday. The curator of the Poe House and Museum, Jeff Jerome, said 55 people braved a chilly morning to glimpse the annual ritual of the mysterious visitor known as the "Poe toaster". Jerome has seen the mysterious visitor every January 19th since 1976.

According to Wikipedia, the unexplained tradition was established in 1949 and has occurred on the author's birthday (January 19) of every year since. In the early hours of the morning on that date, a black-clad figure with a silver-tipped cane enters the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, Maryland. The individual proceeds to Poe's grave, where he or she raises a cognac toast. Before departing, the Toaster leaves three red roses and a half-bottle of cognac on the grave. The roses are believed to represent Poe, his wife Virginia and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, all three of whom are interred at the site. The significance of the cognac itself is unknown.

Poe was born in Boston and raised in Richmond (VA). He died Oct. 7, 1849 in Baltimore at the age of 40 after collapsing in a tavern.

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Press Release: Mystery Writers of America Announces 2007 Edgar Award Nominees

NEW YORK, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, its Nominees for the 2007 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2006. The Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners at our 61st Gala Banquet, April 26, 2007 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

BEST NOVEL

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard (HarperCollins)
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Gentleman and Players by Joanne Harris (HarperCollins - William Morrow)
The Dead Hour by Denise Mina (Hachette Book Group - Little, Brown and Company)
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard (Random House - Ballantine Books)
The Liberation Movements by Olen Steinhauer (St. Martin's Minotaur)

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson (Random House)
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (Crown - Shaye Areheart Books)
King of Lies by John Hart (St. Martin's Minotaur - Thomas Dunne Books)
Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith (St. Martin's Minotaur)
A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read (Warner Books - Mysterious Press)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto (Europa Editions)
The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson (Coffee House Press)
Snakeskin Shamisen by Naomi Hirahara (Bantam Dell Publishing - Delta Books)
The Deep Blue Alibi by Paul Levine (Bantam Dell Publishing - Bantam Books)
City of Tiny Lights by Patrick Neate (Penguin Group - Riverhead Books)

Read the entire press release here which lists the nominees for other categories including:

BEST FACT CRIME, BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL, BEST SHORT STORY, BEST JUVENILE, BEST YOUNG ADULT, BEST PLAY, BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY, BEST TELEVISION FEATURE/MINI-SERIES TELEPLAY, and BEST MOTION PICTURE SCREENPLAY.

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Mystery Bestsellers for January 19, 2007

Mystery BestsellersA list of the top ten mystery hardcover bestsellers for the week ending January 19, 2007 has been posted on the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books website.

The Suspect by John LescroartJohn Lescroart crafts another San Francisco-based legal thriller in The Suspect. When Dr. Caryn Dryden is found floating dead in her hot tub, homicide inspector Devin Juhle targets a suspect close to home: her husband, Stuart Gorman. After all, Stuart was recently asked for a divorce, and he stands to gain millions in insurance. His alibi - that he was at his cabin on Tamarack Lake that weekend - doesn't keep him out of hot water. But maybe a shrewd attorney will. Gina Roake, a partner in Dismas Hardy's firm, is eager to take on such a high-profile case, especially when the client's innocence seems so easy to prove. Yet the more time she spends with Stuart, the more complicated her feelings become: she feels strangely drawn to him at first, then has to confront the possibility of a dark history lurking in his past. Desperate to know the truth, Gina calls in Wyatt Hunt to investigate. Before the facts are in, her client is on the lam: he's already been tried in the press, and so he's certain the courtroom won't bring him any mercy either. Racing to a stunning conclusion as Gina uncovers disturbing answers, The Suspect is a chilling story of secrets, love, and lies. Kirkus Reviews states, "... some crackling courtroom scenes and a surprise ending that will catch at least half his readers unawares."

Bad Blood by Linda FairsteinAlso new this week is another legal thriller, Bad Blood, the 9th entry in the Alexandra Cooper mystery series by Linda Fairstein. The Manhattan Assistant District Attorney is deeply involved in a complicated, high-profile homicide case. Defendant Brendan Quillian, a prominent young businessman, is charged with the brutal strangulation of his beautiful young wife, Amanda. His conviction is not a certainty: Quillian was conveniently out of town on the day of the killing, and he has hired a formidable defense attorney who seems one step ahead of Cooper as the trial opens. But with the help of detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, she is confident she can prove Quillian paid a hit man to commit the crime. Halfway through the trial, a major catastrophe alters the course of Alex's case. A cataclysmic explosion rips through New York City's Water Tunnel #3, a spectacular feat of modern engineering that will be completed years in the future. Cooper is quickly drawn into the tragedy when she discovers a strange connection linking Brendan Quillian to the tunnel workers killed in the explosion. She and Chapman descend deep into the earth to penetrate the subterranean universe of the sandhogs, as the brotherhood of tunnel workers are colorfully known. Their probe soon leads to another murder victim, whose blood may hold the key to Cooper's mesmerizingly complex case. One closely held secret reveals another, and soon Alex discovers that only by unraveling ancient rivalries among sandhog families will she be able to solve the murder of Amanda Quillian -- and save her own life as well.

Also new this week is Dust, the 21st mystery by Martha Grimes to feature Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury, and the 7th entry in the Eve Duncan forensics thriller series by Iris Johansen, Stalemate.

Be sure to check out our new, updated Mystery Bestsellers aStore to purchase any of the bestselling mysteries featured on our website!

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Profile: Mystery Author Randy Wayne White Explores His Passion for Food

Colette Bancroft, staff writer for the St. Petersburg Times, writes on Florida mystery author Randy Wayne White's passion for food and his new aptly titled cookbook, Randy Wayne White's Gulf Coast Cookbook on TampaBay.com. White is the author of the bestselling mysteries featuring CIA agent turned marine biologist Marion "Doc" Ford. The next book in the series, Hunter's Moon , is scheduled to be published in March 2007.Hunter's Moon by Randy Wayne White

Bancroft notes that with his wrestler's build and close-cropped hair, White looks the part of a tough-guy thriller writer, but he seems as passionate about food as he is about writing, fishing, and baseball. And the cookbook isn't the only evidence. White is a hands-on partner in a restaurant, Doc Ford's Sanibel Rum Bar and Grille, and also runs a thriving business selling his own brand of hot sauces, made in Colombia and marketed at www.rwwhite.com. White's personal touch in the book comes in the form of dozens of photos from his fishing guide days and excerpts from his books, many of them lyrical descriptions of the Florida land- and seascape.

The fictional Doc Ford lives in an old Florida bungalow on a Calusa Indian mound on Sanibel Island. White lives one key east, in an old Florida bungalow perched on a Calusa mound on Pine Island. Bancroft notes that White's sturdy house was built in the 1920s, but it had a close call in August 2004 when Hurricane Charley barreled across the island. "The hurricane wiped out all my good work habits," White says, and it's taken him a while to reorder his life. The storm also destroyed most of his recipes.

Read the rest of Bancroft's profile of Randy Wayne White here which also includes a recipe for Shrimp Cocktail with Tequila Sauce, Georgia Wilson's North Carolina Fried Chicken, and a Sanibel Beer Buster.

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Profile: Mystery Writer Thomas Cook

Billy Watkins, on the Mississippi ClarionLedger.com website, reports that Thomas Cook, a Southerner who has become one of the top mystery/crime writers in the country, says his readers often tell him his endings catch them off guard. Cook's latest book, The Cloud of Unknowing , was published this month, and was hailed by Publishers Weekly as "a bravura performance".The Cloud of Unknowing by Thomas Cook

Watkins notes that Cook is one of those rare writers who lets his imagination take the story wherever it wants to go on that particular day - and still wind up with a non-wandering plot line. When asked about writing with an outline, Cook replied, "I have none. Another writer once said that writing without an outline is sort of like driving your car on a road you're not familiar with ... your lights illuminate a curve here, a curve there. But you don't know what's around any of them. I find that an exciting way to develop a book."

In 1997, Cook won an Edgar Award for his mystery The Chatham School Affair. He's been nominated five other times. His book Red Leaves, published in 2006, won the Barry Award as the top original paperback private investigator novel. His book Evidence of Blood was made into a movie by Showtime.

Read the rest of Watkins' profile of Thomas Cook here.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mystery Book Review: The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez
Non-series

Penguin Books (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-14-303796-X (014303796X)
ISBN-13: 978-0-14-303796-5 (9780143037965)
Publication Date: September 2006
List Price: $13.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): On a summer’s day in Oxford, a young Argentine mathematics student finds his landlady – an elderly woman who helped decipher the Enigma Code during World War II – murdered in her house. Meanwhile, leading Oxford mathematician Arthur Seldom receives an anonymous note bearing a circle and the words, “the first of the series,” and a mystery is born.

Murders begin to pile up – an old man on life-support is found dead with needle punctures in his throat; a percussionist at Blenheim Palace dies before the audience’s very eyes – seemingly unconnected except for notes appearing in the math department, for the attention of Seldom.

Seldom guesses that the murders might relate to his latest book, an unexpected best-seller about the parallels between investigations of serial killers and certain mathematical theorems. As he and the young student are drawn further into the game, it is up to mentor and student to solve the puzzle before the killer strikes again.

Review: "I feel I can break my silence and tell the truth about events that reached the British papers in the summer of '93 with macabre and sensationalist headlines, but to which Seldom and I always referred—perhaps due to the mathematical connotation—simply as the series, or the Oxford Series." So begins The Oxford Murders, by Guillermo Martínez, an intellectual mystery that is reminiscent of a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in both character and style.

Arthur Seldom is a mathematician of some renown at Oxford University. A new student at the University, the narrator of the book whose unpronounceable name is never revealed, initially meets Seldom one day as he is visiting his landlady. When there is no answer at the door, they enter and find her dead under somewhat suspicious circumstances. Seldom later reveals that the reason for his visit was that he received a note with her address, the time of day, a circle, and the words, "The first of a series." Seldom, who has written on the subject of series and serial killers, believes that this may be the work of someone trying to challenge him, and that more murders may occur. When they do, he enlists the aid of the student to find the killer.

There are several compelling facets to The Oxford Murders. The mathematical discussions, and the historical comparisons between mathematics and magic, are fascinating and are likely to intrigue readers who may not think they have an interest in either. The murders, and their symbolic links, are also deceptively appealing. Consider, for example, this statement by Seldom on the possibility that death may have resulted from natural causes: "A natural death, of course, the logical extreme, the most perfect example of an imperceptible murder."

But there are problems as well. Character development is minimal with the emphasis placed primarily on the plot. There is an implication at the start of the book that the narrator and Seldom shared a long and endearing friendship over the years, but little of how this relationship may have developed is revealed in this story aside from the shared experience of the Oxford murders. Finally, and probably most problematic, the resolution to the mystery is contrived and depends far too much on coincidence to be totally credible. Or does it? One interpretation may be that Martínez wrote the book as a demonstration of Occam's razor, which states that when presented with two equally legitimate explanations for an event, the simpler, less complicated one is likely to be the most valid. This reasoning, while consistent with the book's premise, may be too subtle and intricate to be convincing and may, in fact, violate the very principle it's meant to illustrate.

Special thanks to FSB Associates for providing a copy of The Oxford Murders for this review. A hardcover edition of this book was published in October 2005 by Madadam Cage Publishing (1596921501).

Review Copyright © 2007 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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