Deadly Cure, by Lawrence Goldstone

34445246Lawrence Goldstone’s Deadly Cure begins with one of the worst things that can happen to a doctor. Up-and-coming doctor Noah Whitestone is summoned to the home of a wealthy New York couple because the family’s youngest son is very ill. Whitestone thinks this is his chance to become the doctor to the city’s upper crust until the boy dies that night. As far as Whitestone (and the experts he consults) knows, the boy should have been alright. His guilt spurs him to investigate the boy’s death, an investigation that almost immediately turns into a crusade against unethical medical experimentation.

Noah is foursquare against patent medicines. At the time, before the 1906 passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, he has a good point. Most of the “medicines” on the market were full of opium, alcohol, and toxic materials. But the opium and alcohol make people feel better for a while, so they are so popular Noah can’t do much more than admonish people. When he visits the rich family’s boy, he immediately recognizes the symptoms of opium withdrawal. The boy’s mother adamantly argues that her son hasn’t been taking any patent medicines. Noah treats the boy for his withdrawal symptoms anyway and leaves for a few hours to attend other patients. When he comes back, the boy is clearly suffering an overdose of some kind of opiate.

Bayer started selling heroin in 1895 as a “non-addictive” opiate.
(Image via Wikicommons)

The death of a rich child could end his career, but Noah is more worried about how the boy actually died. He knows it wasn’t his fault. He did what he was supposed to do. Still, he starts to ask questions and learns that some of his rival doctors are handing out mysterious green and blue pills to poor children. They’re clearly testing a new drug and keeping everything under wraps. Then Noah is approached by a journalist for a radical newspaper who tells Noah he has evidence that there is a conspiracy to conduct unethical pharmaceutical tests and keep the patent medicine money wheel spinning. With the help of a group of some anarcho-communists and a curious medical examiner, Noah digs even more deeply into the conspiracy.

Deadly Cure races along, with some pointed comments about the wealth gap, social justice, etc. that read like digs at current events and few research drops, to a conclusion that I found disappointing and confusing because of the choices Noah makes. I enjoyed the characters, especially the women in the book. They are wonderfully take charge and capable. What I liked best about Deadly Cure was the opportunity to dive into a fictional account of the real pharmaceutical race to bring aspirin*, buffered aspirin, and heroin to market. So while Deadly Cure is flawed, readers who like medical mysteries will enjoy it.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 7 November 2017.

* Sawbones produced a recent episode about aspirin that is utterly fascinating.


The Shadow District, by Arnaldur Indriðason

35011768While this latest novel from Arnaldur Indriðason does not feature his well-known Inspecter ErlendurThe Shadow District shares strong similarities. Like many of the Erlendur novels, this one centers on a pair of linked crimes that happened decades apart. The detective here, Konrád, is a retired officer of Reykjavík’s criminal investigation division. He claims to be happily retired, but it’s clear by the way he horns his way into an investigation of the murder of a 90-year-old man that he’s very bored.

The murder of Stefán Thordárson doesn’t leave the police much to go on. He was smothered; that’s all they can figure out at first. Stefán’s apartment has so few personal items that it’s hard for anyone to get an idea of what lead to his death. The man didn’t seem to have any friends or family either. The only thing that keeps his case from being a complete dead end is a trio of newspaper articles about an unsolved murder from 1944. Konrád trades on an old friendship in CID to dig into both cases. Slowly, methodically, he begins to put together the scant clues with luck and plenty of hunches.

Konrád’s chapters alternate with chapters set in 1944 in which Stefán (who turns out to be a Canadian of Icelandic descent) and his detective partner, Flóvent, try to solve the murder of a woman found dumped behind a theater. As hard as Konrád’s job is, at least he has things like databases and CCTV to help him. In the 1940s, police had little more at their disposal than lots of good shoe leather and persistence to get to the bottom of things.

We know from the outset of The Shadow District that the two cases are connect. What we don’t know until the end is what really happened—mostly through careful editing to keep names and bits of evidence hidden for later. Some readers might hate this because it doesn’t really give us a fair shot at solving the crime before Konrád does. For Erlendur fans, The Shadow District might help tide them over until the next one. If nothing else, this novel is a competent mystery set in an interesting country.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 7 November 2017.

The Last Best Friend, by George Sims

35869521Few people would do what Ned Balfour does in George Sims’ The Last Best FriendAfter Balfour’s friend, Sam Weiss, falls out a window and dies, Ned drops his sunny holiday in Corsica and heads back to London to find out why. It doesn’t make sense that Weiss would commit suicide. Plus, there is the telegram he sent Balfour about a “terrible decision” he had to make. The best clue that Weiss didn’t kill himself comes later in the book, when Balfour is beaten up. Every mystery reader knows that that the detective is definitely asking the right questions when someone beats them up.

Balfour, at first, is the kind of man I don’t like much. He’s a cheater and still has a lot of maturing to do even though he’s well into middle age. But the more time I spent with Balfour, the more I started to admire his loyalty to his friend, Weiss. The police are treating Weiss’ death as an accident or, more probably to their way of thinking, as a suicide. The inspector in charge of the case asks Balfour a few interesting questions, but doesn’t seem to be pursuing the few leads the police have. Balfour takes those leads and runs—well, moseys in a good suit while also taking in the occasional auction and drinking good wine.

To be honest, I didn’t think there was much to the case until a few more clues surfaced linking Weiss and a few other members of their antiques, manuscript, and art dealing circle with art looted at the end of World War II. Balfour is an unlikely detective but he seems to have a knack for asking the right questions. He’s also got the right kind of stubbornness to keep going in spite of all the close calls with various thugs and villains.

The Last Best Friend was originally published in the 1960s and is now being rereleased by Poisoned Pen Press. Between Poisoned Pen and the British Library, there’s been a little renaissance of mid-century mysteries that I’ve been very much enjoying. The only problem is that these rereleases have made me start to wonder how many books are languishing, waiting to be read again. So many books, so little time.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 7 November 2017.

Displaced, by Stephan Abarbanell

34217691Lilya Wasserfall is a soldier in the fight for an independent Jewish state when she is drafted to finish up some unfinished business from the last war in Displaced, by Stephen Abarbanell. Her mission is to find the lost brother of Elias Lind. Lind left Germany in the 1920s while his brother remained in Berlin to further his research on chemical warfare before disappearing into the Nazi forced labor system. There are a few leads for Lilya to follow, the most curious being that the British reported the elder Lind’s death in 1941.

After a quick trip to London during which she discovers some scientific skullduggery, Lilya’s quest takes her to the refugee camps of post-war Germany. It quickly becomes apparent that Lilya and Elias aren’t the only ones who want to know if Raphael Lind survived the war. Lilya picks up on more than one man tailing her in London and in Germany. The more she learns about what Raphael did during the war, the more it makes sense that certain parties are very interested in his current whereabouts.

There are parts of Displaced that were deeply affecting: the fight to restart the lives of displaced refugees and Holocaust survivors, pre-war romances gone awry, a detour into stolen books. But, after a while, it all seemed like a bit too much. Clues from the first part of the novel turned out to be either red herrings or simple McGuffins. The action sequences, which added a bit of spice to the book, were over far too quickly to be effective. Displaced is a messy novel.

I did enjoy Lilya’s journey. At the beginning of the novel, Lilya is very much a forward-looking sabra. Her life is all about helping to create an independent Israel (and about setting aside her grief for her fallen adopted brother). Being a native of British Mandate era Palestine, Lilya is not entirely sympathetic to European Jews. But the more time she spends with survivors in Germany, the more she gets wrapped up in their collective story and the fight to help them. So, in spite of its problems, I was hooked by this book—partly because I had no idea where it was going.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration. It will be released 7 November 2017.

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

25526296Eleanor West runs a school for a very special group of students: young kids who’ve wandered into other worlds, had adventures, and really want to go back. The school is meant to help them cope with the “real” world again, or at least bide their time until the door to their preferred world opens up again. In Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, we watch as Nancy reluctantly attends the school while pining for the Halls of the Dead.

Nancy is used to quiet, stillness, and gravity—the exact opposite of her boisterous roommate—and is struggling to adjust. Things get even more uncomfortable when that roommate, then another student, and a third victim are murdered. Because Nancy just came from the Halls of the Dead, she’s a suspect. Every Heart a Doorway is a fast read, less than 200 pages. The plot races along as Nancy and the other “creepy” students try to figure out what’s going on using the skills they learned in their other worlds.

While the mystery gives the book structure, the book is more about finding a place to belong and feeling comfortable in one’s own, sometimes creepy skin. Nancy’s parents—and the parents of the other students—want to “fix” their kids and make them the way they were before their adventures. The cats are out of their bags and the horses have clearly left their stables. There are several long discussions about how much the students miss worlds where they could be the heroes of their stories, rather than being overlooked, pushed to conform to the wrong gender or be the parent’s idea of perfect.

I loved the set up of Every Heart a Doorway so much that I immediately bought the second book in the series and requested the third from NetGalley. I want to know more about Logical, Nonsensical, High Rhyme, and Mortis worlds. Each of the worlds has a kernel of another legend or folktale. (Nancy is a Persephone. Jack and Jill have stumbled into Dracula and Frankenstein.) I want more of this universe.

Death in St. Petersburg, by Tasha Alexander

33602097Tasha Alexander’s Death in St. Petersburg sees Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband Colin off to the Russian Empire. Colin’s superiors in the British government have sent him to the Russian to help them investigate anarchists and other subversives. Emily joins him to keep him company and enjoy the splendors of the city. It’s a fine plan, until she stumbles across a murdered ballerina after a performance.

Because Emily cannot resist a good crime, she starts poking around immediately. (She gets yelled at by the police more than once for sticking her nose into the case.) Her persistence is rewarded when the ballerina, Irusya’s, lover hires Emily to poke around even more. She follows her instincts and the clues to dive deeply into the world of Russian ballet (there are cameos by some of the biggest names of the era, like Mathilde Kschessinska and Pierina Lagnani).

Mathilde Kschessinska

The pieces refuse to fall together, however. Jealousy just doesn’t seem to work as a motive. Irusya’s lover and past lovers all have alibis. None of the leads go anywhere. But then things—as they usually do in Russia—get political. Anarchist and Socialist literature turns up. Irusya’s best friend, Katenka, has suspiciously subversive relatives and friends. Colin (futilely) cautions Emily to stay away from the politics, as the activists are more than willing to toss bombs and shoot people. And, as usual, Emily ignores his warnings in order to find out what happened to Irusya.

Death in St. Petersburg is the twelfth entry in the series and features several characters from past adventures (including the hilariously obnoxious Sebastian Capet). That said, I had no problem diving into the book even though I haven’t read any of the latest volumes.  What I loved most about this book was the way it brings the St. Petersburg of 1900 back to life. Emily and Colin pause to converse along the Neva and Emily once chases a man through the Hermitage. I rather enjoyed this whirlwind novel set at the end of Imperial Russia’s reign, which begins as a fascinating look into high Russian culture and ends with a tense race to stop an explosive plot.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 10 October 2017.

A Curious Beginning, by Deanna Reybourn

28186322Veronica Speedwell is a very unusual woman. Even if it wasn’t 1887, I’m not sure people would know what to make of the adventurous, butterfly-hunting, occasionally exasperating heroine of Deanna Reybourn’s entertaining novel, A Curious BeginningThe novel opens at the funeral of Veronica’s guardian before it becomes a murder mystery and a race across parts of England. This book only slows down to indulge in hilarious arguments between Veronica and her grumpy bodyguard, Stoker. I loved every minute of this book.

Veronica plans, now that her “aunt” has passed away, to go on another butterfly-hunting expedition abroad. Unfortunately for her, plans are set into motion that might lead to her death as soon as her guardian died. Her cottage is broken into and it’s only through the help of a convenient baron-on-the-spot that she manages to fight off the intruder. The baron takes her to London and drops her off with the formidable Stoker, an impoverished taxidermist and natural historian, before being murdered himself by persons unknown.

Veronica and Stoker then go to ground, before reemerging with a plan to find out what on earth is going on. The mystery plot hums along, but what really made this book for me was the relationship between Veronica and Stoker. Both of them are head-strong, used to getting their own by being the logical person in any given situation. Veronica is better at keeping her head than Stoker, which exasperates him no end. They bicker and needle each other (which any savvy reader knows means they like each other quite a lot) for most of the book. They are hilarious.

I enjoyed A Curious Beginning so much that I bought it and its sequel so that I can spend more time with Veronica and Stoker. I would recommend this cracking read to people looking for irrepressible heroines in the mold of Amelia Peabody and Alexia Tarabotti. Feisty ladies can be hard to find, after all.

Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw

32452160It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to doctor the monsters of London. If it weren’t for Greta Helsing, who would replace bones for the mummies, treat the ghoul children’s ear infections, or help treat the vampires’ depression? In Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw, is the first novel in a new series featuring the good doctor. Not only does the good doctor have to care for her patients in this novel, but she also has to contend with a new supernatural threat. It’s good thing she’s not alone. Greta has the help of two vampires, one demon, and very goofy librarian*.

The novel opens with Greta receiving a call from her good friend, Lord Edmund Ruthven (vampire), to come and care for another vampire, Sir Francis Varney, who has just arrived at Ruthven’s house in terrible condition. Little does Greta know but that this is just the beginning of a terrifying campaign against a band of rogue warrior monks. They don’t know this right away, of course. At first, Varney can only recall vague details about robes and strange chanting about sins and uncleanliness. Ruthven calls in a friend, August Cranswell (the goofy librarian) at the British Library to do some scholarly digging. Meanwhile, Greta’s family friend, the demon Fastitocalon, uses his infernal powers to sniff out the warrior monks.

The usual practice in a contemporary fantasy thriller-mystery is for the protagonist (almost always female) to take the lead, to dive into dangerous spots with guns blazing, and sort everything out. While I enjoy a good kick-ass heroine, it was refreshing to see Greta et al. take a more team-based approach. Greta is more than willing to lean on her friends to stop the killings, given their “special talents.” She even volunteers to stay behind if necessary to tend to the wounded. The team-based approach also means that we don’t have the carrying-the-world-on-her-shoulders-like-Buffy trope (which I think gets old fast). But it would be wrong not to consider Greta a hero. When Varney asks her why she does what she does, she responds that it’s because she has to do what is right. She fights, but she fights intelligently.

Strange Practice is a fun, fast read and a different take on the genre. I loved all of the characters since they were so different from what I normally see in the genre. (Sure, there’s brooding, but that doesn’t last.) The review copy I read had the first chapter of the next book in the series, Bad Company, and I’ve already decided that I must read it as soon as it comes out.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.

* I deeply appreciate this character.

Verdict of Twelve, by Raymond Postgate

35993308The older I get (and possibly because of the fiction I choose to read), the less I trust the jury system. Raymond Postgate’s Verdict of Twelve might have put the last nail in the coffin. This twisty, brilliant short novel (originally published in 1940) follows a group of jurors who are tasked with finding an accused murderer guilty or innocent. As readers, we know more than they do, so watching them deliberate is an absolute torment—but in a way that makes me want to get other readers to read this book just for the joy of watching them get all the way to the end and hearing them yell when they figure out what really happened.

Verdict of Twelve begins with a long series of introductions to the members of the jury. Almost a third of the book passes in a series of biographies about the ten men and two women selected to serve on the journey. Some of them are criminals themselves. Others have class and even religious prejudices that we just know will sway their decision more than any evidence the lawyers might present. The more I read about them, the more I worried about the makeup of real juries. Every member must bring their own experiences and prejudices with them. While a “jury of peers” is supposed to ensure fairness, I wonder if such a thing is even possible.

After the jury introductions, we get a short interlude that sets up the case the jurors will hear. An unpleasant woman named Rosalie van Beer is accused of poisoning her hated young nephew. The loathing in the two’s relationship certainly helped me make up my mind about what happened—which just goes to show how easily a potential juror can be persuaded by the way information is presented. After all this set up, we briefly see Rosalie’s lawyers work out a way to defend the woman. Part of their strategy is to keep her out of the dock, because she has a very hard time controlling her temper. When she gets going, it’s hard not to hate the woman.

Once the trial is over, the jury takes off to deliberate in a series of highly uncomfortable scenes. All of the jurors’ prejudices, backstories, and agendas come into play. The evidence is almost an afterthought. But then, that’s what you get when you round up a bunch of “peers” to try a case. I don’t know that experts in criminology, forensic science, etc. would do any better, because they’re not infallible either. There must be a better system, but I’m stumped about what that system might look like.

I really enjoyed Verdict of Twelve precisely because it’s given me so much food for thought. (I always love books that I can’t stop thinking about after the last page.) I also marvel at the skill in how Postgate constructed the story. Verdict of Twelve makes us an unofficial thirteenth juror. As with any mystery, the reader is left to try and work out if Rosalie is guilty or not. Like the lawyers, the novel gives us a particular version of events. We don’t have all the facts when we sit down with the jury to deliberate. We’ve also got our own backstories and prejudices to contend with. Even though it tormented me (in the best way, to be honest), I loved this brief novel and am very glad the publishers are rescuing it from obscurity.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 3 October 2017.

The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, by Graeme Macrae Burnet

22610350Written and published before his hit His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is being relaunched. Though we never learn much about Adèle, this novel grants us access to the innermost thoughts of the man being investigated for her possible murder and the detective trying to work out what really happened. This surprisingly affecting novel is packed with twisty revelations that had me guessing and second-guessing myself all through.

I hope I can write this review without giving too much away.

Manfred Baumann is the sort of man who gives women the creeps. He’s a creature of habit who spends too much time inside his own head trying to behave normally and not raise anyone’s suspicions. Manfred has been pretending to be himself for twenty years, ever since he lost his parents and went to live with his stiflingly proper grandparents. He might have gone on another twenty years constantly worrying about what people think of him if Adèle, the waitress at his local restaurant, hadn’t gone missing. As soon as Detective Georges Gorski of Saint-Louis, Alsace’s finest shows up to ask questions, Manfred’s life quickly unspools.

Gorski is a competent detective, even if he did learn most of his craft from reading Georges Simenon novels. But he’s not nearly as good as Manfred thinks he is. As Gorski asks questions and pokes into Manfred’s life, Manfred becomes paranoid. He sees conspiracy everywhere. Manfred’s deteriorating mental state even destroys his nascent relationship with a funny, lovely woman in his apartment building.

For most of the book, I had no idea if Manfred was guilty or not. Given his obsession with appearing normal, anyone would think that he’d at least done something criminal. The revelation of what happened to Adèle and Manfred is a work of manipulative genius. I can just picture some readers hurling the book across the room after reading it—which will prove how effective this story is at winding up its main character and its readers. I can honestly say, I’ve never read anything like The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau before. It’s fantastic choice for readers who don’t mind mysteries that are a bit too clever for their own good but will definitely keep them guessing.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 3 October 2017.