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Craig's Book Club
Book Reviews
Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense

Exciting puzzlers reviewed with a discerning eye.

Peter Abrahams, The Tutor

Stephen King recommended Peter Abrahams in his inaugural pop culture column for Entertainment Weekly. I've read other authors King suggested and have never been disappointed. Add The Tutor to the list.

Brandon Gardner didn't do so hot on his SATs--at least not compared to his cousin, Sam--so his parents hired Julian Sawyer to tutor him. After Julian arrives, strange things start to happen. Little things, at first, like the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of Brandon's varsity jacket, and which daughter Ruby, a Sherlock Holmes fan, attempts to solve. As more and more "cases" mount up, Ruby delves deeper into Conan Doyle for clues and finds one especially telling.

Peter Abrahams has written in The Tutor a character for the ages in Julian Sawyer. He is fascinating reading as we follow his steps in using the Gardners for his new breakthrough novel and see his one weakness eventually become his downfall. This isn't one of those rip-roaring suspense novels with a heart-clenching plotline. The tension builds slowly from page one and takes its time getting to the denouement. I was thrilled the whole way, and I am definitely going to pick up another Peter Abrahams novel soon.

Lilian Jackson Braun, The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern

I like mysteries and am always on the lookout for a new series. I had read the Brahms entry in this series but I didn't remember much about it, so when I saw the audiobook of The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern in the library I picked it up with mild interest. The mystery itself is more of the "cozy" type where people get killed "offscreen" so to speak. And this is at best an average example of that type.

What really saves this one is the acting skill of George Guidall, who is fast becoming one of my favorite readers (along with Michael Prichard). His subtleties really bring out the best aspects of this book, which are the characterizations. Qwilleran really comes alive here.

If you are a fan of Braun or Guidall, or like hearing about talented cats, I would recommend picking up The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern. But from just the mystery standpoint, you could give it a miss.

Christopher Bonn Jonnes, Big Ice

Seth Peterson works for the NIC (National Ice Center) studying the movements of antarctic ice shelves, hoping to predict possible future motion in order to prevent disaster. His research, however, is going to cause trouble for more people than he can possibly have imagined.

After rescuing a woman from a wrecked car in the middle of a snowstorm, Seth becomes the unwitting participant in a media circus, being named The Shy Samaritan for his unwillingness to appear before the cameras. You see, Seth has a secret. But that's not even his main problem. It appears as if some people are trying to kill him because of his research. And if that's not enough conflict, Seth hides out in his hometown and has to deal with some past mistakes he has made with his family and the woman he left at the altar.

Jonnes builds the suspense in Big Ice from the get-go, with the rescue scene being a particular highpoint. I felt as if I were experiencing every moment with Seth and I didn't want to put the book down. His flair for description is also remarkable, making it easy to visualize the details in every scene. Jonnes has a talent for suspense and obviously loves to work with the language.

The first quarter could have been more tightly edited, and the title is misleading (the ice is the motivation for the plot, not an actual participant), but these are minor complaints. Christopher Bonn Jonnes is a writer to watch and I look forward to reading his first novel, Wake Up Dead.

Val McDermid, The Mermaids Singing

I happened upon The Mermaids Singing in hardcover in the clearance bin of my local bookstore. It was about five dollars. I didn't expect much, but for five bucks, hey! Plus it had won the Gold Dagger (as had one of my favorite authors, Colin Dexter).

Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. The Mermaids Singing is a real page-turner. I finished it in about three days (fast for me; I'm not one of those all-night readers) and kept going back to it when I wasn't doing something else (also odd for me; I'm not normally an obsessive reader).

One warning, though, it is a little on the viscerally descriptive side. (Nothing approaching the level of Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z Brite, but still...just a warning.) However, if you have a strong stomach, you will be taken for quite a ride.

F. Paul Wilson now has his own page.