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Margaret Cannon

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Fatal Last Words By Quintin Jardine, Headline, 438 pages, $34.99

Every mystery fan rues the day when a favourite series begins to weaken. Usually, it's about book 10, certainly at book 12. Here we have DCC Bob Skinner returning for the 19th time, and he's as crisp and sharp as he was back at the beginning. For that alone, Quintin Jardine deserves every kudo he gets. But this isn't just a good Bob Skinner novel, it's one of the best of the series and that, readers, makes it a rare treat.

The backdrop is the prestigious Edinburgh International Book Festival. The corpse is a successful and much-respected crime novelist who also happens to be a member of the Scottish Parliament. The death appears natural. He was diabetic and overweight and had a history of heart disease. But death by heart attack doesn't rule out murder, as Skinner and his team quickly learn.

Along with the excellent crime novel - Jardine always keeps his clues in line and his plots plausible - we have the latest in Skinner's life story. There's his romance with First Minister Aileen de Marco, soon to be a marriage. He has sage advice for Aileen in her own career, as she has in his. His daughter, Alex, has relationship issues of her own.

As the case unfolds, there's an old and implacable enemy from Skinner's past.

Just when you think you have this one figured, Jardine switches the attention from Edinburgh to Australia. Another Scottish public figure dies, and DCS Mario McGuire heads to Melbourne to see if the two cases can possibly be connected. And if so, how and why. Then there's a twist that no one will see coming. Don't plan to begin reading this one on a work night. You won't put it down until the final page.



Caught By Harlan Coben, Dutton, 388 pages, $35

I love Harlan Coben's series of sports mysteries featuring Myron Bolitar, but it's his non-Bolitar books that really demonstrate his superior writing talents. Coben is a master at the plot that scares. Stolen identity? Missing child? Trapped in a waking nightmare? Caught has all that and more.

The novel begins as a very ordinary young man who works with marginal youth heads out to save someone. A mercy mission that backfires.

Next, we have a missing teenaged girl. Haley McWaid is the poster child for the happy suburban kid. She's pretty, popular and much-loved. She's captain of her lacrosse team and a leader at her New Jersey high school. She's awaiting word of welcome from prestigious universities. When she disappears without a clue, everyone is baffled, including the police.

Over on the other side of town, crime reporter Wendy Tynes spends her time setting up sting operations to catch sexual predators who use the Internet to locate underage victims. She knows way too much about how easy it is to lure a kid into a dangerous, potentially fatal situation. But she also makes mistakes, ones that ruin lives and destroy reputations.

Coben weaves a couple of plotlines through this tale of revenge, betrayal and loss. There's a message and a terrific story to back it up, and some warnings about the tendency to believe everything we read in the wild new world online.



The Disappeared By M.R. Hall, Macmillan, 419 pages, $29.99

This sequel to Hall's debut, The Coroner, is terrific. If you missed that one, you don't need it to follow along, but believe me, you'll want to read the opening book featuring Severn Vale Coroner Jenny Cooper.

Cooper's case, this time, is an old one. Nazim Jamal disappeared seven years ago. He and a friend simply went out and never returned. The police tell the boys' parents that the pair probably left the country to join a jihad. Both were devout Muslims, both were in touch with jihadist ideas. When it turns out that the British Security Service had both boys under surveillance, the parents have to accept that their children simply disappeared.

But Nazim's mother refuses to stop her hunt for her child. She will not accept that he went to Afghanistan to war, and that he is probably dead in some foreign place. She wants a Coroner's Court to demand documents and answers. Jenny Cooper sympathizes, but isn't convinced that there's anything more to uncover.

Meanwhile, a young woman's body is missing from a hospital morgue and there's a mysterious and very clever lawyer lurking about. These events can't possibly be linked to Nazim's disappearance, but as Cooper digs into the evidence, she uncovers far more than she expects.



The God of the Hive By Laurie R. King, Bantam, 354 pages, $29.95

Fans know that in her last Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Language of Bees, Laurie R. King left us with a killer cliffhanger. Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes, his son and his granddaughter were all in the thrall of the psychotic leader of a murderous cult. As The God of the Hive opens, Mary, grasping the child, is running through the woods, evading the police as well as possible cult members. Holmes, meanwhile, is in a boat, ministering to his wounded son and in search of a safe harbour.

The person Holmes believes can salvage his reputation and save him from the police is his brother Mycroft. But unbeknownst to the travellers, Mycroft is imprisoned and the real leader of the killer cult is intent on using the Holmes clan for his own evil ends. This is a great gloriously gripping tale replete with derring-do and lots of action. In short, another first-rate pastiche from Laurie R. King, channelling the ghost of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.



Murder in the Palais Royal By Cara Black, Soho Press, 304 pages, $29

If you haven't already discovered Aimée Leduc, Investigator, and the Marais mystery series, this is the perfect place to begin. Leduc's partner, René, has been shot and the police are convinced that Aimée herself is the shooter. To add to the mix, there's a huge cash deposit in the Leduc agency account that can't be explained. The tax authorities are onto that.

It's clear that someone, somewhere, is setting Aimée up for a major fall, and she has to figure out who. The trail leads back to the beginning of this excellent series. Start here and I promise you'll want to read Cara Black's other nine Leduc novels.



Gold Fever By Vicki Delaney, RendezVous, 304 pages, $18.95

The good news is that Fiona MacGillivray and the Savoy dance hall have returned in this sequel to Gold Digger. We're back in Dawson City, Yukon territory, for the 1898 gold rush, and Fiona and the gang are all out for all they can earn or steal.

Delaney's original characters, including Constable Richard Sterling, also make a return, but the plot this time revolves around a incident in which Angus, Fiona's son, saves the life of a suicidal native woman. How this leads to a plot by Joey LeBlanc, Dawson City's finest madam, to finish off the Savoy is what the story is all about. Funny, smart and full of snippets of Yukon gold-rush lore, this is a delightful light novel for a warm spring day.



Deception By Jonathan Kellerman, Ballantine, 338 pages, $35

The last few Alex Delaware novels have been weak. After two dozen books, any series gets tired. So it's nice to report that this book, while not up to the standards set by the earliest stories, is good. It has Kellerman's signature style and speed, and a really good, well constructed plot.

Elise Freeman is a substitute teacher at a ritzy Los Angeles private school. When she commits suicide and leaves behind a CD accusing three colleagues of sexual harassment and bullying, it is scandalous. The chief of police's son is at the school, and the chief wants the case solved and forgotten, so he hands it over to Milo Sturgis. But some scandals just won't stay buried.

 

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