Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son, by Colleen McCullough, is the fourth installment of her Carmine Delmonico mystery series. The novel is a rich, tightly-woven tapestry of colorful characters and intriguing plot. It's a story of blind obsession, and ruthless dominance. Combine this with a 1960's biracial marriage, an exotic Yugoslavian model in a May-December marriage to a wealthy publisher, her diminutive, cretin-like maid who forecasts the future from a bowl of water, blackmail, deceit, unbridled ambition and you have a whopping tale filled with misdeeds and dead bodies.

A ampoule of lethal poison, extracted from the innocent looking blow fish, has gone missing from Dr. Millie Hunter's laboratory.  Hunter, a biochemist at Chubb University is the daughter of Patrick O'Donnell, Holloman's Chief Medical Examiner.  Millie informs her father that the missing vial is a deadly neurotoxin that shuts down the nervous system, which results in a horrific and nearly untraceable death.

Millie, and her husband, biochemist, Jim Hunter, attend a celebration dinner for the reunion of a father and his long-lost son, who is an old friend of the Hunter's.  The son, John Hall, dies before he finishes his last drink. Did the missing poison play a part? It would appear so due to the rapid onset of death. It was also certain that the poison was injected, rather than put in food or drink. How did the murderer accomplish that?

The Hunters are once again among the dinner guests at a Chubb University gala when another victim falls prey to the missing neurotoxin; through injection. Suspicions are flung far and wide but Captain Carmine Delmonico keeps coming back to Dr. Jim Hunter as the chief suspect. The only person, in his opinion, that would have had access, motive and knowledge. But - can he prove it?  Another death by the poison, this time administered in water, and a KGB style shooting of a presumably innocent victim confuses the issue. They are all connected - how?

Word of warning, the ending of The Prodigal Son is emotionally complex, something you may not have seen coming.  Stunning, surprising, culturally shocking, The Prodigal Son is traditional McCullough at her best.

A review copy of this book was received from Simon & Schuster Publishing. Colleen McCullough is the author of The Thorn Birds, Morgan's Run, Antony and Cleopatra, and others.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Highball Exit - A Sherri Travis Mystery

Reading a Sherri Travis novel, by Phyllis Smallman, is like sitting down at a bar for a drink with an old friend and knowing the beer is going to be cold, the peanuts fresh, and the stories spicy!

Sherri can stir up trouble with the skill of any good bartender and Highball Exit is no exception. Only this time, trouble almost gets the best of her. Sherri's pizzazz for fun and adventure fizzles when faced with insurmountable personal danger, financial ruin, and a tottering romance.

Holly Mitchell, a past employee at Sherri's Sunset Bar, is dead. Suicide, according to the police. But, Sherri has other things to worry about, like how she's going to settle three months of past due payments on her bar.  She's hit an all time low and when elderly, ill, Auntie Kay shows up asking for help to find Holly's baby girl, Angel, and waves the green flag of 'money', Sherri can't resist. Aunt Kay convinces her that all she has to do is drive her around so she can ask questions. Things take a nasty turn when Aunt Kay and Sherri encounter the creepy duo of brothers, Cal and Ryan Vachess.  Cal is the perverted owner of Angel Escort Service, his brother, Ryan, a perma-fried speed freak  It gets worse when Ryan develops an appetite for sexy bartenders.

So, why is Cal Vachess stalking Sherri?  And, what does the cop, Danny, know about Holly that he isn't telling? Is a famous singer involved in Holly's death? More importantly, where is the missing baby that only Aunt Kay declares is real?

This book is a little darker, and more intense than others in this series. Scenes of Sherri, alone in the dark in a remote beach house, are not for late night reading unless you like looking over your shoulder.  Highball Exit has a twisting, satisfying plot with an ending that finds Sherri naked on the beach. . . her tormenter closing ground. . . I'm not going to tell you the shocking finale but I think you'll find justice clearly served.