Strong-willed women solving puzzling mysteries are the focus of two recent highly entertaining crime novels.
"Burden of Truth" by Terri Nolan (Midnight Ink, $14.99) is a complex paperback debut set in California that introduces Birdie Keane, author and investigative reporter.
Keane, who's won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, is also a recovering alcoholic. When LAPD cop Matt Whelen, the love of her life, dies from an apparent drug overdoes, Keane is devastated--and also suspicious.
She uncovers facts that don't quite jibe, prodding her into further investigation. She's also trying to disprove allegations that he was a "dirty" cop.
Matt has left clues behind that indicate he's got hidden evidence involving a 16-year-old cold case; Keane, who's inherited Matt's considerable estate, suddenly finds her life is in danger--someone wants to permanently halt her inquiries.
As the body count rises, the tension steadily mounts. The deadly conclusion is surprising, shocking and unusual, but Nolan deftly makes it all seem believable.
There are so many characters in this book that you'll really need a scorecard; fortunately, Nolan initially provides three pages of family tree and relationship information.
This is a fast-paced, dark, compelling mystery that's the first in a new series; Nolan shows exciting promise as one of America's hot new crime novelists.
"Sleight of Hand" by Phillip Margolin (Harper, $26.99) is the latest in his popular series starring Dana Cutler, a hard-working, quick-thinking private investigator.
A former Washington, D.C. cop, Cutler takes on an unusual, well-paying case that requires her to immediately go to the far Pacific Northwest.
With similarities to Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon," she's trying to track down a stolen relic, a golden scepter dating back to the Ottoman Empire.
Cutler has no success and returns home frustrated; soon she's in the middle of a case involving Horace Blair, an exceptionally wealthy man who's accused of murdering Carrie, his much younger wife.
Charles Benedict is a sneaky lawyer, a manipulative magician and a cold hit man. He's hired by Blair as his defense attorney; ironically, psychopathic Benedict cleverly set up the entire situation.
Margolin is in fine form with a highly entertaining tale of death and deceit; Cutler is creatively triumphant in a number of ways, as justice prevails.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop,
has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.
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This review was published by the Lansing State Journal on April 28, 2013.