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A Darker Place by Laurie King 
Description - Mystery, Suspense, Thriller. Anne Waverly is an expert on cults and sometimes undercover agent for the FBI. When disturbing reports surface about a group in Arizona, she is pulled in to investigate. 

The darker place that Anne investigates is not only the group in Arizona, but also her own mind and emotions. Anne is the only survivor of a cult who committed mass suicide while she was away. The dead included her husband and young daughter which shattered her world and in some ways her sanity. Many years later, she is a professor of religious studies and an expert on cults, although she doesn't like that term. Occasionally, she is called in by the FBI to investigate a group due to her unique combination of academic and personal knowledge. She survives these assignments by becoming the girl she was before the deaths of her family - open, innocent, and seeking. The years and experiences have taken their toll however and her latest and, she insists, her last assignment takes unusual twists and turns before the heart stopping finale. I don't want to give too much away so that's all I'll say about the plot, but this is an excellent novel about facing inner demons and real life monsters. I was already a Laurie King fan for her Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell books and this one explores some of the same questions of religious belief, academic study, personal relationships, and the evil that men can do. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to explore deep themes while sitting on the edge of her seat. 

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell Hamilton

Description: Horror, mystery. The supernatural is real and they have legal rights. Anita Blake, Zombie Animator, investigates vampire murders and gets entangled in vampire politics in St. Louis. 

Ah, the innocence of the first book in a long running series. Everything is so fresh and new. Laurell Hamilton does an incredible job of developing a credible world peopled with the mundane and the supernatural. The Police have a supernatural crime investigation unit. Vampires exist and, thanks to an excellent legal lobby, have rights under the law. Lycanthropes are merely victims of a contagious disease which, although it is illegal to discriminate, they must hide in order to keep their jobs. Zombies are regularly brought back from the dead to resolve legal issues, write wills and bring emotional closure. It is a fascinating world because it makes sense. 

And then there is Anita Blake. She may be small, but she kicks. She raises the dead, does the odd consultation for the police, carries out legal vampire executions, likes penguins and she carries a gun, with attitude. Actually, Anita is hilarious. She has this great running complaint about trying to carry a concealed weapon. Put it in your purse. Well, then you can't get to it. Shoulder holster. Well, then you have to wear a jacket, in the midwestern summer. Thigh holster. Sigh, chaffing. This book doesn't even start on the difficulties of packing heat while wearing a formal. God, I love Anita.

This book also introduces some of the long running characters for the rest of the series. My personal favorites being Edward, a hit man who really enjoys his job, and Jean Claude, master vampire and complete babe. There's a dandy mystery, well actually I've read the book so many times, its hard for me to tell. There is certainly adventure and a certain amount of gore. Not that much compared to the rest of the series, but hey it's only the first book. 

Hannibal by Thomas Harris

Description: Horror, Intrigue. Dr. Hannibal Lector, cannibal gourmand, isn't the only monster in the world. Mayhem ensues.

So, I saw the movie and I thought, well I've read his other books, I really ought to read this one.

In Hannibal Lector, Harris has created a character who is beyond the writer. Like Frankenstein's creature or Dracula, within the book, Hannibal is a mythic entity. Evil, ruthless, and oddly understandable. Someone blocks Hannibal from a job, Hannibal kills him. A bigot gradually destroys the career of someone Hannibal admires. Well, lets just say what happens to him isn't pretty. 

There is some small exposition on Hannibal's background to explain why he is the way he is, but it is minor and almost irrelevant.

Harris has also quite cleverly peopled Hannibal's world with inhabitants who are evil in much less likable ways. People who abandon their honor for pieces of silver and power. People who mess with the minds of children for the fun of it. Petty bureaucrats ruling petty fiefdoms.

Mustn't forget Agent Clarice Starling. The moral center of the book. Noble and upright. A warrior with a clear sense of right and wrong. And she can't kiss executive posterior to save her life, which is basically what has condemned her career to mediocrity.

I don't think it is coincidental that her mentor from Silence of the Lambs and the agent who caught Hannibal, meets his fate (nothing horrific I assure you) at the same time that Hannibal begins (or is it ends?) his seduction of Starling. 

Starling, over the course of the book, is cut off from everything that defines her life for reasons that actually have very little to do with Hannibal. So, odd as it is, the end of the book makes a certain sense. Not really moral sense, but the reader gave up on that about three hundred pages ago. And odd and perverse as it is, the end makes Harris a kinder creator than Dr. Frankenstein, who sent the monster into the world without a companion of any kind.

River of Fire  by Mary Jo Putney
Description: Romance, Regency Historical, Adventure.Captain Wilding makes an undercover investigation of the mysterious
death of Lady Seaton, amid the art world of Regency England, while romantically drawn to her daughter Rebecca. 

About midway through the book, Rebecca compares the fire of creativity to a river of fire in your blood. The compulsion above all others to create art and express your internal vision. Although Putney is a writer and not a painter, she is clearly speaking through the voice of her character.

There is a wonderful delicacy as Captain Wilding, a man who has spent his entire adult life at war, opens up to the power of artistic creation and (well this is a romance novel) love. And yet, because he is in the middle of a covert murder investigation in which his prime suspect is his ladylove's father, well let's just say there is a lot of angst and romantic tension. 

Rebecca is his match. She's feminine without being a wuss. She's creative. Opinionated. Just a bit prickly because she's been hurt in the past, but willing to love. 

The mystery is decent, if not that complex. Well, I mean there aren't that many characters. There is a small amount of action. Mysterious attacks in the middle of the night, that sort of thing. The real suspense comes from watching these two damaged people learn to open up both artistically and emotionally to each other.

Putney's descriptions of painting and the London art world in Regency England are obviously well researched and make a nice back drop to the story's main action. There are a number of repeat characters from other Putney books, however there
is enough explanation that a first time reader shouldn't have any problems.

This is a wonderful book to curl up with on the couch with a glass of wine, a bit of rain outside, and just while away the day.

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