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THE Dragon Man by Garry Disher Bitter Lemon Press, 8.99).

THE setting comes to life more than the people in the "Challis & Destry mystery" which set on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne.

In what should be a sleepy seaside area two young women have been kidnapped and murdered, the heat is getting unbearable and it's nearly Christmas.

Det Insp Hal Challis is trying to solve the case while what he really wants to do is work on restoring his old aeroplane. And his boss Ellen Destry is distracted by the air-conditioning man working next door, other cops are accused of being too heavy handed, some pesky local criminals set fire to mailboxes, a woman on witness protection has her own fears - and the kidnapper has spotted his next victim.

Although small-town Australia in the madness of summer comes to life brilliantly the characters don't really make it off the page, and the killer is easily spotted early on, though unsatisfactorily there's no explanation for the crimes.

Hopefully this is a scene setter and future stories will expand on this start. ***

Julie Chamberlain

Pelagia and the White Bulldog by Boris Akunin Orion Books, 6.99)

A RICH old lady in a Russian town near the end of the 19th century is devoted to her prized white bulldogs, especially bred for her.

So when they start being killed off, it's up to her great nephew, the Bishop of Zavolzhie, to try to find out who's behind it - especially as the old lady is now ailing, and liable to change her will as the whim takes her. He sends in one of his nuns, Pelagia, who has apparently solved mysteries for him before. Two headless bodies found in a river along the way add to the seriousness of the situation.

At the same time in a nearby town a Synodial Inspector has been sent from St Petersburg and is stirring up trouble, and particularly causing a rumpus among the women of the town.

It's a complicated story and at times hard to follow because of the many characters with long Russian names and the difficulty of remembering who's who.

Sister Pelagia is a promising mystery solver and there are some good moments of humour and incidents which throw light on human frailties, but next time I hope the nun has a simpler mystery to solve. **

Julie Chamberlain


The Judas Strain by James Rollins Orion, 12.99).

NEVER mind global warming. Never mind nuclear war. The biggest threat to humanity lies within each of us.


Most are benign, some evolve into viruses that can inflict massive damage on the population.

So what if someone could learn the way to switch any bacteria into vicious, flesh-eating monsters? It would be the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

So when the South east Asian seas start to boil with angry algae and humans on the surrounding islands are infected by a virus that ruins their bodies and turns them into crazed, murderous zombies, the whole world takes notice.

The shadowy western intelligence agency Sigma Force soon has agents on the ground, scouring for information, only to find their mercenary nemesis The Guild are also hot on the trail.

Both sides need the antidote - one for good and the other for ultimate power.

There's also a religious angle, with a secret code known only by the highest ranks in the Vatican, which looks as though it may unlock some of the secrets held in the tombs of ancient kings.

An all-action read with enough plot twists to justify the 450-plus pages. ****

Paul Allen


Dark Possession - A Carpathian Novel by Christine Feehan Piatkus, 12.99).

VAMPIRES, shape-shifters and ghosts threaten the budding relationship of Manolito De La Cruz and MaryAnn Delaney.

She is still having trouble getting used to the fact that the handsome Carpathian seems to think they are married, but when his life is put at risk she realises that she is already in love with the dark stranger. However, their romance reveals more than a few family secrets along the way.

Passion and danger prove a heady mix as the couple fight the forces of evil and an army of undead souls intent on revenge. ***

Marion McMullen


Bargain Bride by Gower Bantam Press 17.99).

A YOUNG teacher at a small village school in south Wales, Charlotte Mortimer, is content, determined and engaged to the steadfast Luke. It is a time when children came to school with pennies to pay for their education and stayed home when there wasn't enough money.

But Charlotte's world is thrown into turmoil, first by a mine explosion and then by the arrival of wealthy, newly-widowed Justin Harvard, who threatens to close the school.

They strike a bargain - she dumps Luke and marries Justin, who builds a new school and makes her headmistress. But she is scorned by the society ladies, and beset by lies and secrets until a former pupil supplies the key to unlock her loveless marriage. A story that rushes you along at a galloping pace. ***

Sandra Jury
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Aug 25, 2007
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