“Idyll Fears”

Small town chief of police Thomas Lynch is a victim of a hate crime in Stephanie Gayle’s absorbing mystery, “Idyll Fears.”

It is Christmas in the fictional town of Idyll, Conn., and Chief Lynch and his team are working hard to find a boy who has gone missing. Cody Forrand is six-years-old but his disappearance is not the only reason the Idyll Police is worried. Cody suffers from a life-threatening medical condition that worsens during the winter months.

The investigation itself is addictive, and Gayle handles the narrative with a strong sense of emotion. Readers are taken on a gripping ride as the plot takes a few sharp turns.

Lynch is a no-nonsense, flawed, believable character, but when his life is threatened with prank phone calls and vandalism, the story jumps into high gear.

The interaction with Lynch and his co-workers is a realistic, gritty look into the world of a gay police chief and the community in which he lives and works.

“Idyll Fear” is cleverly plotted, and a must-read for mystery fans.

“The Doll Master and Other Tales of Terror”

A disturbing blend of psychological madness and suspense will please readers of Joyce Carol Oate’s “The Doll Master and Other Tales of Terror.”

In these six frightening tales, Oates delivers a chilling narrative with the title story, “The Doll Master.” A young boy named Robbie becomes obsessed with dolls of all shapes and sizes.

His unhealthy obsession with dolls begins when his cousin Amy dies of leukemia and he inherits her large collection of childhood toys. His unsettling behavior changes rapidly, and he starts collecting more dolls from neighboring towns. The ending is startling and troubling, but the reader will be rewarded and unsettled when they learn the reason behind Robbie’s hair-raising fixation.

In the skin-crawling story, “Big Momma,” Violet and her mother have a love-hate relationship, but mostly they disagree with each other. Violet will find a way to stay away from her unhappy home life at any cost: whether she is stumbling the streets in the early hours, or stealing money out of her mother’s purse for bus fare.

Violet’s absence from home worries her mother, and sets her on an endless rant about children disappearing from the neighborhood.

One day after school, her friend’s father, Mr. Clovis, asks Violet if he could drive her home. She accepts his offer and is eager to talk to Mr. Clovis about his daughter, Rita Mae.

Violet is invited to her friend’s house, but what she discovers about the missing neighborhood kids will set the tiny hairs on the back of your neck on edge.

“Equatorial,” one of the lesser stories in the collection, takes too long to tell in its overwritten seventy-nine pages. A wife is determined that her husband wants to kill her and sets out to change his plans, but the woman’s solution doesn’t go as she had hoped. Too much emphasis on the South America setting eliminates the suspense and tension.

For readers who enjoy their fiction told in short story form, “The Doll Master and Other Tales of Terror” will satisfy most of your literary palette.

“Meet Your Baker”

A small, quaint Oregon town is rocked to the core when a murder investigation ensues in Ellie Alexander’s “Meet Your Baker.”

After years at sea, Juliet Capshaw returns to her home in Ashton, Ore., to not only mend her broken heart but also help her mother run the family bakery business, Torte.

Tourists have traveled to the small town for the local festivities, which are bustling this year for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

But when one of Torte’s customers, Nancy Hudson, the festival's latest board member, turns up dead, Juliet must start from scratch if she is going to catch a killer.

While sifting through a list of suspects, Juliet must also deal with the arrival of her former high school boyfriend, Thomas — now an investigator on the case.

Temperatures heat up in the kitchen for Juliet when murder is added to the menu, and her own life is put in danger as she navigates the cutthroat culinary world in search of a cold-blooded killer.

Alexander whips up a deliciously devious mystery, while sprinkling in a few red herrings in this character-driven whodunit. However, the middle of the story stumbles into clumsiness and the mystery is overridden with characters doing ridiculous things to each other.

Thomas Grant Bruso is a Plattsburgh resident who writes fiction and has been an avid reader of genre fiction since he was a kid. Readers and writers are invited to connect and discuss books and writing at www.facebook.com/thomasgrantbruso.