Shopping Can Be Fun…In Egypt!

Peggy HansonPeggy Hanson is an author and travel blogger who loves to share her international life with her readers. Peace Corps, Voice of America, teaching of English–all these have played major roles in her life. Growing up in a series of small towns in Colorado, the daughter of a mountain-climbing Congregational minister and teacher, probably helped mold her affinity to nomadism. In her adult life, she’s lived for extended periods in Turkey, Yemen, India and Indonesia.


Deadline Yemen cover by AnneHer first two books are mysteries in the Elizabeth Darcy series set in other countries: Deadline Istanbul and Deadline Yemen. She is currently working on the third in that series, Deadline Indonesia, and is also compiling and editing her great aunt Mary’s diaries and letters and pictures from 1888-1920 when she was a missionary teacher and principal in the Balkans. The working title of the diaries is Miss Matthews of Macedonia. It is a story of early feminism and a woman’s bravery in the face of war.


Website: www.peggyhansonauthor.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hanusa2?fref=ts

Twitter: @phanusa2

I took all the new caftans to my laundryman a couple of little streets away from the hotel before even giving them as gifts. They looked and felt like good Egyptian cotton, but one can never be sure. Also, would the colors bleed? Mr. Magdy would know just how to handle them for their first washing.

Camels and the Nile Near Aswan

Camels and the Nile Near Aswan

Egypt is one of the most fun places in the world to shop! Naturally, one starts in the Khan el Khalili in Cairo, that warren of tiny streets and alleys filled with tee shirts, gaudy dresses, memento pyramids and the ever-present cat god, Bastet. If you spend enough time and go about things correctly, you may even find treasures. For example, you can often make friends with vendors by just shooting one-liners to match theirs: “Please give me all your money!”

“OK. I will. I have none.”

“I have exactly what you are looking for!”

“I have to admit you’re ahead of me there!”

Khan el Khalili View

Khan el Khalili View

The more vulnerable you look, the more pestering you will get from the vendors. The key is to look them straight in the eye, smile, and confidently stride ahead. Unless they actually do have something you want, in which case it’s wise to say “I’ll be back later, inshallah (God willing)” and they may come running with a better price.

On this trip, I found some genuine treasures (almost museum pieces) by asking someone who was trying to sell me perfume bottles, “Where can I get an old dress?” Not missing a beat, the young guy took me to the same antique dealer I had bought something good from a few years ago. He tried to stand around to get a commission from the antique dealer, but was unceremoniously shooed away by Ahmet. “You don’t know this man, I don’t know this man, he does not belong here.”

Bedouin Treasure Face Veil from the Sudan Border

Bedouin Treasure Face Veil from the Sudan Border

And so, after a little discussion of the famous but remote Siwa oasis in the Western Desert (you MUST do some research before you shop at the Khan el Khalili) Ahmet began pulling out things he thought I’d like. And I did. How I did! A well-made cotton Bedouin dress with intricate handwork all over it. Probably 70 years old. A silver beaded face mask from the mysterious and notorious Raishida tribe along the Egypt-Sudan border. Yes, a dress from Siwa to go with the one I bought years ago and wear often. And a rare Bedouin jacket, again with beautiful work on it. The prices are not at all bad, considering they might be ten times that at Neiman Marcus.

Because Egypt has been deemed a security risk for the last three years, almost no tourists are here to compete with me for the best things in the Khan. There are other advantages that accrue, as well. “You are American?” they cry. “We love Americans!”

Because it is the holy month of Ramadan, when everyone fasts from dawn to dusk and parties all night, people are in a spiritual and kindly frame of mind—with the possible exception of taxi drivers in the late afternoon who have had no refreshment or a cigarette all day and are now enmeshed in an unbelievable crunch of traffic. When we visit the Khan el Khalili in the evening to have dinner at the beautiful haven of the Naguib Mafouz café (named after the Nobel-prize-winning author who had his coffee there in the old days and said it was the only place that would give him coffee on credit before he published his books) we are welcomed as guests in a home, and offered the traditional iftar menu the Moslem fasters among us eat to break their fasts: tasty broth, dates, juice and grilled meats.

Family Time at Khan el Khalili

Family Time at Khan el Khalili

Oh, yes. Back to those caftans. I got them in a shop not in the Khan. I have worn mine several times. They do not shrink and the colors do not bleed.

And this is barely scratching the surface of what a shopper can find in Cairo!

Do your research. Find out how to dress and behave in Egypt. Check on the situation on the ground. Then come and have a glorious time, even in mid-summer or during Ramadan or when the State Department doesn’t advise it. Egypt has everything!

Evening on the Nile

Evening on the Nile

Book Review: The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Angry Robot Books presents The Buried Life,
a fantastical mystery for fans of
Cherie Priest and China Miéville.

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“With Regency-era sensibilities and Agatha Christie’s flair for the subtle
conundrum, Patel’s debut novel introduces readers to a subterranean city of
the future, centuries after what is dubbed “The Catastrophe,” and beautifully
manages the delicate balance between entertainment and social commentary.
The subtly fantastical story is resplendent with surprisingly deep villains,
political corruption, and a gripping whodunit feel.”
- Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

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The Buried LifeThe Buried Life
Carrie Patel
Angry Robot Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-857665-21-8
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

In a wondrous mix of dark fantasy, mystery and science fiction with a dash of post-apocalypse and a hearty dose of dystopia, we’re introduced to the world of Recoletta and to two women who capture the imagination from the first moment we meet them. I’m going to skim right past the plot because spoilers would abound but I’ll say this for everyone who loves books—this is a world in which books can put one in real danger.

“Other than the murder of a whitenail, the possession of unedited, unapproved texts was the most severely punished, and certainly the rarest, crime in Recoletta.”

First, let’s talk about the setting and worldbuilding. Recoletta is a subterranean city sometime several hundred years in the future. People still come and go aboveground but they choose to live below and, like all cities, Recoletta has a variety of boroughs or districts or what have you and there is a distinct class system driven by money and power. (Sound familiar?) All of this came about due to the “Catastrophe” but we don’t really know much about that, what it was or what precipitated it. Usually, I think it’s a failing when an author doesn’t tell or show us enough to let us understand the story’s world but, this time, I didn’t mind. Ms. Patel does such a good job of immersing us in this city that I could easily envision it and walk the streets along with its denizens.  I’m sure we’ll learn  more in the next book but, for right now, I’m content.

I love the major characters and can’t even say who’s my favorite of the two women but certainly one of the most compelling individuals is Roman Arnault. To say more about him would really be skating on the edge of spoilers so, suffice it to say, he’s a very complex man. Inspector Liesl Malone is a woman who believes in the law and in doing what’s necessary to solve crimes; she has a very stern no-nonsense demeanour but there’s a trace of softness in her. She is not at all happy at first when she’s saddled with a partner fresh out of training but Rafe Sundar proves early on that he’s not as useless as she fears. He brings a lightness as well as intelligence and skill to their budding work relationship as they investigate the murder of an historian and then one murder grows into more.  Seemingly on the sidelines are Jane Lin, laundress to the wealthy, and her reporter friend, Fredrick Anders. Jane’s life is about to take a major turn when she overhears things she shouldn’t and can no longer remain an “invisible” servant. Murder and political goings-on will have a definite effect on Jane, much more than she might have anticipated when she finds herself part of the investigation.

All in all, The Buried Life is an intriguing gaslight tale with a wonderful setting and characters who are far more than cardboard cutouts. I’m so glad the story will continue and that I’ll be treated to more of Carrie Patel’s work. That sequel, Renaissance Land, will be coming out next year and it’s already on my wishlist.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

An Excerpt from The Buried Life

Shrouded in a spicy-sweet smoke and leaning against the wall just outside of the sitting room was a tall, broad-shouldered man whom she presumed to be the stranger she had heard conversing with Hollens. Dressed in a loose-fitting black dinner jacket and idly smoking a cigarette, he was the embodiment of upper-class carelessness or middle-class coattail-riding. Even for an informal house call, his manner in the councilor’s home was cavalier, which led her to suppose the former. His jacket was a size too large, his ascot hung askew around his neck, and his pants were wrinkled. She then noticed that he was watching her with interest, his dark blue eyes shining behind black, chin-length hair. She blushed.

“Red becomes you, my lady.”

Jane hesitated, thinking that there wasn’t a scrap of red anywhere on her dress or jacket, but she took his meaning and felt another wave of heat flood her face.

The stranger smiled. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Roman Arnault.” Arnault pushed away from the wall, facing her.

“I’m the, ah, laundress.”

“I’m sorry?”

Jane blinked, more uncomfortable than ever. “The laundress. I wash clothes for Councilor Hollens. Specialty items, mostly, since he has a staff, but…”

“I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh! It’s Jane. Jane Lin.” Her fingers dug into the bundle in her arms.

Arnault gave her the kind of smile that looked as if he must have practiced it many times before. He peeled one hand from the bundle and kissed it. “A pleasure to meet you, Jane Lin, laundress.”

He said her name slowly, as if trying it out. Jane flicked her gaze downward, noticing his hands and their clean but trimmed nails. After a few moments, he followed her eyes to the cigarette between his fingers. “Cloves,” he said, holding it up for her inspection. “Care for one?”

“Oh, I wasn’t… No, thank you, Mr Arnault.”

“A lady of modest habits.”

Jane had found that when whitenails and their ilk chose to make pronouncements on her station, bearing, or character, it was best to offer nothing but the tacit confirmation of a small smile, which she did now.

Arnault’s mild tone kept what came next from sounding like a rebuke. “Miss Lin, do I look like a man who enlists the services of specialty laundresses? Or whose recommendations on the same would be trusted?”

Arnault paused, and Jane, whose repertoire of etiquette offered no guidance for this kind of conversation, listened hopefully for Lena’s footsteps. “You can disagree with me, especially if I’m so pompous as to make sweeping generalizations about you, someone I have known for all of two minutes.” He took a deep breath, and Jane felt herself do the same. “So, Jane Lin, are you ready to tell me what you really think?”

Jane heard the words come out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying. “It’s easy for you to say so when you can get away with visiting a councilor dressed like that.”

Arnault’s expression changed slowly, his eyebrows lifting and his lips drawing back.

“I’m sorry,” Jane said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

But he looked amused. “Speaking your mind is nothing to be sorry for, Miss Lin. I find a little honesty refreshing, especially in this neighborhood. So, how does a nice girl like you end up in it?”

“Everybody has dirty laundry, Mr Arnault.”

He chuckled, but in a way that suggested a private joke. “How right you are.”

“And you, sir? What kind of business are you in?”

“There’s no need to ‘sir’ me, Miss Lin. As for the business… I suppose you could say that I’m in the same line of work that you are.” He took another drag on his cigarette.

Jane looked him up and down, taking in his outfit again. “If we’re being candid, Mr Arnault, I find that hard to believe.”

“It’s a metaphor, Miss Lin.”

“Should I be honest again?”

“Always.”

“It sounds like a bad one.”

Arnault considered the clove cigarette between his fingers. “To return to your modest habits,” he said, holding the cigarette in the air between them, “you avoid these because…?”

Jane blinked. She didn’t want to mention that a habit like that was absurd for someone on her income. “They kill. From the inside.”

“So do a lot of things,” Arnault said. “And people. And just like your dirty laundry, some things are best kept private.”

He said it with a twinkle in his eye, but the memory of the overheard conversation sent flutters through Jane’s stomach. “Are you always this friendly with the domestic help, Mr Arnault?”

“I’m not friendly with anyone.”

“Then I have grossly misinterpreted our brief encounter.”

“That’s because you’re a good influence, Miss Lin, and you should stay for tea.”

Jane could not begin to fathom the reaction were she to have tea in Councilor Hollens’s home at Arnault’s invitation. “I thought you’d already enjoyed some with the councilor.”

“We shared a stronger beverage. But with a nice young lady like yourself, I’d have tea.”

************

About the Author

Carrie Patel Author ShotCarrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and worked in transfer pricing at Ernst & Young for two years. She now works as a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, where the only season is Always Perfect. You can find Carrie online at www.electronicinkblog.com and @Carrie_Patel on Twitter.


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First in a new series starring two brilliantly-realised
female protagonists in a wonderful fantasy
setting.
Book’s setting: The fantastical
underground city of Recoletta.

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Indiebound Button.jpg        Amazon Buy Button

Coming soon to Barnes & Noble

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Book Review: The Roses Underneath by C.F. Yetmen

The Roses UnderneathThe Roses Underneath
C.F. Yetmen
Ypsilon & Co. Press, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-615-86836-3
Trade Paperback

Having never known the horrors, it is impossible to imagine the seemingly insurmountable challenge of rebuilding life in war-ravaged Germany. That is, unless you’ve read The Roses Underneath. History books took a multi-layered, complicated, convoluted, deplorable conflict and turned it into a black and white “Germans are bad, Americans save them from themselves” issue. Ms. Yetmen sets the story straight in a remarkable account of one courageous woman who is forced to change her entire outlook from her single belief of living only to survive, to believing in something bigger; with a determination so strong that she would be willing to die for that cause.

This engrossing debut novel features Anna, a determined mother, begrudgingly separated from her husband to protect their young daughter. With only an elderly, ill family friend as support; Anna is forced to take a job with the Americans to provide scraps of food and maintain the tiny, cramped quarters the three females share. Her enlightening journey illustrates the divisions among Germans; for not everyone hailed Hitler.

People like her husband embraced the notion of Communism and thus became enemies of not only the Nazis, but also the Americans. The SchutzStaffel (SS), an elite force within the Nazi party that restricted membership to only “pure Aryan Germans” were perhaps the most dangerous and volatile among Hitler’s supporters. Anna and the quiet majority would shun these notions if only their lives, and more importantly, the lives of their families did not hinge on it. At the end of the war, families have been ripped apart and relocated and Reds, Nazi supporters and those vehemently opposed to the ludicrous ideals, are commingled. An attempt to establish trust with new people is futile; yet there are simply no other options.

While the dynamics among the people alone would make for a compelling story, Ms. Yetmen gives us so much more by highlighting the intrigue surrounding the overwhelming burden of returning amazing works of art, previously stolen by the Nazis, to rightful owners. Anna timidly becomes involved simply due to her knowledge and admiration of fine art, but is quickly immersed in the bitter battle among the Nazis desperately clinging to their pilfered spoils, the Americans that wish to return the art to proper owners and the few opportunists (Germans and Americans) that wish to procure a piece for individual gain.

Alone, but no longer frightened, Anna is determined to sort out the bad folks from the good; even as the mystery delves deeper and darker than just stolen art. Ms. Yetmen amazes in her ability to tell this heart-wrenching, yet inspiring story in a way that is immensely rewarding and satisfying to the reader. By injecting tiny bits of humour, hints of romance and reminders of the strength, courage and resolve we each are capable of, Ms. Yetmen delivers a tale that has absolutely everything this reader wants from a novel. Thank-you to my Goodreads friend, Susan, for this recommendation!

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.

A Little About Murder at the Book Group’s Book Group

Maggie King 2Maggie King’s debut mystery, Murder at the Book Group, comes out December 30, 2014 from Simon and Schuster. She contributed the short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” to the Sisters in Crime anthology Virginia is for Mysteries. Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor.


Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive.

http://maggieking.com/

The Murder on Tour book group is the travel-themed group featured in Murder at the Book Group, my debut mystery. The members each read a different mystery based on a geographical setting, and gather to “booktalk” their selections—a fancy way of saying they give oral book reports, reminiscent of grade school.

In chapter one the group gathers to “travel” the state of Florida. Soon-to-be victim Carlene Arness is pitching a fit about the poor writing that pervades Murder in the Keys by an Annette with a last name containing a string of consonants. Out of respect for my fellow authors, I made up this title and kept the author name vague. I hope and pray that an Annette with a consonant-laden last name doesn’t up and publish such a title.

The other selections are shared without drama or author maligning. Among them are The Paperboy by Pete Dexter, the dark story of a Florida newspaper family during the late sixties; Raymond Chandler’s classic Key Largo; and A Deep Blue Good-By, the first in John MacDonald’s color-coded series.

By the evening’s end, the very survival of Murder on Tour hangs in the balance.

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My editor suggested that I end Murder at the Book Group with Book Group Picks, similar to staff picks in a bookstore. The following is an excerpt:

IN HAPPIER DAYS, THE Murder on Tour book group enjoyed a holiday tea at the Jefferson Hotel in historic Richmond and compiled a list of our favorite mystery titles. The results pretty much match up with the member.

Annabel favors J. A. Jance, whose hard-hitting police procedurals are so like the ones she herself pens; Art is in heaven with Civil War–era tales, and Chickahominy Fever’s setting is our own
Richmond, Virginia; Carlene is the original Christie-phile and devours everything turned out by the renowned “Queen of Crime.” I’ve never been to the Lone Star State where Susan Wittig Albert places the China Bayles herbal mysteries, but I enjoyed the authentic Texas barbecue that Kat, sporting a leopard cowgirl hat and boots, hosted. Annabel accessorized her power suit with stunning silver boots.

Murder at the Book GroupDetectives with a religious worldview appealed to Helen, so she selected a Father Dowling tale. Kat enjoyed seeing a good-looking man on the cover of her book and Robert Crais is, in her words, a handsome devil. Katherine Hall Page provides readers with recipes in her culinary-themed New England series featuring caterer Faith Fairchild. When we toured the region, Lucy treated us to the same muffins and cookies that Faith bakes. Sarah finds John Dunning’s Denver-based tales combining book lore and suspense riveting, and erudite British tales such as the ones by the late Sarah Caudwell draw Trudy like a magnet.

Annabel: Birds of Prey, J. A. Jance
Art: Chickahominy Fever, Ann McMillan
Carlene: The Mirror Crack’d, Agatha Christie
Hazel: A Dilly of Death, Susan Wittig Albert
Helen: Triple Pursuit, Ralph M. McInerny
Kat: L.A. Requiem, Robert Crais
Lucy: The Body in the Moonlight, Katherine Hall Page
Sarah: The Sign of the Book, John Dunning
Trudy: The Sirens Sang of Murder, Sarah Caudwell

Book Reviews: Murder in Retribution by Anne Cleeland and The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

Murder in retributionMurder in Retribution
A New Scotland Yard Mystery
Anne Cleeland
Kensington Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-7582-8797-7
Hardcover

The theme of the story centers on the unexpected marriage of Doyle and Acton, the Scotland Yard chief inspector, previously the most eligible bachelor in the police force, and the resentment it causes with co-workers, Acton’s family and close friends. Acton is obsessed with Doyle’s safety following a suspicious illness. As they investigate several murders suspected of being drug lord and Russian gang related, further attempts are made on Doyle’s life. A subplot to the investigation of the murders is trying to determine who and why someone would want Doyle dead.

Acton arrests an infamous criminal suspected of murder, not with any proof of the murder, but on an illegal weapons charge as it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon in England. Doyle begins to wonder if her husband might be involved in some of the unscrupulous activities going on behind the scenes.

Acton becomes a character who does wrong for the right reasons. Interestingly, along with his wife, we are able to forgive him and be content that his actions remain undiscovered. Isn’t there a bit of Robin Hood in each of us? We secretly want to see justice done when the bad guy can’t be convicted and cheer when the doer dispatches him and rides away in the night, unseen.

I enjoyed comparing our current TV detective shows, (Castle, Bones, Sherlock Holmes) with the inner workings of the Scotland Yard department. Occasionally, certain words, the titles of the detectives and initials of law enforcement departments, CID, SOCO, DCS, probably familiar to the English reader, were confusing, but it was a small thing and didn’t detract from the story. Other specific English terms and vocabulary words lent an English flavor to the story.

All in all, I found this a very good book with compelling plot, charming characters, and the interesting setting of English towns and countryside. I would recommend the story to a reader who enjoys a police detective story.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, June 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.

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The Blood PromiseThe Blood Promise
A Hugo Marston Novel #3
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, January 2014
ISBN 978-1-61614-815-7
Trade Paperback

I had a mixed response to The Blood Promise. There were many things I liked about this book. First, it is the third in a series but I didn’t feel that I missed anything by not reading the other two as well. Second, there were several moments of heart-felt emotion, especially surrounding a specific death. And finally, there were interesting ties from past to present.

Unfortunately the issues I had against the book outweighed the things I enjoyed. I love to read, especially mysteries, but this one challenged me. When writing a book, an author often chooses between detail and pacing. For me, this author made the wrong choice on several occasions. In the first chapter alone there is excruciating detail for a scene with a character that we never see again. At first the details are interesting, but rather than use it to set the stage, more and more detail is layered on until I had to force myself not to skip ahead to get to what was important.

Pacing is an issue that went well beyond the first chapter for me. In fact I struggled through the first half if not 2/3rds of the book until I truly became caught up in the story and read to the end.

Another issue I had was language choices. While most of it was perfect, I found myself stumbling over the odd use of slang in an otherwise professional or formal discussion. This happened with various characters in different settings and I found it off-putting.

Then there were the coincidences (slashed tires) and odd leaps of faith or intuition that kept the story moving from one plot point to another. And finally, after reading to the end, I returned to an early chapter to reread it. I felt that the author had not played fair with his audience in the use of language early on and ultimately found the “why” to be somewhat believable but not something I truly accepted as reasonable.

Then there was a death which served no purpose that I can see as no evidence was found that lead to the killer and no one was concerned that in all likelihood the main character was the actual target. There was no whys, no extra precautions taken, no acknowledgement that if the killer tried once, he or she would try again, which they never did.

All in all this was a struggle for me to finish and while the pacing picked up, the payout wasn’t worth it.

Reviewed by Erin Farwell, February 2014.
Author of Shadowlands.

Book Review: The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly

 

The Wrath of AngelsThe Wrath of Angels
A Charlie Parker Thriller
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, January 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-0302-2
Hardcover

Private investigator Charlie Parker works a bit off the trodden path. Instead of run-of-the-mill bad guys, Charlie chases fallen angels, agents of the devil whose aim is to cause pain and suffering not only here on earth, but in the afterlife as well. Some of the more accomplished fallen angels are even impossible to kill–permanently–although they can be stymied, which Charlie has done more than once. A being named Brightwell, for instance, who has come back to life as a small child after Charlie once killed him. Then there are characters who may be something in-between good and evil, like the Collector, who kills fallen angels, but also the innocent.

This story revolves around a mysterious downed plane hidden deep in the Maine forests. A plane that no one has reported missing. Even close proximity to the wreckage gives chills to anyone who stumbles upon it, and when a couple hunters confiscate a great deal of money they find inside it, they–and their heirs–will be pursued by evil-doers bound on retribution.

Even Charlie, may not be as free of moral wrong as he thinks, or as he wishes.

A great cast of characters people this book. The good, the bad, and the ugly. What’s more, the story will probably scare your pants off. The title may say this is a Charlie Parker thriller, but I believe the genre is more horror than straight forward thrilling.

The plot is engrossing. The setting is excellent. You’ll find the Maine forest looming over you and closing in, adding to the tension. And there is a ton of tension throughout this book. You’re even apt to get so caught up with the characters you neglect to put the book down at bedtime. Well, it may be because you’re afraid to close your eyes, due to this entirely compelling novel.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Reviews: Treasure Hunt by Andrea Camilleri and Breaking Point by C. J. Box

Treasure HuntTreasure Hunt
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery #16
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Viking, October 2013
ISBN: 978-0-143-12262-3
Trade Paperback

This is the 16th Sicilian mystery featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano. In the early going in the novel, the Inspector finds himself bored, with nary a crime worthy of his talents, much less a murder; the author calls him a “police inspector with a brilliant past, no matter dull his present.” But it becomes somewhat less boring as the book opens – – an elderly brother and sister, religious fanatics both, open fire on the main square of the village, determined to punish the people of Vigata for their sins. When Montalbano is caught on camera scaling the building, gun in hand, to put an end to the scene, he is hailed as a hero. His own reaction, after searching the apartment, is one of shock, when he discovers rooms filled with crucifixes and shrines and an apparently aged inflatable sex doll. To say that this opening scene has unexpected repercussions later in the novel is an understatement.

Montalbano, now fifty-seven, is a man who is always aware of when he ate his last meal and savors each one; who occasionally has his inner selves arguing, like an angel and a devil perched on each shoulder, and takes to cursing the saints when frustrated. And is an absolutely terrific protagonist. He has two more or less regular women in his life, Ingrid, a former race-car mechanic, described as his “Swedish friend, confidante, and sometimes accomplice,” and Livia, with whom he has a long-distance romance: She lives in Genoa.

Boredom soon is replaced with the worst kind of crime to be solved: The apparent kidnapping of a beautiful 18-year-old girl, with no clues as to the identity of the kidnapper. Montalbano finds himself up against “a criminal mind the likes of which he had never encountered before.”

Not long after the opening scenes, he becomes the recipient of envelopes marked to his personal attention, each containing crudely constructed poems, riddles setting him on the eponymous hunt, soon devolving into a duel between two very sharp minds. Until with the third and fourth missives the seemingly innocuous game becomes suddenly threatening or, as the Inspector puts it, takes a “curious turn.”

The plot is fascinating, the tale told, despite the darkness of the plot, with great good humor and fascinating characters, e.g., the Inspector’s switchboard operator, Catarella, from whose mouth come words like “nickpick” (picnic), and “Beckin’ yer partin” (for ‘begging your pardon,” but you figured that out already). This was a very entertaining novel, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2014.

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Breaking PointBreaking Point
A Joe Pickett Novel #13
C.J. Box
Berkley, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26460-7
Mass Market Paperback

One thing you can always count on in a Joe Pickett novel: The environment and topography of Wyoming plays a vital part in the plot. This book is no exception. Breaking Point starts with an actual true story as its foundation: the Sackett Case, by which the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 ruling, declared that the EPA had overstepped in its dealings with the Idaho family.

Similarly, the regional director of the EPA in Denver, began an action against Butch and Pam Roberson, acquaintances of Joe and Marybeth Pickett, setting off a maelstrom in its wake, including four deaths, a forest fire of monumental proportions, and a variety of other results. When two agents serving a compliance order arrived at a plot on which Butch was starting to build a retirement home, they were shot and buried on the property, and Butch fled into the mountains. A massive effort led by the regional director to capture Butch was begun, with Joe forced to guide a posse of agents in his wake.

This reader could envision a much different conclusion than the one the author chose, but up until that point, I found the novel powerful, especially the forest fire scenes and Joe’s efforts to return from the mountain. It is a riveting description of the wilderness, and Joe’s return apparently sets the stage for his future efforts. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2014.