Book Reviews: Fatal Error by J. A. Jance, Death Toll by Jim Kelly, Rag and Bone by James R. Benn, and Rogue by Frederick Ramsay

Fatal Error
J.A. Jance
Touchstone, February 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-6381-5
Hardcover

The Ali Reynolds series usually has the protagonist solving some kind of mystery, and this one is no exception.  However, the reader has to put up with a slow beginning, describing Ali’s experiences during her training at the Police Academy.  When she completes the course, she is furloughed for budgetary reasons, so does not become a cop.  Instead, it gives her time to help solve a kidnapping and murders.  So who needs a badge?

It all starts when her friend Brenda Riley, who, like Ali, was a TV anchorwoman also let go by her station, asks for help in obtaining information about a man to whom she is “engaged,” although they have never met except in cyberspace.  Ali enlists the aid of her boyfriend’s business associate, who gets damning information on the person, setting off a chain of events that gets Brenda kidnapped [not a spoiler] and Ali involved in assisting a homicide detective in solving a murder.

From the slow start, the pace of the plot picks up to a very exciting finish.  There really is never any doubt on where the story is headed, but the writing is so good one just keeps gobbling it up.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

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Death Toll
Jim Kelly
Minotaur Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-57352-2
Hardcover

A protagonist like DI Peter Shaw gives the author license to throw more curve balls at the reader than a major league pitcher.  Shaw, a super-cerebral, over-intuitive detective who develops more and more theories as a case develops and he encounters more facts, certainly proves the point in this novel, which has two plot lines, both based in the distant past.

As a result of severe river flooding, graves along the bank in a cemetery are being exposed.  When one is opened, a skeleton is found atop the casket which contains the remains of the landlady of a local pub.  This sets off an investigation leading Shaw to discover a number of family secrets, with dire consequences to all concerned.  The inquiries move back and forth, uncovering events from a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Shaw, and his partner, DS Valentine, continue to try to prove one Bob Mosse a murderer.  It was Shaw’s father who arrested Mosse years before, only to see the charges thrown out of court because the judge declared a crucial peace of evidence had been contaminated by mishandling.  Consequently Shaw pere took early retirement under a cloud, and his partner, Valentine, was demoted and sent into limbo.

The story moves forward on both plot lines, more or less simultaneously, with Shaw, Valentine and the rest of the team uncovering a clue here, a fact there, until finally it all comes logically together, even if the conclusion requires a bit of manipulation by the author.  Well done, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Rag and Bone
James R. Benn
Soho Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-996-4
Trade Paperback

Last year, the Russian Parliament acknowledged that country’s responsibility for the slaughter of more than 20,000 Polish officers at the Katyn Forest early on during World War II over the protests of the Communist Party.  Katyn plays a prominent role in this novel, the fifth in the Billy Boyle World War II mysteries.  When a Soviet officer is found murdered on a London street, hands tied behind his back and shot in the back of the head as were those murdered at Katyn, Billy is sent ahead to London from Italy by his Uncle Ike to solve the murder just days before the General and his staff were to arrive to set up Supreme Headquarters for the invasion of France.

While the Poles in London, especially Billy’s friend Kaz, have proof of the Russian complicity in the massacre, it was not in the interests of the British or American governments to upset the delicate balance in the wartime alliance, which depended on the pressure of the eastern front to offset the German defenses of the west.  Now a First Lieutenant, Billy has to tread a fine line between all elements to find the killer and seek justice, while saving his friend, who is Scotland Yard’s number one suspect.

As usual, the author uses and depicts history to set the stage for an intriguing murder mystery, with cameo performances by Uncle Dwight D. Eisenhower, FDR and Winston Churchill, among others, carrying forth the series from North Africa to Sicily and Italy to blitzed Britain, just before the Normandy invasion.  Written with a blend of fact and fiction, the novel is a first-class crime novel, transcending the vivid scenes of Luftwaffe bombings, war-time shortages and deprivations, and is recommended.  [The author’s next book in the series, A Mortal Terror, was released in mid-September.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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Rogue
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-902-1
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

A welcome addition to this enjoyable series, this sixth Sheriff Ike Schwartz novel starts out in a frightful manner.  Ruth Harris, Ike’s fiancée, is critically injured in a car collision in Washington, D.C. She’s in a hospital with multiple injuries and in a coma.  The local police dismiss the accident as an ordinary mishap, but Ike investigates the scene and determines that it was a deliberate act of violence, and undertakes to find the culprit.

Unfortunately, the local police are of no help, and Ike is facing a reelection contest in a week.  The mayor forbids him to use his office or staff in his efforts, so he takes vacation time.  Aided by his buddy, Charlie Garland, the mysterious CIA agent, and covertly by friends and staff members, he follows his instincts, first looking at State’s Rights group zealots (Ruth was chairing a Federal government committee reviewing textbook standards), and then dissident academics. Three murders take place in Picketsville, complicating the efforts.

The novel measures up to the standards of its predecessors: a well-written mystery with a well-drawn cast of characters.  Who can ask for anything more?  So it is a relatively simple task to recommend it, as with its forerunners.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.