Book Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.


Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.


Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.


The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.


Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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