Book Review: Poison Flower by Thomas Perry, Champagne for Buzzards by Phyllis Smallman, Under the Dog Star by Sandra Parshall, The Good, the Bad and the Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, and Baronne Street by Kent Westmoreland

Poison FlowerPoison Flower
Thomas Perry
Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic, March 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2605-4
Hardcover

Thomas Perry has brought back his wonderful protagonist, Jane Whitefield, in his 19th novel, and the seventh featuring the part-Seneca woman whose credo has always been that “to save innocent people from the enemies who wanted them dead, there would be times when she must fight.” When her plans to free James Shelby from jail go immediately awry, she is forced, as perhaps never before, to make her own life and safety as much a priority as that of her client.

Shelby, described as “a man in his late twenties with light hair and a reasonably handsome face,” is still recovering from a stabbing two months prior while wrongfully imprisoned.  His sister had come to Jane at her home in Deganawida, New York, to enlist her help after he had been convicted of killing his wife, of which crime he is innocent, and given a life sentence.

For the uninitiated, “over the years she had taken dozens and dozens of them away.  Shelby was only the most recent.  They had almost all come to her in the last days of wasted, ruined lives, sometimes just hours before their troubles would have changed from dangerous to fatal.  She would obliterate the person’s old identity and turn him into a runner, a fugitive she would guide to a place far away, where nobody knew him, and certainly nobody would ever think of killing him. She would give him a new identity and teach him to be that new person for the rest of his life.”

The author once again has crafted a terrifically entertaining, meticulously plotted and suspenseful novel, one I couldn’t put down until the final page.  It is, obviously, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Champagne for BuzzardsChampagne for Buzzards
Phyllis Smallman
McArthur & Company, September 2011
ISN 978-1-55278-912-4
Trade Paperback

In the fourth of Phyllis Smallman’s Sherri Travis mysteries, the protagonist, who co-owns a restaurant/bar with her lover, Clay Adams, is planning his surprise birthday party at his ranch, 300 acres of jungle in Riverwood, Florida, near that state’s west coast.  The title derives from the fact that champagne is high on her shopping list, the ‘buzzards’ part from those unexpected carrion birds who have discovered and feasted upon a body under the tarp covering the back of her pickup truck  [The truck had been her husband’s, murdered two years prior and the subject of an earlier book.]

Also living at the ranch are Sherri’s father, Tulsa (“Tully”] Jenkins, and “uncle” Ziggy [not related by blood but might as well be], both in their sixties but still as feisty as Sherri, which is saying something.  She describes herself and Clay as “cultured and refined met smart-mouthed trailer trash,” she being the latter [called by Clay his “little beach-bar Mona Lisa].”  Their differences include the fact that she is 31, and he about to turn 45.  With her best friend, dental hygienist Marley, the two women start out bringing the upcoming party to fruition, but end up trying to solve the murder of the man who had gotten the attention of the aforementioned buzzards, to their peril. [The women, that is, not the buzzards.]

What ensues is a terrific and fast-paced mystery, complete with psychotic neighbors with a secret that they would do anything to protect, and a missing employee from whom Clay had earlier bought the ranch.  I had been unfamiliar with the work of this author [who apparently divides her time between Salt Spring Island, British Columbia and Manasota Beach, Florida], but will certainly keep an eye out for future offerings.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable novel, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Under the Dog StarUnder the Dog Star
Sandra Parshall
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-878-9
Hardcover

This is the fourth entry in Sandra Parshall’s Agatha Award-winning series, which brings back Rachel Goddard, veterinarian in Mason County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where there has been a rash of mysterious disappearances of family pets from all over the area, posters of which cover the walls of Rachel’s animal hospital. At the same time, reports have been coming in of a pack of feral dogs attacking ranches and homes at night, stealing eggs and killing chickens, threatening the safety of the homeowners and the local farmers’ livestock, and causing somewhat of a panic among the citizenry.  Some of them are up in arms, literally, and want nothing more than to form hunting parties, rifles at the ready, to find and kill the animals.  Rachel has other plans:  She is setting up a sanctuary, where she can house the animals and try to get them to bond again with humans, rather than the other members of the pack.

The stakes suddenly escalate in fast and furious manner when a local man is viciously killed, and when it appears that an animal is to blame, those already planning to hunt them down become crazed.  But Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger, with whom Rachel has been living for the past month, sees the evidence as pointing to a human killer who uses a trained and vicious dog as his weapon.  The powerful novel details some very real horrors and ugliness in our society [a hint of which was provided in real life by football player Michael Vick].

The ensuing investigation and chase becomes more and more complex: The victim was not without enemies, outside of and perhaps within his own household, which includes several adopted children and not a small amount of animosity.  The author has created some beautifully drawn characters, who come vibrantly alive in the hands of a terrific storyteller.  The suspense mounts to very high levels as the tale draws to an end, much too soon.  I loved it, and it is highly recommended.  [It should perhaps be noted that the book is also available in trade paperback and as an e-book.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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The Good, The Bad and The MurderousThe Good, the Bad and the Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

In his seventh novel [six have featured p.i. Greg McKenzie], Chester Campbell has brought back for only the second time Sid Chance.  Chance is a former member of the Army Special Forces in Vietnam, and had been a National Parks ranger for nineteen years, as well as a small town police chief for ten.  He has now set up shop as a private investigator in Nashville, Tennessee, occasionally but ably assisted by his good friend, “Jaz” LeMieux.  At Jaz’ behest, and despite Sid’s skepticism, he agrees to look into the arrest of a young man accused of murder.  One of the major factors in how convinced the cops are of his guilt is the fact that he had served several years in prison after killing another young man when he was all of twelve years old in the aftermath of a drug deal.  The current murder, of which he protests his innocence, and as Sid and Jaz investigate it, appears to have connections to a Medicare fraud set-up.  As the investigation proceeds, Sid becomes more and more convinced that the boy is innocent, and that moreover his own personal integrity is at stake, and things heat up.  On a more personal level, Jaz herself has been accused of racial harassment of an employee of her company, which morphs into something much more serious as the tale unfolds, and she and Sid believe that they are both being set up.  The good, the bad and the murderous indeed.

Jaz is a fascinating character:  Now a successful businesswoman, she had served in the Air Force Security Police, and spent a few years as a professional boxer before becoming a patrolwoman with the Metro Nashville police force.  This is a well-written and strongly plotted novel, and is a welcome addition to the series.  I loved the regular poker group to which Jaz and Sid belong, which they call the Miss Demeanor and Five Felons Poker Club, among whose members are a former Criminal Court Judge and a retired reporter, as well as the tip of the hat from the author to Tim Hallinan and his Bangkok mystery novels, and to Lee Child and his Jack Reacher books.

A very enjoyable read, and one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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Baronne StreetBaronne Street
Kent Westmoreland
CreateSpace, September 2010
ISBN: 978-1-45370271-0
Trade Paperback

This first novel by Kent Westmoreland introduced Burleigh [“Burr”] Drummond, and takes the reader on a wild ride down Baronne Street, home to, in less than equal parts, sleaze, beautiful women, horny men, free-flowing liquor, old money, drugs, prostitutes and corruption of all kinds. Shocking, to find all that in N’Awleens, right?  A place where, among the tantalizing smells emanating from the wonderful restaurants, it takes “a little longer to identify the sickly sweet odor of unearned wealth.”

Now a private investigator for three years, twenty-eight-year-old Drummond is hired by a beautiful, moneyed woman to find out why her husband is suddenly behaving in a ‘peculiar’ manner, paying him very handsomely for the privilege.  The ensuing investigation turns up much more than either the client or Drummond bargained for, much of it very, very personal to the detective.

He is assisted in his endeavors, as usual, by Morgan Cross, 35 years old and ‘the coolest guy’ he’d ever known, reputed to be many things [among them mercenary, hit man, and spy], and indispensable to Drummond.  The latter has his own “special talent,” to wit, to “manipulate delicate situations discreetly and keep the consequences quiet.”  A tall order in this case, as it turns out.

This was a delightful read, with believable characters and terrific setting and dialogue, and one I highly recommend.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Burr Drummond and his New Orleans in the next book, one I certainly hope is in the pipeline.  [It should be noted that the book is available in paperback or as an e-book online or by ordering through your favorite bookstore.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.