Book Review: Twilight of the Drifter by Shelly Frome—and Happy Catowe'en!

Twilight of the Drifter
Shelly Frome
Sunbury Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1-934597-86-6
Trade Paperback

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Josh Devlin, failed journalist, mouth harp playing bluesman, and sometime truck driver, is a wanderer in a homeless shelter when he comes upon a teenage runaway named Alice, hurt and hiding in an abandoned boxcar. Quixotically, he takes her under his wing (whether she likes it or not, which she doesn’t) and sees she gets medical attention and a place to stay. This means taking her home with him–home being the back room of his uncle’s cafe. But she isn’t telling him what she’s running from and so a mystery begins that brings him to the attention of a backwoodsman with strange and dangerous politics.

For some reason I felt that because of the characters this book should’ve been set in the past. They just have that feel to me. But it’s not, being very much the present. I found character motivations sometimes hard to understand, but perhaps they’re just like most people in real life, muddling along doing the best they can. The story includes lots of musical scenes and references to enjoy.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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You, Too, Can Be A Casting Director—and a Giveaway!

Rosemary Harris was born in Brooklyn, New York, and now lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut.  After several careers in book retailing, direct marketing, and television, she traded in her pumps for a pair of plastic garden clogs to indulge in her favorite pastime.

During her brief retirement, a small item in the New York Times about a mummified body piqued her interest. Subsequent research led to a new passion and her first book, the Anthony and Agatha-nominated Pushing Up Daisies. Other books in the series include The Big Dirt Nap , which takes place in a Connecticut casino, Dead Head, the story of a nice suburban lady who just happens to be a fugitive, and Slugfest , set at a legendary flower show where more than just the plants are dying.

Rosemary is past president of MWA/NY and  SINC New England. With the help of many generous friends in the publishing industry, she and her husband have built a library in central Tanzania. Please visit her at www.rosemaryharris.com and Like her on facebook at  http://www.facebook.com/RosemaryHarriswriter .

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You’ll have a chance to win a copy of Slugfest at the end of this post.


Early reports say that Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher is – gasp – good! Very good. Now maybe the endless re-hashing of who should have portrayed Lee Child’s hero will cease (Liam Neeson was a recent favorite at a Bouchercon panel, but my personal casting choice was Viggo Mortensen. To each his own.)

It’s always hard to see the physical embodiment of a favorite character, particularly if you disagree with a filmmaker’s choice. At a library talk I gave about a year ago in New Haven, Connecticut, I asked the attendees who they thought should play one of the recurring characters in my Dirty Business mystery series. The character is Babe Chinnery, a former rock and roller who owns the diner where my amateur sleuth hangs out. I was stunned. The responses ranged from Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon (predictable) to Pam Grier and Queen Latifah (less predictable.) It should be noted that I never mention the character’s race, so hey, I guess she could be anything at this point.

Maybe one day when they remake the Reacher film people will say “how can anyone other than Tom Cruise be Reacher??” The same way I still have trouble accepting anyone other than Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. And Ian Carmichael as Peter Wimsey.

But let’s pretend we’re casting directors for these classic mysteries (which I hope they NEVER remake, but inevitably someone will. They’ve already messed with Mildred Pierce.)

Who would you cast in –

Double Indemnity – Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray.)

The Postman Always Rings Twice – Cora Papadakis (Lana Turner/Jessica Lange) and Frank Chambers ( John Garfield/Jack Nicholson)

Body Heat – Maddie Walker (Kathleen Turner) and Ned Racine (William Hurt)

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The most inspired casting choices will win a copy of

Rosemary’s latest mystery, Slugfest. Rosemary will draw

the winning name Tuesday evening and it will be announced

on Wednesday, October 31st. If Frankenstorm aka Sandy

interferes with our best-laid plans, the drawing and/or

announcement will take place as soon as possible thereafter.

Murder Most Otherworldly

Ally Shields lives and writes in the Midwest, not far from the Mighty Mississippi River, the setting for Awakening the Fire, the first book in her Guardian Witch series. Having grown up in river towns, Ally tries to put the flavor and charm of the region into her stories.

When not writing and reading, Ally loves to travel or spend time with her Miniature Pinscher, Ranger. You can follow the author through her website or blog at http://allyshields.com and purchase her book online in several digital formats. A print version will be available soon.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/Nr8jko

B&N: http://bit.ly/RPrJ45

All Romance Ebooks: http://bit.ly/U25Q0G

I might as well confess right up front. I never intended to write a supernatural mystery, urban fantasy or paranormal whatever. The story I had in mind was to be a mystery with cops and criminals and maybe a courtroom scene or two. But along about day two my heroine suddenly announced she was a witch. I blinked at the computer screen several times, trying to make sense of that. What was a witch doing in my traditional mystery?

Worse was yet to come. She brought all her friends—and enemies. Vampires, werewolves, elves, woodnymphs, even a demon or two. That’s when I realized I had a lot of work ahead before I could begin writing. I had to learn how my normal world would interact with the supernatural creatures—the Otherworlders. And what exactly could these beings do?

It wasn’t easy to figure it out: online and library research, re-reading some of my favorite books in the fantasy and horror genres, and hours of thinking and scribbling. I built my world, page by page, including settings, character abilities, and pondered over how the humans would react to all the magic. Making things up was fun.

Being a mystery lover, one of the best parts was imagining all the ways and means to commit murder in this new world. There were so many intriguing possibilities with supernatural strength, extraordinary speed, claws, fangs and witchcraft, including the dark arts. So I had to give my cop her own arsenal: the ability to shoot fire from her fingertips and a collection of protection charms and spells. In spite of her magic abilities, I decided Ari would usually rely on her wits, her martial arts training, and two ordinary weapons: a derringer loaded with silver bullets, and a fighting knife, similar to a stilleto.

After all this world building, surely I was finally ready to start writing the story.

Not quite yet. Arianna Calin might be a witch, a supernatural being, but she was still a cop. She had to act like a cop, not a vigilante, and certainly not like one of the monsters. Sometimes her job would require her to work with the human police and with human laws. So, I had to make the magic somehow blend and balance with a legal system not based on magic.

While I like to think of myself as a recovering attorney, that I’ve left the law behind and am free to let my imagination run, I know that even in fiction the good guys can’t always break the rules and still be the good guys.

So I worked out a compromise between my human cop Lt. Ryan Foster and my Otherworld cop Ari. What happens in the Otherworld community stays in the Otherworld community, unless it involves humans. Human victims or suspects force them to play by the human rules, worrying about legal niceties like search warrants and chain of evidence. This was a tough concept for Ari to accept, it was even harder for her vampire consultant Andreas De Luca. While I haven’t completely got them on board, most of the time they stay on the right side of the law.

And when they step over the lines . . . it’s because something really, really evil made them do it. AS


Book Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

It's Kind of a Funny StoryIt’s Kind of a Funny Story
Ned Vizzini
Disney-Hyperion, 2007
ISBN 9780786851973
Trade Paperback

In It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the reader spends a period of time in a 15-year-old boy’s life.

I found Craig to be a bit of an atypical teen-aged boy, in that he seemed very self-aware and in tune with his emotional and mental states. He has been cognizant of “something” off for most of his life. The “something” spirals out of control after Craig has pushed himself beyond limits to pass a test for entry into an exclusive high school.

It seemed that his knee-jerk reaction was to go to his parents in search of professional help. While I loved that the author showed that a chemical imbalance resulting in depression can most certainly be affected by stress (the two are not mutually exclusive, nor are they “two completely different things” as commonly believed); I felt that Craig’s realization and handling of the situation was unrealistic. I would not expect someone at that age to realize that he needs professional help, go to his parents, and work with multiple doctors to learn to manage the imbalance.

Overall, I liked this book. It was a quick read, and it gave me hope. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe teenagers are more self-aware than I thought.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2012.

Book Review: Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices edited by Terrie Farley Moran

Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices
Edited by Terrie Farley Moran
L&L Dreamspell, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60318-423-6
Trade Paperback

What’s better than pizza? How about murder. And nobody does murder better than New Yorkers. In this anthology, 22 authors who live in and around New York present short tales of crime. Stroll down littered streets, converse with inhabitants from all walks of life. Take a few trips into the heart of the city, pick up and examine some unique slices of life…or rather death.

In “Tear Down,” an elderly woman fears retribution will come if her old house is demolished and secrets are revealed. A mother in “The Doorman Building, a Greenwich Village apartment, receives visits from two of her son’s college friends and one of them is murdered. A Russian stripper is recruited by the U.S. government to take down some bad guys in “The Brighton Beach Mermaid.” A rookie tracks down a killer in Catherine Maorsi’s “Justice for All.” “Only People Kill People” has an interesting main character…a gun. A gambling man discovers just how “Out of Luck” he is when he thinks good fortune is headed his way.

There are many other tales of murder and misdeeds in this book. From the ferry to the Village and from Queens to Alphabet City. I liked the classical and timeless stories, plus a few fresh and unique tales. The stories range from present day settings to life from decades ago. Most are quick bites but each is delicious. Sometimes I run into anthologies where I’d rather skip a few stories. Not this one. This one gives a heaping portion of New York and when I finished, I didn’t feel gorged, just pleasantly satisfied.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Review: Origin by J.T. Brannan

Origin
J.T. Brannan
Headline Publishing Group, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-7553-9684-9
Trade Paperback

{Note: this is not available from a US publisher at the present time.}

From the publisher—

The secret of humanity’s origin has lain buried for millennia. And now it threatens to destroy us all.

Scientist Evelyn Edwards and her team are researching ice caps in the Antarctic when they discover a body that must have been buried 40,000 years ago. But it looks like nothing they’ve ever seen before, it’s not a primal man but something else. While transporting the body back to America the entire team are killed but Evelyn manages to escape.

On the run and alone she turns to her ex-husband Matt  Adams, a former member of an elite government unit, and together they find themselves caught up in a race against time that takes them from Area 51 to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva where they uncover the biggest conspiracy of all time.

As the saying goes, “Whoa, doggies!” If you’re looking for a nice, gentle read that leaves you with a feeling of comfort and peace, Origin by J.T. Brannan is not the book you want. If, on the other hand, you have a yen for a thriller that leaves you pretty nearly breathless on every page, then grab this and go curl up in a comfy chair.

There are thrillers and then there are thrillers. This is the kind that takes you on a wild action adventure ride of improbabilities and I loved every minute of it (well, maybe not so much the scene with the teeth). Lynn Edwards and Matt Adams, two characters I have to say have been added to my list of favorites, are perfectly suited to each other and kudos to the author for making them true equals in intelligence and abilities even though their strengths are different. They complement each other .

They also have luck, a lot of it, and it’s both kinds. Just when you think the bad guys are going to get the best of them, they manage to pull the fat out of the fire but the truth is the bad guys are insanely capable of winning the day. Conspiracy, mad scientists, corrupt government and incredible chase scenes abound but how can you have a good thriller without them? Throw in a bit of science fiction and international intrigue and a dash of pre-history and you’ve got a wild few hours of pure entertainment ahead of you.

And, my goodness, what a heck of a twist at the end.

I quite simply love this book. There’s no question you have to suspend your disbelief but, hey, that’s what a great action adventure thriller is all about, isn’t it? I do have one grumble—I would really like to see Lynn and Adam again but Mr. Brannan says he doesn’t intend to have a sequel, at least, not anytime in the near future. Oh well, I’ll just have to look forward to his next book even if they won’t be there. I think the wait will be well worth it.

One last note—if you’re one of those readers who just has to peek at the end to see what’s going to happen, DON’T DO IT! I promise you’ll regret it because the last few pages will ruin the book for you. I’m not kidding.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2012.

Book Reviews: Nemesis by Jo Nesbo, Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins, The Litigators by John Grisham, Defending Jacob by William Landay, and The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

Nemesis
Jo Nesbo
Harper, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211969-8
Mass Market Paperback

There have now been several Harry Hole novels, but this was only the second to be published in the United States (the first was The Redbreast). Both demonstrate the author’s uncanny ability to continually lead the reader astray with one red herring after another before disclosing, in a final twist, a most unexpected dénouement.

In the present novel, these principles apply to two separate story lines.   One involves a bank robbery in which a woman is shot in the head. The other finds a woman with whom Harry had a short affair shot in her bed the day after Harry had dinner at her home (but he can’t remember a thing about the evening).  In fact, there are clues implicating him in the deed and in fact, the cover asks the question: “How do you catch a killer when you’re the number one suspect?”

The translation by Don Bartlett from the Norwegian flows smoothly. The novel was a number one best-seller in Norway, spending 39 weeks on the best seller list.  Past novels from this author saw Bangkok and Australia as settings, and the next to Hong Kong – Harry certainly gets around!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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Quarry’s Ex
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-08-5768286-4
Trade Paperback

Max Allan Collins writes noir crime novels which read very much like Mickey Spillane, with whom he was a close friend and collaborator [and completed some started by the late author].  This novel is no exception, and is full of sex, violence and hard-boiled prose.  It is a prequel to a long-running series about a hit man who has turned the tables on other assassins by developing a new business: collecting his fees from intended victims by eliminating killers and those who hired them.

This novel takes us back in time, providing the back story for the Quarry series, when he was a young marine, met Joni and married her, returned from Vietnam to find her in bed with another man (who he murders) and then going off the deep end.  After a while, he is contacted by the “broker,” and becomes a paid assassin, until he kills his “employer” in a double-cross and stealing his files which identify other murderers.  With this information, Quarry turns the tables, targeting them for elimination and saving the intended victims.

This brings us to the present story during which, purely by accident, Quarry finds his ex-wife married to a movie director, the latter the target of a pair of killers Quarry knows from the files.  The ex is really incidental to the story, which revolves around Quarry’s efforts to save the director’s life and identifying who retained the killers. It is fast and furious, with colorful characters, entertaining with panache, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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The Litigators
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53513-7
Hardcover

Early in his career, John Grisham wrote novels that whacked a home run every time.  But even Babe Ruth couldn’t do that every time.  This book is workman-like, perhaps a double.  But then, if you can do even this often enough, you’re an All Star.  And John Grisham certainly is that.

The story is extremely contrived, with sort of caricatures for characters.  It might have been more fun if they were less predictable and more cartoonish, if that’s possible. Attorney David Zinc belongs more in a soap opera than a legal novel.  His two partners, Finley & Figg, are even more unbelievable, other characters even more wooden.

But all this criticism doesn’t negate the fact that Grisham can still write an entertaining novel, albeit somewhat stilted and predictable. About the only interesting character in the book is a 90-year-old Federal judge, presiding over a comical case.  So, despite all this negativism, the novel is recommended with caveats.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2012.

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Defending Jacob
William Landay
Delacorte Press, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-385-34422-7
Hardcover

Is this novel a courtroom drama, a psychological study of a family, an introspective study of a man, or is it about truth and justice?  Or all of the above?  It’s hard to tell in this rambling book which attempts to keep the reader in suspense and leaves much to the imagination.

Andy Barber, the First Assistant DA in Newton, MA, is the man who faces the questions posed by the story and really doesn’t come to grips with the essential problems raised.  His 14-year-old son is accused of murdering a fellow student and goes to trial for Murder One.  Did he or didn’t he? Andy, who initially ran the original investigation, does not believe his son is capable of doing the deed. The effect of the pressures of the trial on Andy and his wife are weakly described.  The courtroom drama is, to some extent, extremely well done, but, for the most part, drawn out to a great degree.  And the snideness of the comments about Andy’s replacement when he’s taken off the case and during the trial are too often petty.

On the whole, the novel is an interesting presentation, but could have been edited severely, especially the front end which drags on slowly until the book picks up steam toward the middle.  It is no spoiler to note that there is more than one surprise waiting for the reader at the end, some attention-grabbing, others a little far-fetched.  That said, it is an off-beat novel that is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2012.

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The Lost Years
Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster, April 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6886-5
Hardcover

A good idea wrapped in a lot of superfluous schmaltz sums up this latest effort by Mary Higgins Clark.  The plot involves the discovery by a Biblical scholar, Dr. Jonathan Lyons, of the only letter supposedly ever written by Jesus, and Lyons’ subsequent murder, presumably as a result. The mystery, of course, is which of his various friends and co-workers wants the manuscript to sell on the black market instead of it being returned to the Vatican library from which it was removed in the 1400’s.

Instead of a straight police procedural, the story becomes bogged down in several side issues:  Dr. Lyons’ daughter’s guilt over her alienation from her father over the issue of his mistress and her own “love life;” a couple of characters, Alvirah and Willy, who outwit the police and the perpetrator; and Lyons’ wife’s dementia, among other things.

The author can still write smoothly, but the novel smacks of a manufactured outline, rather than a carefully developed plot, with each step carefully constructed to fit.  It is unfortunate because the idea for the story is excellent, and if the characters were more deeply drawn, and the irrelevancies omitted, the novel could have been more intriguing.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2012.