Book Reviews: Skeleton Picnic by Michael Norman, Hand for a Hand by Frank Muir, and Wrong Hill to Die On by Donis Casey

Skeleton PicnicSkeleton Picnic
Michael Norman
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2012
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-551-1
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Roland (Rolly) Rogers is a retired Kanab High School teacher and an avid pot hunter.  He is anxiously waiting for his wife Abby to get home from work so the couple could begin their weekend searching for artifacts to add to their collection.  When Abby finally gets home the couple begin their last pot hunting adventure. The couple travel into Arizona and drive into a remote area that they discovered the previous fall.

When the couple fails to show up at church their daughter, Melissa, contacts Charlie Sutter, the Kane County Sheriff.  A missing persons report is taken when Melissa says her parents left on Friday and had planned to return on Saturday night.  Sheriff Sutter phones J. D. Books, a ranger with the Bureau of Land Management, and asks that he check out the Rogers residence since it is close to him.  Books is having coffee with Ned Hunsaker, a close friend and his landlord.

Books and Hunsaker go to the Rogers’ residence only to find that someone has broken in through the patio doors. When Books gets inside, he finds that the Rogers cat has been killed and is lying in a pool of blood.  The display case for the antiquities that Rogers has collected over the years is broken and the contents have been removed.

A search discovers the Rogers’ truck and trailer at an abandoned campsite near an excavated Anasazi ruin.  Footprints and other evidence indicate that the Rogers couple had visitors at their campsite.

Inquiries bring to light the fact that law enforcement authorities in the area have identified several unsolved missing person cases involving pot hunters who have gone missing.  Books along with Sheriff Sutter and his young deputy, Beth Tanner, begin the investigation and soon find that they are treading on dangerous ground.

Skeleton Picnic is an exciting mystery with strong characters that keep the story flowing.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, August 2012.

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Hand for a HandHand For A Hand
Frank Muir
Soho Press, Inc., November 2012
ISBN No. 978-1616951818
Hardcover

DCI Andy Gilchrist became a new favorite for me just a few pages into Hand For A Hand.  A dismembered hand is found on the golf course in St. Andrews, Scotland.  The hand grips a note addressed to Andy.  This first note is only the beginning of the terrors that Andy must face as the body parts and the notes with the strange messages continue to make their appearances.

Andy is divorced with two grown children, Jack and Maureen.  It is a puzzle as to why the murderer is targeting Andy with a personal note.  Andy realizes that the victim could be someone close to him.  He leaves an urgent message for his daughter Maureen requesting that she contact him immediately.  When he reaches his son, Jack, Andy learns that Jack had a disagreement with his girlfriend, Chloe, and doesn’t know where she is now.

To make matters even worse, Ronnie Watt is assigned to the case.  Because of an incident in the past involving Ronnie and Andy’s young daughter Maureen, Andy despises Ronnie, doesn’t trust him, and feels that Ronnie will be a detriment rather than an asset in the investigation.  Although Andy complains to his superior, he is told that Ronnie will remain on the case in spite of Andy’s feelings.

When what appears to be paint is found on the severed hand Andy’s fear increases.  Jack’s girlfriend Chloe is an artist.  When the next body part is found along with a message for Andy, Andy becomes convinced that the victim must be Chloe.

With the assistance of DS Nancy Wilson, Andy works to decipher the meaning of the notes addressed to him but before he can come up with the answer his daughter Maureen disappears.  So begins a race to find Maureen before the killer can deliver the final blow to Andy and his loved ones.

Any reader who enjoys Police Procedurals will instantly become a fan of T. Frank Muir.  I am looking forward to the next book in this series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, November 2012.

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Wrong Hill to Die OnWrong Hill To Die On
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, November 2012
ISBN No. 978-1464200465
Trade Paperback
Also available in hardcover

In 1916 Alafair and Shaw Tucker’s ten year-old daughter Blanche is suffering from a disease of the lungs.  No matter what Alafair or the doctors tried Blanche did not improve.  Alafair’s youngest sister Elizabeth lives in Tempe, Arizona.  Alafair cannot pass up the opportunity to see if the dry air will cure Blanche’s health problems while visiting her sister.  Shaw decides that the older children are capable of handling the farm and all the responsibilities while he accompanies his wife and daughter on their trip.

Blanche begins improving almost immediately when they arrive in Arizona.  Elizabeth is married to a lawyer and has a six-year-old son Chase.  Chase is a terror and Elizabeth seems to have no control over him whatsoever.

Elizabeth plans a welcome party for Alafair and Shaw.  The Tucker’s are introduced to Elizabeth’s neighbors and friends.  The party is okay, but Alafair soon realizes that all is not well with her sister.  Elizabeth’s marriage does not appear to be in the best of shape, the community is talking constantly of Pancho Villa’s raids, and tensions are high between the Anglo and Latino communities.

The morning after the party Alafair discovers a body in a ditch.  Most of the community knows the victim but no one knows or will admit to knowing the reason for his murder.  Alafair’s detective instinct moves into high gear and in spite of warnings from Shaw she immediately begins her own investigation.  The fact that there is a movie company from Hollywood in Tempe making a film adds another element to the puzzles Alafair is trying to solve.

Wrong Hill to Die On is a great addition to the Alafair Tucker series.  It is not necessary to read the previous books to enjoy this current novel.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, January 2013.