Poisoned Pen Press, February 2013
Also available in trade paperback
Erica Donato has a difficult personal life: Her mother has passed away, she is estranged from her father after he moved away to Arizona with the new woman in his life, her husband died in a tragic accident at age 26, leaving a 24-year-old widow and three-year-old daughter, now fifteen, and she is trying to raise a teenage daughter on her own. Erica is a historian, in grad school, and working in a museum on a part-time internship, receiving a small paycheck and getting academic credit for the work.
During the course of extensive renovation work in her century-old house in one of the less-upscale parts of Park Slope, Brooklyn, a skeleton is found, hidden behind a wall, apparently that of a young girl, and it appears to have been there since late in 1972. Both Erica and her daughter, Chris, become determined to try to ascertain who the girl was and why she died. Her daughter says “I feel like I found her so I owe her something. I feel like she wants me to find out about her.” Erica agrees, thinking about “this refuge that no longer felt so safe, where a girl my daughter’s age had seemingly disappeared a long time ago. I didn’t want to think about who must have been looking for her way back then, or the terrible sadness if there was no one to look.”
As the two start to investigate the history of the house, bad things start to happen to people in their lives, both of long standing, and new ones, and Erica is repeatedly warned to stop asking questions, to her and her daughter’s peril should she fail to do so.
The tale is an intriguing one. The book seemed to sag a bit in the middle, but quickly picks up again, and I found this a very interesting novel, one that makes me want to read more from this author.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.
Touchwood Editions, November 2012
Billed as “a traditional mystery series serving Jack Daniels instead of tea,” this is the fifth in Phyllis Smallman’s Sherri Travis mysteries. The protagonist, who co-owns a restaurant/bar with her lover, Clay Adams, is going through difficult financial times in the current economy, and uneasy romantic times in her relationship with Clay. As the book opens, “Aunt” Kay arrives at Sherri’s house in a police cruiser, and tells Sherri that her former waitress, 21-year-old Holly Mitchell, has been found dead, in what the police declare to be a suicide: There was what appears to be a suicide note with an empty highball glass sitting on it; it is their belief that she washed down some pills with a strong drink. Three months behind in mortgage payments, and terrified that she will lose the Sunset Bar & Grill, she finds a temporary solution to that problem when Aunt Kay persuades her to look into the young woman’s death, made more urgent by the fact that there is no sign of Holly’s baby, telling her that she will take care of the outstanding payments if Sherri will give her a week of her time.
Now thirty-one, Sherri’s life had not been an easy one: Married when she was 19, she had survived the murder of her cheating husband, been kidnapped by a psychopath, and now takes martial arts classes, goes to the shooting range, and is never without her can of pepper spray, in spite of all of which she regularly suffers from panic attacks. Her current inquiries puts her life in danger from totally unexpected quarters, as she enters a world of drugs, sex workers, and perversion, but she is determined to get to the bottom of Holly’s death and to find her baby.
The book is filled with interesting characters, starting with Elvis, “the only egret in all Florida who preferred hotdogs to fish;” feisty “Auntie” Kay, who had known Sherri from the age of five; Sherri’s father, Tully, and Sherri’s former mother-in-law, Bernice, who are now romantically involved, to Sherri’s consternation.
This was a thoroughly entertaining novel, and it is recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2013.
Crème de la Crime/Severn House, February 2013
Hardcover, 244 pp., $28.95
This was a book that I enjoyed immensely, despite the fact that at times it moved rather slowly for me, probably because many of its frames of reference were unfamiliar, coming as I am from the “other side of the pond.” Even extending to the title, although I supposed it was meant to evoke the opposite of sunrise, and is defined by the author at one point as the moment when one sees “the first star clear in the sky.”
Philip Dryden had been a Fleet Street reporter, a job he’d left for one on the local paper to be near his wife. I found him to be a very original protagonist, one made very human and vulnerable when, on the opening page, he is introduced to the reader as the father of an infant son, following somewhat traumatic circumstances: His wife “had been badly injured in a car accident a decade earlier – – trapped in a coma for more than two years. She would never completely recover. They’d been told a child was impossible.” But, almost miraculously, here he was.
Also in the opening pages, Philip is told by the police that his father has just been killed in an auto accident, the body burned beyond recognition, only the vehicle itself providing the identity of the owner. This is a second near-impossibility: His father had died 35 years before, drowned during the floods of 1977, the body swept away and never found. The thought that he might have survived and simply chosen not to return to his family is, to say the least, stunning.
There are other story lines here, and a faint suspicion allowed that somehow they may be linked.. A West African man, seeking asylum in England but being forced to return to Niger, has been refused, without explanation, the return of the body of his infant daughter, buried, he is told, in an unmarked grave, and he and his wife seek Dryden’s help. Then there is the mystery behind the murder of a local man whose already dead body had been hung from an irrigator in an open field. When another murder occurs, a very personal one for Dryden, his efforts to solve these crimes are redoubled.
The novel is very well-written, suspenseful, and with a totally unexpected ending. This is the sixth book in the series, but the first one I’d read. I was happy to discover it, and shall definitely look for the previous entries. This one is certainly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2013.