E. Michael Helms
Seventh Street Books, November 2013
Mac McClellan was a career marine. Now retired, he’s relaxing on a dream vacation on the panhandle coast of Florida. Fishing. He’s parked his camping trailer and planned a leisurely stay to explore the fishing in the warm waters of the bay. Unfortunately, on one of his first casts, he hooks a body. A human body that’s been there a while. Enter Florida Fish and Wildlife, the County Sheriff and assorted other interested folk. That includes the operator at Gillman’s Marina, one Kate Bell. After discovery of the body, McClellan discovers that local law enforcement takes a pretty hard line with outsiders, and the situation is complicated by the lack of cooperation and trust between the city and county law agencies. Mac becomes a suspect and a covert investigator, sort of a bifurcation.
The locale is nicely used to firm up what are occasionally clichéd circumstances. The characters are many and the important ones, like Kate and the sheriff, are well-and consistently defined. The plot moves with appropriate speed and energy although, without revealing too much, some actions by the criminals seem overly elaborate. One wonders if, when confronted with a suddenly dead individual, the killer could arrange such complicated disposal.
With those caveats, I can say that this author delivers a coherent logical story and a satisfactory conclusion.
Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.
Winter at Death’s Hotel
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2013
A book tour brings Arthur Conan Doyle to New York City in the winter of 1896. He’s accompanied by his wife, Louisa, and her maid, Ethel. Louisa, a sharp-eyed, observant lady, is a people watcher. Upon entering the New Britannic, one of the city’s finer hotels, the joy on a young woman’s face as she passes through the lobby draws Louisa’s attention. When the next morning’s newspaper headlines a gruesome murder, with an artist’s sketch of the dead woman, Louisa is certain she recognizes the woman as the one she noticed the previous day. And Louisa, as the reader soon finds, is a woman who isn’t about to let herself and her observations be pushed aside by anyone. Not the policeman who warns her to mind her own business, not the hotel detective, who pooh poohs her concerns, and not even her husband, who is appalled that his wife would be interested in a woman she hasn’t even met–and most especially when the woman is depicted as a prostitute.
But Louisa is not one for giving up, even though she is a circumspect lady dependent on her husband’s whims and generosity. Then a second woman is murdered, the means similar to the first, just as Arthur and Louisa embark on the tour. Louisa is about to climb into the cab taking the couple, along with Ethel, to the train, when she trips over a rug and sprains her ankle. With such a painful injury, Arthur leaves her and the maid behind at the hotel while he continues the tour. In whiling away the hours during the time she’s laid up, Louisa indulges in detective work comparable to her husband’s fictional character, making both friends and enemies along the way.
No novel would be complete without the hero–in this case, heroine–facing danger and almost insurmountable odds, and on that score, Winter at Death’s Hotel is no different. What you’ll find in Louisa, however, is a plucky woman with excellent deductive skills, unlike most women of the day. And yet she is also a complicated woman, going from dependent to independent according to the situation.
Louisa is definitely the heart of this fine mystery novel. Well-written and full of wonderful details of 1896 New York, the reactions of a British upper-class lady to the more free-wheeling American society will entertain. The author’s take on Theodore Roosevelt has both well-known elements with something new thrown in. And the plot itself is full of twists and turns that race to a satisfying end.
I can’t help wondering if there is another book featuring Mrs. Arthur Conan Doyle in the works. If there is, I’ll be sure to read it.
Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.