Book Reviews: The Blood Whisperer by Zoe Sharp and Drowning Barbie by Frederick Ramsay

The Blood WhispererThe Blood Whisperer
Zoe Sharp
Murderati Ink, August, 2013
ISBN:  978-1-909-34432-7
Trade Paperback

Kelly Jacks is the eponymous protagonist in what promises to be a new series by Zoe Sharp.  I wondered to myself, ‘blood whisperer’?  Is that anything like a ‘horse whisperer?’  Well, yes, it is, actually. Kelly is, as the author puts it, “someone who seemed to be able to coax evidence out of the most unpromising of scenes.”  Now 40 years old, the former CSI now works for McCarron Specialist Cleaning Services, the services in question being performed at crime scenes after they are released by the police.  She’s gone from being the first on the scene for nearly 10 years as a CSI, to being the last. The crime scene Kelly is working as the book opens is one where a woman’s body has been found in her bathtub, an apparent suicide.  But Kelly has her doubts.  And those doubts open up a world of threats, hurt and violence as others try to stop her from pursuing them.

After the wonderful Charlie Fox series, including ten novels, a short story collection and a novella, the author has managed to create another strong female lead with an intriguing background:  Kelly started her new job upon her release from five years of incarceration after having been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, still proclaiming her innocence.

Ms. Sharp has produced a complex plot which includes Russian gangsters and the top tiers of English horse-racing, with steadily increasing suspense and a sense of calamity to come as the book races to its conclusion, neither the protagonists nor the reader knowing how it will end, but bracing for the worst: they’ve already seen the brutality of which their foes are capable and suspect that something far wore is still to come.  There is an unexpected twist near the end, and another one I certainly never saw coming after that!

This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel.  I particularly loved the author’s descriptions of, among other things, the English weather, e.g., “The rain had peered out into indifference leaving behind dirty grey clouds like a sulk.”  As with all Ms. Sharp’s earlier books, this one too is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.


Drowning BarbieDrowning Barbie
An Ike Schwartz Mystery
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2014
ISBN: 9781464202148

Ike Schwartz is an ex-CIA operative who has gone to ground and become a sheriff in a small community in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Picketsville is an unremarkable town except for its inhabitants, carefully and enjoyably described by the author. This being the tenth in the series, one might wonder how the town attracts so many really nasty people.

Sheriff Ike and his lady love, Ruth Harris, after, several episodes, have now decided, at long last, to marry. Town and Gown will thus be joined in what, for a lot of outsiders will be an uneasy alliance. Harris is the hustling president of the local college, determined to make it an outstanding liberal arts institution.

Ike became the sheriff with a short-term goal to rid the county of a completely corrupt administration and evil law enforcement agency. But he likes being sheriff and needs must intrude. Two dead bodies are discovered in a local park and the game is on. Are they related, in spite of the time lapse between their interment? Will the bailed-out ex deputy, now back in town locate and kill his primary target? Will the sheriff and his happy band of deputies stem a rising tide of drug infiltration?

The pace in this suspenseful mystery is relentless, particularly in the last half of the novel. The dialogue throughout is snappy, well-considered and appropriate. This is another well-written novel. It survives a few unfortunate political asides and roars to a fully enjoyable, appropriate finale. Strongly recommended, as are the previous nine adventures in this series.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.