Book Reviews: Death of Yesterday by M.C. Beaton and So Close the Hand of Death by J.T. Ellison

Death of YesterdayDeath of Yesterday
A Hamish Macbeth Mystery #29
M. C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing, February 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4555-0475-6
Mass Market Paperback

Contrary to the old adage, familiarity breeds contentment. After all, a series that has been around since 1985 must have something going for it. And the Hamish Macbeth novels certainly do: The small-town Scottish police sergeant himself and his uncanny insights and uncommon and unorthodox manner; a cast of characters that repeatedly stays on form; plots that follow a pattern but are different from one another; Macbeth’s eternal hard times from his superiors; his forlorn love life; his pets, a wild cat and a dog; and a lightheartedness that is easy to take and read.

The latest entry has the death of a woman haunting Macbeth although her arrogance originally annoyed him when she reported a possible date drug rape. This gives the author the chance to subject Macbeth and other police officers to a type of omerta in the small northern Scottish village where the crime took place. So, no witnesses. How to solve the mystery? By plain hard work.

This is the 29th Hamish Macbeth mystery. It is replete with a flavor of good single-malt scotch, as usual. And just as important, the author describes the bleak economy in northern Scotland, lack of jobs, employees fearful of being fired from the only employer in town, and the general social milieu of small-town snobbishness. Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2014.

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So Close the Hand of DeathSo Close the Hand of Death
J.T. Ellison
Mira Publications, February 2011
ISBN:9780778329435
Mass Market Paperback

Imitation is said to be the most sincere form of flattery. But what if the flattery is focused on murder? On rape and butchery? Well, is that a different kettle of worms?

J. T. Ellison writes a hell of a thriller, intricate and taut. And pace. Wow. This novel starts strongly out of the gate and rushes pell mell toward an uncertain climax. The author revels, one might almost say wallows, in piecing together a vastly complicated revenge plot against one of Nashville’s finest, well-trained brainy detective, Taylor Jackson.

From the first, shockingly near killings, Homicide Lieutenant Taylor Jackson and her fiancé, FBI special agent John Baldwin, ace profiler, are beset on all sides by a malevolent brilliant killer who has fashioned a murderous game that will shock and awe even seasoned thriller readers. As the twisting trails bring Taylor ever closer to a confrontation with a man they call the Pretender, more and more horrific information is revealed.

Ellison demonstrates a high level of mastery of mis-direction and revealing essential information in a timely and well-written manner to entice the reader deeper into her tale.

This is a first rate violent and bloody thriller in every aspect. I highly recommend this novel, noting that a copy was supplied to me at no cost and with no expectations.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

Book Review: Fragile Line by Brooklyn Skye—and a Giveaway

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Title: Fragile Line
Author: Brooklyn Skye
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: April 21, 2014

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Fragile LineFragile Line
Brooklyn Skye
Entangled Teen, April 2014
ISBN 978-1-62266-529-7
Ebook

From the publisher—

It can happen in a flash. One minute she’s kissing her boyfriend, the next she’s lost in the woods. Sixteen-year-old Ellie Cox is losing time. It started out small…forgetting a drive home or a conversation with a friend. But her blackouts are getting worse, more difficult to disguise as forgetfulness. When Ellie goes missing for three days, waking up in the apartment of a mysterious guy—a guy who is definitely not her boyfriend, her life starts to spiral out of control.

Perched on the edge of insanity, with horrific memories of her childhood leaking in, Ellie struggles to put together the pieces of what she’s lost—starting with the name haunting her, Gwen. Heartbreakingly beautiful, this poignant story follows one girl’s harrowing journey to finding out who she really is.

Two girls are the heart of Fragile Line, girls who seem to have absolutely nothing in common. Ellie is a “good” girl, one who does little to disappoint her parents and teachers. Ellie’s friends enjoy her company and know just how she fits into their lives and her boyfriend, Shane, is as devoted to her as she is to him. Gwen, on the other hand, is a child lost to a darker world, one who is dependent on very shady characters for sustenance of a troubling sort. Gwen’s surroundings would bring discomfort to most of us and the people she hangs out with are not the sort we’d want around our teens. A possible exception is a young man named Griffin but even he is questionable…or is it just that he’s the stereotypical bad boy?

These four characters are really the only ones who truly came to life for me but they’re enough. I liked them all to varying degrees but it was Gwen who really pulled at me. My attention was riveted on her because, in her own very damaged way, she’s the one who has the most to lose in this puzzling and frightening world that is consuming both Gwen and Ellie.

What’s really going on with Ellie is the mystery at the core of this story but it was apparent to me very early on, probably because I’ve had a years-long interest in the subject. My enjoyment of the story was not diminished in any way because I was really more drawn in by Ellie’s and Gwen’s experiences living with such an emotionally painful condition.

The premise behind Fragile Line is a familiar one but one of the hallmarks of a good writer lies in what that writer does with an oft-used theme and Ms. Skye shows herself to be more than competent. Her prose flows easily and it’s clear that care has been taken with editing while the plot itself is crafted nicely with only an occasional hiccup, usually having to do with my inability to believe in certain behavior. That could be due to my own knowledge of the subject rather than to any failing of the author. Ms. Skye tells a very good tale and I’ll be looking for more of her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2014.

About the Author

 

Brooklyn SkyeBrooklyn Skye grew up in a small town where she quickly realized writing was an escape from small town life. Really, she’s just your average awkward girl who’s obsessed with words. She writes young adult and new adult fiction. You can follow her on Twitter as @brooklyn__skye or visit her web site for updates, teasers, giveaways, and more. www.brooklyn-skye.com

 

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Book Review: Perfect Victim by Jan Christensen

Perfect VictimPerfect Victim
Paula Mitchell, P.I.
Jan Christensen
CreateSpace, June 2013
ISBN No. 978-1489520395
Trade Paperback

 

Warren Wade is arrested for the murder of Sylvia Leominster, his fiancée. Paula Mitchell is a private investigator who sometimes works with Geri Smithfield, Paula’s best friend and Warren’s lawyer. When Paula goes to the jail to interview Warren he admits that the last evening he was with Sylvia she broke up with him. The couple had been dating for a little over a year and planned on getting married in December. Warren admitted to Paula that he was very upset over the break-up but insisted he had nothing to do with Sylvia’s death.

 

Sylvia was murdered with a fireplace poker and Warren’s prints were all over the poker. Warren admits that he had occasion to use the poker many times but only for the purpose of building a fire. Warren explains to Paula that he is an only child and had been left a large sum of money so he didn’t work but spends a lot of time on the computer researching various subjects.

 

Paula interviews all of Sylvia’s friends and the result is that Paula feels none of them is being honest with her and any one of them could have more motives for the murder than Warren. Even though another murder happens in the small Rhode Island town in the exact way that Sylvia was murdered, the police will not drop the charges against Warren and eventually he goes to trial.

 

Paula’s lover is also a computer expert and lends his hand to the investigation. When Warren’s preliminary hearing takes place, Paula feels the hearing has given her some good clues as to the identity of Sylvia’s killer. Paula’s attempts to narrow in on the killer puts her life in jeopardy.

 

This is an interesting book with some likeable characters and would make a good series.

 

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2014.

Book Review: The Devil Laughed by Gerrie Ferris Finger

The Devil LaughedThe Devil Laughed
A Moriah Dru/Richard Lake Mystery
Gerrie Ferris Finger
Five Star Publishing, September 2013
ISBN No. 978-1-4328-2697-0
Hardcover

Portia Devon, Judge of the Georgia Supreme Court, has invited Dru Moriah and Richard Lake and Lake’s daughter Susanna to Lake Lanier, about 45 minutes from Atlanta, to celebrate the 4th of July. Moriah is the owner of Child Trace, an agency that locates missing children. Richard is an Atlanta police lieutenant.

 

There has been a drought and the water in the lake is low. Moriah suddenly notices something in the water that appears to be the backside of a boat or as Portia makes clear – the stern. The group believe that the boat is the Scuppernong, a boat that mysteriously disappeared. Two couples were on the boat, Johnny and Candice Browne and Laurant and Janet Cocineau. Johnny’s body was discovered with his head bashed in near the marina but there was no sign of the boat until now.

 

As word got around everyone wanted to see what had been found including Candice Browne’s daughter Evangeline Bonnet Broussard. Evangeline is thirteen years old and has an unshakeable belief that her mother is still alive. Evangeline flies from Southport, North Carolina to meet with Judge Devon in hopes of talking the Judge into investigating the disappearance of her mother. Judge Devon calls in Dru and after some persuasion Dru agrees to take the case.

 

Dru soon finds out that she not only has to put up with Evangeline and her many demands, she also has to deal with her uncle Baron Bonnett. Evangeline said that her legal guardian, Lorraine Bonnett, agreed that Evangeline could hire an investigator as long as Evangeline’s Uncle Baron went along with her. Uncle Baron Bonnett turned out to be a Rhett Butler look alike.

 

There were many theories as to what happened to the occupants of boat and Dru had to sort all the information into fact and fiction. The book is full of interesting characters and Evangeline keeps cracking the whip until Dru finds the answers and solves the mystery. The mystery of the occupants of the boat is multi-layered and keeps the reader guessing.

 

Gerrie Ferris Finger is a retired journalist for The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, in 2009; Gerrie won The Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Minotaur Best First Traditional Novel Competition for THE END GAME, released by St. Martin’s Minotaur in 2010. She grew up in Missouri, then headed further south to join the staff of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There, she researched and edited the columns of humorist Lewis Grizzard and co-wrote a news column with another reporter for three years.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2014.

 

 

Book Review: Renegade by J.A. Souders

RenegadeRenegade
Elysium Chronicles Book 1
J.A. Souders
Tor Teen, November 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3245-5
Hardcover

Evelyn Winters leads a privileged life. She is Daughter to the People, to the People of Elysium and one day, she will rule their underwater haven, safe from the dangerous Surface Dwellers and their endless killing. Her life is just about perfect, the life she remembers that is; the one they keep telling her she enjoys. But what is a life? The one you have or the one you choose?

Dear Author,

Your book started well enough. With a dystopian feel and set in an underwater haven where illness is scarce and resources are plentiful Renegade begins with promise. It soon becomes apparent that all is not quite right here and a few times, it appears that the book starts anew. The reasons for this become apparent later on and the sinister, unhinged character that is Mother soon starts to reveal her true nature. As far as dystopian stories go, this one has potential but for me, there was not enough detail. Important elements to the story were sketchy and almost added as an afterthought. The result of this is that there is very little depth to the characters, the overall setting and ultimately, the book. Also, the main character Evelyn or ‘Evie’ seems to fall in love ridiculously easy and ends up morphing into someone who you don’t really believe in. From a simpering, mild-mannered and obedient teenager, she quite suddenly becomes a fierce warrior and rebel, openly defying her superiors all because of the emergence of a Surface Dweller who she decides must survive at all costs, even if that means her dying for him. Somehow difficult to accept don’t you think?

Ultimately, your book needs a lot of work before it would become a popular title for young adults. There needs to be more depth to the characters and added detail given to flesh out the location and the overall story. All this could be tolerated though if it had some sort of satisfactory ending. After spending a few hours reading through around 360 pages, the ending that I arrived at seemed like an insult. Abruptly finishing and with little or no attention to the overall premise, the ending of this book was a complete let down. It seemed as if you just couldn’t be bothered and the lazy ending is the main reason why I won’t be recommending this otherwise promising title. I felt like I had wasted my time reading all those pages to be rewarded with a sloppy ending with a half-hearted conclusion.

 

Sincerely yours,
A cheesed off reviewer.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, December 2013.

 

What Do You Know?

Catherine DiltsCatherine Dilts writes amateur sleuth mysteries set in the Colorado mountains. In her debut novel Stone Cold Dead – A Rock Shop Mystery, business is as dead as a dinosaur, but when Morgan Iverson finds the body of a Goth teen on a hiking trail, more than just the family rock shop could become extinct. Catherine works as an environmental scientist, and plays at heirloom vegetable gardening, camping, and fishing. Her short fiction appears in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Visit her at http://www.catherinedilts.com/

 

I’ve been writing stories since I was old enough to hold a crayon in my fist. Dreams have come and gone, but the one that stuck with me through life was to be an author. Now that I’m published, I ask myself, why did it take so long?

One of the first bits of writing advice I heard was to write what you love to read. Cut me a little slack on this one. I read most genres as well as the occasional lofty literary novel.

During my pre-published years, I attempted science fiction and speculative fiction. Friends will remember my infamous lizard-woman tome. I once wrote a romance that people told me was a nice enough book, but it was obvious I knew nothing about romance. I tried to write the Great American Novel. It was all good practice, but none received the coveted publishing contract.

Stone Cold DeadOne day it hit me. The first series I fell in love with was Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax. When I want to curl up in a chair with a good book, just to relax and be entertained, I grab a cozy or an amateur sleuth. Elaine Viets, Ellen Byerrum, Katherine Hall Page, and Catriona McPherson, to name a very few, write intelligent stories that are fun to read.

Now I knew my calling. To write the kind of story I liked to read.

The second bit of writing advice drilled into aspiring authors is to write what you know. I would like to suggest this is highly overrated. At least, I hope Jeffery Deaver is not writing his grisly thrillers from experience!

I was determined to give writing what I know a try. I had to think long and hard about how to make a story set in a factory interesting enough that someone else would care to read it. Then it occurred to me, not many people work in factories anymore. People might find it an intriguing setting.

I wrote a short story, an amateur sleuth murder mystery loosely based on the factory where I have worked for many years. I made my first sale. “The Jolly Fat Man” appeared in the April 2013 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Shortly after that, Stone Cold Dead – A Rock Shop Mystery sold to Five Star-Cengage. My novel is an amateur sleuth mystery, this time set in a Colorado Rock shop. I’ve never worked in a rock shop, but the trails my protagonist Morgan hikes are the same Catherine Dilts Alfred Hitchcock Mystery MagazineColorado mountain trails I know and love. The tourist town of Golden Springs is loosely based on several Colorado towns I have visited. And I love rock shops.

My most recent sale was another short story, “Tweens,” to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May 2014. This story taps into my experience as an environmental scientist, and as a grandmother.

Number One: Write what you love to read. Number Two: write what you know. I was slow to learn these lessons, but I finally learned how to apply them to my writing.

Stone Cold Dead – A Rock Shop Mystery is available through independent bookstore The Tattered Cover – http://www.tatteredcover.com/ and Barnes & Nobel and Amazon.

 

Book Reviews: Murder in the Worst Degree by F.M. Meredith and Runaway Man by David Handler

Murder in the Worst DegreeMurder in the Worst Degree
F.M. Meredith
Oak Tree Press, March 2014
ISBN 978-1-61009-145-9
Trade Paperback

Although Murder in the Worst Degree is the tenth book in F.M. Meredith’s Rocky Bluff PD series, you don’t need to have read the nine previous novels to pick up on the action. I believe the several characters would’ve been easier to keep track of if you’d read the earlier books, so this is a hint that you might want to read a couple of those first. It’s not completely necessary, though, and it isn’t long before you learn who is who. And the setting—the California coast—is so vividly depicted you can almost taste the salt air. I loved the foggy scenes.

The story begins with a couple surfer dudes discovering the battered body of an elderly man in the water. Turns out he didn’t drown, which brings a murder investigation to the fore. Suspects are rampant. The men and women of the Rocky Bluff PD are soon knee deep in not only contending with a new chief of police, the murder, and what may be a serial rapist on the loose—when an earthquake hits. Good stuff, for sure.

F.M. Meredith ties up all the loose ends concerning the mysteries, and doesn’t neglect the drama of her character’s lives in this most enjoyable short novel.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

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Runaway ManRunaway Man
David Handler
Minotaur, August 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-01162-6
Hardcover

Benji Golden is the eponymous protagonist in this newest book by David Handler, so called because since he got his license as a p.i. he has gotten a reputation for tracking down young runaways. His late father was a hero cop, a homicide detective whose exploits were made famous when a movie was done about his capture of a subway serial killer who had terrorized New York City a couple of decades ago. Since his death a couple of years back the p.i. agency he’d founded is run by his widow, Abby, who had the distinction in her youth of being “the only Jewish pole dancer in New York City,” under the name Abraxas (nee Abby Kaminsky from Sheepshead Bay). Baby-faced Benji (nickname “Bunny”) still calls her “boss,” to which she strongly objects. They are ably assisted by Rita, a gorgeous 42-year-old computer wizard who was a lap dancer back in the day, and Gus, their “grizzled office cat.”

When a partner in a white-shoe Park Avenue law firm comes into their office and wants to hire Benji to find a young man, a college senior who has gone missing and who is apparently about to inherit a considerable amount of money from an unnamed client, the very large fee offered makes it difficult to turn down, despite the enigmatic way in which the situation is presented: No names, no clues, and no mention of the law firm’s name allowed. Benji, being the resourceful investigator that he is, and assisted by a cop who was like a big brother to him, his father’s mentee, Lieutenant Larry “Legs” Diamond (I loved that!), does track down the young man in question, but at some cost: Several murders soon take place, the ensuing investigation at one point leading to a gathering of the strangest bedfellows imaginable, including the Police Commissioner. Benji’s own life becomes threatened, but he is determined to find out who is behind these crimes, and hopefully stay alive in the process.

This was one of the most enjoyable reads, and protagonists, I’ve come across in a while. The writing is sprinkled with terrific wit and humor. The author also includes a lot of fascinating New York history, of much of which I, a life-long resident of the city and its suburbs, was unaware. Parenthetically, this Brooklyn-born-and-raised reviewer loved that Benji’s mother and grandmother were raised in that borough (and I forgive him for having a poster of NY Yankee great Derek Jeter hanging on his wall), and that he loves original soundtrack albums of great Broadway musicals. Runaway Man is a quick and terrific read, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2014.