Book Review: The Pyramid of Mud by Andrea Camilleri

The Pyramid of Mud
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery #22
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin, January 2018
ISBN: 978-0-143-12808-3
Trade Paperback

The discovery of the body of the chief accountant of a construction company in a sewer pipe on the development site is all the clue Inspector Montalbano needs to wonder what it’s all about, in this, the 22nd novel in this wonderfully understated series. Was the murder the result of his wife’s affair with her lover and being shot when catching them in the act?  Or a smokescreen created by a corrupt group of contractors?

This is but one of several questions to which the Inspector needs an answer before he can solve the murder.  And at the same time discover the goings-on in the area of construction and public works contracts.

As is usual in the series, the author exhibits many subtle touches, making the Inspector more human.  Beside his love of food, Montalbano shows signs of aging.  Is his hearing and sight going?  And he reminds himself, if that’s the case, it’s time to retire.  And his long distance love life with Livia.  In this novel she exhibits an illness or, perhaps, lethargy, until she gets a dog as a pet that keeps her hopping and bouncing back, giving rise to the old minor arguments with the Inspector on the telephone, which he enjoys, recognizing it as a symptom of recovery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2018.

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Book Review: Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

Heart of Stone
An Ellie Stone Mystery #4
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63388-183-9
Trade Paperback

Ellie Stone is in the Adirondacks visiting her aunt for the month of August. She is lounging on the dock while her aunt swims (nude) when the sheriff comes  and after hassling her aunt for nude swimming asks Ellie to come with him to photograph a death scene. He needs her to do this because Ellie has an expensive camera and the sheriff has no camera at all. She goes. There is a high cliff that dare devils use to dive from into the lake below. It is not the wisest sport as there is rocky ledge that juts out which divers have to miss. From the looks of things, these two did not miss the shale shelf. Ellie notices some oddities at the scene such as the way the two are dressed and the station wagon parked so close to the edge of the cliff. When the state police become involved they find even more odd things. While one of the victims is a stranger to the area, the other is a young man staying at the music camp. It seems more than a little odd that these two would be stunt diving together.

Ellie is in a good position to investigate which as a newspaper reporter she is inclined to do. Ellie has spent time in the area most of her life and knows many of the people who are staying at the nearby arts camp. She also has an uncanny ability to snoop out the truth.

This is the fourth Ellie Stone book and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I like the mystery presented in Heart of Stone a great deal. I also enjoyed Ellie on vacation, away from her job. On the other hand, the author has a tendency to be overly wordy. In the previous books, I found that this added to the atmosphere of the book. It gave the books a feel of more substance. It seemed to me that  in this book he ramped up the wordage even more. More than once I wanted to shout, “just get on with it!”  The overuse of language was just annoying.

In spite of the language, it is still Ellie Stone who is a most likable protagonist. I would recommend the book and hope that Ziskin can curb the need to use more words when fewer will suffice.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, March 2018.

Waiting On Wednesday (91)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Baby Teeth
Zoje Stage
St. Martin’s Press, July 2018
Mystery, Horror, Thriller

From the publisher—

Suzette is a devoted stay-at-home mother doing everything she can to connect with her seven-year-old daughter, who cannot―or will not―speak. But ever since Hanna was a baby, Suzette couldn’t help but feel despised by her. Manipulated. And scared to death.

Alex, Hanna’s father, wants to believe his wife’s accounts of Hanna’s cruel and unusual behavior. The only problem is that Alex has never really seen it, himself: Hanna shows him nothing but love. Which is driving Suzette literally crazy. Could it be that Hanna is just a typical, naughty girl―one whose everyday antics toward her mother point to intelligence, creativity, maybe even charm? Or is Hanna, as Suzette fears, actually trying to kill her?

A powerhouse, razor-sharp novel of psychological suspense from blazing new talent Zoje Stage, Baby Teeth raises more questions than it answers―and will leave you guessing until its shocking conclusion.

Why am I waiting so eagerly? A movie that has stuck with me for many, many years is “The Bad Seed” and this book sounds very much like that film. I’m really interested to see how Ms. Stage handles the concept and if it has the same kind of intense creepiness. Creepy is good 😉

Book Review: Hometown Homicide by C. K. Crigger

Hometown Homicide
C. K. Crigger
Black Opal Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-626947-67-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Former soldier, Frankie McGill has returned home from Afghanistan minus half of her left foot and with a plate in her head. After some months in medical care, she’s ready to take on the new battle of finding and holding a job. But not just any job. Frankie is a combat-trained paramedic. When all she can find is a position in the small, mostly volunteer fire department of her old hometown, Frankie is immediately plunged into much more than dealing with her own trauma and holding down a job. She moves into a duplex that the previous tenant abruptly abandoned and quickly discovers someone has some dark secrets to hide–and they don’t care who they have to kill to keep them hidden. Will Frankie’s military training and experience be enough to save her life?

Most of us are fortunate enough to never know the troubles that come with either PTSD or wounds incurred in war but it’s good for us to at least see it secondhand and, hopefully, develop an understanding of what our returning veterans face. With Frankie, author C. K. Crigger gives us that opportunity.

In the opening paragraphs, we get a first glimpse of who Frankie is, a woman who is doing her best to put her life back together, starting with a job that fits her capabilities as a paramedic while letting her keep to herself to a certain extent. Her own hometown should bring her the peace she craves and the time for healing or so she thinks…small towns have a way of holding secrets that can be deadly as she soon learns, at home and on the job.

Frankie’s new place gives her the “collywobbles” but it’ll do for her and Banner, her rescue Samoyed, although it’s odd that the previous tenant left literally in the middle of the night. Then they find that somebody apparently had an unhealthy interest in the apartment and in Denise, the tenant. The next day, Banner becomes so agitated he wakes up Frankie and alerts Howie, the next door neighbor. Digging a hole under the flimsy fence, he leads Frankie and Howie to a small tragedy, another item on a growing list of troubling facts.

Frankie is a very appealing young woman, aged immeasurably by her experiences in Afghanistan but fighting to recover some semblance of her former self. Coming back to her hometown means reconnecting with people from her past and those familiar folks become even more important when whatever happened in her apartment begins to ensnare Frankie. I liked this little town and its citizens, even those who aren’t necessarily bright shining citizens, and the county deputy sheriff, Gabe Zantos, is a really nice addition to Frankie’s life. Frankie has a mystery to solve, not because it’s her job, but because it’s in her nature to find answers. Those answers are complex and disturbing and become very dangerous for her but Frankie is no weak-kneed maiden. I want to spend more time in Frankie’s world and really hope to see her again soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Book Review: State of Emergency by Mary Hallberg

State of Emergency
Mary Hallberg
CreateSpace, August 2017
ISBN 978-1548327958
Trade Paperback

From the author—

17-year-old Dallas Langdon is fighting off zombies with a pizza cutter.

Dallas has always loved zombie movies. But when she catches a real live (erm, dead) musician eating a man’s intestines backstage after the show, she knows her movies have become a reality. And what do characters in zombie movies do? Seek shelter. Fortunately, Dallas’s eccentric uncle owns a farmhouse in Chattanooga, an eight hour drive from New Orleans. It’s on top of a steep mountain, surrounded by electric fences, and cut off from the worlds of the living and the dead.

Dallas’s parents, still safe at home, laugh at her idea over the phone. Her friends only agree to join her because it’s fall break and they could use a mini vacation anyway.

But then Dallas’s best friend is killed by a zombie horde when they’re attracted to her ringing cell phone. Civilians think their reanimated loved ones simply have the flu, leaving them alive (well, undead) and rapidly increasing the zombies ranks. And since minors can’t buy guns, Dallas’s only weapon is a giant industrial pizza cutter she swipes from a gas station. George A. Romero never mentioned anything like this. With one friend dead and no zombie survival guides to help her, Dallas and her friends must get to Chattanooga before joining the ranks of the undead themselves.

Be honest…if someone told you a zombie outbreak was going on “out there”, would you believe it? I’m pretty sure at first I’d think somebody had come up with a great prank but, the first time I saw one, I’d believe my own eyes. Or, at least, I hope I would so I’d have enough time to run like hell 😉

Fortunately for her pals—sister Talia and friends Ashleigh, Sam and Pierce—Dallas knows right away that she’s looking at a zombie and, better yet, knows how to deal with it, having grown up with zombie movies. Dallas and Talia have an Uncle Jack who has a fortified compound in Tennessee and they all agree to head there as long as it’s just for the weekend. After all, they might be on fall break but they’ll have to get back to school on Monday. So, off they go on a race to find safety, led by a seventeen-year-old girl armed with an industrial-sized pizza cutter.

This was a fun little story  and I found the characters very appealing in one way or another. The brevity of the story meant that there are plot holes here and there but no matter, it’s still a good tale for zombie lovers 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Happy Mother’s Day!!

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Book Review: Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young

Abuse of Discretion
Dre Thomas Series #3
Pamela Samuels Young
Goldman House Publishing, 2017
ISBN 978-1-530-52897-4
Trade Paperback

Here we have a suspenseful, current novel of crime and punishment that is not only engaging, exciting and enthralling, but takes a hard, insightful and sensitive look at our modern society and its attitudes and laws relating to juveniles and sex.

Because the sub-plot is so well developed, this novel is really two for one. The second plot involves the fraught relationship between an incarcerated pimp and sex trafficker and the criminally connected uncle of a kidnapped girl. Dre, the uncle, is able through his underworld connections, to thwart threats to his girl friend and others in his family which adds a level of tension to the novel.

The core of this interesting story centers around a bright fourteen-year-old named Graylin. He’s attending a private school and is found to have a single nude picture of a female classmate on his phone. He may have been set up and the novel in increasingly tension-filled chapters, traces the politically-influenced and rigidly inept laws relating to society’s attempts to deal with sex crimes such as sexting.

Graylin’s case is defended by two of the most interesting characters in the novel. Angela is a top defense attorney, companion to Graylin’s uncle Dre in a somewhat tense relationship, who is not used to working with children accused of crime. She seconds a juvenile specialist and after some early rough going, the two women bond into a formidable team. Although the final outcomes of the novel are somewhat expected, the paths to resolution are filled with disturbing and interesting barriers.

The locations, supporting characters and pace of the novel are all very well done and the ultimate resolutions are satisfying. Each chapter is labeled with the name of the character whose point of view is dominant in that chapter, allowing the author’s keen powers of observation free rein, to excellent effect.

For many reasons, I commend this fine novel to readers of crime fiction and to those likewise interested in the current state of our social affair.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.