Book Review: Four Furlongs by Carol Wright Crigger—and a Giveaway!

four-furlongsFour Furlongs
A China Bohannon Novel #4
Carol Wright Crigger
Five Star, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3215-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Smart and sassy bookkeeper China Bohannon is a modern 1890s career woman who’d rather sleuth than type. China is in charge of the Doyle & Howe Detective Agency office on the day a fourteen-year-old girl shows up seeking the detectives’ help in a case of what she’s calling murder. Neva Sue O’Dell’s jockey brother has been killed during a race, the horse he was riding — the dead-on Derby favorite — lamed. Neva claims her mother and grandfather are involved, having been paid a lot of money to rig the race. Who paid them? Neva doesn’t know, but she wants China to find out and somehow bring those who harmed her brother to justice.

The Wild, Wild West was still a little in evidence in 1890’s Washington State and young women such as China Bohannon were supposed to be prim, proper and running a man’s household. That is most decidedly not the life she chose for herself once she decided to leave an untenable situation and working in her uncle Montgomery Howe’s private investigation firm is almost perfect. That “almost” would disappear if she could just convince her bosses that she really is capable of much more than bookkeeping. Fortunately, both her bosses are occasionally willing to let her try her hand at things so China and her beloved terrier, Nimble, are with Gratton Doyle one day at the racetrack looking for a con man (much more fun than sitting at her newfangled typewriting machine).

When they come upon a loud, angry confrontation involving their quarry, China lands literally in the middle of the fray and foils the miscreant’s escape. Unfortunately for our heroine, the times and society are not forgiving of women showing up in certain situations such as a police station in the company of a petty criminal but China refuses to bow to convention, as we might expect she would, and soon proves her worth to the firm that should have her name on the door.

Alas, China is stuck back at her desk the next day but she can hardly be blamed for taking on her own case when 14-year-old Neva O’Dell comes in looking for someone to find out why her jockey brother was killed. Neva has some harsh suspicions and it’s not long before she and China are embroiled in a lot more danger than they might have anticipated. Shockingly, when all seems to be resolved, the good ol’ boy network threatens to get in the way of justice until China is confronted by a wicked twist that just might end very badly for her.

The bibliographic information available on various retail sites as well as modifications in how the author’s name is shown make it a little difficult to read this series chronologically but there’s a very handy hint—all the titles involve a number:

One Foot on the Edge by C.K. Crigger
Two Feet Below by C. K. Crigger
Three Seconds to Thunder by C.K. Crigger
Four Furlongs by Carol Wright Crigger

The fifth book is tentatively titled Five Days, Five Dead and, while I don’t know when it will be released, I’m looking forward to it eagerly. China Bohannon is one of my very favorite historical sleuths and Ms. Crigger writes with a clear love of the western frontier leavened with a lot of quiet humor and a real knowledge of the period. I’ve read one of the earlier books but I’m driven now to get the others before the next one arrives.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

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I’d love to send somebody my
very gently used advance reading
copy of Four Furlongs. Leave a
comment below and I’ll draw the
winning name on Tuesday evening,
September 20th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: The Spook Lights Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

The Spook Lights AffairThe Spook Lights Affair
A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery #2
Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini
Forge, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-3175-5
Hardcover

Set in 1890’s San Francisco, Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services, is unique in that the Carpenter of the agency is female. Smart, able, and relentless in her duties, Sabina Carpenter is a fine character, and more than capable of holding John Quincannon’s amorous tendencies at a distance.

Quincannon is not quite so sympathetic a character. Lots of flaws in this man, including the fact he’s a bit on the greedy side. He also does a lot of smirking, which does become annoying. He’s a good detective, though. A match for Sabina.

San Francisco is almost a character, as well, if one can call a city that. Muller & Pronzini set us down in the town and bring it alive for the reader. From the hell-holes of the Barbary Coast to upper crust socialites on Nob Hill—which brings us to this episode of these two detectives’ continuing escapades.

Sabina is investigating the disappearance of a debutante, who may, or may not have committed suicide while Sabina was watching. But why? That’s the question. Was she murdered? Leave it to Sabina to find out.

Meanwhile, John is hot on the trail of bandits who robbed a Wells Fargo office. With a 10% reward on the line, he’s determined to bring the culprits to justice. All does not go smoothly, of course, what with a character who claims to be Sherlock Holmes butting in. And the thieves themselves are only too ready to defend their evil-doing.

This is a well-plotted mystery appealing to readers who appreciate the old days, as well as those who usually plant their feet in the present day.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Reviews: The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce, Breeding Ground by Sally Wright, and The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

The Weight of SoulsThe Weight of Souls
Bryony Pearce
Strange Chemistry, August 2013
ISBN 978-1908844644
Trade Paperback

Taylor Oh, at 15 years old, is very popular…with the dead. A social outcast at school, she has only one friend left but soon, even she will give up on her. The Darkness doesn’t give her much time to leave the mark of the dead on those that deserve vengeance. But what will she do when the school bully leaves his own mark on her?

I really enjoyed reading this book and managed to devour it in one sitting. The storyline was of a familiar set, social outcast is bullied by the popular set while harbouring a family hardship. But that’s not to say that there’s nothing new to enjoy here. This title comes with a twist that will keep you on the edge of your seat as Taylor races against time to track down the people responsible for the death of a local teenager.

The writing is great, full of detail and depth with a rich cast of characters that you can really get into and care about. Complex relationships are teased out and there’s a nice twist added in to give some flavour to the family history. This is a story that I think young adults will enjoy and the ending leaves a possibility that there could be more in the future, but maybe I’m just getting my hopes up. I would certainly recommend The Weight of Souls to younger readers and at the moment, I plan to check out Bryony Pearce’s other title. Two thumbs up!

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, January 2014.

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Breeding GroundBreeding Ground
A Jo Grant Mystery
Sally Wright
Sally Wright, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-9827801-4-5
Trade Paperback

Jo Grant is an architect but she has little time to focus on her career or herself. After nursing a beloved horse through a long illness, she saw her mother through an exhausting bout with cancer. When her brother Tom is killed in a motorcycle accident, it’s almost more than she can bear. She plans to settle her brother’s affairs at the Kentucky brood mare ranch he ran with their uncle Toss before she takes off on a long awaited trip to Europe to view its architectural wonders.

But there are complications. Should she sell the horse that was Tom’s favorite, the one that had meant so much to him? Tom left Jo a tape for her to listen to after his death; it refers to his wartime activities in the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. But it’s twenty years later—1962—and Jo gets in touch with Alan Munro, who served with her brother. Alan refuses to tell Jo about their war time work with the French Resistance, but then Jack Freeman, another former OSS agent, turns up on the farm, looking for Tom.

There are a lot of plots jostling for space in this book. Will Jo keep an interest in the family business or continue her architecture career?  What did Tom, Alan, and Jack do in the OSS,  and what does it matter twenty years later? There are also parallel plots about two neighboring businesses dealing with horses and a subplot about a groom looking for work.

It’s an insider’s look at the world of thoroughbred horses and the related economy. The author evokes a feeling of a Jane Smiley novel. But some plots are never resolved, and characters are left hanging. There is an epilogue that explains that readers may want to know what happened to the characters. “It won’t get written here,” says Jo. “It’ll take another book, or two. Or maybe even three.”

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2014.

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The Bughouse AffairThe Bughouse Affair
A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery
Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini
Forge, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-3174-8
Hardcover

Billed as the first in a new series by this talented writing duo, The Bughouse Affair introduces ex-Pinkerton operative Sabina Carpenter and her partner, ex-Secret Service agent John Quincannon. This unlikely pair has set up a private detective agency, and the story has the two embarking on separate investigations.

Sabina is on the hunt for a pickpocket who chooses her victims in populated areas such as amusement parks, markets, and parades.  Quincannon is attempting to trace an elusive housebreaker who targets homes of the wealthy, and who seems to have an uncanny sense of when the houses will be unguarded.

One might think these cases could not possibly be connected but as Sabina and Quincannon pursue their suspects, it soon becomes clear they are when the detectives find themselves working along the same routes. And when Sherlock Holmes arrives on the scene and manages to turn the American detectives on their ear, sparks are certain to fly–and not just the sparks between Sabina and Quincannon who are constantly trying to out-do the other.

The depiction of historical San Francisco is fascinating. One can’t doubt the accuracy of Muller and Pronzini‘s research into the era. I was taken back in time without a single jolt and since the 1890s  is one of my favorite historical periods, I found the setting especially enjoyable. From the clothes the characters wear, to the food they eat, to the societal pastimes, it was as though I was in a time machine.

The characters are well delineated. I, personally, found Sabina to be the stronger character as I thought Quincannon a bit overbearing and stuffy upon occasion. Other readers may differ. All in all, the mystery is good, the characters are interesting, and the setting is great. I’m looking forward to the next book featuring these detectives.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.