Book Reviews: Cold Cases Solved by Robert Keller and Cemetery Girl by Joseph Cognard @rkeller_author @JosephCognard

Cold Cases Solved: Volume 1
Robert Keller
Robert Keller, February 2021
ISBN 979-8705110858
Trade Paperback

Cold Cases Solved: Volume 1 by Robert Keller is a succinct, true-crime collection of eighteen murder cases. By “succinct” I mean to say that when the book arrived, I was a bit bummed by the size. I thought that “Volume 1” must be only the first case.

Happily, I was wrong.

Mr. Keller really can (and does) aptly convey the circumstances of each situation in fewer than two hundred pages. His writing reminds of Ann Rule’s, in that we know what went down and are affected by the actions, but are spared gratuitous, graphic details. Also, there is little, if any, cursing which can broaden my scope of students that I can share with.

Speaking of sharing this with my students, these chapters are perfect for the self-professed “non-reader”. As previously mentioned, they are short. And contain small sections that seem to eliminate the intimidation of big books with tiny font.

Although I read, listen to and watch enough true-crime to be alarming, I was only familiar with a couple of these felonies.

Many cases seem to go cold due to determined presumptions. This is the first time I’ve heard of someone confessing because of found evidence assumed to seal his fate, only to later realize it had no relation to him or his crime.

I had never heard that taking someone’s life, while committing another crime against said person, equates to murder.

One criminal was able to commit his heinous act because only two days prior, he was acquitted of rape. Found “not guilty by reason of insanity”.

As an aside, I also learned about The Melbourne Cup, an Australian much-more-than-a-horse-race festivity dating back to 1861.

I will certainly be searching for further volumes of Mr. Keller’s Cold Cases Solved, for my own entertainment and edification and to share with “my” students.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2021.

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Cemetery Girl
Joseph Cognard
Joseph Cognard, April 2012
ISBN 978-0615624006
Trade Paperback

A single cemetery evokes a variety of emotions.

Vanessa feels that a graveyard does not serve as the grooviest hang-out spot, even if it is private. Bobby sees the tombstones as mini history lessons, where Keith certainly seems to be searching for some kind of connection. But to Janie, the Cemetery Girl, comes comfort…even if the tombs tend to tickle a sort-of sixth sense.

None of the friends are wrong. Inside of the fence, there are stories to be shared. Sadly, the souls with so much to say cannot communicate with the family and friends that need to hear these messages. Maybe they haven’t found the right medium.

While I’ve devoured and delighted in tons of tales centered around tombstones, The Cemetery Girl by Joseph Cognard presents a premier plot. And one I’m particularly pleased with. Sneaky subtleties slowly show that the puzzle the kids are trying to solve is actually only one part of a much larger portrait.

I really enjoyed the character interactions and the layers that wove the story together, and wrapped it up, leaving just enough left-over to have me hoping for more.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2019.

Book Reviews: False Flag in Autumn by Michael Bowen and Footprints in the Butter by Denise Dietz @BowenMysteries @DeniDietz

False Flag in Autumn
Josie Kendall Washington Crime Stories #2
Michael Bowen
Farragut Square Publications, October 2019
Ebook

When reading detective/thriller/political fiction, one likes to believe that the author did adequate serious research or has reasonable experience or understanding of the primary field. Here is a novel that demonstrates such deep dives into political research, and apparent extensive knowledge of the political scene in the United States, it is just a little scary.

Josey Kendall is political spinmeister working for a small agency in Washington, D.C. She’s young, experienced and possessed of sometimes amazing and practical understanding of the way politics work in the modern republic. Ms Kendall not only understands how connected to media campaigns must be, but often how to manipulate that same media to achieve desired results. Kendall’s problem, if she has one, is her basic honesty sometimes gets in the way of the objectives her company’s clients desire.

Louisiana has one Congressman who is beholden to no one more than himself and is willing to do almost anything to stay atop the money machine. The novel begins with a contract for Josie’s company to frighten the aforesaid Congressman Bilbo into line with certain corporate interests by establishing a viable opponent for his re-election. Josie accomplishes the goal with alacrity and moves on but the untimely death of a local hood at Bilbo’s hand and the apparently botched investigation of the shooting bothers her. Circumstances draw Josie and her husband Raf more and more into the dim world of alternative and dark politics where they gradually discover not just the event referred to in the title, but something far more dangerous. The swamp was never deeper nor slimier.

The writing is crisp, fast moving, and frequently acerbic with well-placed caustic observations. The narrative is a fine commentary on modern politics and it moves with ever growing tension. The characters are many and varied and carefully drawn. Never do they step outside their roles.

In sum this novel will appeal to fans of the author, to political junkies, and to readers of detective fiction everywhere.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Footprints in the Butter 
An Ingrid Beaumont Mystery #1
Denise Dietz
Delphi Books, 1998
ISBN: 0-9663397-2-x
Re-issued by Worldwide Library, October 2004
ISBN 978-0-373-26511-4
Mass Market Paperback

I think you have to come at this book with the right frame of mind and stay in it until you are finished.  Ingrid Beaumont and her ganglionic mutt are all over the murder of Wylie Jameston, who is anything but—wily.  Remember that phrase, ganglionic mutt.  The author uses it a couple of times and it appears on the jacket as well.

A wisecracking artist who constantly tells riddles and elephant jokes is murdered at a reunion of his high school class, of which the amateur sleuth, Ingrid, is also a member. With little discernible reason, Ingrid decides to charge in with Hitchcock, the mutt of reference above, and solve the murder, since it appears to her the cops are never going to manage that task.

There are lots of characters in this book and several scenes which by turns will make you laugh and shake your head or grind your teeth in frustration.  The solution is complicated and there are lots of characters to keep track of.  At times an unfocused sub-plot involving Ingrid’s ex, who may or may not be her ex, threatens to obscure the main theme which is that high school reunions can be hell.

I laughed some, ground my teeth a good deal, and wished the author had had an editor with a firmer hand at times. There’ll be more adventures with Ingrid and her ganglionic mutt.  In spite of its problems, this is the kind of mystery and engaging writing which will attract a large and loyal following.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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.

Book Review: Stealing the Scream by Theodore Carter

Stealing the Scream
Theodore Carter
Run Amok Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-7327097-7-5
Hardcover

This novel’s back cover blurb describes the plot as follows: “In 2004, masked thieves stole Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ from an Oslo museum.  STEALING THE SCREAM is a literary leaning, humor-laced crime novel that re-imagines the event, offering a tantalizing account of what happened through fictional characters and ending with a tense climax and a satisfying if unexpected ending to the art-world mystery.”

The central character is a very wealthy corporate CEO, Percival, who gives up his position and moves to London along with his house manager, Lucinda, and his chef, Will, to become a painter.  Ultimately, he finds a way to have his work seen in major art museums around the world.

The writer of the blurb and I see this book very differently.  I see no humor in it.  Rather, I see a man whose obsession takes over his life and leads him into a downward spiral if not into madness then at least into a major depression with grandiose features, a man who has no regard for the people he lives with, and no interest in anything other than his painting and his view of himself as an artist.  In short, I found him to be an unlikeable character who sees others simply as there to serve him.  For these reasons I cannot recommend this novel, but I recognize that there are others who regard Theodore Carter’s writing highly.  Accordingly, they might see the “literary leaning, humor-laced” writing that escapes me.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

Book Review: Rooted in Deceit by Wendy Tyson—and a Giveaway!

Rooted in Deceit
A Greenhouse Mystery #4
Wendy Tyson
Henery Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63511-384-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s summertime in Winsome. Washington Acres is abloom, Megan is preparing for the grand opening of their wood-fired pizza farm, and things with Megan’s beau, handsome Dr. Finn, are getting as hot as the August temperatures. But when Megan’s ne’er-do-well father arrives in Pennsylvania with his high-maintenance Italian wife, Sylvia, and announces they’re staying at the new yoga retreat center a town away, a sweet occasion sours.

Eager to secure pieces for her Milan boutique, Sylvia finagles a meeting with up-and-coming artist Thana Moore, whose work is showing at the retreat center. After their explosive encounter, Thana is murdered and Sylvia becomes the prime suspect. Only Sylvia isn’t the only one with ties to the artist—once upon a time, Thana Moore had been Megan’s best friend. As Megan delves into Thana’s past, piecing together the years since their falling out, she realizes that something sinister is afoot in Bucks County. Unless Megan can find the killer, this idyllic summer will turn nightmarish. Innocent people may be imprisoned—and even more could die.

Organic farmer Megan Sawyer had expected happy times in Winsome, PA, this summer but, when her good-for-nothing father, Eddie Birch, and his very demanding Italian wife, Sylvia Adriana Altamura, show up without warning, Megan’s expectations head south fast. Eddie and Sylvia refuse to stay at the family homestead, Washington Acres Farm, but that may be a good thing if only for Megan’s peace of mind.

Sylvia is hoping to meet with an elusive artist at a nearby health resort but “hoping to” is more like “demanding” for Megan’s very entitled stepmother . Megan knew Thana Moore in the past, not happily, but she never thought the woman would be murdered, much less by the obnoxious Sylvia and yet she is the prime suspect. Megan is going to have to save Sylvia and her dad from their unpleasant future, with a little help from her grandmother, Bonnie “Bibi” Birch, but Dr. Daniel “Denver” Finn, Megan’s boyfriend and usual sleuthing sidekick, won’t be around, having to tend to a family crisis.

I really enjoyed Ms. Tyson’s very appealing Rooted in Deceit; it’s full of fun-to-know characters, a charming setting and red herrings galore, plus a surprise for Megan and I hope this series will be around for a long time to come.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

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I have two very gently used print advance
reading
copies of Rooted in Deceit and
would love to
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Book Review: Celine by Peter Heller

Celine
Peter Heller
Alfred A. Knopf, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-451-49389-7
Hardcover

Celine is one of the most fascinating and hard to describe books I have read recently. In many ways, it is really two books in one. In the prologue, readers watch a happy family outing turn tragic and meet the little girl who will eventually be Celine’s client. If you are a reader who generally skips prologues, DON’T skip this one. It is important.

Moving on to the first chapter readers are introduced to Celine, one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met. In her sixties, she works as a PI specializing in reuniting families but is also an artist using mostly found items that can be best described as macabre. For instance, in the opening scene she is creating a sculpture of  the skeleton of a mink looking down on it’s own skin drying on a rock with a crow’s skull nearby. Celine suffers from emphysema from her many years of smoking. There is a sadness about her that readers should realize right away explains much of what she does. She has suffered many losses in her life from her father’s absence from his family to the death of her sisters. But even as her story unfolds, we sense that Celine has lost even more.

Fast forward to the call from a much younger woman who has read about Celine’s work in a college alumni magazine. The woman, Gabriela, has also suffered losses in her life. The first painful loss was her small cat who disappeared when she was seven. But that loss is quickly overshadowed by a much bigger loss, that of her mother. As terrible as that was it was at least clear cut. Her mother drowned. Sadly that brought about the loss of her father at least emotionally. But it was  the actual death of her father many years later that  haunted her and brought her to Celine. Her father, a world renowned photographer, supposedly was killed, and possibly eaten, by a bear just outside of Yellowstone. No body was ever recovered. Gabriela has long questioned the circumstances surrounding her father’s death. Too many things in the investigation just didn’t quite add up. Celine takes the case and proceeds to Wyoming to investigate.

From that point on, the book shifts from Celine’s investigation and flashbacks to her own story.  In the end, readers find out what became of Gabriela’s father, but sadly, the mystery of Celine’s deep sadness is not fully revealed. I am hoping that there will be another case for Celine. Readers (and Celine) want closure.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, March 2017.

Book Review: Cold Heart by Karen Pullen—and a Giveaway!

cold-heartCold Heart
A Stella Lavender Mystery #2
Karen Pullen
Five Star, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3257-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Motivated by her mother’s long-ago unsolved abduction, Stella Lavender has joined the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation only to be severely challenged by her first assignment: undercover drug agent. Stella works nights, buying drugs from paranoid drug dealers, gathering evidence to send them to prison or turn them into informants. She’s great at the job because, as her boss says, “you don’t look like a cop.” But the physical danger and the necessary betrayals are getting to her. When she sees a chance to work homicide, she’ll always take it.

One afternoon Stella gives a hitchhiking teenager a ride to her babysitting job in a wealthy neighborhood. Horror awaits them–the father lies dead in a pool of blood, and his toddler is missing. Stella joins the murder investigation as the puzzle quickly grows. Most importantly, where is the toddler? A dizzying array of plausible suspects provides more questions than answers.

At the same time, Stella’s personal life offers plenty of distractions. Her grandmother Fern, a free-spirited artist with male admirers wrapped around every one of her paint-stained fingers, needs Stella’s help with expensive house repairs. And Stella’s attraction to three very different men means her romantic life is, well, complicated.

Cold Heart draws the reader into a darkly delightful page-turner as Stella rummages through every strata of society in her relentless and sometimes unconventional pursuit of a cold-hearted murderer who won’t stop at just one victim.

If you’re not careful, sometimes what you wish for turns out to be much more than you think it’s going to be. Stella Lavender is good at what she does, working Narcotics, but she really wants to get into the Homicide division. When she picks up a hitchhiker, she has no idea that she’s about to walk smack into a murder case but she’s more or less prepared for that. What surprises her are the connections she discovers she has to the case, kind of a six degrees of separation thing.

The fact that Stella made a drug buy just the night before from the man who’s now lying dead is just one of those links and she soon finds that her personal life isn’t as separated from work as she’d like it to be. For instance, could one of the many men who orbit around her charismatic grandmother be somehow involved and is Fern hiding things from Stella? Are other people being attacked because Stella herself is really the target and, if so, why? Most importantly, what has happened to the dead man’s toddler daughter, Paige?

There are a few too many coincidences in the plot but a plethora of leads and suspects kept me guessing for quite a while and the characters, particularly Stella, are interesting. I liked her very much and appreciated her determination and even her occasional rule-bending. Stella Lavender is a cop I could be friends with 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Just by leaving two comments,
you’ll have a chance to win a
print copy of the first book in
the series, Cold Feet. Leave
one comment today and one
on yesterday’s guest blog by
Karen Pullen. The winning name
will be drawn Thursday evening,
January 26th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US.

Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

two-summersTwo Summers
Aimee Friedman
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-51807-9
Hardcover

Fifteen-year-old Summer Everett is set to fly off to the south of France for a visit with her artist father and a chance to see his painting, Fille. Her father’s painting of his daughter as a young girl hangs in a museum there, and Summer has never seen it in person. Summer’s divorced mother discouraged the visit from the beginning, and Summer waits at the boarding gate with a heavy heart because of the terrible quarrel with her mother just before her best friend picked her up to drive her to the airport.

Just as she’s about to hand over her boarding pass and walk onto the plane, Summer’s cell phone rings. It’s a number she doesn’t recognize. From that point, we are swept into the story of two possible summers. In one, she ignores the call and goes to France. In the other, she answers the call and stays home in Upstate New York. In both, she breaks from her normal life, learns about herself, and must process changes in her life that include her best friend breaking bonds and a devastating family secret.

We learn about these scenarios through Summer’s first person descriptions, actions, and thoughts. Sometimes her inner thoughts sound profound, more like mature reflection on her actions, and sometimes her thoughts are childish. Altogether, she’s split, like her summer, thus becoming realistic and worthy of our concern.

I couldn’t put the book aside for long without wondering what would happen. How would the two summers (Summers) fit together and become whole? This is an imaginative coming-of-age story, or two stories, that include beautiful descriptions of a picturesque French village in Provence, exciting New York City, and a tranquil small town in New York State. There’s as much here for an adult as there is for a teenager.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, October 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.