Book Reviews: Death and the Viking’s Daughter by Loretta Ross and Ghosts of Guatemala by Collin Glavac

Death and the Viking’s Daughter
An Auction Block Mystery #4
Loretta Ross
Midnight Ink, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5237-2
Trade Paperback

Auctioneer Wren Morgan with her fellow workers is preparing for an auction of a strange night club that was constructed on the plans of a Cincinnati nightclub that was the scene of a disastrous fire. A small level of nervousness is apparent.

At about the same time, her fiancé Death (pronounced Deeth) Bogart is tasked by a museum director to look into an apparent theft of a painting, a painting worth more to the owners due to the subject than for its artistic merit.

While preparing the site for the coming auction, a resident collapses upon seeing a figure in the nearby woods who looks like his long-missing daughter. Meanwhile, Wren and Death (pronounced Deeth) are looking for a home to buy. They find one at the end of a roadway not far away where a man, name unknown, is buried beneath rosebushes in the yard.

Get the picture? This is not a complicated mystery, but it has several threads that are cleverly woven together in this carefully and very well-written novel. Eventually all these threads will come together, along with tension-filled meetings between Wren and Death’s parent groups.

The tranquil setting becomes well-used as a foil against the tension that builds up. Private investigator Death Bogart wends his careful way through a variety of interesting experiences all while worrying about presenting a positive image to his about-to-be in-laws. A fun and intriguing novel that I recommend especially for those readers who are not wedded to intense and brutal violence on the page.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2019.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.


Ghosts of Guatemala
Collin Glavac
NIMA, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-9991631-6-7
Trade Paperback

Here is a terrific idea with some interesting characters in imperfectly realized circumstances. The novel begins with a bang, the attempted assassination of a Guatemalan drug czar. The scene is potent, rife with tension and murderous action. Unfortunately, although the assassination is successful, the assassin also dies in the attempt.

We then switch to scenes of dissention, corruption, loss of confidence and general incompetence in an important US government agency, the Central Intelligence Agency. Then commences a long and wandering dissertation about the life and development of a Seal, one John Carpenter. Sometime later in his career, he is mysteriously detached from the Navy to become an agent for the CIA, specializing in Latin America.

He is tasked with retaliation against the Guatemalan drug cartel, an assignment which takes the narrative deeply and in considerable detail inside that country. The narrative is wordy, resulting in an overlong novel which levels criticism against the U.S. government, the CIA specifically and the American public in general.

A good editor would have reduced the novel by at least a third and in the process elevated the action and tension. While some of the characters are unusual and more than passingly interesting, the novel’s potential is largely obscured in wordiness and a somewhat negative attitude.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2020.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Quarry’s Vote by Max Allan Collins

Quarry’s Vote
The Quarry Novels #5
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, March 2016
ISBN: 978-1-7832-9891-4
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher:  Now retired and happily married, Quarry turns down a million-dollar contract to assassinate a presidential candidate. It’s not the sort of assignment you can just walk away from without consequences – – but coming after Quarry has consequences, too.  The longest-running series from Max Allan Collins, author of Road to Perdition and the first ever to feature a hitman as the main character, the Quarry novels tell the story of a paid assassin with a rebellious streak and an unlikely taste for justice. Once a Marine sniper, Quarry found a new home stateside with a group of contract killers. But some men aren’t made for taking orders – – and when Quarry strikes off, on his own, God help the man on the other side of his nine-millimeter.

Quarry, who thinks of himself as a Vietnam-era relic, looks at himself at this stage of his life thusly:  “I was thirty-five.  I was getting bored with one-night stands and my own microwave cooking, I wanted some company and she seemed pleasant enough. She talked too much, but most people do.  She was beautiful, a terrific cook, and she kept out of my way.  What more could I ask?”  He’s been retired for nearly ten years, having used the name “Quarry” during those years when he was a paid assassin.  Written in 1987, the book at times seems prescient:  “We are coming into a fascinating election year.  The two parties – – depending upon whom they choose as their standard bearers of course – – should be in for a real battle. Think of it:  the highest office in the land up for grabs…we could have a true conservative in the White House . . .”   He turns down the offer, despite the big bucks involved.  And the situation leaves him deeply unsettled, threatening the life he has come to love, as people such as the ones making this offer don’t like to leave any loose ends.  Thinking of his wife, he muses “She was a sweet kid. I didn’t deserve her, but then who does deserve what they get in this life, good or bad?”

The ensuing tale of killers chasing a killer, who is in turn chasing them, is wonderfully well written.  A target is described as a “wealthy paranoid political crackpot who thinks the Soviets are after him.” When Quarry is asked “Are you a detective or an assassin,” he responds “Necessity has turned me into a little of both.”  When Quarry enters an upper-middle-class residence, he thinks  “It was the home of somebody who used to bowl but now golfs.”  His writing has been called “classic pulp fiction,” but my own take on it is that it is as enjoyable as anything being written contemporaneously.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2017.

Book Reviews: The Bid by Adrian Magson and Jacqueline by Jackie Minniti

the-bidThe Bid
A Cruxys Solutions Investigation #2
Adrian Magson
Midnight Ink Books, January 2017
ISBN: 978073875043
Trade Paperback

Modern warfare is a featured bit player in this novel of suspense. The story opens a window on a rich theme of warfare and crime in the coming twenty-first century and beyond. Indeed, one of the problems with the novel is the number of possibilities it raises for both criminals and law enforcement.

The target is no less than the President of the United States and the process of funding and carrying out the assassination is a clever idea rooted in very modern financial life. The author, an experienced British crime-novelist, has written over a dozen thrillers, most would be classed as spy or conspiracy thrillers. The action is tension-filled, mostly consistent and relentless. The writing is top-notch, the characters are mostly interesting and/or intriguing and the settings are appropriate.

A business consultant with operations in the US and overseas has a specialized insurance contract on his life. If he goes missing for a short period of time, unusually trained operatives go active, searching for the client and setting up protection for the client’s family. It sounds expensive and I wanted more explanation of the basis for the character, James Chadwick, to buy what must have been an expensive policy. The policy is administered by a company called Cruxys. This interesting security policy allows the writer to introduce a pair of company operatives who soon fly off to the US where most of the action takes place.

Over several chapters we learn that the company seekers, Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vasilk, have unusual and relevant training and employment backgrounds, including the ability to take lives when necessary to protect their employer and themselves. It is easy to see the range of possibilities for this free-wheeling pair to get into trouble and to rescue clients from a wide range of dangerous circumstances.

Were it not for the author’s penchant for slipping strong critical editorial commentary into the narrative voice from time to time, the pace of the novel would make this book truly a compelling page turner. One wonders if there is anything about American life he finds favor for. In spite of these asides, The Bid is enjoyable, attention-holding and well-worth the readers’ time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2016.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.


Jackie Minniti
Anaiah Press, July 2015
Trade Paperback

Jacqueline Falna of the title is a French child, twelve years of age, living in Rennes, France. When the story opens, in 1943, she and her mother have just learned that her father, a French aviator, is missing in action. Now they must cope with poverty, the Nazi occupiers, the coming of American forces all while maintaining a semblance of normal chiildhood.

Jacqueline, bright, energetic, with all the attributes one hopes to observe in a daughter or niece, is desolated by the news, but holds to the thread of possibility that her father may have been captured and will one day, after the war return to their home in Rennes. When a nearby family of Jews is abruptly taken away, the boy, David, remains and is hidden by Jacqueline’s family with help from neighbors.

In a simple, straight-forward style, through the eyes of this twelve year old child, we follow her daily challenges to help her mother find food, keep themselves warm in the winter and for Jacqueline, school and church. The novel is written for a middle school audience but the author’s craft does not pander, assuming readers may occasionally have to struggle with the language and some of the more mature considerations.

This is a fine, realistic novel, very well balanced with tragedy, happiness and it will not only engage readers in this age range. It also provides a way for young people to learn something about World War Two on an important personal level. Finally, after reading the novel, you may want to remind yourself of the name of the author.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2016.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Night of the Jaguar by Joe Gannon

Night of the JaguarNight of the Jaguar
Joe Gannon
Minotaur Books, September 2014
ISBN:  978-1-250-04802-8

A murder mystery wrapped up in the politics of Sandinista Nicaragua during the 1980’s, including the US-sponsored Contra rebels opposing the government, makes for a most unusual setting in this debut novel.  Ajax Montoya, a hero who gained a reputation as a  leader in the revolution against the dictator Somoza, failed to attain the lofty heights of power some of the other leading revolutionary leaders did after gaining their objective and is ‘just’ a police captain, fighting his nightmares through  alcoholism.

Then Ajax, six days sober, becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of a landowner just days prior to the visit of a US Senator on a fact-finding mission.  While the murder was made to look like a robbery gone bad, Ajax and his partner determine it was an assassination.  So they begin to probe despite obstacles thrown in their way by their superiors and the ghost that haunts Ajax.

Night of the Jaguar is an unusual novel, especially because of its Central American background, which is told so well by the author, who was a free-lance journalist in that country during the Sandinista revolution.  Sometimes the thread of the story becomes a bit too complicated and disjointed, but on the whole the plot is maintained at a steady pace.  It would appear from the novel’s conclusion that we may be seeing more of Ajax Montoya in a sequel, something to which we can look forward.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2015.

Book Review: The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

The Cairo AffairThe Cairo Affair
Olen Steinhauer
Picador, January 2015
ISBN: 978-1-250-03615-5
Trade Paperback

Life in the espionage world is never what it seems to be.  And that is certainly the case in this superb spy novel which follows the excellent Milo Weaver trilogy which ended with The Tourist. This story begins in Virginia, at CIA headquarters, where a Libyan-American analyst convinces himself that an old plan, called Stumbler, which he had devised years before, but was shelved, to overthrow the dictator, Muammar Gadhafi, was apparently being implemented.

However, the main thrust of the plot involves the machinations of the various intelligence services: the CIA, Egyptian and, of course, Libyan. The main characters include an American diplomatic couple, various agents of the intelligence services, and of course, the analyst who travels to Egypt to enter Libya and contact his underground network to boost the plan.

The author has created a magnificently intriguing plot, filled with an inside look on how intelligence is gathered and disseminated. His portrayal of the various characters leaves the reader with substantial insight into the motivations, including both patriotism and greed, of those involved in spy craft. In his examination of why the various participants act as they do, he not only delves deeply into their psyches, but looks profoundly at the moral issues. Don’t let the length of the novel put you off. It reads swiftly and enjoyably, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen, Requiem for a Gypsy by Michael Genelin, The Big Goodbye by Michael Lister, and Midnight Alley by Miles Corwin

The Keeper of Lost Causes
Jussi Adler-Olsen
Dutton, August 2011
ISBN No. 978-0525952480

Carl Morck was an exceptional homicide detective in Copenhagen until a bullet struck him down.  He lived but two of his colleagues weren’t so lucky.  Carl suffers from guilt since he didn’t even get his gun drawn during the battle.  Fellow workers have begun to complain about Carl.  He arrives late to work, rides the staff, interferes with other cases and will not return phone calls.  Marcus Jacobsen, Chief of Homicide, decided that he could kill two birds with one stone.  The Denmark Party is making speeches and complaining about cases that have not been solved.  Marcus makes a decision to create a new department called Department Q.  With outside pressure to create such a department for unsolved cases and with adequate funds to fund the department Carl Morck is put in charge of Department Q.  What appears to be a promotion is actually a demotion.  Carl is given a small office in the basement of headquarters and a ton of unsolved cases.

Carl is not one to be outsmarted though.  Realizing that money is coming in to fund his department but that none is drifting his way he makes demands for equipment and an assistant.  His assistant is very unusual.  His name is Assad and he is from Syria.  Carl realized immediately that he had made a mistake in asking for an assistant.  With an assistant nearby he could no longer sleep in his chair or work Sudoku puzzles to pass away the time.  The more chores he found for Assad the faster Assad accomplished the tasks.  Soon they both begin to sift through some of the cold case files and the case of the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard caught their interest.

Merete Lynggaard is a very attractive woman who served as Vice-President of the Social Democrats.  Merete had a beautiful home but her private life she kept secret from the people she worked with.  At night, she hurries home to spend the evening with her special needs brother.

Carl and Assad are sure that Merete is dead but determine to find out exactly what happened to her.  Merete is not dead but has been held captive for years.  She has almost given up hope of anyone locating her and setting her free.

The book skips back and forth between Carl’s actions and Merete’s struggles as told by Merete. Although the search for Merete is very serious, there are many humorous incidents between Carl and his assistant.  Carl also has a way of getting what he wants from his superiors from the large budget allotted to Department Q.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is a long book but I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and I didn’t want the book to end.  The cover of the book states that this is the first installment in the Department Q series and I cannot wait for the next installment.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2011.


Requiem for a Gypsy
Michael Genelin
Soho Crime, July 2011
ISBN  No. 978-1569479575

When Commander Jana Matinova of the Slovakia Police witnesses the assassination of Klara Bogan at a party honoring Oto Bogan, Klara’s husband, Jana immediately begins to wonder if Klara’s death was the fault of a stray bullet or if she was actually the intended victim.  Jana’s Colonel gives her permission to proceed with the investigation even though as a witness to the shooting she is told that she cannot be actively involved.

The department in charge of the main investigation refuses to share all of their information with Jana.  It is not long before Jana is on the trail of the pieces of information that she has no doubt will eventually lead to the reason behind the death of Klara Brogan.  Jana has access to the Murder Book but knows that the contents are incomplete. Jana finds that Oto Bogan as well as his son has disappeared.

A girl whose name is Em Mrvova shows up at Jana’s door, cold and hungry.  Jana takes pity on the girl but soon finds out that there is more to Em than meets the eye.  Em seems to appear and disappear with frequency.  Much wiser than her years Em is able to give Jana a few tips that help in her investigation.

Klara Bogan’s is not the first death that happens in this novel and Jana’s trail eventually takes her to Paris where she learns the real identity of an anonymous man that is run down on the streets of the city.

Jana is a brilliant police officer with a talent for interrogation that eventually gets her the answers she needs to put the puzzle pieces together that eventually tell the story behind the death of Klara as well as a long kept secret that goes back to a dark time in Slovak history.

The author has worked as an international consultant in government reform.  I hope to see Jana Matinova in many future novels.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2011.


The Big Goodbye
Michael Lister
Pulpwood Press
Kindle Edition
ISBN No. 978-1-888146-80-6
Also available in hardcover and trade paperback from Pottersville Press

Jimmy “Soldier” Riley is a one-armed Private Investigator in Panama City, Florida and the time is 1943.  Jimmy is in a partnership with Ray Parker, a former Pinkerton detective.  July is a cute little gal that works for the agency.

Ray and Jimmy have a lot going on and things are jumping in Panama City.  When Lauren Lewis walks into the office Jimmy isn’t sure how to handle it.  July wanted to send her in to see Ray but Jimmy insisted he could handle it.  Lauren was married to Harry Lewis who was a leader in the city and getting ready to run for office.  Jimmy and Lauren had an affair that was over now but just seeing Lauren made Jimmy remember every moment of the affair.

Lauren thinks someone is following her and wants to know if it is Jimmy.  Jimmy denies that he is following her but senses that she is in danger.  Jimmy decides whether Lauren likes it or not he is determined to protect her.

Protecting Lauren is easier said than done.  Part of the time, he can’t even find her.  Soon bodies start turning up and Jimmy is facing danger every step of the way.  Jimmy has to call in help from his friends before he eventually is able to locate Lauren and attempt to get her to safety.

The story is puzzling as well as exciting.   I figured out exactly what was going on with Lauren about half a dozen times.  None of my ideas were correct.   The ending was a shocker and I went back and reread some of the book and even though I knew what was going to happen I still couldn’t see it coming.  A great book.

If you like exciting detective novels don’t miss this one.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, August 2011.


Midnight Alley
Miles Corwin
Oceanview Publishing, April 2012
ISBN No. 978-1-6080-038-9

When I reviewed Kind of Blue I commented that Miles Corwin had written a book full of danger, excitement and secrets and Midnight Alley is more of the same.  The reader learns more about Ash Levine, top detective in the LAPD’s Felony Special squad.  Ash is not an ordinary detective.  He served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces and this experience gives him a little different outlook.

This second in the Ash Levine series puts Ash in charge of solving the murder of two young black men found shot to death in a Venice alley. The timing could not be worse.  Ash has just left for a weekend with his ex-wife Robin.  When he received the call ordering him back to work, Robin understood, but Ash was very disappointed.

Raymond Pinkney, one of the victims, was the son of City Councilman Isaac Pinkney.  Isaac has been a frequent critic of the LAPD.  Ash is under heavy pressure to find the killer but the case is puzzling.  Teshay Winfield, the other victim, had just returned from serving in the armed forces.  The two victims had known each other when they were younger but had gone separate ways.  What brought them together to be found dead in an alley?  And what was the strange marking on Pinkney’s bicep?  And what does it mean?  These are just a few of the many questions that leave Ash searching for answers.

Ash discovers that Teshay had returned to the States with a mask he discovered while serving overseas.  Teshay had high hopes that the mask would bring him a lot of money.  The more answers that Ash finds the more danger he is placing himself in.

This is a complicated story that reveals itself little by little until the surprising conclusion.  It  leaves the reader waiting  for more about Ash Levine, his life, and the cases he investigates in a manner that is totally devoted to solving the puzzles presented to him.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2012.