Book Review: The Boy From The Woods by Harlan Coben @HarlanCoben @GrandCentralPub

The Boy from the Woods
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing /Hatchette Book Group, March 2020
ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5
Hardcover

The story opens with a young girl, bullied at school and at home, wondering how to get through another day. Then she disappears and the only one who notices is a classmate, himself trying to fit in, who reports the incident to his grandmother. Grandma is Hester Crimstein, a high-powered attorney nobody wants to mess with. Tough, and a TV personality famous for the cases she takes on, she sets in motion a search that has unexpected, and dangerous, results.

Meanwhile, a man called Wilde, a name taken by a boy of unknown identity who simply walked out of the woods one day, is put in charge of discovering the facts behind the girl’s disappearance. Important people may be involved in a case of bullying that turns into something more far-reaching and serious. Hester and Wilde must work their way through an old mystery, even as the fate of the whole country is at stake.

Each of the characters are well-drawn, especially Hester and Wilde. Wilde’s past is an intriguing precept. How could a boy of about six years subsist in the wilderness alone for months—maybe for years? Even he doesn’t know how long he’d been there, nor does he remember his parents or his name. Supposedly, he managed to break into summer homes, find food, clothes, warmth, even watch TV and learn to speak as a tiny child. Frankly, I found the idea a bit unlikely, but hey, I like a good twisty yarn and this is one of them. However, from the first mention of his lost identity, I wondered why Wilde didn’t go the DNA testing route, but not until almost the end did the subject come up. Wilde may have found a clue at last and I can’t wait to read about it.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

Book Reviews: That Left Turn at Albuquerque by Scott Phillips and Where Privacy Dies by Priscilla Paton @soho_press @priscilla_paton @CoffeetownPress

That Left Turn at Albuquerque
Scott Phillips
Soho Crime, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-64129-109-5
Hardcover

The author has assembled here an engaging and substantial cast of characters. That he is able to keep track of their criminal activities and their attitudes toward their fellow humans, as well as their active lives is quite impressive.

Most of the characters engage in illegal and scurrilous acts without apparent concern for the morality or humanity of their lives. Or for the impact their actions have on others, often innocent others. That most of their criminality is directed at other criminals may be seen by many readers as a mitigating factor. A significant number of the characters are imbued with some level of humor and see their fellow humans as actually funny at times.

Central to the story is down and out attorney, Douglas Rigby. His small, now solo practice is falling to pieces and he engages in several illegal enterprises in his attempts to stave off bankruptcy and total ruin.

Readers will be treated to bare-knuckle humor, tongue in cheek satire, up-tempo action, murder, mayhem, and a good deal of action. A somewhat peculiar, jaundiced look at society, propels the book from start to finish.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Where Privacy Dies
A Twin Cities Mystery #1
Priscilla Paton
Coffeetown Press, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-665-6
Trade Paperback

From the striking cover to the final resolution of murky death and the corruption by power and money of numerous characters, this rich and at times difficult novel will attract, enthrall and sometimes irk readers. Central to the story is the gradual growth of understanding and appreciation of two detectives in a Twin Cities law enforcement force titled G-Met. It’s an intriguing amalgam of special cops whose franchise covers multiple jurisdictions in the metropolitan region of East Central Minnesota. It’s an authorial creation with much interesting and intriguing potential.

Lead detective is tall lanky Erik Jansson, divorced father of a young son. He is not a typical cop one frequently finds in this genre. He’s paired with a new hire from a small city in southern Minnesota, Deb Metzger, a six-foot plus lesbian, who could competently handle the physical requirements of a corporate bodyguard. The two are not instantly simpatico and thereby inhabit a running source of minor conflict and mutual support which adds a fine level of benign conflict to the novel.

Although the title of the novel is a quickly understood clue to an important dimension of the mystery, this story turns on the deviousness and sometimes nasty inclinations of human beings who have enjoyed a high degree of success without the leavening factor of ethics and moral suasion. The narrative is tight, solid and delves neatly into ego, intrusion of technology, moral failure and the entanglement of those who would ignore their childhood schooling. A multiplicity of characters, crisp dialogue and an absence of unnecessary description adds to the richness of the novel. The novel competently reveals a fresh voice and a thoughtful look into the modern world of computer crime and our almost universal entanglement therein. I recommend this fine novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Boy From The Woods by Harlan Coben @HarlanCoben @GrandCentralPub

The Boy From The Woods
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-5387-4814-5
Hard Cover

At the start of this novel we are introduced to the boy referred to in the book’s title.  Thirty years ago, Wilde, as he is now known, was discovered living in the woods in a rural area of New Jersey.  According to the police there was never any report of a missing child. No relatives ever came forward to claim him.

Intriguing as that opening of Coben’s new stand alone is, the novel moves to the present and concerns another child who has gone missing. Her name is Naomi Pines and she’s a teenager who attends a local high school in the town of Westville, New Jersey.   Matthew, a  fellow student, is concerned for Naomi’s welfare.  He’s contacted his grandmother, Hester Crimstein, a well-known New York criminal attorney to enlist her help.

Hester sets things in motion in the search to find Naomi, calling on the local police and contacting Wilde, who’d been befriended by Hester’s son David, Matthew’s father, years ago.

The relationships in this novel are complicated and there are a few more characters  to meet who are involved in a political plot pertaining to a candidate running for President of the United States.

I’m sure you’ll agree that this might be hard to keep track of,  but rest assured you are in the hands of a well known and loved Master.  Jump in…you’ll be glad you did.  I thoroughly enjoyed this and hope Mr. Coben will return to with a sequel so that we might learn more about the Wilde boy from the woods.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2020.

Book Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey—and a Giveaway!

The Widows of Malabar Hill
A Mystery of 1920s Bombay #1
Sujata Massey
Soho Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-778-0
Hardcover

Summary: Perveen Mistry, while assisting her father with an estate case, uncovers family secrets and deceit among the household of wives and children left behind after the patriarch’s death. Her English friend from school assists with her investigation.

The Widows of Malabar Hill begins what will hopefully be a long series with Perveen Mistry as the protagonist. Perveen is an Oxford educated lawyer working with her father in his law practice in the 1920s in Bombay, India. While at that time women could not be admitted to the bar and therefore could not represent clients in court, Perveen was able to perform much of the paper work of the law practice from writing wills to helping clients understand their legal positions. As the book opens, that is where readers find Perveen. Her father is the executor of a recently deceased mill owner who leaves behind three widows and a number of children. The person acting as their guardian has presented a document signed by the three widows stating they wish to forgo their rightful inheritance and turn their dowry gifts over to the trust which the guardian controls. There are two concerns with the document.  First there is some question regarding the signatures and secondly, the document also changes the focus of the trust’s mission, something that cannot so easily be done.

Because the women follow the custom of purdah (complete separation of the sexes), Perveen’s father would not be able to meet with the women, but Perveen can. Perveen goes to the widows’ home to speak with each of the women separately to have them each sign an individual agreement  but also to make sure the women understand exactly what they have agreed to give up and what the stated new mission of the trust is to be. While she is visiting with the second widow, the  guardian returns, overhears what she is saying and orders her to leave. Later she realizes she has left her briefcase and returns to retrieve it only to find the guardian has been murdered. What follows is an excellent murder mystery in which Perveen enlists her English friend from Oxford now living in Bombay to assist her.

There are so many things to love about this book beyond the murder mystery.

Besides the obvious crime to be solved, there is another entire story told throughout the book involving Perveen’s earlier marriage to a handsome businessman from Calcutta. Shifting back and forth from 1916 and 1917 to the story’s present day 1920s, we learn the details of how the couple met, married and why the marriage fell apart. Through this we also have a mini look into the marriage customs of India at that time, some extreme as well as some even then archaic practices.

The historical details the author has included really puts the reader in the 1920s in Bombay. The jumble of the various religious and cultural entities that somehow manage to co-exist is interesting and quite impressive.  Many cultural traditions are included and explained through actions giving readers a sense of being there rather than lectured to.

Included at the end of the book are some historical notes from the author. I would recommend reading those before reading the book. The notes really set the stage for the book.

This was the first book  I read in 2018 and a book I was sorry to see it end. What a great way to start the year.

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

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of The Widows of Malabar Hill
by Sujata Massey, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be
drawn Thursday evening, June 21st.
This drawing is open to
residents of the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: Blue Madonna by James R. Benn and The Fixer by Joseph Finder

blue-madonnaBlue Madonna
A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery #11
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61695-642-4
Hardcover

Billy Boyle has received all kinds of assignments in his capacity as a special investigator on Eisenhower’s staff. But few, if any, match the bizarre task before him in the Blue Madonna.  To begin with, he is arrested, tried on trumped up charges and stripped of his Captaincy and sentenced to time in the stockade for black market activities.  (This, of course, a subterfuge to provide a cover story as part of an investigation.)  Then he is sent behind enemy lines to rescue a downed airman who is needed to testify against a black market gang.

No sooner does Billy arrive in occupied France than he finds himself investigating two murders of airmen being hidden in a chateau.  And he even participates in partisan operations, blowing up railroad tracks and bridges.

The Billy Boyle series takes him through various phases of World War II.  This novel takes place as Allied troops sail for Normandy on D-Day, giving the author the opportunity to describe conditions in Occupied France, how the partisans operated, and what was done to return downed airmen through clandestine networks.  The Blue Madonna, a valuable piece of art, is an example of how many Jews and others attempted to prevent the Nazis from stealing their possessions by hiding them in such places as the chateau, which also secreted parachuted Allied fliers.

As were the first 10 books in the series, Blue Madonna is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2016.

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the-fixerThe Fixer
Joseph Finder
Putnam, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-4514-7257-3
Mass Market Paperback

What would you do if by some off-chance you broke into a wall in your home and discovered $3.7 million in cash?  That is the good luck that befalls Rick Hoffman, erstwhile unemployed journalist.  And then the bad luck follows.  Rick begins to wonder where the money came from.  He can’t ask his father, whose house it was, because the latter was left speechless and partially paralyzed by a stroke about two decades before.  Rick was once an investigative journalist, and uses these talents to find answers.

He soon discovers that his attorney father was a fixer, paying off various persons to ward off claims against powerful Boston figures.   And for his efforts he is beaten severely, almost killing him, as was his father before him, to stop Rick from pursuing his investigation.  But he perseveres.

The story moves ahead in a straightforward manner, with each step along the way uncovering additional information, until Rick can prove where the money came from and why.  But more importantly, as Rick explains, he continues because he wants to know how the story ends.  And so will you.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2016.

Book Reviews: Noontime Follies by Elizabeth Gunn and Retribution by Richard Sotnick

Noontime FolliesNoontime Follies
A Jake Hines Mystery #10
Elizabeth Gunn
Severn House, July 2015
ISBN: 9780727884961
Hardcover

This author has many crime novels in print. They are all competently written with interesting characters in sometimes unusual locations. The Jake Hines series is particularly interesting in that it follows a lone Mexican with a checkered past who ends up in a small city on the eastern border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Over a period of years Jake Hines gets his life together, becomes a cop, a detective and now head of the investigations squad in Rutherford, Minnesota.

Noontime Follies is a title with someone’s tongue firmly implanted. And even though revealing the inner meaning of the title wouldn’t ruin the plot of the crimes herein, I think it’s more fun and more intriguing to suggest that readers who want an incisive crime novel about human relations and corporate maneuvering ought to read this one.

This novel is, in part, about the corporate development of new genetically engineered food crops which may or may not provide substantial benefits to mankind in the form of better nutrition. The issues are several and do indeed address questions of ethics and morality. After all, mankind, since the beginning, so far as we know, has been trying to improve crop yields, both to enrich the tribe and provide adequate food beyond immediate needs.

Some find that questionable, particularly as to motive, and may be provoked to unusual actions. Noontime Follies raises some interesting questions along those lines as well as its more intimate plot lines. A worthwhile experience with a satisfactory conclusion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2015.
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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RetributionRetribution
Richard Sotnick
Ephesus Publishing, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-9557125-3-1
Trade Paperback

The author is a lawyer from Portsmouth, England. The novel is rooted in the legal arcana of the British legal system. In point of fact, the novel is a lengthy, detailed critique of that system and an examination of the sometimes extensive damage the system does to innocent, wrongly accused, citizens.

Robert Abramsky is a very successful small town attorney who is faced with a client who started a specialized security firm. The security firm is absorbed into a much larger conglomerate and then unethically destroyed. Abramsky out-maneuvers the big firm and in turn destroys the vindictive man responsible. Readers will recognize that the tale will not end there.

Lawyer Abramsky’s main opponent is a nasty, vindictive man with a long memory. Years later, he still seethes over the memory of his destruction, conveniently overlooking the fact that he was, in fact, the guilty party. He determines to destroy Robert Abramsky in a most hurtful way, by ruining his honest reputation as a lawyer and member of the community. Corruption takes many forms and this intriguing novel examines several.

Although the pace of this overlong novel is almost as glacial as the legal system it addresses, the writing is strong enough and the plot is complicated enough to keep many readers engaged. In addition, the characterizations of many of the cast of dozens, is intriguing. Retribution fits its title nicely and the world-wide scope of the story plus the curiously intricate cyber security the author lays out all tends to keep one’s attention. Definitely not a soft summer beach read. Rather, a thoughtful careful examination of important elements of today’s society.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2015.
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: The Marriage at the Rue Morgue by Jessie Bishop Powell and Lion Plays Rough by Lachlan Smith

The Marriage at the Rue MorgueThe Marriage at the Rue Morgue
A Rue and Lakeland Mystery
Jessie Bishop Powell
Five Star, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-4328-2867-7
Hardcover

If you like your humor blended with darkness here and there, then you may find The Marriage at the Rue Morgue as delightful a read as I did. I also learned a lot about orangutans and primates in the process.

The Marriage at Rue Morgue has a very comical thread throughout the story. Noel Rue, the bride, has made an art out of not planning her wedding to Lance Lakeland over the last year but now the big day is almost here. It’s not that she doesn’t want to get married; it’s just, well, complicated by her past experiences and the events that keep happening around her.

The novel is fast paced and well written. And there is definitely more humor than dark. It’s a fun read but it takes time here and there to make some interesting points about important things as well, like keeping wild animals safely in the primate sanctuary where Noel and Lance work together as primatologists.

The ending of the novel, which I won’t disclose, does lean more to the dark side. Some may think it goes awry here. But this is a murder mystery and although it may be a change of tone, I thought it was very well handled and gave the book more meaning and substance.

Throughout the book, we learn about their passion not just for each other but for their work and the animals in their care. It’s a fun read that also has some important things to say. I recommend it.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, October 2014.

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Lion Plays RoughLion Plays Rough
A Leo Maxwell Mystery
Lachlan Smith
The Mysterious Press, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-8021-2216-2
Hardcover

Leo Maxwell is a defense attorney with a conscience, and in this follow-up novel he exhibits all the ego and characteristics of the breed. He thinks he knows it all, and as a result nearly gets himself killed. It all begins when he is handed a possible case by a woman tipster and he is blind to the possibility that he is being duped.

But being a lawyer isn’t enough for Leo. He becomes an investigator and performs other roles, some of which are possibly unethical. All these machinations sometimes are too much for the reader to slog through, and the complicated plot slows progress through the pages. There is a courtroom scene which is well-presented and written by an author who is, after all, a practicing attorney, albeit not in criminal law. On the other hand, the same cannot be said for the remainder of the novel.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2014.