Book Reviews: Nine Lives to Die by Rita Mae Brown and An Intimate Murder by Stacy Verdick Case

Nine Lives to DieNine Lives to Die
A Mrs. Murphy Mystery
Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Illustrated by Michael Gellatly
Bantam Books, June 2014
ISBN 978-0-345-53050-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Winter has come to Crozet, Virginia, bringing with it a fresh blanket of snow. Harry and her husband, Fair, are hip deep in their usual end-of-the-year activities: distributing food to needy residents, and shopping for outfits for the Silver Linings youth organization’s annual fundraising gala. But buried beneath the white stuff are dark secrets from Crozet’s past—and Harry and her posse of pet detectives are determined to sniff them out.
 
Two Silver Linings mentors have been found dead in suspicious circumstances. If that weren’t enough to chill the bones of the locals, a pair of severed human fingers has turned up in a pencil jar in the bookkeeper’s office at St. Cyril’s church. What does this grisly display have to do with the mysterious disappearance of Harry’s voluptuous high school Latin teacher, a quarter of a century ago? Maybe nothing. But when the animals make another gruesome discovery in the woods behind Harry’s farm, it becomes clear that terrible crimes have been committed in Crozet—and somebody’s gone to great lengths to cover them up. It’s time to stop shoveling snow and start digging for clues.
 
The truth will be revealed. A cold case will be solved. And a twenty-five-year-old love triangle is about to get untangled. The weather outside may be frightful, but Harry and her four-legged friends refuse to be spooked off the case.

It’s hard to believe this series has been going on for so long but, indeed, it has—this is the twenty-second adventure for Harry and her four-footed pals and I still think spending a few hours with this crew is just about the most comforting and entertaining way to indulge my fancy for a cozy mystery. I’m a reader who generally prefers edgier crime fiction but sometimes I need a break from the dark stuff and Rita Mae Brown always delivers or almost always. There have been a few books that I felt were written as a means of sharing an agenda but Nine Lives to Die is back on track. (There is one unexplained oddity when Harry is referred to as “Harriet” which is not her name.)

Harry and the rest of her rural locality are appealing people (other than the ones who will turn out to be the bad guys) and, after all these years, I consider them friends. Harry and Fair are a couple I wish were in my life for real and the rest of the town denizens always give me a sense of coming home after a time away. I especially like the faith they have in each other and in a higher power and the way they come together as a community to solve problems.

In this case, modern-day murder and some years-old questions become entwined, beginning with what appears at first blush to be a fatal car accident.  Missing fingers are one of the first clues that foul play might have occurred. Not long after, Harry’s pets find a great Christmas present for Mom even if it was originally on a human arm bone. Does the rest of this skeleton have anything to do with current events?

A cast of characters makes it easy to keep all these folks—and a bunch of critters—straight but it is a couple of cats and a dog who are the real stars of the show. Mrs. Murphy, Pewter and Tee Tucker all have one common goal: keep Mom (Harry) from getting herself into too much trouble. Their conversations with each other and other creatures as they track down clues are a lot of fun and, no, I have no problem with talking animals, whether they talk to humans or only to each other. This is fiction, folks, and we’re allowed to have fun with it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

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An Intimate MurderAn Intimate Murder
Stacy Verdick Case
Before the Fall Books, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-9837137-6-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Jonathan and Susan Luther are murder in their home, St. Paul homicide detective Catherine O’Brien and her partner Louise discover this isn’t the first time the Luther family has been visited by tragedy.  Is it a case of bad family luck or is there something more?

Having a reporter tag along as you investigate a murder is not any detective’s dream but that’s precisely what happens when Detective Catherine O’Brien mouths off about the media and her punishment is to have Jane Katts along for the ride. It’s even more aggravating when it becomes apparent that Jane has little interest in portraying how the police do their jobs.

Catherine is the kind of detective you’d want on the case should you ever find yourself involved in a murder. She’s determined to root out the truth but she’s not one to believe the ends justify the means; she’ll get the job done honestly and with good oldfashioned hard work. Her friendship with Louise Montgomery is what makes their partnership so successful and, like many partnerships, their differences solidify their compatibility and mutual trust.

Getting to the truth of the Luthers’ murders is a complex and tangled mystery and could easily turn totally dark and depressing but Catherine’s brand of humor adds a dimension that not only helps protect the sanity of cops doing a tough job but also keeps this particular tale a bit more engaging than the usual police procedural and the twists and turns kept me guessing. I really like these women and will be going back to read the first two books as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

Book Review: The City by Dean Koontz—and a Giveaway

The CityThe City
Dean Koontz
Bantam Books, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-345-54593-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s not where we live, it’s the people we live for.

The city changed my life and showed me that the world is deeply mysterious. I need to tell you about her and some terrible things and wonderful things and amazing things that happened . . . and how I am still haunted by them. Including one night when I died and woke and lived again.

Here is the riveting, soul-stirring story of Jonah Kirk, son of an exceptional singer, grandson of a formidable “piano man,” a musical prodigy beginning to explore his own gifts when he crosses a group of extremely dangerous people, with shattering consequences. Set in a more innocent time not so long ago, The City encompasses a lifetime but unfolds over three extraordinary, heart-racing years of tribulation and triumph, in which Jonah first grasps the electrifying power of music and art, of enduring friendship, of everyday heroes.

The unforgettable saga of a young man coming of age within a remarkable family, and a shimmering portrait of the world that shaped him, The City is a novel that speaks to everyone, a dazzling realization of the evergreen dreams we all share. Brilliantly illumined by magic dark and light, it’s a place where enchantment and malice entwine, courage and honor are found in the most unexpected quarters, and the way forward lies buried deep inside the heart.

Those of us who are longtime fans of Dean Koontz are almost rabid about it and we can barely stand to wait for each book to come out. Whether it’s a series or a standalone or even a long-unfinished trilogy doesn’t really matter; we just need our Koontz fix and we know it’s going to be a good one every time. Having said that, I must say The City stands out in the crowd.

When we first meet Jonah, he’s an older man beginning to recount his life from the age of eight and, as we grow along with him, we find that it’s a life of wonder and tragedy, much like the life we all experience…but perhaps with a bit more drama. It’s also the story of a musical prodigy and what that enormous talent means to Jonah. It’s a story about the most important relationships in a child’s world and as he ages. It’s the tale of a young African American growing up in a time of great discomfort and unrest but with hope in the face of adversity. It’s a journey along roads that may or may not be good choices. Most of all, it’s a story of magic and danger and heroes and of dreams.

Are there flaws in this book? Yes, as there nearly always are in a Koontz novel but the trip is well worth the occasional potholes and I recommend The City to current fans and those who are new to the Dean Koontz universe.

 

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

Acclaim for Dean Koontz:

 

“A rarity among bestselling writers, Koontz continues to pursue new
ways of telling stories, never content with repeating himself.” -Chicago Sun-Times

 

“Tumbling, hallucinogenic prose. ‘Serious’ writers . . . might do well
to examine his technique.” -The New York Times Book Review

 

“[Koontz] has always had near-Dickensian powers of
description, and an ability to yank us from one page to the next
that few novelists can match.” -Los Angeles Times

 

“Koontz is a superb plotter and wordsmith. He chronicles the hopes
and fears of our time in broad strokes and fine detail, using popular
fiction to explore the human condition.” -USA Today

 

“Characters and the search for meaning, exquisitely crafted,
are the soul of [Koontz’s] work. . . . One of the master storytellers
of this or any age.” -The Tampa Tribune

 

“A literary juggler.” -The Times (London)

 

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Giveaway

One lucky reader will win signed copies of The City
for their ENTIRE book club (maximum 20 copies),
and Dean will give the winning book club a Facebook
shout out to his 1.4 million Facebook fans!

Enter the Rafflecopter drawing here.

Book Review: The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

The Deepest SecretThe Deepest Secret
Carla Buckley
Bantam Books, February 2014
ISBN: 978-0345-53524-5
Hardcover

What is the deepest secret? Is there a universal understanding? Is it unfaithfulness, thievery, murder? How do extraordinary circumstances affect the winding and unwinding of our lives? This author has taken on the difficult task of thoughtfully exploring a complicated family dynamic; a loving mother with an ambitious husband in a distant office, a teenaged daughter verging on full-out rebellion, and a son. The son has a rare disease that makes him extremely vulnerable to the ultra-violet component of light. The sun is Tyler’s deadly enemy. He cannot go out during the day at all and at night, even the momentary flashing of the headlight from a passing car can be dangerous.

Eve Lattimore is trying to raise her family as normally as possible while keeping her son alive. Her husband is working in a law office a plane ride distant from the suburban base Eve has established on a quiet urban cul de sac.

As normal school and social pressures rise, she and the family face increasing problems. A palpable sense of menace, even pending tragedy, permeates the pages of this novel from the very beginning. Buckley’s style is enfolding and persistent. She writes sensitively, carefully drawing the reader in to an interesting cast of characters whom we see developing and changing, while the story proceeds inexorably to a horrifying crisis. An excellent  observation of family and neighborhood dynamics.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: The Accident by Linwood Barclay and The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker

The Accident
Linwood Barclay
Bantam Books, August 2011
ISBN No. 978-0553807189
Hardcover

Glen and Sheila Garber have been facing what so many other couples across the country are facing.  The economy isn’t any better in Connecticut where they have their home than any other location in the United States.  Glen is a contractor and owns his own business.  His business has been shaken by the housing crisis.  One of the houses he was working on burned and he is not sure that the insurance is going to cover the loss. Sheila is attending night classes in the hope of landing a better job.  Sheila also feels that she will be a big help in Glen’s business when she finishes her night course.  Sheila assured Glen that the future was looking brighter for the couple and their eight year-old daughter.

There would be no future for the couple. Sheila left for class one night and didn’t return.  She was killed in an automobile accident and she wasn’t the only victim.  Sheila is blamed for the accident although Glen just can’t believe it.  The police say Sheila was drunk and passed out with her car blocking the road.  Glen has never known Sheila to drink to excess nor has she ever driven while intoxicated.

Glen sets out to seek answers to what really happened the night that Sheila died.  He finds that other couples in his community have decided to take dangerous steps to increase their income and fight the current economy.  Good friends have become involved in illegal activities that include pushing knock off purses, selling prescription meds that aren’t of the quality they should be and it even extends to faulty wiring and building materials.  The more Glen finds out the more he fears for the safety of his daughter as well as his own safety.  He questions how deeply involved Sheila had become in these activities and if this involvement brought about her death.

This is a gripping story that keeps the reader on edge.  Before the entire story is revealed, several lives and families are destroyed.  I hope that this story is all centered in the author’s imagination.   It would be tragic to think that families have taken up criminal activities in order to retain a life style that they have become accustomed to in better times.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.

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The Bride Collector
Ted Dekker
Center Street, 2010
ISBN No. 1599951966
Hardcover

Women of the Denver area are being targeted by a killer the FBI are calling The Bride Collector.  The killer leaves his victims naked except for panties and a veil.  The body is glued to the wall and the blood is drained from the victims.

FBI Special Agent Brad Raines is at a dead-end in his investigation.  Nikki Holden, a forensic psychologist working with Brad, is of the opinion that the killer thinks of himself as the groom and that his preparations of the body are done out of love.  When the killer leaves a note in the heel of his victim Brad and Nikki are at a loss to figure out the message that the killer is trying to convey.

Determining that the killer is both mentally ill and a genius the FBI turns to the Center for Wellness and Intelligence.   The center is a private home for gifted, mentally ill residents.  When Brad and Nikki visit the center, they meet residents Roudy, Andrea, Enrique and Paradise.  People have their own set of personal problems but each is highly intelligent.  Although the mannerisms of the group could be considered at times comical their mental problems are very real.  The group works hard to decipher the meaning behind the message left by The Bride Collector and manage to reach a solution that is a big help to the FBI.

Brad suffers from a mental problem of his own in that he cannot forget his first love who killed herself because she didn’t think she was beautiful enough.  The killer leaves a note that indicates he has taken a personal interest in Brad that makes Brad fear for anyone close to him.

Paradise seems to have the ability to see the final moments before a person’s death by touching the body.  Brad works to gain Paradise’s trust and soon he is fascinated by Paradise who refers to herself as a skank because she feels she is ugly.

This is a fast-paced book and not your usual serial killer story.  The Bride Collector ended too soon for me.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2011.