Book Review: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

The Italian Party
Christina Lynch
St. Martin’s Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-14783-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie’s Italian teacher―a teenager with secrets of his own―disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Scottie and Michael are children of their times, as they say, and those of us who remember the 1950’s will certainly recognize them. They scream “American” with their enormous, flashy Ford Fairlane, their marriage is something of a convenience and they barely know each other, and they’re much, much wealthier than the Italians they want to live among. Michael is undoubtedly the head of the household and Scottie is the demure wife who follows her husband’s lead; in fact, Michael appreciates that she knows how to be a good, supportive wife. After all, her education at Vassar led to her Mrs. degree and she upholds it beautifully.

Unlike the “Leave It to Beaver” scenario, these two are not exactly the salt of the earth but, perhaps more importantly, neither one has a clue who the other one is and major secrets begin to come out as soon as they get to their destination, Siena. On top of everything in their personal lives, Communism is nipping at their heels.

All of that sounds kind of dismal, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s true to an extent but the joy in this novel comes from watching this young couple come to terms with themselves and each other while they’re in the midst of a most unlikely spy story of their own and there are a lot of laughs to be had, the kind that make you think “caper” and “adventure”. All in all, this was totally fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes spies, international intrigue, comedy, romance, adventure, history, Italian food…you get the idea 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Photo credit Stacy Brand

Christina Lynch’s picaresque journey includes chapters in Chicago and at Harvard, where she was an editor on the Harvard Lampoon. She was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany. In L.A. she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After; Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone and Wildfire. She now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. She is the co-author of two novels under the pen name Magnus Flyte. She teaches at College of the Sequoias. The Italian Party is her debut novel under her own name.

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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 Review: The Cleaner by Paul Cleave

The CleanerThe Cleaner
Paul Cleave
Atria, December 2012
ISBN 978-1-4516-7779-9
Trade Paperback

Meet Joe Middleton. Some people think he’s Slow Joe or Simple Joe. He’s an average guy with an average job. He’s a janitor, a cleaner, for the Christchurch, New Zealand police department. He has two goldfish. He visits his nag of a mom on a regular basis for meatloaf dinners.

Joe is also a serial killer. He’s raped and killed several women so far and knows the police investigation is going nowhere. How? Because, as a cleaner, he has access to the rooms where all the evidence is kept. However, he’s made a discovery and he’s not happy about it. A recent murder victim has been found. Although Joe didn’t kill her, the real perpetrator is setting him up for it. This prompts Joe to start his own investigation to find the real killer. He’s intelligent and by using deductive reasoning will narrow down the suspects.

However, Joe has other worries, namely the pesky women in his life. Besides his mother, there is Sally, a co-worker who he thinks has a schoolgirl crush on him. There is also the enigmatic Melissa…who just may be his equal in viciousness.

Dark humor runs throughout this novel, first published in New Zealand and expanded for publication in America. Its graphic details left me cringing but Cleave has presented this serial killer as-almost-likeable in a strange but morbid fashion. I didn’t really become a fan of Joe in the sense of seeing him as the hero. He’s definitely not, but there was something about the book that urged me to follow behind him-although not too closely-to see what happened next.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, October 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Review: The Craigslist Murders by Brenda Cullerton

The Craigslist Murders
Brenda Cullerton
Melville House, May 2011
ISBN 978-1612190198
Trade Paperback

Sometimes, don’t the ‘concerns’ of the super rich drive you so crazy you could just…kill them? Do their ‘worries’ over $15,000 toilets or the cleaning costs of $50,000 curtains make you want to, oh, say, bash a fire poker to their skulls? Well, meet one New York interior decorator who is fed up and decides to do something about it. Plus, through an on-line marketing site, she gets a few rewards out of the process.

Charlotte Wolfe: New York interior decorator dealing with the demands of the very wealthy while  searching for her ‘victims’ through the popular Craigslist.  She contacts young trophy wives who are selling items owned by previous wives. Then she kills them. However, Wolfe’s life is in turmoil and about to get much worse. She suffers the psychosomatic pains of childhood neglect from a mother who only wanted to rise to the top of wealth and society. She endures the indignity of her mother’s constant presence and nitpicking in her adult life. The friendship with her college chum is eroding quickly. Bills are piling up. Her clients are driving her mad with their insane ideas. Plus, the cops may be closing in on the killer of young wealthy wives in the New York area.

This fast read spends a lot of time in the past explaining Wolfe’s current situation. At times you shake your head in disbelief at some of the eccentricities of the wealthy and Charlotte’s reaction to them. However, Charlotte’s is a tragic case as you see how her past is affecting her present and how her life is spinning out of control. Cullerton does a good job of tying together events to show us Charlotte’s world and you sometimes wonder why more of us don’t similarly  go off the deep end.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2011.