Book Review: Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy

Brooklyn on FireBrooklyn on Fire
A Mary Handley Mystery #2
Lawrence H. Levy
Broadway Books, January 2016
ISBN:978-0-553-41894-1
Trade Paperback

Mary Handley, a not-so-proper Victorian miss, has set up as a consulting detective. Her good friend, Mr. Lazlo, has provided her with not only a job until her consulting pays-off, but provided her with office space in a corner of his bookstore. Little does he know his store will be burned down as a result of this association, but that comes later in the story. The story opens with Mary’s first client.

Mary earned a bit of fame by cracking a highly reported earlier case. This previous success draws a woman named Emily Worsham to her office, stating her uncle has been murdered.The catch? It’s a very cold case. The uncle has been dead and buried for at least ten years⏤or has he? And is Emily Worsham actually a relative, or is she simply an actress hired to point a finger at one of the wealthy movers and shakers in the Brooklyn district? The plot thickens when Emily is murdered on stage, and it turns out she wasn’t Emily Worsham at all.

The story is fast-paced. Not only Mary herself is at risk, but her entire family and of course, poor Mr. Lazlo. Even Mary’s romantic interest, none other than George Vanderbilt, comes under the gun. Nothing is as it first appears and seeing Mary solve this convoluted puzzle is a joy.

An intricate plot will keep the reader guessing. The writing is good, the setting interesting (historical mysteries are my fave whether set in New York or the Pacific Northwest) and the characterization spot on. I can recommend this one.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Inspector Specter by E.J. Copperman and The Accident by Chris Pavone

Inspector SpecterInspector Specter
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #6
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26926-8
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the newest Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman. Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious eleven-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father. It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts. She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’  As the book begins, her paying guests number six (delightfully including Joe Guglielmelli and Bonnie Claeson, real-life former owners of the sorely-missed Black Orchid Books in Manhattan).

Allison is asked by Det. Lt. Anita McElone of the Harbor Haven Police Department to look into the death of Martin Ferry, McElone’s ex-partner in the Seaside Heights Police Dept., which those cops had labeled death caused by accidental discharge of his gun, but which she thinks is murder. Alison’s ability to conduct a proper investigation is hampered a bit by the fact that she has to baby-sit the eleventh-month-old son of her best friend, Jeannie, but with help from her ghostly assistants, she proceeds. There are disturbing hints that the detective may not have been completely honest.

Of her parents, Allison says “They have a great marriage, despite her being widowed.”  Of her father particularly:  “he almost never turns down a request I make (and never turns down a request Melissa makes; it’s like he was born to be a grandfather and, thanks to the miracle of ghost technology, is finally getting the chance to fulfill his true destiny.)”

The writing is wonderful, with the author’s s trademark laugh-out-loud wit and intelligence, well-plotted mystery and very well-drawn characters, alive or otherwise.

My preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.  His dedication to several brilliant comics of years past ends with the words “there aren’t enough funny people in the world,” a deficit which he certainly helps to overcome.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2014.

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The AccidentThe Accident
Chris Pavone
Broadway Books, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-385-34847-8
Trade Paperback

The Accident is, nominally, about a manuscript which bears that title, the author shown as “Anonymous.”  It is a memoir (perhaps), an expose or unauthorized biography (possibly), of an international media mogul (think Rupert Murdoch), with some little-known (or until now unknown) and potentially ruinous events in his past, most shockingly the one which gives the book its title, the person who wrote it identified only as “the author.”  But more importantly, the novel, written with a sly humor, provides an inside look at the publishing industry, in ever greater danger of extinction, that is as fascinating (in a schadenfreude kind of way) as that ostensible main story line. We are told the “the publishing business is a business, and books are published for an audience to buy from bookstores, who buy units from distributors who order cartons from publishers who acquire titles from literary agencies who sign up careers from authors, money changing hands at every transaction.”

The book opens with the surveillance of a woman, as yet unnamed, by a man watching a live video feed as she lies in bed, reading, typical of the espionage, literal and figurative, found here.

The manuscript, hand-delivered to the office of Isabel Reed, a powerful literary agent in New York, is full of shocking revelations implicating, e.g., various American presidents and CIA directors, and is, almost literally, dynamite, putting those few individuals who are privy to its contents in mortal danger. On the other hand, each of those individuals, initially at least, see in it their salvation. Written from their various points of view, the novel takes the reader from New York to Zurich, Copenhagen and Los Angeles, all of it taking place in a single day, and exposes the staggering machinations which routinely abound in the publishing industry. The reader is treated to brief excerpts from the manuscript, interspersed periodically, as it is read by the players in that select group.

With wonderfully well-drawn characters, this is a terrific read, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Review: A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry—and a Giveaway!

A Cold and Lonely PlaceA Cold and Lonely Place
Sara J. Henry
Broadway Books/Crown Publishing, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-307-71842-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Freelance writer Troy Chance is snapping photos of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival ice palace when the ice-cutting machine falls silent. Encased in the frozen lake is the shadowy outline of a body—a man she knows.

A lurid news story goes viral, throwing suspicion on one of Troy’s housemates. Troy is assigned to write an in-depth feature on the dead man, who turns out to be the son of a wealthy Connecticut family playing at a blue-collar life in this Adirondack village. As Troy digs deeper into his life and mysterious death—working with his bereaved sister, reclusive girlfriend, and helpful neighbor—a string of incidents makes it clear someone doesn’t want the investigation to continue.

What Troy discovers threatens to shatter the serenity of these mountain towns, and she must decide which family secrets should be exposed, and how far her own loyalty can reach.

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I’ve always liked mysteries involving journalists because they’re instinctive investigators without having the professional label of a private or police detective. The first Troy Chance book has been on my TBRR (To Be Read Radar) for quite a while and I was delighted to get a chance to read this one. My excitement was not misplaced.

First, let me mention one of my favorite fictional climates—cold. I say fictional because I hate cold in real life. Central Virginia gets cold enough, thank you, and I’ll never move further north. Visit, yes, but never move. I suppose my liking of it in books is because I can enjoy the ambience without the agony but it’s also because it can put the characters in such climatic peril that you wouldn’t find in, say, my town.  So, I’m drawn to books like A Cold and Lonely Place because I’m immediately pulled in by knowing the cold is certainly going to play a part. In this case, as in a few others I’ve liked, the cold is itself a character.

I also like Ms. Henry‘s style in throwing the reader into the story from the get-go. On the very first page of Chapter 1, we know something is terribly wrong and the tension rarely lets up from then till the end. Troy has to walk a fine line between natural bias in favor of her housemate and the straightforward, honest study of the man found in the ice. She can’t allow agendas, hers or anyone else’s, to get in the way.

Unfortunately, Troy’s in-depth investigation leads her into the crosshairs of someone who wants her to stop before she digs too far, learning things that are meant to be kept secret. Along the way, the young man, Tobin, is  revealed to be  a very different person behind the playboy facade and she’ll also learn much about herself and the choices she has to make. Friendship, loyalty, truth—all will be tested.

I did a fair amount of shivering while I read A Cold and Lonely Place and it wasn’t just because of the deep-winter Adirondacks. Ms. Henry caused a few shivers, too, with the literally bonechilling mystery of the dead man in the ice and with all the emotions she evoked while Troy and other people all around her faced things that sometimes are better left hidden.  To say that this is a haunting story is to only scratch the surface and I am now a fan of Sara J. Henry.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2013.

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