Book Review: Of Mutts and Men by Spencer Quinn @ChetTheDog @ForgeReads

Of Mutts and Men
A Chet & Bernie Mystery #10   
Spencer Quinn
Forge Books, July 2020
ISBN: 978-1-250-29769-3
Hardcover

The story opens with Chet and his partner, Bernie Little of the Little Detective Agency, in hot pursuit of an art thief. Across rooftops, no less, and when the thief jumps from one roof to another, he drops the painting. But Chet, superb partner that he is, catches the painting in mid-air. He saves the thief also, whose leap has fallen short, almost by himself. Except Bernie is there and hauls them both in. All in a day’s work, which lands them a new client.

Unfortunately, when the partners show up at the client’s place of business, they find him dead. Since Bernie—and Chet, that goes without saying—distrusts the inept sheriff in charge, they take on the job of finding the killer. It’s what they do best, and as you’ll see, though investigating is not without peril, they’re very good at it. Pay or no pay, something Chet always worries about, Bernie not so much. Just like Bernie always worries about the aquifer in the dry California desert country, but Chet not so much.

From this, if you haven’t read any of Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie novels, you might not realize that Chet (the jet) is a police-schooled dog who failed his final test, and Bernie is, indeed, a private eye. If you haven’t read the novels, why not? You’re missing out, especially as each novel just seems to get stronger. I think Of Mutts and Men is arguably the best one yet. The reader can always count on an excellent mystery/adventure, always the very best of characterizations with lots of action, and stories rife with humor. In other words, riveting page turners.

Chet is the narrator, and believe me, he’s a great one. Yes, Chet is the dog. But he’s not a humanized dog. Not at all. He thinks how a dog thinks and acts like a dog acts. Love, loyalty, and a healthy appetite all wrapped up into one package. The story gets my highest recommendation.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, May 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

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 Reviews: Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner and 19 Souls by J.D. Allen @SternerGregory @aperturepress @JDAllenBooks @midnightinkbook

Solving Cadence Moore
Gregory Sterner
Aperture Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-9973020-8-0
Trade Paperback

An intense novel fashioned in a very creative and unusual way, Solving Cadence Moore struggles to match its creative vision. It is rooted in the modern radio podcast phenomenon. Charlie Marx, successful radio podcast creator and star has a fine and lasting career in a fairly volatile professional area. He’s progressed through solid talent and the support of a major broadcasting executive, but he wants more. He thinks he’s found a vehicle, a ten-year old mystery.

Young talented and striking-looking (cliché?) Candace Moore is at the beginning of her career as a star vocalist and song creator. When she disappears and no trace has ever been found of her, the mystery endures and grows. Marx believes he can solve the murder and he exaggerates his proof to his boss in order to gain permission to create a star series of podcasts.

Things begin to fall apart when production time is squeezed down and witnesses become reluctant. Marx endures long and tense confrontations with his boss, with members of his production team and with some witnesses he turned up.

The novel, frequently written as a radio script, is long, tedious at times and is shot full of disagreeable language, confrontation after confrontation, and little consideration for the reader. Nine chapters divide a 362-page story. Long involved arguments detailing strengths and weaknesses of character’s positions, often with little or no descriptive language tend to give the narrative a slow and steady progression. Readers will assume, perhaps correctly, that the profession of radio broadcasting, especially when focused on the dramatization of true events, is replete with the kind of competition and repetitive tests of wills fostered by strongly opinionated, testosterone supplied males.

In sum an excellent idea burdened by a limited exposition, resulting in relief that the novel is done, rather than disappointment for the final period.

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

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19 Souls
A Sin City Investigation #1
J.D. Allen
Midnight Ink Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5403-1
Trade Paperback

An interesting if troublesome book about the search for a deteriorating psychopathic serial killer. The story has several things going for it, an unusual killer, a raft of police and FBI characters, and at least three sort-of-legal private searchers. The least likeable of the three, a shambling, bumbling private investigator named Jim Bean works alone, except when he needs help, which is frequently. The other two, O, a bounty-hunter, and Bean’s obligatory cyber/research expert add a little to the narrative, although O adds the least.

The setup is excellent and would have been even better if Bean wasn’t portrayed as so constantly second-guessing himself. A woman hires him to find her long-lost brother. She promptly drugs and seduces Bean which interferes with Bean’s thoughts and emotions, often at crucial junctures.

The story takes place in Texas, Nevada, California and Indiana. As the target descends gradually, logically, and cleverly into madness, the tension rises and more bodies litter the ground. Largely well-written and edited there are a few point-of-view shifts that are momentarily confusing but taking it all together, the novel is worth its price.

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

Book Review: Spirit Wind by Marilyn Meredith—and a Giveaway! ‎@MarilynMeredith

Spirit Wind
Tempe Crabtree Mystery Series #18
Marilyn Meredith
Marilyn Meredith, March 2019
ISBN 978-1092112086
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A call from a ghost hunter changes Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s vacation plans. Instead of going to the coast, she and her husband are headed to Tehachapi to investigate a haunted house and are confronted by voices on the wind, a murder, and someone out to get them.

Marilyn Meredith has been writing the Tempe Crabtree series for a long time and this one is every bit as good as those that preceded it and just as fresh. Tempe herself is an appealing police officer but the Native American elements add a special touch, not to mention Tempe’s ability to communicate with ghosts. Not only do we get an entertaining police procedural, we also actually have the chance to learn something about tribal life and customs in today’s world.

This time, a haunted house adds to the allure and spirits play an integral part in the search for a murderer as well as the truth about what happened to a woman who walked out of an earthquake-damaged prison into oblivion. Tempe and her husband, Hutch, intend to help the local police without stepping on toes but soon become potential victims themselves; perhaps the biggest puzzle is figuring out why a spirit is in the house and what it really wants.

Spiritual beliefs often play a part in Tempe’s investigations but they’re particularly important in Spirit Wind and blending them with modern police work, always tempered with the culture of the surrounding area and people, makes for an especially intriguing case and, once again, I was drawn in to a story that’s compelling in many ways. The next Tempe Crabtree mystery can’t come soon enough for me 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2019.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a very gently
used print copy
of Spirit Wind,

leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Friday evening,
December 20th. Open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: 101 by Tom Pitts—and a Giveaway! @MrTomPitts @DownAndOutBooks

101
Tom Pitts
Down & Out Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-94823-538-9
Trade Paperback

A violent, gritty, aptly named novel, about the illegal marijuana and miscellaneous drug trade along Highway 101 on California’s Pacific coast. The action, and there’s plenty of it, rages from Fulton Street in San Francisco to Garberville and surrounding grow sites in Humboldt County. The novel is a deep dive into the weeds—both legal and illegal—that conceal the lives and perambulations of cops, growers, federal agents and ordinary citizens often caught in the cross-fire of brawling drug dealers.

Twenty-five-year-old loose cannon Jerry Bertram offends some drug-dealing bikers. To save his own life and mend his wounds, he races north from the city to a hideout near the small community of Humboldt County. His destination is with an old friend of his mother. Vic has become a very private pot farmer who does not appreciate Jerry’s intrusion. When the bikers, led by a Russian called Vlad the Inhaler, descend on the rural community, chases, murder, violence of several kinds erupts. Several members of local and federal law enforcement agencies also become entangled. Eventually Vic is forced back to the city into a confrontation with several criminal elements.

The story evokes the climate, the physical locations, the people and the culture in a very engaging way. Pace is fast and furious most of the time and the characters are really real. This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Brutal and explicit, there are few redeeming characters or resolutions for most of the cast. Excellent of type.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
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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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for an advance
reading copy
of 101 by Tom Pitts

leave a comment below. The
winning
name will be drawn on
Wednesday evening,
November 20th.
Open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Dressed to Kill by Kathleen Delaney @kdkoppang @severnhouse

Dressed to Kill
A Mary McGill Canine Mystery #4
Kathleen Delaney
Severn House, November 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8894-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Mary McGill and her cocker spaniel Millie get the fright of their lives on Halloween when they hear gunshots coming from the bank and the robber, dressed in a clown costume, points his gun at them before fleeing the scene. Mary is horrified when she discovers Police Chief Dan Dunham has been shot in the shoulder and a woman has been killed. Why would the clown shoot an ordinary citizen?

Mary soon learns that the victim is Victoria Witherspoon, a local woman who owned a sewing shop and must have recognised the clown costume – because she made it herself. With Dan in hospital and unable to investigate, can Mary and Millie unmask the savage killer clown before he strikes again?

Like a whole lot of other people, I really hate clowns and I felt this way even before Stephen King gave us IT (a great book, BTW, despite my aversion). Still, I know Kathleen Delaney‘s work and had no doubt this particular clown would leave my nerves alone…and I was right 😉

Police Chief Dan Dunham, Mary McGill’s nephew-in-law, is shot by a bank robber dressed as a clown but he’s not the only victim. The local seamstress, Victoria Witherspoon, might have been killed because she could identify the robber, despite the rubber mask. Dan will be recovering from surgery for a while and Mary saw the robber run out of the bank so she decides she’ll need to help Detective Sean Ryan from San Louis Obispo Homicide even though he’s rude and obnoxious. Mary has to oversee the cleanup from the very successful Halloween in the Park event she chaired but, more importantly, she’s pretty sure there’s something familiar about the clown and she needs to figure it out.

With more than a little help from her Cocker Spaniel, Millie, and some human friends, Mary thinks her way through some baffling leads, frequently a half-step ahead of law enforcement officials. That’s at least partly because the locals soon tire of the “imported” detective and his supercilious attitude that actually gets in the way of seeing clues; those same locals have come to believe in Mary’s sleuthing abilities after several earlier crimes. Soon enough, another death increases the pressure and Mary’s common sense and the wisdom that comes with age become invaluable in identifying the killer and the “why” behind the crimes. I thoroughly enjoyed not only this story but also spending time with some old friends and new, not to mention the delightful four-legged variety.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

Note: Goodreads, Amazon and other sites all have this incorrectly listed as Book 19 but it’s really Book 4 in the series. Mary McGill appears in several earlier books but she’s the central character in these four books.

A Trio of Teeny Reviews @ajhackwith @AceRocBooks @DeanStPress @GrandCentralPub

The Library of the Unwritten
A Novel from Hell’s Library #1
A. J. Hackwith
Ace, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-98480-637-6
Trade Paperback

In a unique way of looking at what Hell must be like, there are books that never got finished, or even started, by their authors and someone—Claire—has to be in charge of those books. Why? Because the characters in those stories can escape and create havoc, of course 😉

When one particular hero goes on the run, looking for his creator, Claire is in hot pursuit along with her assistant and a demon. They all soon discover they’re really on a quest to find a particular powerful artifact, the Devil’s Bible, that Heaven also wants and a fallen angel is determined to redeem himself by recovering. If Claire and her crew don’t find it first, Heaven and Hell are likely to explode into war with Earth caught in the middle.

To put it simply, I loved this book that’s full of adventure, mystery, humor and a wealth of marvelous beings and, when it comes time to re-read it—and I’m very sure I will—I think I’ll try the audiobook for a fresh take.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye
The Anthony Bathurst Mysteries #3
Brian Flynn
Dean Street Press, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-913054-39-7
Trade Paperback

Gentleman sleuth Anthony Bathurst and Scotland Yard’s Chief Detective-Inspector Richard Bannister work together to discover how three separate cases are indeed not separate but intertwined to a fare thee well. Blackmail, murder, indiscretions, thievery, hidden identities and a “magnificent blue-shaded emerald”…all come together clue by clue in this delightful traditional mystery full of red herrings that had me coming and going, always eager to follow the next lead.

Aficionados of Golden Age mysteries will want to get their hands on this long-forgotten book as soon as possible. You might say it’s criminal that Brian Flynn‘s works fell into a black hole many years ago but, now that new editions of some of his titles are being released, we all have a chance to savor a journey back in time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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Old Bones
Nora Kelly #1
Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing, August 2019
ISBN 978-1538747223
Hardcover

We’ve met Nora Kelly before in some of the Pendergast novels and I’ve always liked her so I’m delighted she has her own series now. Along with Nora, we meet another character from the past, Corrie Swanson, who used to be a Goth teen with purple hair and attitude. Her connection to Pendergast when he hired her to drive him around during a case led her to become an FBI agent and she’s still trying to corral her mouthy rebellious streak.

When historian Clive Benton convinces archaeologist Nora Kelly and her employer, the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, to undertake a search for and excavation of the Lost Camp, an offshoot of the Donner Party’s known snowbound locations, no one expects the FBI to intervene in the dig on site. Agent Corrie Swanson has been investigating the possible ties among a string of grave robberies and a missing person and has, perhaps precipitously, connected them to the dig. Her arrival at the site leads to a shutdown and murders and she and Nora are forced to work together to find the killer(s).

Although the identity of the killer(s) was a bit too predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed Old Bones and relish the promise of more collaborations between Nora and Corrie with a little Pendergast thrown in 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.