Book Review: Spirit Wind by Marilyn Meredith

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

Tempe Crabtree’s eighteenth adventure is a winner. She’s back, in all her righteous stubbornness, determined, as always, to not only solve the crime in front of her, but to protect the innocent as well. This time she’s forced to also deal with the persistent resistance of her husband, Pastor Harry Hutchinson, who expected the pair would spend a couple of weeks relaxing at a coastal resort. But he also is experienced dealing with his wife’s often abrupt changes of direction.

Tempe, a deputy sheriff in Bear Creek, California, a small Sierra Mountain community, is enticed to visit Tehachapi and stay at the Stallion Springs resort. An acquaintance, one Lorna Collins, a ghost hunter, whom Hutch was less than enthusiastic to hear of again, was searching for the ghost of a lost female prison inmate.

Tempe, not unfamiliar with the spirit world, due in part to her Native American heritage, sympathized with the aims of her friend, not for a moment suspecting there were unholy forces abroad in Tehachapi. Almost from the moment they arrive the couple is embraced by a local detective. the ghost hunter and a strange spirit manifestation.

The story moves along apace, evokes the physical area and several intriguing and disparate characters. As usual, Tempe efficiently and realistically blends her well-developed policing skills with the sensitivity of her awareness of unseen forces around us.

This is a fine, highly satisfactory and enjoyable novel of murder, manipulation, the history of the area and it blends the known and the unknown with judicious balance and at a good pace until the final explosive resolution.

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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Book Review: Wrong Light by Matt Coyle—and a Giveaway!

Wrong Light   
A Rick Cahill Novel #5
Matt Coyle
Oceanview Publishing, December 2018
ISBN 978-1-60809-329-8
Trade Paperback

Rick Cahill is a San Diego private eye. He comes out of the hard-bitten lonesome cowboy tradition, one who spends a lot of time second-guessing himself and even agonizing over missteps and mistakes. But he is wedded to Truth. When he takes on a client, most of the time that client is law-abiding and honest–mostly.

Cahill’s history is, however, checkered and as a result, his new client, a radio talk-show host, with a sultry, warm voice that promises much in the dark hours of the night, does not immediately receive the kind of intense attention one usually expects from a PI in these novels. He needs to respond to a former contact or client whose demands for attention are fraught with intense danger for Cahill from the very beginning and Cahill’s activities and plans to protect the talk-show host are frequently interrupted by this other, persistent, obligation.

The novel is well-paced although Cahill’s sarcasm and jaundice occasionally drag the reader away from the main narrative. There are probably too many verbal cracks, tongue-in-cheek observations and philosophical bon mots than needed to fill out our perceptions of the main character, but the persistent drive of the narrative will overcome that minor difficulty, as it will slice over the occasional repetitious language.

With those minor caveats, I recommend the novel for fans of the hardboiled, down at the heels, persistent and upright investigator, one who feels deeply his past mistakes and missteps.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 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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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Wrong Light by Matt Coyle, just leave a
comment below. The winning name will
be drawn on Monday night, April 1st.
This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Pairing a Deception by Nadine Nettmann

Pairing a Deception
A Sommelier Mystery #3
Nadine Nettmann
Midnight Ink Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5063-7
Trade paperback

The heroine of this story, Katie Stillwell, is on the brink of taking her Advanced Sommelier exam, a difficult test which only a talented few are able to pass. At the same time, she, accompanied by her boyfriend, John Dean, a detective in the Napa Valley, are attending a wine festival where Katie will pour wines for attendees at one of the seminars. Almost immediately things begin to go awry. A young woman causes a scene at the hotel front desk, and then another one involving the major presenter, Master Sommelier Hudson Wiley, who will be one of Katie’s judges when she takes the test.

It isn’t long before the young woman is found murdered outside Hudson’s door, and Katie and her detective friend are on the case. And then, as Katie and John come closer to discovering the murderer, Katie becomes a target.

For the wine aficionado, there is a lot of information packed into this novel. Each chapter begins with a pairing suggestion for wine of specific varietals, and flavor notes are often indicated. For this reader, the information so imparted held the most charm, and hey, I learned how to pronounce sommelier. (sam-all-yay) I have to admit I thought the motivation for the crime a bit weak, and some of the characters hard to care for. Katie and John, however, are well fleshed out and likable, the writing just fine, and the setting interesting. The Santa Barbara wine country sounds like a great area to visit.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2018.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Déjà Moo by Kirsten Weiss—and a Giveaway!

Déjà Moo: For Whom the Cowbells Toll
A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery #3
Kirsten Weiss
Midnight Ink, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5036-1
Trade Paperback

There’s a Halloween-ish vibe to San Benedetto’s Christmas celebration. Perhaps it’s the 30-foot straw cow erected by the Ladies Aid Society, in honor of their Swedish sister-city. Or the fact that, most years, someone is going to turn that bovine-tribute into the ultimate bonfire.

This year’s event surpassed haunting and was actually horrible, even with Fran Kosloski herself standing guard. The sacred statue was still attacked and set ablaze. When the smoke cleared, a human casualty was discovered. A humorous prank gone horribly wrong, or a devious plan perfectly implemented?

Maddie Kosloski knows she isn’t actually to blame, although she is beginning to rethink her decision to dust off the cursed cowbells to display in her paranormal museum. The story of death following their delivery is spooky, but not so old. Plenty of people recall those events and talk around town tightens tensions and creates panic leaving Maddie and her mother no choice but to try to solve the maybe-murder themselves.

Ms. Weiss has crafted the quintessential cozy mystery. A relatively new sub-genre that I’ve heard about, but had a hard time envisioning. I can definitely dig the downplaying of s-e-x, and the absence of graphic violence is not annoying, but I didn’t grasp the groovy vibes of an unconventional crime-solver in a small community. I get it now.

As the title implies, Déjà Moo: For Whom the Cowbells Toll is not a stand-alone story. Although I started the Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery series with the third book, I didn’t feel lost or less invested. And I learned about the Icelandic Christmas Ogress. So, I am going to go back and read the first two. Just for fun.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Déjà Moo, just leave a comment below.
Two winning names will be drawn on Sunday
night, December 23rd, for one Advance
Reading Copy and one trade paperback copy.
This
drawing is open to the US and Canada.

 

Book Review: Blood and Wisdom by Verlin Darrow

Blood and Wisdom
Verlin Darrow
The Wild Rose Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-5092-2086-1
Trade Paperback

Aria Piper runs a New Age Spiritual Center near Santa Cruz, California. Karl Gatlin is a private investigator but has training as a counselor. The two are connected because they were both interns at the same center, though Karl decided he was much more cut out for a career as a PI than counseling people through their personal troubles. However, when Aria begins receiving threats and a beheaded body turns up at Aria’s center, she turns to Karl to investigate. That is the basic set up for the book, however, if readers are expecting a straight forward PI book, they are in for a surprise or two as this is a book that never quite settles on what sort of a book it wants to be. It has a little bit of something for just about everyone, but I was left wondering if there was enough of any one thing to satisfy anyone.

The number one strength of the book is the character development. What an interesting cast of characters Darrow has given readers! First we have a main character who is a PI with psychotherapy training, a second main character who is running a spiritual center which might or might not be a cult, some sort of flaky “enlightened” folks, some seriously bad dudes and lastly my favorite, Larry the dog who has so many human traits it is sometimes hard to remember he is a dog.

The second strength is the off beat humor in the book. This is really not my favorite type of book (think Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey), but I do appreciate their craft and Darrow has the skills to carry this type of humor off.

I would like the author to firm up what genre he is writing though. Suspense, thriller, PI novel, or something completely different. Also, as fascinating as the odd set of characters were, sometimes their idiosyncrasies became a distraction from the plot.

Blood and Wisdom is the debut book for author Verlin Darrow. While I did have some issues with the book, there is definite potential for him as an author. It will be interesting to see what the next book brings.

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

Book Review: Scot Free by Catriona McPherson—and a Giveaway!

Scot Free
A Last Ditch Mystery #1
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5386-7
Trade Paperback

Having read several of the author’s psychological suspense novel in the past, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Scot Free being billed as similar to the early Stephanie Plum books. While I think that the reviewers who made that comparison were a bit overstating their case, Scot Free is both a huge departure from McPherson’s previous books and frankly pretty darned funny.

Lexy Campbell left her native Scotland for the sunny climate of California following what she thought was going to be the love of her life. She set up her marriage counseling business and was living the American Dream California style. That is until suddenly she wasn’t. Her life long soulmate turned out to be a divorce waiting to happen, her business failed and she was broke preparing to return to Scotland.  But as often happens, the flukes of happenstance intervened and sent Lexy’s life in an entirely different direction.

Before leaving California, Lexy was determined to clear her last client charged with killing her husband with of all things, a fireworks rocket. It was at that moment that I knew this was going to turn out to be a bizarre book to read.

While Lexy works on Mrs. Bomarro’s case, she needs a place to stay. A CHEAP place to stay. And so she checks into the Last Ditch Motel which introduces Lexi to an entirely different side of California.  At this point things get more than a bit weird. I felt that the author was trying too hard to make the characters off beat, unique  individuals but for me she tried too hard and instead ended up with some characters that were more caricatures than actual people. The action got a bit too outrageous for me, and at times I was a bit confused with what was going on.

I feel the series has potential and will find its audience, but I would hope with the next book she would tone down the over the top people a bit and focus more on developing the plot.

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Scot Free by Catriona McPherson
,
leave a comment below.

The winning name will be drawn
Friday evening, September 14th. This
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-06-243185-1
Trade Paperback

This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Dark, moving, at times excruciating, the pain author Burley evokes from his characters is a palpable presence through the entire novel. One wonders how many readers have ever been faced with the community disdain and rejection based, not on race, but on more common attributes. And a reader wonders what the response might have been.

In Cottonwood, California, multiple unexpected deaths are occurring. The family of Michael and Kate McCray are beginning to feel isolation as it grows, the odd looks, the loss of friendly interactions, the murmurs behind their backs. McCray is a valued teacher at the local high school. He and Kate have two sons, Danny and Sean. Danny, the youngest, is the focus of the growing community concern. He doesn’t speak. At all.

Kate is becoming ill and the doctors are worried but non-committal. The novel moves smoothly back and forth in time which can at times confuse a reader, but the technique works extremely well to heighten the tension and overall feeling of dread.

One evening, Michael drives the boys to a nearby convenience store and with a startling suddenness the tension rises. The boys are kidnapped. The rest of the story concerns the police attempts to find the boys and rescue them, Kate’s accelerating deterioration, and the rising suspicions from the community.

Ultimately, of course, there are resolutions, nearly all of which are unforeseen and startling in their placement and evolution. Enthralling, mesmerizing and surprising, a dark, moving thought-provoking experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.