Book Reviews: See Also Deception by Larry D. Sweazy and Called to Justice by Edith Maxwell

See Also Deception
A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery #2
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63388-127-3
Trade Paperback

I’ve read recommendations to read the first book of this series, See Also Murder, before starting the second. While I’d be happy to get my hands on the introductory book, I had no problem catching up with Marjorie Trumaine and her husband, Hank.

Set in the North Dakota of 1964, Marjorie is a farm wife whose husband has been paralyzed and blinded in a hunting accident. But just to show a farm wife should never be underestimated, she is also an indexer for a prestigious publisher of scholastic books , a job requiring strenuous attention to detail. Most of all, she’s Hank’s loving caregiver. Let’s not end there. In the first book, Marjorie solved a series of murders, and now, her suspicions are aroused when she receives news her friend, the local librarian, has been found dead, an apparent suicide. Marjorie can’t believe it.

Things don’t add up, in Marjorie’s opinion, although the sheriff and his deputy refuse to listen to her doubts about Calla’s death. Then things begin happening to Marjorie, and her worries about Hank grow. He, he says, wants to die. She cannot bear to let him go.

At last there is another death, this one clearly murder, and the authorities finally begin to believe Marjorie’s claim that Calla was murdered. Predictably, she may well be the next slated to die.

This story is much more than a murder mystery, although it is, and it’s a good one. But it’s also a look back at the sixties, historical for some, nostalgic for other readers. It is a story of a woman’s love. Of her fortitude, and her strength. I found Marjorie Trumaine a truly worthy heroine and human being.

The writing is strong, yet sensitive. The story fast-paced. See Also Deception is one of the best books I’ve read this year, not perhaps surprising as Mr. Sweazy has won many well-deserved national awards for his stories, including Western Writers of America’s Spur Award.

And the ending? Well, it’s sure to yank your heartstrings, and if you’re like me, you’ll be waiting impatiently for the next book in the series.

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

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Called to Justice
A Quaker Midwife Mystery
Edith Maxwell
Midnight Ink Books, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5032-3
Trade Paperback

This historical mystery, set twenty years after the Civil War, realistically portrays how even Northerners and Union veterans were quick to point fingers and proclaim guilt due to the color of one’s skin.

Rose Carroll is a Quaker and a midwife. Her patients are from all walks of life, Quaker or not. A young woman named Hannah Breed has come to Rose because she’s pregnant. Hannah works in the local mill and is not only a fellow Quaker, but a friend of Rose’s sister. Hannah is unmarried and frightened. With good cause, as it turns out, because she is shot and killed during the local Fourth of July celebration. Was it an accident or was it murder? Whichever, a finger soon points at a freed slave, Akwasi Ayensu, who is also a Quaker and Rose’s friend. Even Rose’s good friend, Officer Guy Gilbert who is under pressure to quickly solve the case, accepts meager false proof of Akwasi’s guilt. Determined to prove Akwasi’s innocence, Rose will also be in danger as this mystery plays out.

I very much enjoyed learning about the Quaker beliefs, as well as midwifery as practiced in the late 1800s.  The mystery itself is well done, with plenty of false trails and twists. The novel is set in Amesbury, Massachusetts, the home of fellow Quaker and poet John Greenleaf Whittier who also plays a part in the story. Authenticity shows the research author Edith Maxwell has put to good use.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shecter, Love’s Sweet Sorrow by Richard Brawer, and Shadows on a Maine Christmas by Lea Wait

Curses and SmokeCurses and Smoke
A Novel of Pompeii
Vicky Alvear Shecter
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-50993-0
Hardcover

Curses and Smoke sizzles, like the soles of the feet racing away from the viciously spewing Vesuvius. Packed with heat, this book engulfs the reader with warmth and comfort while experiencing the friendship between Lucia and her best friend, the very pregnant and central Cornelia. Often smoldering, as the relationship between the daughter of the hate-filled, bitter Gladiator School Owner, Lucia, and his Healer Slave, Tags, deepens. Slow-burning admiration bordering on obsession adds flair as the spoiled-rich-man-playing-as-a-gladiator Quintus reveals his massive self-absorption and his desire for Tag’s approval.

Rumblings among this perfect blend of characters keep the pace moving as quickly as the animals fleeing Pompeii. Eruptions of anger, lewd displays of the overall disdain for women, and vile acts supporting and perpetuating the ignorance send red hot flames through the reader. Tension builds in direct correlation with the gathering of force within the earth and Cornelia’s expanding belly. Tender moments like those between Tags and his (self-appointed) assistant medicus, the young slave Castor; temper the heat quite kindly.

The interaction between the Roman and Etruscan humans create a spark. The author guarantees flames with her articulate presentation of both Roman and Etruscan gods and goddesses. Her knowledge of these histories, coupled with her clear understanding and empathy of the relationship the humans had with their gods and goddesses alludes to Ms. Shecter having had personal experience with her own goddess.

Divine assistance is the only explanation as to how Ms. Shecter brilliantly presents the geographical phenomena recorded during the weeks preceding the unfathomable eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, while encouraging fond recollections of Apollo, Hercules, Venus and Poseidon simultaneously introducing Mephistis, Samnite goddess of poisonous vapors, and Turan, the Etruscan goddess of love.

The author faced and conquered the formidable challenge of honestly portraying the ridiculous, inexcusable dismissal of females. She artfully hints at it with comments from the men in power: Lucia’s father, her “betrothed” and even Cornelia’s husband. The point is driven home in a heart-wrenching scene when Lucia confesses her consuming grief over the deaths of her baby sisters.

Throughout the engrossing story, there is hope. Genuine love, the true fondness for another person is rarely expressed as beautifully and sincerely. Decisions that Lucia and Tag are forced to make as the inevitable looms closer, demonstrate the kindness, generosity and support that we are all capable of.

Although only a small boy, Castor’s role is essential. He brings smiles, forces individuals to look deeply within and encourages the reader to keep perspective, while reminding us that there is always at least one reason to carry on.

I found this to be especially spectacular and I will be recommending it often.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2014.

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Love's Sweet SorrowLove’s Sweet Sorrow
Richard Brawer
Vinspire Publishing, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-9890632-7-2
Trade Paperback

Jason Sorren has put his murky past behind him and has landed on his feet in a big way. He’s changed his name to hide his past, has an impressive career and enjoys the best of everything. He has had many a girlfriend but none that caught his fancy as much as the ever elusive Ariel Hammond. But when Jason discovers a note that reveals a connection between two people involved in diverted arms shipments, he puts himself and Ariel in danger. After that the book becomes basically a cat and mouse chase between Jason, seeking the truth and gathering evidence, and the people trying to eliminate everyone with knowledge of the conspiracy. Oh, and there is a love story of sorts between Jason and Ariel.

The book was a fast paced read with many different plot threads to interest just about everyone. That would be my one criticism of the book. The author seems to want to please everyone and may instead leave everyone feeling a little empty. The book is basically a thriller with a love story, but also brings in a bit about the Quakers (Ariel’s religion) and Native Americans (a tie in with Jason’s childhood). And for good measures, the author threw in a mob connection.

The main characters are strong enough to carry a series. Perhaps the author should have used several books to cover the various topics. I would enjoy reading more about Jason and Ariel, but maybe with fewer topics involved.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, December 2014.

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Shadows on a Maine ChristmasShadows on a Maine Christmas
An Antique Print Mystery
Lea Wait
Perseverance Press, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-56474-547-7
Trade Paperback

Maggie Summer has come to Maine during Christmas vacation to visit a man she would like to be more than a boyfriend. The obstacles in the way of furthering the relationship include her decision to adopt and his opposition to the adoption. In addition, he is caregiver to his 90 year old aunt, and living in different states completes the unfavorable equation.

Sub-zero weather in the days leading up to Christmas adds challenges to Maggie’s visit and the seeming unwillingness of her friend to include her in his future business plans almost assures an end to their relationship. When an acquaintance is murdered and Maggie’s assistance is sought to find the killer, Will becomes even more withdrawn and secretive about his business affairs. In spite of the approval of Will’s elderly aunt, can the holidays bring anything but more distress to a troubled relationship?

Intriguing characters and a Christmas snow-covered Victorian town provides a lovely setting to a compelling plot. Recommended reading over the holidays.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, October 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.