Short Story Review: Wildcat by Sara Paretsky—and a Giveaway!

Wildcat
V. I. Warshawski’s First Case
Sara Paretsky
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 9780062689504
Ebook Single

From the publisher—

Sara Paretsky, one of the most legendary crime writers of all time, presents an exclusive and thrilling short story featuring beloved investigator V.I. Warshawski as a ten-year-old girl on her first investigation.


V.I. Warshawski developed her strength and sense of justice at a very early age. It’s 1966 and on the south side of Chicago racial tensions are at an all-time high. Dr. Martin Luther King is leading marches at Marquette Park and many in the neighborhood are very angry.

With nothing but a bicycle, eighty-two cents in her pocket, and her Brownie camera hanging from her wrist, Victoria sneaks off to Marquette Park alone to protect her father Tony, a police officer who is patrolling the crowds.

What begins as a small adventure and a quest to find her father and make sure he is safe turns into something far more dangerous. As the day goes on and the conflict at the park reaches a fever pitch Victoria realizes she must use her courage and ingenuity if she wants to keep herself and her family members out of harm’s way.

I don’t know if it’s actually true but, for years, I’ve thought that Sara Paretsky and V. I. Warshawski have one thing very much in common—they’re both total badasses. Now, I know that V. I. was that way even as a child and I couldn’t be more delighted.

I’m not going to say much about the plot of this story—it’s so short the description given above by the publisher is almost longer. Just kidding, of course, but this IS a very short short story. Still, Ms. Paretsky packs a lot into these few pages and it serves its purposes, to entertain and to give us a little insight into what makes V. I. Warshawski aka Victoria tick.

Chicago in 1966 was deep in the civil rights era and even a 10-year-old felt the tension so, when Victoria believes her dad is at risk, her first reaction is to rush off on her bicycle to his aid. As young as she is, Victoria has been raised by her Holocaust survivor mother to be aware of the evil that can begin with words of hatred. In fact, it’s this sense of right and wrong that’s at Victoria’s core, that will in later life lead her to work for justice whenever she can. Her venture this time is also her own personal introduction to police corruption, the Mafia, extreme prejudice and violence.

And a private investigator is born.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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About the Author

Hailed by P.D. James as “the most remarkable” of modern crime writers, SARA PARETSKY is the New York Times-bestselling author of nineteen previous novels, including the renowned V.I. Warshawski series. She is one of only four living writers – alongside John Le Carré, Sue Grafton, and Lawrence Block – to have received both the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She lives in Chicago with her husband.

Before there was Lisbeth Salander, before there was Stephanie Plum, there was V.I. WARSHAWSKI. She took the mystery world by storm in 1982 with her first appearance in Indemnity Only. A gifted private eye with the grit and smarts to tackle the mean streets, V.I. transformed a genre in which women were typically either vamps or victims. As a “courageous, sexually liberated female investigator,” she “has a humility, a humanity, and a need for human relationships which the male hard-boilers lack” (P.D. James). She lives in Chicago with her dog.

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Book Review: Time’s Up by Janey Mack and Choked Up by Janey Mack

times-upTime’s Up
A Maisie McGrane Mystery #1
Janey Mack
Kensington Books, June 2015
ISBN 978-1-61773-690-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  All her life, Maisie McGrane dreamed of following in her father and other brothers’ footsteps and joining the force.  But when she’s expelled from the police academy, she’s reduced to taking a job as a meter maid.  Now, instead of chasing down perps, she’s booting people’s cars and taking abuse from every lowlife who can’t scrape together enough change to feed the meter.  McGranes weren’t put on this earth to quit, however.  When Maisie stumbles across the body of a City Hall staffer with two bullets in his chest, her badge-wielding brothers try to warn her off the case.  But with the help of her secret crush, shadowy ex-Army Ranger Hank Bannon, Maisie’s determined to follow the trail of conspiracy no matter where it leads.  And that could put her in the crosshairs of a killer – – and all she‘s packing is a ticket gun.

Maisie and her family members – equal parts cops and defense attorneys – make for a fascinating group of characters, as are the others who populate this novel, the first in a series.  In a first for this reviewer, immediately after I finished this book I opened up the next in the series, Choked Up, which picks up when Time’s Up ends.  I did this primarily because although I liked the plots and sub-plots, and mostly liked the McGraine family, I found somewhat off-putting the nearly constant updates on the couture of the characters, both male and female, accompanied by regular descriptions of the various (and numerous) motor vehicles which oddly play a part in the novel.  As well, there were several cultural references that escaped me.  But I’ll chalk that up to me and my advancing age, I guess.

There is much here to like, and the book is recommended, with that small cavil.

More soon, as the review of the 2nd book in the series is next up for this reviewer, as mentioned above.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2016.

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choked-upChoked Up
A Maisie McGrane Mystery #2
Janey Mack
Kensington Books, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-61773-692-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  Scrappy Traffic Enforcement agent Maisie McGrane has finally landed her dream job as a Chicago police officer.  There’s just one catch.  She must remain undercover as a meter maid to gather evidence against Stannislav Renko, a charismatic Serbian mobster running a brutal multi-million dollar mobile chop-shop operation.  When Maisie is targeted by a killer who leaves a body slumped against her car, Renko comes to her rescue and takes her under his wing.  From her perch inside the crime boss’s inner circle, Maisie sets up a daring sting operation to take down Renko once and for all.  But can she pull it off before her family of overprotective Irish cops and her sexy ex-Army Ranger boyfriend blow her cover?

We learn a bit more about the makeup of the McGrane family in this, the second entry in the series, e.g., her birth mother was killed in an accident, and her adoptive mother, who is black, adopted all of his six small children when she married their father (“Da” throughout), the family now made up of four cops and three attorneys.  The family members become more interesting with each book, as do Maisie’s lovers, a sexy bunch I must admit!  The reader also learns a bit more about Chicago politics/corruption, three words inextricably intertwined throughout.

How can one not love a protagonist who quotes Virgil and Dashiel Hammett, watches episodes of Harry Bosch on tv and listens to Chet Baker on her I-Pod [or the equivalent]?  Not me!  This second book in the series is, as was the first, recommended, and I look forward to Maisie’s third appearance in Shoot ‘Em Up, due out from Kensington in October 2016.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2016.

Book Review: Easy Innocence by Libby Fischer Hellmann

easy-innocenceEasy Innocence
A Georgia Davis Novel of Suspense #1
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrated by Beth Richmond
The Red Herrings Press, May 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook
Also available in print and ebook editions

From the author—

When pretty, smart Sara Long is found bludgeoned to death, it’s easy to blame the man with the bat. But Georgia Davis – former cop and newly-minted PI – is hired to look into the incident at the behest of the accused’s sister, and what she finds hints at a much different, much darker answer. It seems the privileged, preppy schoolgirls on Chicago’s North Shore have learned just how much their innocence is worth to hot-under-the-collar businessmen. But while these girls can pay for Prada price tags, they don’t realize that their new business venture may end up costing them more than they can afford.

I’ve been a fan of Libby Fischer Hellmann for a long time but, although the print version of this book first came out in 2008, I had never read it or the following three books in the series. That wasn’t because I didn’t want to read it but I had focused on the author’s other works with the idea of getting to this “one of these days”. That day finally came when Ms. Hellmann offered a chance to listen to a re-do of the audiobook; I love audiobooks so I leaped at the opportunity.

From the standpoint of the story, the initial investigation into the teen’s murder eventually develops into three seemingly separate storylines but whether they are related is something Georgia will have to determine. In fact, she isn’t aware that one of these threads exists or, perhaps more accurately, she doesn’t understand all the parts; this is one of those instances when the reader knows more than the protagonist does but, deviously, Ms. Hellmann sees to it that we don’t know what we don’t know. Very nicely…and wickedly…done, Ms. Hellmann 😉

Georgia is a very likeable woman and an intelligent P.I. with a leg up from her police background. She doesn’t have a lot of people in her life but those who surround her are good people who care what happens to her. There’s nothing sleazy about Georgia and she approaches her tasks with a sense of honor and a desire to cause as little harm as possible.  That’s important because a lot of people could be very hurt by the results of her investigation, beginning with the ring of teenaged hookers and their oblivious families, not to mention their own airheaded ignorance of the dark side of their business venture. When Georgia learns of a possible fraudulent land development scheme, tying it to the prostitution ring ramps up the danger level to new highs including attempts on her own life.

In the first third or so of the book, I thought things dragged a little and the narrator’s performance added to that feeling because of her somewhat deliberate and slow pace. In fact, at one point, I turned up the speed on my iPod just to see what it would sound like and, although Ms. Richmond sounded quite a lot like she inhaled helium, I could still understand her clearly. That indicates to me that her pace really was a little too slow BUT….

….everything changed once certain things started happening and Ms. Richmond grabbed and held my attention. Certainly a lot of that is because Ms. Hellmann‘s story began to come to life but it’s also because Ms. Richmond really is quite a good narrator, especially with her varying voices. When all is said and done, I’m now wanting to continue with the series and with Beth Richmond‘s narration.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

Book Review: Jump Cut by Libby Fischer Hellmann—and a Giveaway!

Jump CutJump Cut
An Ellie Foreman Mystery #5
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0519-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Hired to produce a candy-floss profile of Chicago-based aviation giant Delcroft, Ellie is dismayed when company VP Charlotte Hollander trashes the production and cancels the project. Ellie believes Hollander was spooked by shots of a specific man in the video footage. But when Ellie arranges to meet the man to find out why, he is killed by a subway train before they can talk. In the confusion, she finds a seemingly abandoned pack of cigarettes with a flash drive inside that belonged to the now-dead man.

Ellie gets the drive’s contents decrypted, but before long discovers she’s under surveillance. Suspecting Delcroft and the ambitious Hollander are behind it, she’s unconvinced when Hollander tells her the dead man was a Chinese spy. Ellie and her boyfriend, Luke, try to find answers, but they don’t realize how far they have ventured into the dangerous echelons of hidden power where more lives are on the line―including their own.

I first met Libby Fischer Hellmann years ago, not too long after the release of her first Ellie Foreman book, An Eye for Murder, and both the book and its author called to me mightily. Through the years before I left the bookstore business, I’d run into Ms. Hellmann here and there at various mystery conventions and we always had a nod and a smile for each other but what I really enjoyed about those times is that it usually meant she had a new book out.  In the early days, the books were in the Ellie Foreman series and I always looked forward to them. Alas, the last one came out in 2005 and then the author moved on to other series and standalones, all just as good but I always wished for more Ellie.

Maybe the author heard my wishes; whatever the reasons, Ellie is back and I could not be happier. She’s the same intelligent, caring, somewhat foolhardy woman she’s always been and it takes next to no time for her to become embroiled in a mishmash of espionage and murders, all because she and her video production team were unfairly fired from a job for a huge aviation company. Being fired is one thing—they’ll still get paid—but Ellie is so outraged that she can’t resist digging into what’s going on. Remember I called her “somewhat foolhardy”? Yeah, that’s the perfect term for her and it’s not the TSTL syndrome so much as her mind and her sense of integrity just won’t let it go. Unfortunately, Ellie comes to the attention of a lot of people and they don’t all have her best interests at heart.

Jump Cut is a thriller in the very best sense with explosions and missing people along with the espionage and murders and it would be easy for all of this action to turn sour in the hands of a lesser writer but Ms. Hellmann is, as always, on point. She kept me riveted, needing to know what this simple flash drive held and how it could be so very important to so many factions but, at the same time, I was pulled into her truly normal and appealing personal life. Now, I have to hope that I won’t have to wait so long for my next Ellie Foreman fix 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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Book Reviews: The Incidental Spy by Libby Fischer Hellmann and Make Me by Lee Child

The Incidental SpyThe Incidental Spy
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, September 2015
ISBN:  978-1-938733-84-0
Trade Paperback

This newest book by Libby Fischer Hellmann, the author of a number of standalones as well her acclaimed Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis mystery series, takes a different path entirely: a historical thriller.  The protagonist is Lena Bentheim, who, in pre-War, 1935 Berlin, pledges her undying love to Josef Meyer, who reciprocates those emotions, vowing his love “until death do us part.”  A few weeks later, Lena, 16 years old, seizes the opportunity to leave Berlin and boards a ship for New York, then heads to Chicago.  Neither Josef nor her parents were quite so fortunate.

Josef was “waiting for her in Budapest, and as soon as she could, she would bring him to the States.”  But that seems destined not to happen.  She takes a job working in the Physics Department at the University of Chicago, headed by Professor Arthur Compton, the department chair and a Nobel Prize-winner.  She soon meets and ultimately marries Karl Stern, another Jewish German refugee, in June, 1937 and a little over two years later, their son Max is born.  The news in Europe is such that she is sure neither her parents nor Josef have survived the Nazis, with their Final Solution, and despite the new life she has been given, the fates, or whatever else one chooses to call them, are not yet done with her, and more tragedy awaits her.

Lena is now working with a group of physicists who produced the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, in what would become the Manhattan Project.  But Lena is forced to spy on the nuclear fission experiments at the University.  She feels that “she was nothing more than a pawn . . . Unimportant.  Expendable.”  The plot is completely convincing, and Ms. Hellmann has given us an engrossing novel, and this reader was totally unprepared for the shocking ending.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2015.

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Make MeMake Me
A Jack Reacher Novel #20
Lee Child
Delacorte, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8041-7877-8
Hardcover

This is no spoiler:  As this newest book from Lee Child opens, it is made clear from the first paragraph that someone has been killed, and his body is about to be buried.  He is even identified:  His name is Keever.  And the mise en scene is apparently in the middle of nowhere  – a wheat field “in the middle of ten thousand acres of nothingness,” a month before harvest time.  Jack Reacher makes his appearance on the very next page, as he finds himself on a train slowing down and coming down to a stop in a town apparently called Mother’s Rest, “which he had seen on a map and which he thought was a great name for a railroad stop . . .  He had no place to go, and all the time in the world to get there, so detours cost him nothing.”  So on a whim more than anything else, intrigued by the name of the town, he decides to check it out.

Reacher is an imposing figure.  He is a retired military cop, with rare attributes:  He is brilliant, with admirable reserves of intelligence and strengths (both mental and physical, at 6’ 5” and 250 pounds).  As he exits the train, he is approached by an Asian woman, about 5’9” and 40 years old, and very attractive.  The woman, Michelle Chang, has apparently been waiting for a man who fit Reacher’s general description, and is disappointed that it is Reacher, and not her colleague, the man called Keever.   She is a private detective, ex-FBI, ex-cop from Connecticut.  Keever was trying to make contact with a client whose identity is a mystery, but now it is her mystery as there has been no word from Keever since he told Chang he had arrived in Mother’s Rest.  Not improbably, Reacher joins her in her quest.

The mystery of the origin of the name Mother’s Rest is not resolved until the final pages of the book; the mystery of Keever’s whereabouts is resolved a bit more quickly, although it is a long and tortuous road discovering the answer.  And it soon appears that the tiny village of Mother’s Rest is not as peaceful as it might seem, and the small number of inhabitants are watching every step Reacher and Chang take, and reporting those movements to something of a master criminal.

The book is meticulously plotted, and wonderfully well written – no surprise there!  There are some constants in a Lee Child/Jack Reacher novel (and thank goodness for that!)  He still abides by his golden rules, the first of which is “eat when you can,” followed closely by “hope for the best, plan for the worst,” and travels with “everything he needed [usually only a toothbrush], and nothing he didn’t.”   The book is trademark Lee Child/Jack Reacher, very high praise indeed, and the novel is highly recommended.

(As to that title, that is explained in the last words on the flyleaf:  “As always, Reacher’s rule is:  If you want me to stop, you’re going to have to make me.”)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Reviews: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg and Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey

GangsterlandGangsterland
Tod Goldberg
Counterpoint Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-578-3
Trade Paperback

The idea of juxtaposing the mafia, a hit man, and a Reform Jewish temple in Las Vegas forms the basis for this outrageous but satisfying novel.  It is filled with a variety of characters and a plot that carries the theme with aplomb.  While the concept may appear to be beyond the realms of reality, the author carries it out with grace and humor.

It all begins in Chicago, where Sal Cupertine is an extraordinary hit man for the mob, efficient, careful and never caught.  Until one day he is assigned to meet with some purported drug sellers who turn out to be FBI agents and, for the first time, his face becomes known, so he has to kill them for self-preservation but has to flee the Windy City hidden in a refrigerated truck.  Sal ends up in Las Vegas, undergoes facial surgery and, because he has a retentive memory, is turned into Rabbi David Cohen, part of a new racket.

While many of the Talmudic and Biblical references, which colorfully emit from David’s (Sal’s) lips throughout the novel, may be questionable, they set the tone for the incredible plot.  If there is one drawback to the novel it is the final passages which to this reader did not ring true, although, supposedly, are intended to provide a morality to this mafia story.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2015.

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Shark Skin SuiteShark Skin Suite
Serge Storms #18
Tim Dorsey
William Morrow, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-224001-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  “Bottom feeders beware: The Sunshine State’s favorite psychotic killer and lovable Floridaphile, Serge Storms, has found a new calling, legal eagle, and he’s going to make a killing as a crusading attorney – – and star as a dashing lawyer on the big screen – – in this madcap escapade . . . When it comes to swimming with the sharks, there is no bigger kahuna than Serge Storms.  Binging on a marathon of legal movies set in Florida, Serge finds his vocation:  the law.  Never mind law school or that degree; Serge becomes a freelance fixer – – wildcat paralegal and pilgrim to the hallowed places where legal classics of the big screen such as Body Heat, Cool Hand Luke, and Absence of Malice were filmed practically in his own backyard.”

I found it nearly impossible to summarize the plot of this book; suffice it to say that I began and ended the book with a silly smile on my face, which was the default display for much of everything in between.  As stated above, much of the novel is an homage to those classic films; to say that Serge is a movie buff is a huge understatement.  In addition, the author captures the feel of the Florida streets in, e.g., downtown Miami:  “The foot traffic was determined in the midday heat.  Folded newspapers, briefcases, take-out bags with Cuban sandwiches.  A teenager sprinted up the middle of the street with a fistful of wristwatches.  A whiskered man on the corner of Flagler had been screaming and kicking his own bicycle for five minutes.  A shopowner chasing the shoplifting teen was hit by an ambulance.  One of the folded newspapers told of a mysterious eyeball the size of a cantaloupe that had washed upon the beach.  Everything was normal.  Pedestrians continued chatting on cell phones.”

The author’s writing style is certainly unique, and the resulting work is recommended.  Just what I needed after a fairly steady recent diet of dark, death- and danger-filled books.  (Although I should perhaps add that there are a couple of dead bodies before the book comes to a close.)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: Nobody’s Child by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Nobody's ChildNobody’s Child
A Georgia Davis Novel of Suspense #4
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, August 2014
ISBN:  978-1-938733-46-8
Trade Paperback

This newest book by Libby Fischer Hellmann, the author of a number of standalones as well her acclaimed Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis mystery series, features the latter, who was a cop for ten years and now and for the past five years a Chicago PI. There are parallel story lines, one dealing with her sudden awareness of the existence of a half-sister about whom she knew nothing, the other a new case where she is hired by an Evanston store manager to get to the bottom of a “flash rob” – a term new to me but apparently referencing a robbery combined with a flash mob – which had gone viral on YouTube – and prove that one of his employees was behind it.

The whole “flash rob” thing was very interesting:  “a powerful warning of what could happen to a society where envy, a sense of entitlement, and electronic toys converged.”  Georgia’s back-story includes the fact that her father was a cop, and that her mother had left when Georgia was ten.  The theme of feeling that she is “nobody’s child” is well-established.

Both story lines are very intriguing, and chapters are interspersed with flashbacks of the half-sister, Savannah (“Vanna”), going back one year in time, in Littleton, Colorado, a Denver suburb, when she was introduced to drugs that initially cost no more than sexual favors, but soon came to cost a lot more. Savannah had not known of Georgia’s existence until ten months ago. Ultimately the tale involves sex trafficking and other criminal acts that are a whole lot worse.

In the more personal story line, a note is delivered to Georgia saying “Georgia, I am your half sister, Savannah. I’m in Chicago and I’m pregnant. I need your help. Please find me.” In the professional plot line, Georgia’s job becomes threatening when she realizes she is being followed, immediately after which there is a drive-by shooting and the man following Georgia is murdered.

Georgia has trust/relationship/ communication issues, a theme repeated throughout.  But it becomes clear that she does appreciate a specific physical aspect of the men she meets.  I loved the way Ellie Foreman, video producer and equally wonderful protagonist in Ms. Hellmann’s other series, has an off-page presence in the novel, as well as the sly reference to author Michael Connelly and his own Lincoln Lawyer protag.  The book is well-written and very enjoyable, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2015.