Book Reviews: January Jinx by Juliet Kincaid and The Beige Man by Helene Tursten

January JinxJanuary Jinx
The Calendar Mysteries #1
Juliet Kincaid
AzureSky Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-9899504-9-7
Trade Paperback

Arminta (Misty) Wilcox watches a soldier fall off a landing near the train depot in Kansas City, and a man claiming to be a sheriff from a nearby Kansas town accuses her of pushing the man. This is in 1899. The West Bottoms is a dirty, dusty area filled with railroad tracks, shanties, and manufacturing plants. Nineteen-year-old Minty lives some blocks away on Quality Hill and is out seeking employment after attending business college.

We follow Minty through hilarious misadventures as the spunky young lady goes to great lengths to clear her name and find out what happened to the soldier. In the process, she experiences a budding romance with a young private investigator. At the same time, we learn what Kansas City was like at the turn of the century, its layout and people. The author did extensive research in order to authentically portray the dress, manners, occupations, and mores of the various social strata as well as descriptions of the buildings and businesses.

In the first book of this new cozy mystery series, bullheaded Minty’s humorous escapades keep us engaged. The characters and setting jump off the pages and pull us into Kansas City as it was in 1900.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, November 2015.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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The Beige ManThe Beige Man
An Irene Huss Investigation Set in
Sweden #7
Helene Tursten

Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Soho, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61695-400-0
Hardcover

This is the 7th and newest in the series featuring Inspector Irene Huss, head of the Violent Crimes Unit of the Goteborg police in the west of Sweden and former jujitsu champion more than 20 years ago (now past 40).  It is February, and they have been enduring a very harsh winter (not unexpectedly).  As the story opens, the police are in hot pursuit of a BMW automobile which had been reported stolen.  As the policemen are chasing  the car, they witness that same car as it hits a pedestrian, sending him crashing into the ground before it continues to speed along the roadway, leaving its victim lying where he landed.  Ultimately, the ensuing investigation reveals that the dead man was a retired police officer known to most of the cops looking for the killers.  And things only get worse from there:  Shortly after this episode, the body of a young girl, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, is discovered in a root cellar a short distance away, the body apparently having been there for several months.

Her colleagues are still Superintendent Sven Andersson [62 and seriously overweight, with high blood pressure and asthma, now something of a lame duck, as he was about to move to the Cold Case Squad], and Tommy Persson, and Hanna Rauhala, with whom she was frequently partnered.

The story lines alternate between the crime-solving and Irene’s personal life, itself very interesting.  Her home life centers around her gourmet chef husband and her twin daughters, now 19 years old and about to begin independent lives (always a challenge for the about-to-be empty-nest parents), and her mother, Gerd (77 years old and becoming more frail) and her 82-year-old significant other, Sture.

As the investigation proceeds, there are indications that sex slavery is involved, and the Human Trafficking Unit joins the hunt.  The head of that unit offers “The fact is that human trafficking today turns over more money than the narcotics trade.”  The investigation takes Irene to Tenerife, where the body count rises precipitously.  She is told “the demand from the clients rules the market. . . If they’re ready to pay, then everything is for sale, and I mean everything.”

I loved the tip-of-the-hat given to the late Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct tales.  The plot is somewhat complex, but no less interesting for that, and the writing is very good.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2015.

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Book Review: Killing Silence by Peg Herring

Killing SilenceKilling Silence
The Loser Mysteries: Book One
Peg Herring
LL-Publications, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-9571527-9-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Is It Possible to Be a Rescuer When You Live Among the Lost?

Loser, who sleeps on the streets of Richmond, Virginia, washes up in gas station bathrooms, eats when an opportunity comes along, and spends her waking hours in front of the local drug store, watching the world pass by and speaking less than thirty words per day.

When a child is murdered and Loser finds herself in the company of the prime suspect, can she pull herself out of her own pain to help catch a killer? Her investigation is hampered by her inability to hold a normal conversation and her inner demons.

Why should anyone believe her anyway? She is Loser. A nobody. A freak who can barely speak.

Every street person has a story, and Loser is no different. Her past haunts her present.

Besides, Loser has good reason to avoid the police…and it goes way beyond loitering.

Once in a while, I come across a book that can only be called an unexpected gem. Killing Silence is one of those wonderful surprises. In many ways, it’s a standard mystery but Peg Herring has crafted a novel that is much more than just “standard”.

Tucked in with the mystery of what happened to this child that Loser barely knows is her more personal mystery of who committed a terrible crime in her past, a crime that drove her from a normal life into the streets, and here is where this author’s work takes a step up. I’ve always felt badly about all the people who are homeless but I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so much understanding of how some of them come to such a pass. It is Ms. Herring‘s own compassionate writing of Loser’s existence that made that possible .

“Loser” is, of course, a nickname, one that she bestowed upon herself, and she had some very painful reasons for doing so. One trait that really sets her apart from you and me is that she allows herself only a very limited amount of speech and yet she manages to communicate quite effectively. When she decides she has to ferret out the truth about this death because she simply doesn’t believe the logical suspect could have done it, her quick mind comes to the fore and the reader learns that there is much more to this homeless derelict than you might expect. Her mission is full of twists and misleading behaviors but Loser is determined to get to the bottom of what has gone on in a very dysfunctional family.

The author has a quite effective way of telling the story of this current crime as well as the one that has had such an impact on Loser. The storyline easily drifts from one to the other and back and the reader can see how the earlier crime preys on Loser’s very being and, yet, we also see how she is perhaps coming back to life because of her need to do what is right. What’s even better is watching the her develop the beginnings of connections with people like Verle and the adorable Bryn despite her best efforts to keep others at arm’s length.

Plot and character development are both masterfully handled by this author but setting also was in the forefront for me. The book is set in Richmond, VA, and having an author choose one’s hometown has two primary effects on the resident reader. One is a sense of coolness, a tiny bit of pride that others will get a taste of my town. The other is a quite natural inclination to look for the mistakes the author has surely made and, in fact, I did find one that’s fairly significant but, let’s face it, only to Richmonders or those who have lived here in the past, perhaps for college. There were also a few very minor slips, such as calling a particular street a boulevard rather than an avenue but I bring that up only because I want to point out that this author has done a fine job with her setting with remarkably few errors. A reader who doesn’t know this area can rest assured that the visual pictures created by their imaginations based on Ms. Herring‘s words are quite accurate.

Note: If you have a strong aversion to reading about bad things happening to a child, you may want to skip this book but you should know that the crime is treated with full consideration for readers’ sensibilities. The murder is handled quietly and largely off-page and I was not overly distressed beyond the great compassion I felt for the innocence lost.

It’s pure serendipity that I just finished this book in time to have it be my last review for 2012 but I’m delighted to say it will be on my list of best books read in 2012. I can hardly wait for Loser’s next book, Killing Memories, due out in April 2013. I’m so glad there won’t be an endless wait ;)

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

Book Reviews: A Wedding to Die For by Radine Trees Nehring, The Demands by Mark Billingham, Viral by James Lilliefors, The Prophet by Michael Koryta, and They Disappeared by Rick Mofina

A Wedding to Die For
Radine Trees Nehring
St. Kitts Press, 2006
ISBN No. 978-1-931206-01-3
Trade Paperback

Here Comes The Bride and this time it is Carrie McCrite who is getting married.  But she is confused about how to have a wonderful wedding but one that is appropriate for a mature bride and groom.

On the advice of her friends Henry and Carrie take a trip to inspect The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Carrie immediately falls in love with the place and decides it is indeed a perfect place for a wedding.

In trying to plan the wedding Carrie and Henry are plunged into a vicious scheme to run a florist and his family out of Eureka Springs.  Certain residents are prejudiced and don’t want Chandra and Ashur Mukherjee, owners of Artistic Floral Designs of Eureka Springs, to continue business in their town.

Carrie and Henry make friends with the two and try to help them out through a bombing and a murder.  Other friends of Carrie and Henry join in to help as well.

But even in Eureka Springs Carrie can’t escape the ghost bride wearing red who has been haunting her dreams.

I enjoyed the characters in the books and the descriptions of the area.  Nehring tells a good story and gives a good description of how an older couple deciding on a wedding might feel.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, May 2007.

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The Demands
Mark Billingham
Mulholland Books, 2012
ISBN No. 978-0-316-12663-2
Hardcover

We are all creatures of habit, and Helen Weeks is no exception.   Helen, a detective for the police department and a single mother, stops at a newsagent every morning for her newspaper, gum and some candy.  As Helen is paying for her items three boys walk into the shop wrestling with each other and messing with the stock.  Javed Akhtar, the owner, chases the boys out of the shop.  Helen and the man behind her in the store are shocked when Akhtar locks the door to the shop and pulls a gun on his two customers.

So begins a situation that is terrifying to the hostages as well as the police attempting to see them released without harm.  The hostages are handcuffed to the radiator. Stephen Mitchell, the other customer taken hostage, seems to think that Helen can use her familiarity with Akhtar and her skills as a detective to miraculously rescue them from the situation.  But he soon realizes she has no power over Akhtar.

Akhtar orders Helen to get in touch with a detective named Thorne.  Helen knows Thorne since she dealt with him when her boyfriend was killed.  Helen learns Akhtar’s son, Amin Akhtar, was involved in a manslaughter case and sentenced to prison. Amin killed himself in Barndale Young Offenders Institution eight weeks earlier.  Thorne is familiar with the manslaughter case and had been surprised the boy got the stiff sentence that he did.

Akhtar does not believe that his son’s death was a suicide and he is demanding that Thorne find out what really happened.  Thorne is racing against time in his investigation into the boy’s death.  Two people’s lives are at stake and it is up to him to save them.  But first he must satisfy all of Akhtar’s questions and prove that his son was murdered.

As Thorne investigates, he finds more and more puzzling things about the conviction and the boy’s death – some that will come as a shock to Akhtar.  The story switches back and forth between Thorne who is seeking answers on the outside and Helen Weeks who is one of the hostages.  It is a race against time as the police outside the newsagent’s shop try to determine whether to go in with force or hope Thorne comes up with answers.

Mark Billingham introduced Sgt. Helen Weeks in the novel In the DarkThe Demands bring Weeks and Thorne together and this reader hopes for more adventures involving Weeks and Thorne.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, May 2012.

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Viral
James Lilliefors
Soho Press, Inc., 2012
ISBN No. 978-1-61695-068-2
Hardcover

Two brothers separated by years and miles work together to stop an evil plan to spread a deadly virus that will change the world.  Charles Mallory is a private intelligence contractor and former CIA operative.  His brother Jon, an investigative reporter, is alarmed when a call from his brother Charles is not received as scheduled.  Charles is counting on Jon to be a witness to some event that he has yet to reveal to Jon.

Charles is investigating a lead found in a message left by his father in a safe deposit box.  He is acting undercover, using fictitious names but someone is alert to his movements and Charles knows that he is in danger.   When Jon begins to search for his brother Charles leaves clues that only his brother would be able to follow.  Jon is able to decipher the clues but is still lost as to what he is to witness.

Terrible events are happening in a remote area of Africa.  People go to bed at night and just never wake up.  A whole village is wiped out.  Charles is working against time to find out who is behind the scheme and figure out how to put a stop to it before there are more deaths.

The book shifts back and forth between Jon and Charles as well as some of Jon’s contacts in Africa.  The book is well written but at times, it was hard to keep the characters straight.  The descriptions are very graphic and not to be read by a squeamish reader. The entire plot is not revealed until well into the novel.  Viral is an exciting book that keeps the reader on edge.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2012.

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The Prophet
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, 2012
ISBN No. 978-0-316-12261-0
Hardcover

Marie Austin was picked up on her way home from school, brutally attacked and killed.  The death of Marie had a profound effect on her brothers Adam and Kent.  The family was torn apart by the tragedy.  Both boys were outstanding football players.  Kent went on to become a coach at the high school.  Adam became a bondsman and private detective.  Adam felt responsible for his sister’s death.  He was to pick her up and give her a ride home from school but instead he picked up Chelsea Salinas and spent the evening with her.

Adam is still with Chelsea even though she is married.  Her husband is in prison.  Adam owns his parents house along with his brother Kent.  Adam has reconstructed Marie’s room to be exactly as it was when she was alive and spends many hours in Marie’s room.

Kent has married and loves his job as Coach of the local football team.  A championship is in sight and Kent is busy preparing his team.  Kent is also deeply religious and became involved in visiting prisoners.  Adam is furious that Kent has taken this road in life.  Adam still attends the games coached by his brother but there is no closeness between the two brothers.

This all changes when another girl dies.  A girl directly connected to Adam.  Adam vows that he will find her killer and avenge her death.  When a person connected to the young girl’s killing threatens Kent and his family, the two brothers join together to protect Kent’s family and stop the killer.  Although seemingly the brothers are working together, Adam keeps Kent in the dark about some facts in the case and strikes out on his own.

The Prophet is a very exciting book with characters that I loved.  As I neared the end of the book I postponed reading the final pages.  I just did not want this book to end.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, August 2012.

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They Disappeared
Rick Mofina
Harlequin MIRA, 2012
ISBN No. 978-0778313816
Mass Market Paperback

Cole Griffin is nine years old and his dream is to see Manhattan and that dream is about to come true.  Jeff, Cole’s father, is a mechanic and volunteer fire fighter in the family’s Laurel, Montana hometown.  Sarah, Cole’s mother, is a schoolteacher.  The family of three had been a family of four until Cole’s baby sister died.  Since Cole’s baby sister died, Jeff and Sarah had been holding the family together with a thread.  Neither parent is good at handling their grief and this has caused a rift in their marriage. The couple is hoping the rift can be repaired during this family vacation.  The decision to visit New York is two-fold.  Cole will have his dream fulfilled and Jeff and Sarah hope to be able to put their troubles behind them.

Fate has a way of changing the best-laid plans and the Griffin’s are thrown a curve when they pick up their bags at the airport. Cole picked up what appeared to be his bag but when the Griffin’s get to the hotel it is discovered that Cole has someone else’s bag.  None of the contents are Cole’s but he is fascinated with a tiny plastic toy jet that falls out of the bag.  Arrangements are made to meet with the owner of the bag that Cole picked up by mistake and the exchange is made but with a small but very important exception.  Cole left the plastic jet on the windowsill in the hotel.

When Jeff steps into a shop and leaves Sarah and Cole on the street the mother and son are abducted.  It seems the plastic jet is a very important piece in a group of terrorists plan.  The group has no concern for the lives of Cole and his mother and will take any step necessary to get the jet back.  When Jeff leaves the shop, he finds his wife and son gone.  Frantically Jeff contacts the police.

The police investigate but not to Jeff’s satisfaction.  Jeff begins his own investigation and surprisingly is a very good detective.  With his son and wife at risk, Jeff manages to finds clues faster than the police do.

The hunt is exciting and terrifying and always there is the fear of what the terrorists will do to Sarah and Cole before Jeff and the police can uncover their location.

Rick Mofina draws on his experience as a news reporter to bring the reader thrillers such as They Disappeared.  The story keeps the reader on edge as the danger mounts for the Griffin family. I’ve enjoyed many of Rick Mofina‘s books.  He always gives the reader an exciting story.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2012.