Book Reviews: The Budapest Escape by Bill Rapp and West of Famous by Joni M. Fisher @JoniMFisher

The Budapest Escape
A Cold War Thriller #3

Bill Rapp
Coffeetown Press, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-94189-072-1
Trade Paperback

The novel is set in the 1950s in a time of great turbulence in the world. The Soviet Union is showing cracks in its leadership. Tensions between the world powers are still evident and relationships between Allied nations are still settling down. Life and routines in the relatively young Central Intelligence Agency are still often experimental and somewhat uncertain.

The novel’s protagonist is Karl Baier, a CIA agent attempting to maneuver himself into a higher-level position, possibly Chief of Station. Meanwhile, turmoil rises in the Eastern European nations; Baier worries about his assets in Hungary and determines to rescue one of them before the revolution occurs and destroys nearly all social routine.

The potential for this novel to be a truly action and intelligence-filled narrative are all there. Unfortunately, in spite of a high degree of authenticity, and historical accuracy, the novel reads like the kind of reports government bureaucrats too often file. It is mostly devoid of emotion and the tension-filled moments are too often seen as if being observed from behind a screen. The history and circumstances of life during this period are accurate and interesting, but I would have preferred more terror, emotion, and human mistakes.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.


West of Famous  
Compass Crimes #3
Joni M. Fisher

Joni M. Fisher, February 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9972575-4-0
Trade Paperback

A handsome evocative cover introduces a riveting tale of kidnapping, identity mistakes, the internal power of a young woman and the kind of inevitable encompassing efforts of law enforcement when called on.

Martina Ramos, a bright college graduate student is immersed in the college grind of prepping for exams at Oxford. Her college friends believe her on break, her family thinks she’s studying, nose to grindstone. Certain other friends believe she’s taking a brief break from a chance encounter with a pop star. The pop star needed a favor, a stand-in to take her place for a few weeks on the party circuit in south Florida. Martina fits the role to a T.

When she awakens in the foul hold of a boat anchored somewhere off the Florida coast, the number of people who truly know where she is has been reduced to three or maybe four. And they are not Martina’s friends.

What follows is a carefully designed, increasingly tense and terror filled effort to find the kidnapped college student while keeping her true identity secret, because her family doesn’t have the kind of ransom money being demanded.

As Martina’s family, experienced law enforcement and military types, come together with a small cadre of FBI agents, plans are formed to rescue the girl before her true identity is discovered and before the looming deadline for delivery of the ransom money arrives. The plans and movements which form the bulk of this well-written novel are carefully and logically laid out. Meanwhile, readers are treated to the terror-filled existence of the young girl, contrasted with her tough-minded cautious efforts to extricate herself from the clutches of the kidnappers. The possibility of death for the unfortunate girl is well-explicated in both narratives, that of her searchers and her own interactions with her captors.

The novel is peopled with a range of interesting individuals and their interactions are both logical and well-reasoned so that readers will be eminently satisfied as the resolution looms ever closer. A thoroughly enjoyable crime novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson, The Tehran Triangle by Tom Reed with Sandy Baker, and Through a Yellow Wood by Carolyn J. Rose

Kristina Ohlsson
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2012
ISBN 9781439198896

One of the worst fears a mother must have is the abduction of her child. In Ohlsson’s debut novel, three mothers experience that fear. It is up to a Stockholm investigating team to uncover the clues, connect the pieces of complex cases because the kidnapper won’t stop until he completes his agenda.

A little girl disappears off a train while her mother, distracted at a previous stop, missed returning to her car. Later the little girl is found dead outside a hospital. The word UNWANTED is marked on her forehead. Thus is the case for police legend Alex Recht, consultant Fredrika Bergman, and investigators Peder Rydh and Ellen Lind of the Stockholm police. At first they suspect the mother’s abusive husband but anomalies keep popping up. Fredrika doesn’t think the husband should be the main focus and takes it upon herself to track down other leads. Soon, other pieces start falling into place but before the team has a chance to act, another child is taken. Recht and his team are up against a killer who won’t stop unless they stop him.

This isn’t just a kidnap/murder mystery. Unwanted also delves into the team members’ backgrounds. Troubles at home. Their own relationship with children. Ohlsson did an excellent job of feeding clues and drawing me in, urging me to solve the puzzle. Unfamiliar with the country and its landscape, I had to rely on Ohlsson’s knowledge to keep me guessing throughout. This is a very fine first novel.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.


The Tehran TriangleThe Tehran Triangle
Tom Reed with Sandy Baker
Black Garnet Press, March 2012
ISBN 9780983238324
Trade Paperback

Iran is going nuclear and they will not be denied. This is the story spanning thirteen years, tracing the progress Iran makes in its goal to own a nuclear weapon…and what happens when they finally get one. Combing truth with an exciting thriller, Reed and Baker show a scary situation and America’s best heroes who have to cope with it.

In 1999, Elizabeth Mallory gets her first field assignment for the CIA. She has to stop a major Gharabaghi from acquiring nuclear material for his home country of Iran. Foiling the plot only puts her in his gunsights. Moving quickly through the years, Elizabeth adds more responsibility to her career but always keeps in her mind how Iran continually moves forward to become a nuclear power. She learns of a plot to build a nuclear weapon in El Paso and to explode within the United States. Behind the plan, her old  nemesis, Gharabaghi, now a Colonel. And he hasn’t forgotten about Mallory.

I enjoyed the bits of fact with the fictional tale. It’s a realistic tale and shows the might and power of very determined people. There’s some good old American nationalism put up against Muslim fanatics. The authors really did their homework to bring to light facts and scientific know-how when it comes to Iran, the intelligence community, and nuclear physics.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.


Through a Yellow WoodThrough a Yellow Wood
Carolyn J. Rose
Carolyn J. Rose, June 2012
ISBN 978-0-9837359-4-6
Trade Paperback

Hemlock Lake heats up with another murder mystery and more drama than a prime time television show. This one has a little bit of everything. A bit of light humor, death, tragedy, tears, love, and hope. There is no rest for the mountain community and by the end of the fall, lives will be changed forever.

Trying to settle down in Hemlock Lake, Dan Stone receives a request to check on Clarence Wolven, a man Dan discovers is a distant relation. When he and his friend Jefferson Longyear arrive at Wolven’s mountain cabin where he raises tracking dogs, they discover Wolven and all but one of the dogs have been murdered. On a return visit, they bring  the surviving dog who leads them to a dump site containing victims of a serial killer. It’s a summer of full of suspense and death of various kinds for Dan as he finds himself involved with not only the investigation but problems relating to his past.

This is a long involved story. I suggest anybody interested in this book read the first Hemlock Lake story unless you want it spoiled. This book references the past Dan Stone adventure and the plethora of characters and their relations with each other may be a bit confusing unless properly introduced. Some good tension and suspense to make a trip Through a Yellow Wood worthwhile reading.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: Quinn by Iris Johansen, Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo, The Confession by Charles Todd, The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin, and Back of Beyond by C.J. Box

Iris Johansen
St. Martin’s Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-65121-3

This is the second volume in a trilogy [the first was Eve, and the next Bonnie], wrapping up the mystery of the disappearance of Eve Duncan’s seven-year-old daughter who was presumably murdered.  This novel gives a lot of background on how she and Quinn came to meet, fall in love and come together.

Of course, it has to begin with Quinn near death in the hospital from a knife wound, but making a superhuman effort to get out and rejoin the hunt for Bonnie’s killer, aided by CIA agent and friend Catherine Ling.  [None of this is a spoiler, please be assured – it’s all revealed on the book cover.]

I had the feeling that a lot of this book was mere padding, an effort to fill out the three-volume “conclusion,” and bringing to an end one aspect of it:  the quest for the truth about Bonnie’s disappearance. The writing and tension keep the reader turning the pages, but wasn’t completely fulfilling for this reader, having not read any of the previous novels.  Of course, I can’t really comment fully on this observation, nor judge its accuracy.  The book is recommended, but I would suggest that at least the first book of the trilogy be read first.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.


Fever Dream
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, November 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-957-1

In the beginning, we had Alex Delaware, psychologist and sometime police consultant.  Now we also have Daniel Rinaldi, psychotherapist and part-time police consultant.  There, of course, the similarities end.  Whereas the Kellerman protagonist is more cerebral, the Palumbo creation is more physical, in keeping with his background as a Golden Glover from the mean streets of Pittsburgh.

This novel, the second in which Rinaldi is involved in a murder mystery which endangers his life (multiple times), begins when he is called by a Pittsburgh detective following a bank robbery, to treat the sole surviving hostage (all the others were shot).  From that point, a series of events takes place, fast and furious.  In the midst of everything, there is a gubernatorial campaign in which the D.A. is running as a tough law-and-order candidate, complicating the police efforts and raising other concerns.

The complex plot proceeds apace, with scant clues but much physical action, especially a few murders and lots of firepower. The only criticism I have about an otherwise entertaining novel is Rinaldi’s omnipotence, allowing him to merely espouse solutions to the various mysteries without any preceding facts in the narrative (maybe that’s the way motion picture scripts are written – – the author formerly was a Hollywood screenwriter).  Nevertheless, the book is very enjoyable, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.


The Confession
Charles Todd
William Morrow, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-201566-2

This latest in the long-running Inspector Ian Rutledge series finds him in his office shortly after the end of World War I listening to a man calling himself Wyatt Russell confess to murdering his cousin years before..  The man tells Rutledge he has stomach cancer and just a very short time to live but wanted to “clear his conscience.”  Little did he know that he would be shot in the head and left in the Thames in just a matter of days.  Now the Inspector has more than one murder to solve, and embarks on a quest that takes him to a little fishing village north of London in Essex where he encounters many more mysteries.

Rutledge learns that the man was not who he claimed to be, and that was but the first thing he had to unravel.  Then to discover the meaning of the only clue he had: a gold woman’s locket with the picture of a young girl, found around the man’s neck.  Without the sanction of an official inquiry, the Inspector proceeds to develop the facts, despite the uncooperative and even hostile reception he receives in the village where additional murders and deaths occur.

A novel written by the mother-and-son team writing under the nom de plume Charles Todd, Confession is up to the high level of its predecessors: the plot is tightly woven, the characters well-drawn and the reader is drawn forward anxiously waiting to find out what comes next.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.


The Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
Reagan Arthur Books / Little, Brown & Co., November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-03977-2

Ian Rankin usually lays a foundation of current and past events in his novels.  And, in this second Malcolm Fox mystery, he creates a tale reaching back a quarter of a century, when agitation and violence marked efforts for a separate Scotland.  Fox, who made his debut in The Complaints, grows exponentially as a protagonist, along with his sidekicks on his Internal Affairs team, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith.  They are worthy successors to the now retired Rebus, although more subtle in the presentation.

This murder-mystery has its beginnings in an investigation of fellow cops who may have covered up for a corrupt co-worker, Detective Paul Carter, who had been found guilty of misconduct.  The original accuser was Carter’s uncle, an ex-op himself.  When the uncle is found dead, perhaps murdered with a pistol that theoretically did not exist for it should have been destroyed by the police in 1985, and Carter himself dead by drowning shortly afterward, Fox is drawn into his own inquiry outside the aegis of a Complaints review, resurrecting the turmoil of the past and terrorist threats of the present.

Rankin also demonstrates his trademark attention to character development, concentrating much of the story on the deterioration of Fox’ father’s physical well-being and his relationship with his sister, each with sensitivity and care.  At the same time, the author shows his talent for integrating the setting, plot and theme, tightly intertwining the various elements.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.


Back of Beyond
C.J. Box
Minotaur Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-36574-5

Against the vastness and isolation of Yellowstone Park, C.J. Box has once again created a suspense-murder-thriller novel using the natural environment as a backdrop.  Cody Hoyt, a rogue cop who first appeared in Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, returns once again, as he is called in to investigate the death of a man shot in the head and burned in his half-destroyed mountain cabin, later identified as Cody’s AA sponsor, making the case very personal to the detective.

In the course of his investigation, Cody discovers that the murderer has joined a group on a multi-day wilderness horseback trip in a remote part of the park.  Adding incentive, Cody learns that his son is part of the group on the trip, so has to not only find the murderer but save his son.

The author then takes the reader on a wild ride, never once giving much away in clues as bodies and riderless horses start turning up along the trail as Cody, who now is suspended and AWOL from the Sheriff’s Department, tries to close in on the remaining group.  The descriptions are sweeping, the character development deeply absorbing.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

Book Reviews: Fatal Error by J. A. Jance, Death Toll by Jim Kelly, Rag and Bone by James R. Benn, and Rogue by Frederick Ramsay

Fatal Error
J.A. Jance
Touchstone, February 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-6381-5

The Ali Reynolds series usually has the protagonist solving some kind of mystery, and this one is no exception.  However, the reader has to put up with a slow beginning, describing Ali’s experiences during her training at the Police Academy.  When she completes the course, she is furloughed for budgetary reasons, so does not become a cop.  Instead, it gives her time to help solve a kidnapping and murders.  So who needs a badge?

It all starts when her friend Brenda Riley, who, like Ali, was a TV anchorwoman also let go by her station, asks for help in obtaining information about a man to whom she is “engaged,” although they have never met except in cyberspace.  Ali enlists the aid of her boyfriend’s business associate, who gets damning information on the person, setting off a chain of events that gets Brenda kidnapped [not a spoiler] and Ali involved in assisting a homicide detective in solving a murder.

From the slow start, the pace of the plot picks up to a very exciting finish.  There really is never any doubt on where the story is headed, but the writing is so good one just keeps gobbling it up.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.


Death Toll
Jim Kelly
Minotaur Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-57352-2

A protagonist like DI Peter Shaw gives the author license to throw more curve balls at the reader than a major league pitcher.  Shaw, a super-cerebral, over-intuitive detective who develops more and more theories as a case develops and he encounters more facts, certainly proves the point in this novel, which has two plot lines, both based in the distant past.

As a result of severe river flooding, graves along the bank in a cemetery are being exposed.  When one is opened, a skeleton is found atop the casket which contains the remains of the landlady of a local pub.  This sets off an investigation leading Shaw to discover a number of family secrets, with dire consequences to all concerned.  The inquiries move back and forth, uncovering events from a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Shaw, and his partner, DS Valentine, continue to try to prove one Bob Mosse a murderer.  It was Shaw’s father who arrested Mosse years before, only to see the charges thrown out of court because the judge declared a crucial peace of evidence had been contaminated by mishandling.  Consequently Shaw pere took early retirement under a cloud, and his partner, Valentine, was demoted and sent into limbo.

The story moves forward on both plot lines, more or less simultaneously, with Shaw, Valentine and the rest of the team uncovering a clue here, a fact there, until finally it all comes logically together, even if the conclusion requires a bit of manipulation by the author.  Well done, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.


Rag and Bone
James R. Benn
Soho Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-996-4
Trade Paperback

Last year, the Russian Parliament acknowledged that country’s responsibility for the slaughter of more than 20,000 Polish officers at the Katyn Forest early on during World War II over the protests of the Communist Party.  Katyn plays a prominent role in this novel, the fifth in the Billy Boyle World War II mysteries.  When a Soviet officer is found murdered on a London street, hands tied behind his back and shot in the back of the head as were those murdered at Katyn, Billy is sent ahead to London from Italy by his Uncle Ike to solve the murder just days before the General and his staff were to arrive to set up Supreme Headquarters for the invasion of France.

While the Poles in London, especially Billy’s friend Kaz, have proof of the Russian complicity in the massacre, it was not in the interests of the British or American governments to upset the delicate balance in the wartime alliance, which depended on the pressure of the eastern front to offset the German defenses of the west.  Now a First Lieutenant, Billy has to tread a fine line between all elements to find the killer and seek justice, while saving his friend, who is Scotland Yard’s number one suspect.

As usual, the author uses and depicts history to set the stage for an intriguing murder mystery, with cameo performances by Uncle Dwight D. Eisenhower, FDR and Winston Churchill, among others, carrying forth the series from North Africa to Sicily and Italy to blitzed Britain, just before the Normandy invasion.  Written with a blend of fact and fiction, the novel is a first-class crime novel, transcending the vivid scenes of Luftwaffe bombings, war-time shortages and deprivations, and is recommended.  [The author’s next book in the series, A Mortal Terror, was released in mid-September.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.


Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-902-1
Also available in trade paperback

A welcome addition to this enjoyable series, this sixth Sheriff Ike Schwartz novel starts out in a frightful manner.  Ruth Harris, Ike’s fiancée, is critically injured in a car collision in Washington, D.C. She’s in a hospital with multiple injuries and in a coma.  The local police dismiss the accident as an ordinary mishap, but Ike investigates the scene and determines that it was a deliberate act of violence, and undertakes to find the culprit.

Unfortunately, the local police are of no help, and Ike is facing a reelection contest in a week.  The mayor forbids him to use his office or staff in his efforts, so he takes vacation time.  Aided by his buddy, Charlie Garland, the mysterious CIA agent, and covertly by friends and staff members, he follows his instincts, first looking at State’s Rights group zealots (Ruth was chairing a Federal government committee reviewing textbook standards), and then dissident academics. Three murders take place in Picketsville, complicating the efforts.

The novel measures up to the standards of its predecessors: a well-written mystery with a well-drawn cast of characters.  Who can ask for anything more?  So it is a relatively simple task to recommend it, as with its forerunners.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.