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.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
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.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: That Left Turn at Albuquerque by Scott Phillips and Where Privacy Dies by Priscilla Paton @soho_press @priscilla_paton @CoffeetownPress

That Left Turn at Albuquerque
Scott Phillips
Soho Crime, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-64129-109-5
Hardcover

The author has assembled here an engaging and substantial cast of characters. That he is able to keep track of their criminal activities and their attitudes toward their fellow humans, as well as their active lives is quite impressive.

Most of the characters engage in illegal and scurrilous acts without apparent concern for the morality or humanity of their lives. Or for the impact their actions have on others, often innocent others. That most of their criminality is directed at other criminals may be seen by many readers as a mitigating factor. A significant number of the characters are imbued with some level of humor and see their fellow humans as actually funny at times.

Central to the story is down and out attorney, Douglas Rigby. His small, now solo practice is falling to pieces and he engages in several illegal enterprises in his attempts to stave off bankruptcy and total ruin.

Readers will be treated to bare-knuckle humor, tongue in cheek satire, up-tempo action, murder, mayhem, and a good deal of action. A somewhat peculiar, jaundiced look at society, propels the book from start to finish.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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

Where Privacy Dies
A Twin Cities Mystery #1
Priscilla Paton
Coffeetown Press, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-665-6
Trade Paperback

From the striking cover to the final resolution of murky death and the corruption by power and money of numerous characters, this rich and at times difficult novel will attract, enthrall and sometimes irk readers. Central to the story is the gradual growth of understanding and appreciation of two detectives in a Twin Cities law enforcement force titled G-Met. It’s an intriguing amalgam of special cops whose franchise covers multiple jurisdictions in the metropolitan region of East Central Minnesota. It’s an authorial creation with much interesting and intriguing potential.

Lead detective is tall lanky Erik Jansson, divorced father of a young son. He is not a typical cop one frequently finds in this genre. He’s paired with a new hire from a small city in southern Minnesota, Deb Metzger, a six-foot plus lesbian, who could competently handle the physical requirements of a corporate bodyguard. The two are not instantly simpatico and thereby inhabit a running source of minor conflict and mutual support which adds a fine level of benign conflict to the novel.

Although the title of the novel is a quickly understood clue to an important dimension of the mystery, this story turns on the deviousness and sometimes nasty inclinations of human beings who have enjoyed a high degree of success without the leavening factor of ethics and moral suasion. The narrative is tight, solid and delves neatly into ego, intrusion of technology, moral failure and the entanglement of those who would ignore their childhood schooling. A multiplicity of characters, crisp dialogue and an absence of unnecessary description adds to the richness of the novel. The novel competently reveals a fresh voice and a thoughtful look into the modern world of computer crime and our almost universal entanglement therein. I recommend this fine novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Let These Bones Live Again by David Carlson

Let These Bones Live Again
A Christopher Worthy & Father Fortis Mystery #3
David Carlson
Coffeetown Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-393-8
Trade paperback

With a setting of Venice, Italy, the premise of the story seems almost possible. College student Allyson Worthy is interning with the Venice police department, the dream of living in the city fulfilled. She is no more than settled in when her father, a respected and famous homicide detective, turns up. He’s been hired to look into the death of a wealthy cancer victim suspected of committing suicide. Of course father and daughter meet up. Not such a good thing considering an uneasy history between them.

But then there’s Father Fortis, whom the Vatican has asked to look into the theft of the bones of saints. His job is complicated when he’s forced to bridge a gap of faith between Catholics and the Russian Orthodox church. Father Fortis and the Worthys are friends, and it isn’t long before they get together to help each other.

The Venetian police soon have Allyson working with her father, as more than one wealthy cancer victim has apparently committed suicide in unusual circumstances. And their bodies all have a puzzling wound, carefully stitched, that seems to have no bearing on their disease. Then there are the stolen relics. Father Fortis can’t think of any good reason for old bones, often of uncertain provenance, to be stolen.

While the answers to these questions were quite easy to see, the meat of the story comes with the relationship between these various characters, especially Allyson as she not only struggles with a romance that may not be as real as she hopes, but hostility toward her father. I didn’t find a lot of action or tension in the story, but was entranced by the setting and the people.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2019.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Criminal Misdeeds by Randee Green

************

Title: Criminal Misdeeds
Series: A Carrie Shatner Mystery #1
Author: Randee Green
Publisher: Coffeetown Press
Publication Date: July 1, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Police Procedural

************

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

************

Criminal Misdeeds
A Carrie Shatner Mystery #1
Randee Green
Coffeetown Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-709-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

As far back as the Shatners can be traced, they have been breaking the law and running from it. It’s a family tradition. Now Carrie Shatner is a detective and crime-scene technician with the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in Eastern Texas. Over the years, she has tried to distance herself from her family’s criminal activities. But that is easier said than done.

The Shatner family is celebrating New Year’s Eve at the Wyatt County Fairgrounds in their usual style: illegal fireworks, homemade moonshine, and a near brawl. After shutting down the party, Carrie does a final sweep of the fairgrounds and finds a dead body in a dumpster.

Good news: the dead man is not a Shatner. Bad news: the Shatners are now suspects in a homicide investigation. Soon the fairgrounds are overrun with law enforcement, including Sergeant Jerrod Hardy, a Texas Ranger. The victim is Kyle Vance, Carrie’s ex-boyfriend and a member of the Palmer family, who have been feuding with the Shatners since the Civil War.

Despite serious misgivings, Hardy allows Carrie to help him investigate. He knows she physically couldn’t have beaten Vance to death, but he wonders if she is covering for a family member.

There’s something about backcountry Texas crime fiction that grabs me by the throat and won’t let go but I don’t really know what it is. Some of my affection is because it’s almost always rural and it’s Southern; granted “Southern” is not the same in Texas as it is in Virginia or Alabama but Texas still falls into the category. Then there’s the Wild West romantic aspect that is always there in the background so, all in all, I’m a patsy for Texas law enforcement 😉

Carrie is a pure delight, in her profession and also as part of a riproaring criminal family and, while I know it’s wrong of her to protect them I also understand it and can totally empathize with her. I also couldn’t help laughing at this eccentric, kinda weird family that Carrie has to cope with, all the while loving them just because they are family. She sort of escaped their clutches but not really.

When murder occurs at a Shatner clan party, Carrie’s colleagues don’t really trust her to get involved, hardly a surprise, but the arrival of Texas Ranger Jerrod Hardy changes everything, especially when he grudgingly lets her help out. It’s a wonder he does, given that the dead man is Carrie’s ex and a member of the Palmer clan that’s the Shatners’ mortal enemies.

I really did have fun with this book and, although I thought the actual mystery was a little lightweight, it’s the journey to get to the answers that really matters. Carrie and Hardy could very well grow into one of my favorite law enforcement couples/partners so, Ms. Green, please hurry up with the next book!

An Excerpt from Criminal Misdeeds

CHAPTER ONE

I come from a long line of criminals.

Moonshiners, rumrunners, and drug dealers. Horse thieves and carjackers. Bank robbers, burglars, pickpockets, and con artists. And then there has been the occasional killer. You name it, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, somewhere along the line a member of my family has committed it.

As far back as the Shatner family could be traced – from southern England to the mountains of western North Carolina, and now to the Piney Woods of East Texas – we had been breaking the law. And running from it, too.

It was a family tradition.

You see, the Shatners have never swum in the baby pool of life. We’ve always been out in the deep end, and we jumped in headfirst.

As for me, every day I fight my genetic predisposition to break the law. Some days I’ve been more successful than others. You see, I can’t break the law when I’m the one who is supposed to be upholding it.

My name is Carrie Shatner, and for the last three-and-a-half years I have worked as a detective and crime scene technician for the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in East Texas. That would put my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University to good use except there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of serious crime in Wyatt County. I mainly sat behind my desk all day, twiddling my thumbs, playing Sudoku, and keeping up with my various social media accounts.

While my official job was to process crime scenes and deal with all parts of criminal investigations, my unofficial job was to cover up my family’s illegal activities and keep them out of jail. I’d be the first to admit that what I have been doing wasn’t ethical. It was probably also criminal. I tried not to think about that too much. To be honest, I tried not to think about any of it too much. Most days I felt like quitting my job. Family obligation prevented that.

I’m not saying that all of the Shatners have been hardened criminals. Sure, most of the older ones were. But at least some of the younger ones shied away from the family business and seemed to be sticking to the straight and narrow. And they were the reason why I do what I do. Yes, I clean up the crimes of the guilty. But I do it to protect the innocent.

These days, the laws my various family members break have been fairly minor ones. Okay, some were still kind of major. But it was nothing compared to what we used to engage in. I mean, I’m pretty sure we were no longer involved in contract killing or organized crime.

What I did know was that my great-uncles had a moonshine still out in the woods and a marijuana crop concealed in a bunch of old Cold War bomb shelters. Every time I caught one of my family members selling the homebrew or the pot, they would promise me it was the last time. I didn’t believe them. I didn’t arrest them either, because I knew it wouldn’t stop them. It would also infuriate the rest of the family. And, while tempting, that wasn’t a risk I was quite willing to take. At least not yet.

Occasionally, one of the younger Shatners would steal a car or deface some public property or get busted for underage drinking. The older Shatners were always getting nabbed for public indecency and public intoxication. Some of them were also heavily involved in insurance scams. And then there had been the occasional assault. But we hadn’t killed anyone – accidently or on purpose – in years. Or, if someone had, I didn’t know about it.

When you got down to it, the majority of the bad things that the Shatners have done were just plain dumb. And, as far as I knew, being stupid wasn’t illegal. We would have been in serious trouble otherwise.

I don’t want you to go into this thinking that all of the Shatners were bad people. Most of them have just been a little misguided.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

Until I found the body.

************

About the Author

Randee Green’s passion for reading began in grade school with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, as well as a master’s and an MFA in Creative Writing. When not writing, she’s usually reading, indulging in her passion for Texas country music, traveling, or hanging out with her favorite feline friend, Mr. Snookums G. Cat.

Catch Up With Randee Green On: randeegreen.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Book Reviews: Faces of the Dead by Suzanne Weyn and Trouble in Rooster Paradise by T. W. Emory

Faces of the DeadFaces of the Dead
Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic Press, September 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-42531-5
Hardcover

When we were teens, didn’t we all have moments when we wanted to slip out of our reality and be someone else? Who didn’t want to swap with a pro baseball player or the lead singer of a hot rock group? In this book, we have the reverse situation. Marie-Therese, daughter of Marie Antoinette, slips into the streets of Paris at the height of the French Revolution after she and her best friend, Ernestine, daughter of a chambermaid, discover they look so much alike they can switch places at will.

Desperate to see Paris and understand what’s going on outside of her sheltered life at the Versailles Palace, she rides into the city with a dour servant and is shocked to learn, first from him, but then from many others, that her beloved parents are hated by most of the citizenry. Despite this, Marie-Therese can’t stop becoming more fascinated with city life. Her interest becomes even more intense when she meets and starts really liking a poor boy named Henri, who likes her in return and shows her many aspects of city life. Before long, the two of them are almost inseparable and when the revolution spills out of Paris and surrounds the palace, she is trapped in Paris. Henri works at Dr. Curtius’ Wax Museum and it is here that Marie-Therese stays after her family is taken prisoner.

Anna-Marie, a woman who came to the palace to teach Marie-Therese’s aunt her art skills, works there, making most of the life-like images in wax. She recognizes the princess, but doesn’t give her away. Meanwhile, almost everyone in Paris has gone mad and the guillotine in a nearby square is lopping off heads every day. One of the tasks of those working at the wax museum is to gather heads of the notable and famous right after they’re severed and make life-masks for the revolutionaries. Every day, Marie-Therese approaches the square with trepidation, wondering whether she’ll be confronted with the head of one of her family members.

Meanwhile, Anna-Marie and Rose (later to become Josephine, wife of Napoleon), are working on a way to save some of the condemned by using some of the magic Rose learned growing up in the Caribbean. Whether they succeed is a good plot hook.

This is not a perfect read, but certainly a gripping one. Teen readers who like action and intrigue with some history mixed in and who aren’t averse to gory details will enjoy this story. There are several passages that will help them feel like they were right in the middle of an insane moment in French history. The author provides some insight into what was altered and the history of many of the characters who lived during the French Revolution in her notes at the end of the story.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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

Trouble in Rooster ParadiseTrouble In Rooster Paradise
T. W. Emory
Coffeetown Press, July 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60381-996-1
Trade Paperback

An unusual plot, a different handling, a charming cast but it all goes a bit awry due to incessant if unrealized lechery. An old-time P.I. named Gunnar Nilson, the rooster of the title, is enticed by a comely rehab center volunteer to recall some of his many adventures in crime solving after he returned from the army in the Second World War. Gunnar Nilson, the narrator of the lusty tale, is recovering from a bad fall and broken leg.

Seattle was a different city from the modern sophisticated city of coffee and tall buildings but crime and criminals were little changed. A growing business in high fashion perfumes and fabrics is staffed by the loveliest collection of young women around, a scene in which the young detective revels. His wandering eye never fails to ferret out the most uplifted bosom, tightly enclosed hips and bottoms or long, slender calves in fabulous high heels. Even the older women look tempting to the randy Nilson.

An upper class investor in the business hires Nilson to conduct an investigation of the murder of one of the lovelies employed in the business. He doesn’t much care who murdered whom or why, but he wants to avoid business-damaging scandal.

It’s all played for tongue-in-cheek laughs overlying some very nasty criminal activity as Nilson unwinds his recollection of the case for the young and attractive volunteer. The story is logical, peopled by a recognizable cast of characters, including the slimy business manager, gruff and snarly detectives, and Gunnar’s boon companion who acts as the foil off whom Gunnar can examine the steps and evidence he gradually collects, and the conclusion is satisfactory.

Gunnar’s relationship with the volunteer, Kristi, has a lot of unrealized potential and I look for intriguing future developments from this author and his characters.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.