Book Review: Murder at the Bus Depot by Judy Alter and Lethal in Old Lace by Duffy Brown

Murder at the Bus Depot
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #4
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-9990371-5-7
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Is the depot a symbol of the worst episode in a town’s history or does it stand for revitalization, bringing the citizens of Wheeler together with pride in their community?

Kate Chamber’s trouble antenna goes up when Dallas developer Silas Fletcher decides to help “grow” Wheeler. She and her brother-in-law, Mayor Tom Bryson, have less spectacular and drastic ideas for revitalizing the town. When Old Man Jackson dies in an automobile accident, the specter of the past comes back to haunt the town. Thirty years ago, Jackson’s daughter, Sallie, was murdered at the bus depot. The murder is still unsolved.

Kate and Silas clash over almost everything, from the future use of the abandoned depot to a fall festival celebrating Wheeler. Another murder at the depot blows the town apart, and Kate know she must do something to solve the murders and save her town, let alone the festival she’s planning.

One of the things I like about this series is that each book, while clearly part of a series, is pretty well self-contained and can be read as a standalone. The author provides enough backstory so the reader has an understanding of earlier episodes but not so much that spoilers ruin the previous stories.

Kate and her fellow Wheeler citizens feel like old friends and the town itself reminds me of so many small towns dotted here and there, especially those that are suffering from a failing economy. Some of the local businesses are about ready to move while other townsfolk are always ready to talk about what might be done to bring in tourists and, thus, at least moderate cash infusion. When a developer comes to town with big ideas, Kate feels compelled to preserve the old bus depot where an unsolved murder occurred years ago but she certainly wasn’t prepared for a new killing.

Kate is a thoughtful woman, by which I mean she doesn’t go rushing willy-nilly into dangerous situations but thinks things through. The town of Wheeler has become her home and she’s intent on protecting it, a cause I can appreciate.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Lethal in Old Lace
The Consignment Shop Mysteries #5
Duffy Brown
Crooked Lane Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-535-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

There are two social functions in Savannah guaranteed to get people talking: weddings and funerals. And just as consignment shop owner Reagan Summerside agrees to marry the hunky Walker Boone, her neighbors, sisters Annie Fritz and Elsie Abbot, step up their business as professional mourners. They are so successful that the Sleepy Pines Retirement Center has hired them as a part of their retirement package. But the celebration over good business is cut short when the residents at Pines suddenly begin dying at an alarming rate. And the sisters are the first suspects.

Reagan has her doubts, however, and begins to look into the strange phenomenon. But then something even stranger happens: a body winds up in the sisters’ pink Caddy. The evidence begins to pile up and the suspicious case of Willie Fishbine, who swindled the sisters out of a fortune and coincidentally died prior to the Pines case, is reopened.

Not wanting Willie to be buried until they can find the killer responsible for the murders, Reagan must catch the culprit in time to walk down the aisle.

There’s no place better than Savannah for a consignment shop and the city has the extra attraction of feeling like a small town in the sense that everyone knows who’s who and what’s what. It’s no surprise that shopkeeper Reagan would get involved when Annie and Elsie are suspected of doing away with some of the senior citizens at Sleepy Pines to beef up their most unusual business. With the help of her cohorts, particularly Aunt Kiki and Reagan’s mom, Judge Gloria, the race is on to prove the sisters’ innocence and still get Reagan to the church on time, so to speak.

Once again, humor fills the pages of Reagan’s latest escapade and the case is as wacky as they come. I do recommend a reader new to the series start with the first one and be prepared to be totally charmed by this Southern fiction with a mysterious flair 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Book Reviews: IQ by Joe Ide and Righteous by Joe Ide

IQ
An IQ Novel #1
Joe Ide
Mulholland, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-3162-6773-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  East Long Beach.  The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate.  Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered.  But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.  A high school dropout, Isaiah Quintabe has an unassuming nature that disguises a ferocious intelligence.  Most people call him IQ.  Word has gotten around:  If you’ve got a problem, Isaiah will take care of it, his rates adjustable to your income or lack thereof.  Because of his unconventional business model, cash is getting tight for Isaiah, forcing him to take on the case of a rap mogul whose life is in danger.  The list of suspects includes a socially inept marksman who never misses, a crew of hangers-on that conceals that one man with a dangerous agenda, and an attack dog the size of a horse.  IQ finds his investigation encompassing much more than he bargained for.  No one expects a kid from East Long Beach to have what Isaiah’s packing – – a blistering intellect, an incredible sense of percepti9on, and some serious skills behind the wheel.  It all adds up to one major advantage:  When you come from nothing, nobody sees you coming.

 

This is the first in a very original new series from Joe Ide, an author of Japanese-American descent, who has created an even more original protagonist in IQ, in a book which won the Macavity Award for best first novel.

The year is 2013.  In the opening pages, we meet Isaiah, an unlicensed detective described as six feet tall and rail thin, his roommate, Juanell Dodson, 17, who has been sharing IQ’s apartment since the death of the latter’s beloved brother, Marcus, 25 years old, in a hit-and-run incident in 2005 which completely devastated IQ. We also meet Juanell’s sometime girlfriend, an innocent teenage girl named Deronda. We are told that IQ had more work than he could handle but not many who could pay him.   A client who could “pay his per diem gave him enough income to support himself” but often the only compensation given him would be “with a sweet potato pie or cleaning his yard or one brand-new radial tire if they paid him at all.”  In one instance payment came in the form of a chicken named Alejandro.  After his brother’s death IQ dropped out of school and quit the academic decathlon team he was on.

IQ likes rap because “music without words let him fill his head with images of his own making or no images at all.”  Juanell brings IQ a new case, if they can split the fee, the client being one Calvin Wright, a rapper known as Black the Knife. Juanell tells IQ “you lucky you got skills, son, ‘cause if you had to survive on your personality you’d be working at the morgue with dead people.”  But the team does just fine.

The author creates some fascinating characters here, primarily of course IQ, and a book that won’t soon be forgotten.  One of the many glowing reviews of this book [from fellow author Ben Winters] ended with the words “you’ll be as excited as I am for a sequel.”  I couldn’t, and can’t, disagree, and when that sequel was published, less than a month ago, I read it as soon as I could, the result of which can be found in the review which will be written as soon as this one concludes – it’s every bit as excellent as is this debut novel and, like this one, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

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Righteous
An IQ Novel #2
Joe Ide
Mulholland Books, October 2017
ISBN: 978-0-3162-6777-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Ten years ago, when Isaiah Quintabe was just a boy, his beloved brother was killed by an unknown assailant. The unsolved crime has gnawed at his gut and kept him up nights, boiling with anger and thoughts of revenge.  The search for the killer sent him plunging into despair and nearly destroyed his life.  Now, Isaiah has a flourishing career, a new dog, and a near-iconic status as a PI in his hometown of East Long Beach, but a chance encounter reopens a wound that never fully healed.  He has to begin the hunt again – – or lose his mind.  A case takes him and his skeptical don’t-call-me-a-sidekick partner, Dodson, to Vegas, where Chinese gangsters and a terrifying seven-foot loan shark are stalking a beautiful DJ and her deadbeat boyfriend.  If Isaiah doesn’t find the couple first, they’ll be murdered.  Awaiting the outcome is the love of IQ’s life:  fail, and he’ll lose her.  Isaiah’s quest is fraught with treachery, menace, and startling twists, leading to the mastermind behind his brother’s death, Isaiah’s own sinister Moriarty.  Rich with action, suspense, and ingenious surprises, Righteous confirms Joe Ide as one of crime fiction’s most exciting new voices.

 

To say that Marcus was “the best person in the world” is only an understatement to Isaiah.  He’d never gotten over his brother’s death, which haunts him more each day, and he is determined to track down the person responsible.  Everything that follows in this second book in the series stems from that.  And this book is everything that the initial book led the reader to expect from this author.  And the more he discovers leads him to only one conclusion:  “This was no accident.  This was a hit.”

Chapter One introduces Janine Van, a young Asian woman working as a DJ, whose name as a DJ is Dama, so chosen because “it was different and the Chinese word for weed.”  Only 21 years old, she gets paid $750 a set, and plays 2 sets a week, but the gambling she does in her hometown of Vegas eats up her paychecks very ably. Now she and her boyfriend Benny are deeply in debt; the 20% vig has now raised that debt to $9,000, $1400 for the vig alone.  She loved Benny, but he was a lousy gambler, “More than half the debt was his.”  The loan shark is getting very impatient for his money, Janine and Benny were living out of a seedy motel room, “a dump to begin with,” and the collector, a man named Balthazar, was seven feet tall, from Saskatchewan, “right across the border from Montana.”  Their reaction to the unpaid debt is to dump Benny in a 360 acre, 200 foot deep landfill, threatening to give the same punishment to Janine if the debt isn’t paid by the end of the week.

The author has a new assortment of fascinating characters to whom his readers are introduced in this book, including Sarita, a young woman who had been Marcus’ girlfriend “back when Isaiah was in high school, and he’d always had a crush on her.”   The bad guys in this series entry are pretty frightening, and there’s a great deal of violence and gunplay, reader be warned.  But the tale is brilliantly told, Isaiah a fascinating protagonist.  Can’t wait for the next in the series!  And this entry, as was the first one, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron

You’ll Never Know, Dear
Hallie Ephron
William Morrow, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-247361-5
Hardcover

You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron is a stand-alone contemporary suspense novel that could just as easily be labeled women’s fiction. This book explores the long shadows and altered relationships that follow a child kidnapping. Forty years ago 7-year-old Elisabeth (Lis) Woodham was supposed to be watching her 4-year-old sister Jane. She was distracted as children that age can be and when she returned, Jane was gone along with the handmade porcelain doll she was playing with. No trace was ever found of her. Their mother began offering a reward for the return of the doll annually on the anniversary of the disappearance, thinking that whoever had the doll would know where her daughter was. While inevitably dolls of all kinds were offered every year in hopes of obtaining the reward, none of them were credible until this year, when a young woman showed up with a tattered doll that might well be the right one.

Within hours of seeing the doll and meeting the young woman a chain reaction of events occurs. Both Lis and her mother are hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning and the kiln in her mother’s workshop that she used for years explodes and sets their house on fire, bringing Lis’s daughter Vanessa home from New England where she is doing post-doctoral sleep research and escaping from her mother’s overprotectiveness. Together Vanessa and Lis investigate this present-day puzzle that reaches far into the distant past for answers.

The mother and daughter relationship and its variations over time are a major theme in this book. How they annoy each other and misunderstand each other and protect each other and need each other is shown over and over.  Lis and her mother, Lis and her daughter, the young woman with the damaged doll and her mother, the familiar ideas take clear human form here.

I generally dislike thrillers and mysteries based on harm to children and avoid them. I can think of nothing worse for a parent than to lose a child through kidnapping. To use it as the plot of a story, even as realistically and tactfully as this one does, seems to trivialize a horrific occurrence. To minimize the tragedy Ephron, a skilled writer, focuses on the lost doll, not the lost child. In the back of the reader’s mind, the lost doll equals the lost child but the discussions among the characters concentrate directly on the doll, which I thought was an excellent way of downplaying the calamity. A smooth, fast-moving read.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, January 2018.

Book Review: Cast Iron by Peter May

Cast Iron
An Enzo Macleod Investigation #6
Peter May
Quercus, October 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4161-0
Hardcover

This is the sixth and final book in the Enzo Files series, and it is a worthy addition indeed.

From the publisher:  In 1989, a killer dumped the body of twenty-year-old Lucie Martin into a picturesque lake in the west of France.  Fourteen years later, during a summer heat wave, a drought exposed her remains – – bleached bones amid the scorching mud and slime.  No one was ever convicted of her murder.  But now, forensic expert Enzo Macleod is reviewing this stone-cold case – – the toughest of the seven he has been challenged to solve.  But when Enzo finds a flaw in the original evidence surrounding Lucie’s murder, he opens a Pandora’s Box that not only raises old ghosts but also endangers his entire family.  The challenge was from a Parisian journalist, Roger Raffin, who told Enzo that his skills would be insufficient to solve these very cold cases, including that of his [Raffin’s] wife.   Candor makes me admit that all of the nearly interchangeable relationships in the novel at times confused this reader, what with the various characters’ relationships with each other, both parental and marital.

Time frames range from the time of Lucie’s murder in 1989 in the book’s Prologue to the discovery of the bones of the victim in the summer of 2003 on the 1st page of Chapter 1,  to the concluding chapter in the Spring of 2012, with p.o.v. initially being that of Enzo but soon nearly alternating with that of Sophie, Enzo’s daughter, and Bertrand, her lover.  The question of the identity of Lucie’s murderer, as well as that of Pierre Lambert, a significant character in the tale, is not resolved until very nearly the end of the novel, as well as “the enigma that is Regis Blanc,” thought initially to have killed many (all?) of the many victims enumerated here. Macleod explores the possibility that Lucie was murdered by a man she met while doing social work with recently released felons, on one of whom Enzo focuses: But Enzo has so much personal baggage to wrap up – – the vindictive ex-wife, the uncertain paternities, the infidelities, his new girlfriend – – enough to negatively influence his investigation.  The frequently [and wonderfully] poetic writing, combined with the suspense wrought by the author, makes this a highly recommended read.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2017.

Book Review: Fortune’s Fool by Albert A. Bell, Jr.

Fortune’s Fool
A Sixth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger
Albert A. Bell, Jr.
Perseverance Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-56474-587-3
Trade Paperback

In this mystery set in the first century AD, Pliny the Younger stumbles upon a mystery in his own villa at Lake Comum, at the foot of the Alps, in Italy.

Pliny has a long term relationship with his slave, Aurora. His wife suspects that there is something between them and demands that he marry Aurora off. He chooses a slave, Felix, who is older and served the same role in covering up a relationship between Pliny’s uncle and a slave, the union produced a son. Felix was castrated by a former master at age 16, a fact which is not known throughout the household. But Pliny neglects to inform Aurora until just before the wedding, and she is not pleased.

His wife Livia, was married before. Her first husband drowned in the lake, but his body was never found. Livia is displeased with the size of the rooms in this villa, so Pliny sets about to have a work crew demolish one of the walls, to add on two rooms. While the workers are breaking down the wall, they discover a skeleton. Who was this person and how did he or she die?

This is the sixth book in the series, and will fascinate mystery lovers with curiosity about the Roman Empire. The combination of history and culture is irresistible, and don’t let a lack of knowledge about the ancients deter you.  There is a glossary of terms in the back; also a cast of characters, both historical and fictional characters.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

Book Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Song of the Lion
A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel #2
Anne Hillerman
Harper, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-062-39190-2
Hardcover

Anne Hillerman continues to demonstrate she is a solid author in her own right, albeit using the characters developed by her late father, Tony, in the series featuring Jim Chee, Bernadette Manuelito and Joe Leaphorn.  And by expanding Bernie’s role, she has added her own stamp on the series, which began in 1970, and in which this is her third novel.

The action begins when a bomb explodes, destroying a BMW belonging to a local hero who is mediating a hearing on a proposed resort on Navajo land adjacent to the Grand Canyon.  A young man is killed while sitting in the car.  The owner is playing in an alumni-student basketball game, and Jim Chee is assigned to be his bodyguard, driving him to the hearing and watching over him.  The plot develops in unexpected ways and as it unfolds, Bernie gets to play a deeper role than that of a bystander.  She takes over uncovering the real reason for the explosion, enlisting the assistance of Leaphorn, who still suffers from a bullet wound in his brain, but recalls an earlier incident, which helps Bernie resolve the case.

Common to the series are the descriptions of the arid Navajo country, the rituals, myths and customs of the people so well-done by Tony Hillerman and now continued on an equal footing by his daughter.  Her plotting is similarly on a par with the series’ founder.  And by introducing an environmental issue in the plot, she has brought the series up to date, while maintaining the integrity of the basic story and its characters.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

Book Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers—and a Giveaway!

Thief’s Mark
A Sharpe & Donovan Novel #8
Carla Neggers
MIRA, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-778-33031-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man’s search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel 

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.  

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York’s country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished. 

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver’s account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver’s small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the United States, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.  

My favorite mystery setting, an English village, and a pair of FBI agents who are definitely out of their geographic element…what more could I want? Throw in an art thief (which I’ve always found fun and exciting, probably because these art thieves are daring and, well, sort of James Bond-ish, even the women) and a heinous crime from the past and the stage is set for an engrossing read.

Emma’s grandfather is an art detective in the private collector realm and has a strange tale for Emma and Colin. It seems that he’s had a break-in by someone apparently interested in items connected to one Oliver York. To add a little more mystique, Oliver used to be an accomplished art thief but then became an MI5 agent. Emma and Colin have years-long ties to Oliver through both of his professions but, when a dead man is found at his home, the case becomes ever-expanding and eventually involves multiple countries and law enforcement organizations.

While this is part of the Sharpe & Donovan series, it’s essentially a standalone and focuses largely on Oliver. He is a fascinating man and he makes it easy to understand why cops and robbers sometimes can’t help liking and even respecting each other. Emma and Colin are a delightful couple as well as being really good agents and Oliver’s colleague, Henrietta, is a force of nature but it’s Wendell, Emma’s grandfather, who really stole my heart. All in all, Thief’s Mark was a grand introduction, for me, to this series and the rest of the books are going on my wishlist right now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Purchase Links:

         

    

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About the Author

Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including her popular Sharpe and Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 35 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, Carla lives with her family in New England. To learn more and to sign up for her newsletter, visit CarlaNeggers.com.

Connect with Carla:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers
, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Friday
night,
September 22nd and the book will be sent
out after the tour ends. This drawing is

open to residents of the US and Canada.

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