Book Reviews: The Killers Are Coming by Jack Bludis and Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany

The Killers Are Coming
A Ken Sligo Mystery
Jack Bludis
Bold Venture Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-5410-9677-6
Trade Paperback

Killers is a throwback to the old-fashioned, hard-boiled PI noir genre told in the first person.  Ken Sligo returns home to Baltimore from overseas at the end of WW II and has no wish to go to work in the family business operating a butcher shop in a local market.  Instead, his estranged brother arranges an introduction to a local bail bondsman (and possibly a low-level gangster) and he becomes a private eye tracing bail skippers.

Then one day, he is asked to follow a woman dancer at a local theater, reporting on who she sees, talks to and any other activities.  This assignment leads Sligo far from the original purpose as the trail becomes more convoluted. Also complicating his life is his pending testimony in a murder trial of one of the men working for the bondsman.  Naturally, Sligo’s testimony is unwanted either by his erstwhile employer, or by the accused.

Having lived in Baltimore for a time, I found it nostalgic to read about the city, and especially the notorious East Baltimore Street which housed the seedier elements of the burg, including bars, burlesque houses and strip joints.  For those who enjoy this type of novel, it is an excellent example of light reading, with some aspects of a Mickey Spillane mystery, especially the violence and sex, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

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Unreasonable Doubt
A Constable Molly Smith Novel #8
Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0513-2
Hardcover

The author turns her attention in this entry in the Constable Molly Smith Mystery series to a wrongful conviction controversy in the form of a character named Walter Desmond, who was found guilty of murdering a young woman, and remanded to the penitentiary.  After 25 years, an appeal exonerates him based on new evidence and a sloppy police investigation.  Upon his release, he decides to return to the little town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, where he encounters considerable resentment.

Complicating his visit, a number of attacks on women occur: on the wife of Police Sergeant John Winters; on Molly’s mother, Lucky; and a visiting Dragon Boat team member.  Naturally, suspicion falls on Desmond.  Meanwhile, the original murder case is reopened, and Winters investigates the cold case with little hope of finding the killer.

The novel demonstrates how the mindset of a largely insulated population works. Most minds are made up; the police said Desmond was guilty and, despite the appeals court saying he is innocent, they still believe him to be guilty.  And it also shows the dramatic difference between old-time cops and modern professionals.  This is the tenth novel in the series, although Molly plays a small (but crucial) part in it. Winters occupies a central role.

The author has written an interesting take on the subject, especially with regard to the advisability of whether Desmond should, so to speak, return to the scene of the crime to find out why he was picked to be the murderer, or just remain in Vancouver and not face a hostile population.

An excellent series, well-written and always thought-provoking, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2017.

Book Review: The Child by Fiona Barton

The Child
Fiona Barton
Berkley, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-99048-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

Just mention a dead baby and the pathos sets in, doesn’t it? Regardless of what might have happened to that infant, you know it was sad in one way or another and, in this case, it’s really bad because this poor little child had lain in its small grave for so many years.

Many people from the past and present are affected by this discovery, as you might imagine, but there are four women in particular who get our attention. At times, the baby was front and center but, at other times, the story focused much more on the individual women and Kate, the journalist, is the catalyst that brings out more than one truth. What begins as a story that shocks the senses in the beginning soon proves itself to be full of innuendoes and accusations, heartbreak and, eventually, healing.

Ms. Barton has crafted a tale that has been told before in some ways, both fictionally and in real life, but it’s the twists and coincidences that grabbed my attention, even though I was pretty sure of the direction this was taking. At the end, I felt a sense of sorrow at what one human can do to another but also hope for mending and new beginnings.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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Purchase Links:

         

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About the Author

credit Jenny Lewis

It was the allure of a hidden story that propelled Fiona Barton to her long-time career in news. A journalist and British Press Awards “Reporter of the Year,” she has worked at the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, and brings that experience to bear in her novels.

In THE CHILD she details how Kate’s lengthy investigation into Building Site Baby’s death represents a perilous breach of the newsroom’s new culture of 24/7 online news. Says Barton: “The danger for Kate is that she risks becoming one of the dinosaurs—sidelined because she is unable and unwilling to be part of the revolution. And I feel for her.”

Though THE CHILD delivers an evocative look at the changing face of journalism, and a delicious plot twist, it is the characters’ haunting and rich emotional lives that set Barton apart and confirm her stature as a crime novelist of the first order.

              

 

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“Tense, tantalizing, and ultimately very satisfying …
definitely one of the year’s must-reads.”—
Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Fiona Barton has outdone herself with The Child. An engrossing,
irresistible story about the coming to light of a long-buried
secret and an absolutely fabulous read—I loved it!”—Shari Lapena,
New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door

“Startling twists—and a stunning, emotionally satisfying
conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Book Review: Practical Sins for Cold Climates by Shelley Costa

practical-sins-for-cold-climatesPractical Sins for Cold Climates
A Val Cameron Mystery #1
Shelley Costa
Henery Press, January 2016
ISBN: 978-1-943390-41-0
Trade paperback

Val Cameron is a senior editor with a NY publisher in a bit of financial trouble. The story opens with Val on her way to Canada to persuade an author to sign a contract they hope will be lucrative. The Canadian island resort she lands in is nothing like she expects, or like her boss, who owns a house there, has indicated. Far from luxurious and barely accessible, she immediately runs into violence at a community meeting she attends, hoping to meeting her author. Everyone on the island has an agenda. Those who want to preserve the land as pristine wilderness. Those who want to exploit the island’s resources. Those who barely eke out a living and want jobs.

And worse, the first thing she discovers is an old, unsolved murder that overshadows everything and everyone to this day. Including the widower with whom Val immediately forms an attraction, and the author she’s been sent to find.

The book is well-written, well-plotted, and quite literary in texture, with plenty of twists and turns. These aren’t characters who immediately endeared themselves to me, but that’s not to say others will have the same reaction. I liked the setting and the ecological aspects of the story. I did wonder why, although the murdered woman was always on Val’s mind, after two years and the death going unsolved, nobody else seemed terribly concerned or anxious.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy

Brooklyn on FireBrooklyn on Fire
A Mary Handley Mystery #2
Lawrence H. Levy
Broadway Books, January 2016
ISBN:978-0-553-41894-1
Trade Paperback

Mary Handley, a not-so-proper Victorian miss, has set up as a consulting detective. Her good friend, Mr. Lazlo, has provided her with not only a job until her consulting pays-off, but provided her with office space in a corner of his bookstore. Little does he know his store will be burned down as a result of this association, but that comes later in the story. The story opens with Mary’s first client.

Mary earned a bit of fame by cracking a highly reported earlier case. This previous success draws a woman named Emily Worsham to her office, stating her uncle has been murdered.The catch? It’s a very cold case. The uncle has been dead and buried for at least ten years⏤or has he? And is Emily Worsham actually a relative, or is she simply an actress hired to point a finger at one of the wealthy movers and shakers in the Brooklyn district? The plot thickens when Emily is murdered on stage, and it turns out she wasn’t Emily Worsham at all.

The story is fast-paced. Not only Mary herself is at risk, but her entire family and of course, poor Mr. Lazlo. Even Mary’s romantic interest, none other than George Vanderbilt, comes under the gun. Nothing is as it first appears and seeing Mary solve this convoluted puzzle is a joy.

An intricate plot will keep the reader guessing. The writing is good, the setting interesting (historical mysteries are my fave whether set in New York or the Pacific Northwest) and the characterization spot on. I can recommend this one.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: And Sometimes I Wonder About You by Walter Mosley and Fallout by Paul Thomas

And Sometimes I Wonder About YouAnd Sometimes I Wonder About You
A Leonid McGill Mystery #5
Walter Mosley
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8041-7209-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter McGill’s New York City office now officially answers its phone “McGill and Son detective agency,” a recent development.  One of his sons, Twilliam (usually just “Twill”), is a new addition.  His relationships with just about all his nearest and dearest being fraught with complexities:  He hasn’t seen his father, Clarence, the charismatic revolutionary who calls himself “Tolstoy” McGill, in years; his wife has recently attempted suicide.  His “blood son” and daughter are Dmitri and Tatyana; Twill and Shelly are the two sired by other men but who Leonid raised exactly the same as his own offspring.  And then there is Gordo, his mentor, boxing trainer, and the man who he considers “his true father.”

Those relationships, and the assorted women who cross his path, either professionally or otherwise, (with several of whom he falls in love or lust, or both) are a major part of this novel, the balance of which are the several cases that come to him.  These multiple plot lines arise in different parts of the book, which is as complex as these may make it sound.  But with this master storyteller, that is not a deficit.  The first of these is introduced in the first pages of the book, and she is a gorgeous woman named Marella Herzog, who fits both definitions:  Client and lover.  Their first meeting, when he is aware of a scent she is wearing, causes “a strong reaction in a section of my heart that had almost been forgotten.”   He describes his secretary as having “gray-blue eyes [which] carried all the sadness of the last days of autumn and her voice was so soft that it could have been a memory.”    Another sometime lover is the “color of pure gold that hadn’t been polished for some years,” with hair that was “naturally wavy and darkly blond.”

He thinks “sadness had as many striations as a rainbow – – only in grays.”  The writing is replete with lines like these:  When McGill visits his wife in the hospital, he thinks “I wanted to say something kind, to slap her and tell her to snap out of it.  I would have torn out my hair if I wasn’t already bald.”  McGill, 55, is self-described as an “old, off-the-rack straphanger;” and “it has always amazed me how a woman’s eyes and her words can find a direct line to my animal heart;” when he speaks to a waitress, she smiles at him, and he muses “as had been its purpose since humans became a species, the smile socialized me.”  I briefly had a difficult time recognizing the quote that provides the title of the book, but the author kindly reminded me:  “Sometimes I think that everybody in the world in crazy, except for me and you – – and sometimes I wonder about you.”  The writing throughout is wonderful, but then we expect nothing less from this author, who carries the reader along swiftly on the ride through his newest, 49th novel, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

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FalloutFallout
A Tito Ihaka Novel #5
Paul Thomas
Bitter Lemon Press, April 2015
ISBN: 978-1-908-52449-2
Trade Paperback

This sequel to Death on Demand brings the reader back to New Zealand and the Central Police Dept.  There are a number of cops who alternate in prominence in the plot, among them District Commander Finbar McGrail, who, we are told, became Auckland District Commander and developed an appreciation for wine pretty much at the same time.   McGrail is still haunted by a 27-year-old case, his first, when as a new D.I. he investigated the murder of a 17-year-old girl, Polly Stenson.  The investigation comes to a halt less than a year later when the police still have no viable suspects in her killing, coming to the conclusion that she was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Only a year from retirement, he is approached one day by a man who was present at the murder scene at the time in question, and given a lead as to who might have killed Polly.

We then meet former D.I. Johan Van Roon, and the man who had at one time been his mentor:  Maori cop Tito Ihaka, described as “unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane” and “the brown Sherlock Holmes,” the latter having been banished to the hinterlands several years ago after a case which he had stubbornly insisted was a murder, not, as everyone else was convinced, a ‘simple’ hit-and-run accident.  Now a Detective Sergeant, he is asked by McGrail to follow up on the new lead.  Van Roon has left the force in disgrace, now a pariah in the police force and working, when he can find employment, as a private investigator and security consultant.  He is hired to find a man who disappeared right after the Stenson murder, for a very attractive fee.  Events occur in such a way that both Ihaka and Van Roon reopen the cold case to try to find the murderer.

At the same time, Ihaka starts a completely different investigation, one that involves the death of his father, “a union firebrand and renegade Marxist,” decades ago, thought to have been of natural causes.  To make things even more complex, a man with whom his father was involved died in a supposed accident one week later.  Coincidence?  He thinks not.

The author was born in the UK but has lived for most of his life in New Zealand, which is the setting for his novels.  The biggest hurdle for me in this book was with the local vernacular/regional jargon/idiom, as well as the many political discussions, making it somewhat slow reading.  But the complex plot was very interesting, and on the whole the book was enjoyable.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2016.

Book Review: If I Run by Terri Blackstock

If I RunIf I Run
Terri Blackstock
Zondervan, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-3103-3243-5
Trade Paperback

Casey is in the classic “wrong place, wrong time” situation.

The wrong place is her best friends Brent’s apartment. The wrong time is finding his body.

With Brent’s blood on her shoes and knowing the police can trace the shoes to her, she runs.

Casey is a good girl, but her dad was a police officer so she knows her way around forensics and disappearing. With the remains of her inheritance, she’s on the lam; hiding her car, taking a bus and paying cash, finding a man who will make her a false ID. This goes against her grain, but she knows she has no chance if law enforcement tracks her down.

Dylan was in the Criminal Investigations Division in the army and spent time in Afghanistan. Now he’s home and faced with attending the funeral of his best friend, Brent. He and Brent grew up together and Brent’s parents were like his own. They don’t think the local police are doing enough to find Brent’s killer, who they suspect is a woman named Casey, so they hire Brent to track her down. The local police accept Dylan’s help and one of the CID detectives, Keegan, is his contact.

Casey manages to make it to Atlanta when she gets in contact with her sister, Hannah, who sends her a thumb drive Brent left for her and the information on the drive fills in all the blanks about Casey’s father’s death…as well as giving a motive for Brent’s killing and the killer.

This is a tight, tense chase novel with a slight twist. Casey can’t let go of her do-gooder inclinations so even as she’s hiding out, she uncovers what happened to a young girl who went missing years ago on the night of her prom.

Reminiscent of “The Fugitive,” this book is a classic chase with Casey using all her knowledge to keep one step ahead of Dylan. With a cliff-hanger ending, Ms. Blackstock undoubtedly has more episodes of Casey and Dylan’s story.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, February 2016.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.

Book Reviews: Murder on the Champ de Mars by Cara Black and Season of Fear by Brian Freeman

Murder on the Champ de MarsMurder on the Champ de Mars
An Aimée Leduc Investigation #15
Cara Black
Soho Crime, March 2015
ISBN: 978-1-616-95286-0
Hardcover

Returning to work after a maternity leave, Aimée Leduc becomes too busy to really care for her six-month-old daughter.  To begin with, she undertakes a surveillance job, occupying her evenings.  Then she becomes involved in a personal investigation involving gypsies in the belief she can discover the identity of the murderer of her father 10 years before.  And to top it off, she has to fend off her former lover who, with his new wife, is attempting to wrest possession of her baby from her.

As in all the novels in the series, this one takes place in one area of Paris, the seventh arrondissnent, home to the Parisian elite, the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides.  Such a setting gives the author an opportunity to give the reader a glimpse into the seats of power in the ministries and embassies, the homes and gardens of the upper crust as she pursues her quest to uncover the facts surrounding her father’s death.

One criticism:  The reader is swamped with too much in the way of couture, lipstick applications and other frilly descriptions which slow down the progress in what is a first-rate mystery.  Also, the surveillance seems to be an afterthought, just to prove that the Leduc Detective Agency actually exists, and is never really developed.  That notwithstanding, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2015.

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Season of FearSeason of Fear
A Cab Bolton Thriller #2
Brian Freeman
Quercus, March 2015
ISBN: 978-1-62366-5407-8
Hardcover

In the present political climate, a novel that reflects the types of misinformation and downright lies which proliferate would have been welcome.  This novel promised an insight into the machinations of political operatives, parties and candidates, but instead turns out to be a murder mystery with a somewhat questionable conclusion.

The book brings back for the second time Cab Bolton, sometime private detective whose mother is a well-known Hollywood star, and friend of Diane Birch, candidate for governor with a secret or two to hide.  Ten years earlier, at a political rally, her husband (then a gubernatorial candidate) and two others were murdered.  And now, a decade later, history is about to repeat itself.  In between, a few more people are killed.  The only element of mystery:  Is it a right-wing conspiracy or not?

There are some indications of how politicians think and political parties operate, but really these are superficial.  The conclusion appeared artificial to this reader, and unlikely.  One other criticism: I found the writing at times is too flowery and heavy, slowing this reader down.  But over-all, the story progresses well and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2015.