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.

Book Reviews: Perfect Sins by Jo Bannister and A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

Perfect SinsPerfect Sins
Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best #2
Jo Bannister
Minotaur Books, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-05420-3
Hardcover

In the first book of this new series by Jo Bannister, the highly recommended Deadly Virtues, the reader met Gabriel Ash, in his mid-20’s, “an intelligent, astute man who had once been highly regarded in national security circles,” a well-educated insurance investigator and later a Government analyst before the traumatic events of 4 years ago when his wife and two young boys had been taken by persons unknown, their present whereabouts a complete mystery.

The follow-up book takes place two months later, and reunites Gabriel with Hazel Best, a 26-year-old rookie cop, now on probation after the events which took place in that earlier novel, during which she had saved his life more than once.  As the book opens, Gabriel is accompanying Hazel to visit her father, the gatekeeper at Byrfield estate, the lord of the manor being Lord Pete (“Peregrine”) Byrfield.   Also present is David Sperrin, Hazel’s old friend and an archaeologist who lives with his mother on neighboring property, who shortly embarks on an excavation on Byrfield land resulting in the discovery of what is determined to be the body of a ten-year-old child in a makeshift grave, apparently dead for over 30 years.  DI Edwin Norris is the cop assigned to the ensuing investigation into the child’s murder, and the identity of the murderer.  In the process we learn a lot about British aristocracy, much of it fascinating.

Of course Gabriel’s family’s whereabouts, and the question of whether they are even alive, is always in the forefront of his mind.  Their disappearance during Gabriel’s investigation into African pirates’ hijacking of British arms shipments has him still continuing that investigation.

The writing is wonderful throughout, in particular the author’s descriptions:  “I don’t know what Guy would have grown up to be.  An entertainer, possibly.  Or a politician.  Something where the ability to tell barefaced lies is a major advantage.”  And a shopkeeper:  “an elderly woman with a froth of white hair and the apple cheeks of the terminally jovial.”  As in the earlier novel, all the characters are very well-drawn, especially Gabriel, Hazel, and DI Norris, and the relationship between Hazel and Gabriel seems to be evolving into something more intimate.  The suspense keeps building, right up until the very last page, which ends in a cliffhanger which makes me all the more anxious to read the next book in the series, Desperate Measures, due out in December, 2015 – can’t wait!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2015.

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A Song of ShadowsA Song of Shadows
A Charlie Parker Thriller #14
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, September 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5011-1828-9
Hardcover

This latest Charlie Parker novel has a more intriguing plot while combining many of the elements of earlier books in the series.  It begins with Charlie having survived a near fatal gunshot attack, leaving him extremely weak, renting a house on a small bay in Boreas, ME, in which to recuperate.  There is only one other home on the bay, occupied by a woman, Ruth Winter, and her daughter, Amanda.  In earlier decades, a large German population settled in the area, and after World War II an influx of supposed displaced persons arrived nearby.

When the body of a man washes ashore on the beach, questions are raised as to whether he is a suicide or the victim of foul play since he had traveled from Florida.  Then another fact emerges:  His friend and partner is found murdered in the Sunshine State, raising additional suspicion.  When Ruth Winter is murdered, there can be no question there is evil in the air, and Charlie, despite his debilitation, begins to act like a detective.

So much for the background.  The central theme is the post-war arrivals and their link to a Nazi concentration camp.  The description of the government’s investigations to identify and deport Nazi war criminals is affecting.  And Charlie’s efforts to unravel the mystery of the deaths, whether they are related, and if so to what, are, of course, aided by his usual cohorts, Louis and Angel and FBI agent Ross, along with Rabbi Epstein.  Naturally a Charlie Parker novel without the presence of the Collector or introduction of the occult would not be in keeping with the series, so, naturally, both are present and play a major role in the unraveling of the plot, along with the presence of Charlie’s daughters, the living Sam and the deceased Jennifer.  All in all, this is John Connolly at his best, with a most serious story, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: Silver’s Bones by Midge Bubany

Silver's BonesSilver’s Bones     
Cal Sheehan #2     
Midge Bubany
North Star Press of St. Cloud, March 2015
ISBN: 978-0-87839-787-7
Trade Paperback

This is a fine, well-put-together story. It is second in what may become a long-running series of detective novels. Chief among the many excellent characters is young county investigator, Cal Sheehan. He’s still finding his way as a member of the county sheriff enforcement unit. His fellow investigator is a cranky and older experienced cop who has just lost the election for sheriff to a woman, Patrice Clinton.

That’s only part of the complex social net the author weaves around the investigator in this sequel to her first novel, The Equalizer. Sheehan is now married to a cop, a widow who comes with two young boys. The book opens with Cal Sheehan just back on duty after his honeymoon when he gets a call from an ex-girlfriend. A skeleton has been unearthed on her property.

The story quickly devolves into a turbulent bog of detection and vandalism, domestic abuse, internal competition and other developing relationships. Cal has to somehow tread a narrow path between rising jealousy on the part of his new wife and proving his abilities as an ace investigator.  Throw in some dysfunctional family members, a fifteen-year-old disappearance and you realize it takes a careful hand to sort it all out in logical and realistic fashion. That Bubany is able to accomplish these tasks with efficiency, dispatch and all while entertaining and keeping readers attached is a tribute. She’s a good writer and we quickly attach to some of the characters.

As readers of this review will already realize, I liked this novel a lot although I’m not happy with the title. It has a few editing problems, but nothing that is deeply disturbing. I was presented with a copy of the novel by the author in exchange for nothing. I should also call attention to the fact that the publisher of Silver’s Bones is also my publisher. Make of that what you will.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 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.