Book Review: Death’s Way by Christopher Valen

Death's WayDeath’s Way
A John Santana Novel
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, March 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-9800017-7-8
Trade Paperback

John Santana, St. Paul Homicide Detective, is called to a death scene in a downtown hotel room. The case at first glance appears to be a case of autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong. She was choked by the plastic bag over her head that evidently was to serve as a safety device but the victim passed out before she could get the bag off. There was a silk scarf around the waist of the corpse and hooks of a red bungee cord bound around her waist was attached to a second strap that stretched up her back, around her neck, and down to the waist strap again. From all appearances, this death was an accidental suicide but Santana always considered death by strangulation a homicide until proved otherwise.

The hotel room was actually a spacious, private suite. Santana searched the purse left in the room and found a driver’s license identifying the deceased as Catalina Diaz, twenty-two years old. The purse contained no keys or cell phone which was unusual since most people carried a cell phone and keys of some type to an apartment, house or car. He also found a small envelope containing five one hundred dollar bills and a business card for a Dr. Philip Campbell.

John’s partner, Kacie Hawkins, checks and finds that Catalina Diaz had used the same hotel two weeks earlier. Hawkins has her car towed to the impound lot. According to the key log, Diaz entered the hotel room at 9:32 p.m. the previous night and never left. Philip Campbell checked out at 6:00 a.m. this morning. Santana and Hawkins search the victim’s condo in downtown St. Paul and Santana finds a couple of items commonly used in Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. He also found a picture of Diaz with a woman he thought was probably Nina Rivera, Diaz’s roommate. Santana also finds a list of the names of three men hidden in a drawer.

A woman brings her daughter to the police department with a story of a similar death six years before. This strange story captures Santana’s interest and he searches for connections between call girls and their involvement with powerful men. This is just a brief summary of the beginning of the case.

The story is very exciting and is a fast read and many of the details will be shocking and hard to imagine. Detective John Santana is a complex character and the reader gets to know him better with each novel. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2014.

Book Reviews: Cold Coast by Jenifer LeClair, Bottom Line by Marc Davis, and Nemesis by Bill Pronzini

Cold CoastCold Coast
A Brie Beaumont Mystery Thriller
The Windjammer Mystery Series, Book Three
Jenifer LeClair
Conquill Press, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-9800017-6-1
Trade Paperback
*****

Brie Beaumont is a homicide detective on leave from the Minneapolis Police Department and decided to take a cruise aboard The Maine Wind, an old-fashioned sailing ship. The ship is owned by Captain John deLuc. When an incident left Captain deLuc’s crew short one person he asked Brie to be second mate and she accepted. Brie and John have become close during their time together on the ship and it is now nearing the time for Brie to decide if she is going to return to Minneapolis and her duties as a detective.

The Maine Wind docks at Tucker Harbor, Maine after a storm. Tucker Harbor is a small lobster fishing village. Brie and another crew member decided to take the longboat ashore and several passengers expressed interest in going ashore and hiking along a trail that led to the village. The group set out on the trail but suddenly Brie heard a terrified cry from Hurley, one of the ship’s passengers, that was followed by one from another passenger. The group had come across a body on the trail. It turned out that the body was that of Jake Maloney, one of the residents of Tucker Harbor. The police were summoned and Dent Fenton of the Maine State Police started the investigation. When he realized Brie was an experienced detective he asked that she assist him in the investigation. Brie agreed to help and soon found that another murder had occurred earlier in the village.

This is the third Windjammer book with Brie Beaumont. It seems wherever The Maine Wind takes her Brie winds up in the midst of a mystery. Previous books are Danger Sector and Rigged for Murder. It is not necessary to read the books in order but they are all full of wonderful descriptions of life on a sailing vessel and the mysteries are tense and keep the reader guessing until the final outcome.

 
Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2014.

 

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Bottom LineBottom Line
Marc Davis
The Permanent Press, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57962-316-6
Hardcover
*****

In wake of the Bernie Madoff massive fraud upon the world, a novel (or novels) on questionable business practices could be expected. Bottom Line tells a slightly different story of a similar large-scale fraud on a different level: Fraudulent accounting, a violation of securities laws. It is the story of Martell & Co., a top consulting/auditing firm based in Chicago with some of the country’s top companies as clients. With the downturn in the economy, with lower earnings in prospect, the numbers are “massaged” so the stocks of the public companies wouldn’t suffer.

The plot involves the study of the principal behind the firm, Adrian Martell, and his son, who perpetrate the shenanigans, and Nick Blake, the number two behind them, who plays a vital role in uncovering the scheme. It is an interesting idea, and, for the most part, well executed, except for some minor points about which the author or editor should have known better. Several times, SEC forms are misnamed (K-8 instead of 8K, or K-10 for 10K), and a statement that corporate information would not be released for several months, despite the legal requirement for immediate disclosure of significant news, raising the question as to how expert the author is on the subject. All in all, it is an interesting and fairly good read, despite these misgivings.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.

 

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Nemesis 2Nemesis
A Nameless Detective Novel
Bill Pronzini
Forge/Tom Doherty Books, July 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2566-2
Hardcover
*****

Nemesis, the newest in the Nameless Detective series, in which this is number 38, is told from three points of view: that of each of the three private detectives who work together out of their office in the South Park area of San Francisco, Jake Runyon, Tamara Corbin, and the “nameless detective” of the title of this series, in which this is number 38. (He is not “nameless” to his colleagues, btw; to them he is “Bill.”) Their newest client hires them to find out who is trying to blackmail them, the case goes to Jake. (Bill, an ex-cop now 60 years old, is working minimum hours, still trying to help his wife heal after she was held prisoner by a psychotic before being rescued, and Tamara mans the office, aided by a couple of part-time detectives.)

The woman, voluptuous Verity Daniels, who lives in a sumptuous high-rise just off the Embarcadero, turns out to be much more, and much less, than she at first appears. The investigation takes Jake across a wide swath of San Francisco, checking out the family of a man to whom Verity was engaged but who drowned just before he ostensibly was going to break off the engagement; a married ex-employer with whom she appears to have been having an affair; and a former husband. Jake’s instincts, after 14 years with the Seattle police and nearly 8 as a p.i., tell him he should drop the case. When her truthfulness becomes a serious issue and he tries to do just that, the result is not a pretty one. And the volatile Verity soon after charges him with rape. Things get rapidly worse, soon the detective agency is itself sued for serious money, and Jake is thrown in jail. The next portion of the book belongs to Tamara and her end of the investigation, and the final section is Bill’s as he picks up the case.

As with all of this author’s books, the latest Nameless Detective novel is a very well-plotted tale with the author’s trademark wonderfully drawn characters. Each section goes into the lives of each of the three detectives, their own past life-threatening episodes, and the ongoing investigation. There are several twists and turns, and at the end a prologue tying up all loose ends in the three detectives’ current lives. All terrifically well done, and the book is highly recommended. Besides, how could one not love a guy called “Nameless” who owns a cat called “Shameless?!”

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2014.

Book Reviews: Cheeseland by Randy Richardson, Bone Shadows by Christopher Valen, and Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham

CheeselandCheeseland
Randy Richardson
Eckhartz Press, May 2012
ISBN No. 97-0-9848049-2-4
Trade Paperback

It is graduation time and Daniel McAllister’s parents have a big party planned but the guest of honor will not be attending.  Daniel’s friend Lance Parker talks him into a road trip to Wisconsin to celebrate the end of high school.  It was supposed to be three friends celebrating but Marty Torlikson, the third member of the group, had committed suicide.  Daniel and Lance were still reeling from their friend’s funeral.

Against his better judgment, Daniel agrees to gas up his car known as “The Bomb” and the two head out of town with the music blasting.  Somehow, the subject of Marty comes up and Lance reveals that he knows the reason behind Marty’s death and that he is responsible.  Lance told Marty a secret about Marty’s father and Marty could not cope with the knowledge.  The two continue on their trip and get in one scrape after another but manage to keep going and even have a little fun as well as a whole lot of trouble.   Eventually they meet Clinton G. Buckner, known as Buck.  Buck turns out to be a real friend to the two although the true extent of his friendship isn’t revealed until later in the novel.

Daniel and Lance manage to finally make it back home and go on with their lives.  The two connect again some years later after they both are married.  Daniel is a successful attorney while Lance hasn’t met with much success.  The secret revealed by Lance on their road trip has bothered both men over the years but more so with Lance than with Daniel.  Lance’s marriage is on the rocks and his life is not going smooth.  The story of the friends reconnecting and yet another road trip is told in the second part of the book.

Cheeseland is a great story of true friendship and a look inside the minds of two young men ready to step out into the world.  The author, Randy Richardson, is donating $1.00 from each sale of this book to Elyssa’s Mission, a local suicide prevention program.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, August 2012.

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Bone ShadowsBone Shadows
A John Santana Novel
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, October 2012
ISBN No. 978-0-9800017-5-4
Trade Paperback

John Santana is a homicide detective in St. Paul, Minnesota and is very good at his job.  However, there is a lot more to Santana than just his job.  Born in Columbia, Santana lives under a cloud knowing that at any time his deeds in Colombia prior to fleeing the country can come back to haunt him and seek revenge.

When the body of Scott Rafferty, age 23, is recovered from the Mississippi river, the initial reaction is death by suicide.   Santana is not immediately buying into the fact that Rafferty’s death is a suicide.  Santana’s past experience with suicide by drowning has been that of an orderly scene with the victims clothes removed and neatly folded. This is not the case with Rafferty’s body.

Rafferty’s father, Hank Rafferty, is a police officer and his wife, Rachel Hardin, is a Ramsey County Judge.  Hank informs Santana that a drowning simply does not make sense.  Hank states that Scott saw his mother drown and Scott has never liked water.  Rachel Hardin, Scott’s stepmother, explained that Scott was seeing a psychiatrist.  Hank explained that the doctor was treating Scott for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).  Hank said that Kimberly Dalton, Scott’s girlfriend, had contacted him a few nights ago concerned that she had not heard from Scott.  Hank suggested that she file a missing persons report.

As Santana is attempting to determine how to proceed with the investigation, he is approached by Jack Brody.  Brody is a freelance journalist.  Brody was once an award-winning reporter but he hasn’t had a good story for awhile.  He offers Santana a theory that there is a serial killer operating along the I-94 corridor.  Jordan Parrish, a private investigator, hired by the parents of another victim tells Santana that she is in agreement with Brody.

The case becomes even more confusing when Santana is approached by Ed Kincaid of the FBI.

Kincaid tells Santana it would be best if he closed the Rafferty case as a suicide by drowning.  In order to back up his suggestion he begins questioning Santana regarding Santana’s last trip to Colombia.  Santana is having none of Kincaid’s veiled threats and makes no bones about telling Kincaid.

As Santana digs deeper into not only the death of Rafferty but also other deaths by drowning, he discovers the story gets more exciting and complicated.  Bone Shadows is an exceptionally good read and a great addition to the John Santana series.  The series can be read out of order without a problem but to really get to know Santana it is best to start at the beginning.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2012.

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Say You're SorrySay You’re Sorry
Michael Robotham
Mulholland Books, October 2012
ISBN No. 978-0-316-22124-5
Hardcover

Say You’re Sorry is a gripping story of two young girls who became known to the public as the “Bingham Girls”.  Bingham is a small English village and the girls had attended a local funfair the night of their disappearance.  There are rumors that Piper Hadley and Tash McBain ran away.  Although hundreds of people were searching for Piper and Tash it seemed as though the girls just vanished into thin air.  Eventually the public eye moved on to other news.

Piper Hadley tells the girls’ side of the story.  Piper reveals to the reader the horrors faced by the two girls, as they are held captive in an unknown location.  The horrors suffered by the girls are so bad it is a wonder that they were able to hold onto their sanity.  They are convinced that working together at least one of the girls can escape and bring help back for the one left behind.

Three years later, after a blizzard hits the town, a husband and wife are found murdered in a farmhouse.  The farmhouse is where Tash McBain had lived at the time of her disappearance.  Her family had moved away and the murder victims had no connection to Tash other than the fact that they lived in Tash’s former home.

When Joe O’Loughlin, clinical psychologist, is asked by the police to help in solving this double murder he gets the feeling that the murders are connected in some way to the missing girls.  Joe and ex-cop Vincent Ruiz persuade the police to reopen the investigation into the disappearance of the two girls.

The book skips back and forth between the current investigation and the thoughts of Piper Hadley still being held captive.  The characters are strong, the story moves swiftly, and keeps the reader’s interest every step of the way.  I can’t wait to read more books by Michael Robotham.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, November 2012.

Book Reviews: Bad Weeds Never Die by Christopher Valen, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis, and Danger Sector by Jenifer LeClair

Bad Weeds Never Die
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001730
Trade Paperback

“Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives,” is a quote from my review of White Tombs, the book that introduced Detective John Santana.  The Black Minute, the second Santana book, was even more exciting than the first book.  Now author Christopher Valen has brought Detective John Santana back in Bad Weeds Never Die.  “Bad weeds never die,” is an old Colombian saying and turns out to be an excellent title for this book.

John Santana was born in Colombia.  He had avenged his Mother’s death and he was forced to flee leaving behind his younger sister Natalia.  Santana hopes someday to locate her.  He knows that his sister could be dead but his dreams and his senses tell him that she is still alive.

Santana’s current case is the death of Teresa Blackwood.  Teresa’s vehicle is found in a parking lot. The car is full of blood and some dirt and an orchid are on the floorboard of the car. Although the vehicle was empty, the police felt that someone had died in that car and that the body had been moved.  When Santana and his partner Kacie Hawkins call on Jonathan  Blackwood, Teresa’s father, they discover that Teresa has a twin sister, Maria.  Blackwood tells the detectives that although the twins are identical their personalities are very different. Teresa is head of an adoption agency.  Maria is a part time musician and mystery writer with a history of some drug problems.  The twins were adopted by the Blackwood’s when they were six months old. The twins were adopted in Colombia.

As Santana delves deeper into the case, he finds suspects at every turn.  Teresa lived with Steven Larson, a man who was cheating on her.  Blackwood’s family attorney was having an affair with the other daughter, Maria.  To make things even more tedious in the investigation Rita Gamboni, Santana’s boss, admitted that she had dated Jonathan Blackwood.

When the case becomes more complicated Santana decides that he has no choice but to travel to Colombia and investigate the agency that was working with Teresa’s adoption agency in the states.  No one wants Santana to make this trip since he has enemies in Colombia that would like to see him dead.

Santana feels that in order to solve his current case as well as face his demons and hopefully find his sister he must make the trip.  The trip does prove to be a dangerous move and readers will be shocked at the facts that Santana discovers in Colombia.

The case is finally solved but there are no end of surprises and no way to predict the final outcome.  An excellent book that will keep the reader on edge until the last page.  It is not necessary to read the first two books in the series to enjoy the current book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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The Good, The Bad and The Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, LLC, November 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

At the request of Jaz LeMieux, private investigator Sid Chance agrees to help Djuan Burden, who is accused of murder.   Djuan’s grandmother is a long time friend of Jaz’s live-in housekeeper, Marie Wallace.  Djuan has only been out of jail for about six months and now he is back in jail on a murder charge.   His grandmother is convinced that he is innocent and Jaz wants to do everything she can to help a friend of Marie’s.

Jaz is an ex-cop and wealthy business owner but enjoys being a sidekick on Sid’s investigations.  When the two visit Djuan’s grandmother, they discover that Djuan went to a small medical equipment store in Nashville’s Green Hills section. The purpose of his visit was to complain about charges on his grandmother’s Medicare account.  Djuan’s grandmother, Rachel Ransom, had not paid a lot of attention to the many notices she received from Medicare but when Djuan saw that she had been charged for items such as a power wheelchair he decided to complain.  Rachel has never owned a wheel chair and has no need of one.    When Djuan went to the equipment store to complain, he found a dead man behind the desk.  Frightened that he would be accused of murder because of his prison history, he ran.  A witness spotted Djuan leaving the scene of the crime and the police immediately charged him with murder. A crooked cop who had no qualms about planting evidence didn’t help Djuan’s case one bit.

Besides trying to assist Sid in the murder investigation Jaz was also dealing with a problem of her own. Jaz’ company has been accused of racial discrimination.  There was no basis for the accusation, but the fact that it had been made brought about a lot of bad publicity for Jaz and her company.

Before Sid can prove that Djuan did not commit murder, Jaz finds that she is in trouble with the police.  As the two work together to clear both Djuan and the false accusations against Jaz, it becomes obvious to Sid that there is a professional hit man in town and it would appear the hit man has decided that Sid will be his next victim.

This is a great addition to the Sid Chance series.  The problem of Medicare fraud needs to be addressed because so many older people like Djuan’s mother don’t take time to analyze all the information they receive from Medicare so phony charges many times are paid and go unnoticed.

Chester Campbell’s books always make good reads but the Sid Chance series is special.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Murder In the 11th House
Mitchell Scott Lewis
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-950-2
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

David Lowell is not your run of the mill detective.  David is an astrological detective and is very good at his job.  David has studied astrology and has become such an expert that he has used his knowledge of to buy and sell in the stock market and is now a wealthy man.

When Lowell is asked to use his skills to prove the innocence of Johnny Colbert, a woman accused of murdering Farrah Winston, a Judge in the Debit Claims Court in Lower Manhattan, Lowell’s first inclination is to decline.  The fact that Johnny Colbert is represented by Melinda Lowell, David Lowell’s daughter, is a convincing enough fact to make him take the case.

Johnny proves to be loud-mouthed and a rather rough person on the exterior but further investigation proves that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.  When Johnny is attacked in the jail Melinda talks her father into posting bail and letting Johnny stay in his townhouse.  Lowell is not too pleased with this arrangement but tends to do most anything his daughter asks.

Lowell is helped in the investigation by his assistant Sarah as well as Mort, a talented computer hacker.   Lowell’s bodyguard is always right around the corner when Lowell needs him.

It seems that Judge Winston had big plans for her future and, as Lowell finds out, that certain people did not want her plans to become a reality.

This first book in the Starlight Detective Agency series is a good one and shows that astrology can be used in many ways.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Danger Sector
Jenifer LeClair
Conquill Press, July 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001709
Trade Paperback

The last place you would expect to find a Minneapolis Police Detective on leave is working aboard a sailing ship but that is exactly what Brie Beaumont is doing.  The Maine Wind is a working ship owned by Captain John DeLuc.   Brie and John are very attracted to each other but Brie is still uncertain what the future holds for her and is unwilling to make a commitment to John on a personal level or to the ship as a permanent job.

Brie left the police department after her partner was killed and she felt she needed some distance from police work but when the ship makes a stop on Sentinel Island to help John’s friend repair an old lighthouse Brie is immediately caught up in a mystery surrounding the lighthouse and the small island.

Amanda Whitcombe is an artist, a prominent member of the Sentinel Island community and a good friend of Ben, the owner of the lighthouse.  Amanda has disappeared and when Brie finds her cottage unlocked she investigates and some clues lead Brie to believe that Amanda did not leave voluntarily.

Ben inherited the lighthouse when the previous owner died after an accident at the lighthouse.  The previous owner of the lighthouse was also a good friend of Amanda’s.  When John and Brie accidentally discover an old journal hidden in the lighthouse, belonging to the previous owner, the two decide there are mysterious happenings on the island that might bring danger to Ben as well as Brie, John and the crew of The Maine Wind.

Danger Sector is a good mystery.  The descriptions of the scenery around Sentinel Island and the food served by the cook on The Maine Wind makes the reader want to experience a trip by sailing ship although life aboard the ship is anything but easy.

This is the second book in The Windjammer Mystery series.  Rigged for Murder is the first in the series and both are recommended.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.

Book Review: White Tombs by Christopher Valen

White Tombs
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, 2008
ISBN 0980001722
Trade Paperback

Meet Detective John Santana of the St. Paul Police Department.  He is not a man you will soon forget.   Santana is a native of Colombia.  He left under a cloud and to this day fears that assassins will eventually find him even as far away as Minnesota.  Life was not easy on Santana when he arrived in the United States but he survived to become a respected detective in St. Paul.

Julio Perez is found shot to death in his home. Perez is the owner of El Dia, a monthly Hispanic newspaper in Stipule.   His rolodex was open to the name of Rafael Mendoza, an immigration attorney. After leaving the Perez residence, Santana and his partner pay a visit to Mendoza but they are too late.  The two arrive at the loft just as Rafael Mendoza falls to his death from his balcony.  Santana rushes to Mendoza’s loft and gives chase to a man running away.   Santana’s partner shots the man thinking he has pulled a gun.  The man who is shot and killed turns out to be an employee of El Dia.

When Mendoza’s loft is searched, files are discovered that point to a racket involving phony visa applications.  A sexually explicit photo of two unidentified men is also found hidden in the loft.

Santana begins to try to fit the puzzle together and figure out if the three deaths are connected.  Before Santana gets too deep into the investigation he is pulled from the case by his superior and James Kehoe is put in charge of the murder investigations.

Santana has little respect for Kehoe and his investigative abilities and at the risk of his job, he continues trying to put the pieces together on his own.   He even travels to Mexico at his own expense and without the knowledge of the department.

As the connections between the victims are established, the picture becomes clearer and clearer.  This reader was very surprised when the whole story was finally revealed.  The outcome of this investigation touched many lives.  The book is a great read and Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2008.