Book Review: The Last Sin by K.L. Murphy

The Last Sin
A Detective Cancini Mystery #3
K.L. Murphy
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-249163-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

Detective Mike Cancini has seen some dark days, but his skills are put to the test when a priest is discovered, brutally murdered in a run-down church in Washington, D.C. The man who discovered the body is none other than Cancini’s longtime friend and confidant, Father Joe Sweeney. The murdered priest, Father Matthew Holland, was adored by the congregation, and it seems clear that this was a crime of opportunity in a deteriorating neighborhood.

However, Cancini soon learns some shocking details from the church secretary, and begins to suspect that Father Holland was not as saintly as he may have appeared. This new information leads to a trail of bribes and decades of corruption polluting the church. Cancini must confront his own struggles with his faith and uncover the truth of the conspiracy before more people are killed.

It’s rare for me to know in just the first few pages that I’ve found a book that truly grabs my attention and hangs on with a vengeance but that’s exactly what happened with The Last Sin. What I expected to be a fairly routine police procedural (which I’m very fond of, by the way) turned out to be much more.

When a priest is killed at St. William in Washington, DC, everyone is truly surprised. Who would have wanted Father Matthew Holland dead, this priest in a rundown church located in one of the city’s poorest communities? Certainly, Detective Michael Cancini wasn’t prepared for such a thing and he’s very surprised when he sees the elderly priest who found the body. Cancini is a lapsed Catholic but he’s kept close ties with Father Joe Sweeney.

Naturally, such a crime is high profile and Cancini’s connection to Father Joe causes a momentary blip but that’s soon overcome and he and his partner, Smitty Smithson, begin the arduous task of investigating what seems to be a senseless murder, aided by another pair of detectives, Bronson and Jensen. As things develop, it becomes clear that there’s a lot that needs looking into what with hints that Father Holland, who had a rocky past, may have been involved in criminal activity, perhaps even corruption of a different sort, and those aren’t the only possible motives. By the time Cancini figures out what really happened, Father Joe is missing and a killer just might escape justice.

There are a number of aspects of this novel that stood out to me. Ms. Murphy has a certain quality in her writing that’s a nice blend of pathos, tension and passion and she has a real grasp on how to put words together in such a fashion as to compel the reader onward. The mystery—and its denouement—here was not at all what I expected and, although I had not read the first two books, I never felt I was missing information.

Finally, there are the characters. Cancini has found a place for himself among my favorite police detectives and Smitty is not far behind. What really struck me, though, were the nuances of Cancini’s interactions with other people, including less stellar detectives, a local reporter and Father Joe himself. Even the killer is a very interesting player, the type that fascinates students of abnormal psychology. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mike and Smitty and will begin by reading the first two books. In the meantime, The Last Sin is going on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

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An Excerpt from The Last Sin

CHAPTER 1

Sunday, February 21st: The Day Of

The smell of incense lingered in the air, temporarily masking the odor of rotting wood. Father Matthew Holland inhaled. The bitter scent stung his nose. Three years had passed since he’d taken over the church and nothing had changed. Even with the increased attendance and community outreach, the church offerings remained meager. Without offerings—without money—the parish church would die.

The priest sat down on the front pew, his robes gathered around his feet. His gaze shifted to the empty pulpit. Two large and colorful plants graced the altar, but they weren’t enough to hide the worn carpet or faded paintings, nor could the soft candlelight make him forget the plywood that covered the cracked stained glass. There was so much to do, so much need. He sighed and looked to the cross over the altar. Not for the first time, he asked for forgiveness, for understanding. There would be money now—he’d made sure of that—but at what cost? He’d done it for the church. His pulse quickened and his stomach clenched. Bending forward, he forced himself to take one deep breath after another until the moment passed.

He loosened his cleric collar and yawned. The evening’s mass had been long and difficult. The drunks in the back of the church had refused to leave, in spite of the old deacons’ best efforts.

“S’our right to be here,” the man with the long, stringy hair had said. His words slurred, he’d leaned forward as though he might topple straight into the next pew. “Worshipin’ God,” he’d said, although it had sounded like something else judging by the gasps from the congregation. The drunk had pointed a dirty hand toward the altar. “Here to see Father Holland. Tol’ us to come anytime.”

The drunk had swayed again, and his companion had reached out with a strong arm to catch him. Father Holland’s mouth had gone dry at the sight of the tattoo on the man’s forearm—a black dagger plunged into a white skull. Three drops of blood extended in a single line from the tip of the dagger to the man’s wrist. He knew that tattoo, knew what it meant.

The awkward moment had passed although not before Father Holland caught the disdain on the faces of the ladies in the choir. Still, none of the parishioners had said a word, all looking to him instead. He’d hidden his trembling hands in the folds of the heavy cassock and swallowed. “St. William is open to everyone, our members and our guests. However, since we are about to have communion, I would ask that everyone who is not singing remain quiet. Guests may come forward for a blessing, of course.” He’d been careful to keep his voice steady. Thank the Lord it had been enough. The man with the oily hair had quieted down and then stumbled out during the Eucharist. His friend with the tattoo had stayed a moment longer, then followed.

Silence filled the sanctuary now. Father Holland rubbed his hands together and shivered. He could still feel the cold eyes of the tattooed man and the curious glances from the congregation. The man’s presence at the evening mass had been no accident and no drunken whim. The message had been clear.

After the church had emptied, he’d walked to the corner market and made the call. He’d done the best he could. Money changed everything. It always did. He opened his hand and stared at the crumpled paper with the phone number. He was not a stupid man. Nothing came without a price. He murmured a prayer until his shoulders relaxed and the drumbeat of his heart slowed.

His stomach growled, the gurgling loud and rumbly, and he realized it had been hours since he’d eaten. Breaking the quiet, a sound came from the back of the church, a click and a swish as the heavy outer door swung open. He stood and smoothed his cassock. Dinner would have to wait. He strained to see, but the vestibule was dark. “Who’s there?” he asked.

The door clanged shut and heavy steps sounded on the dingy marble floor. Father Holland replaced his collar and ran his fingers through his hair. There was only silence. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. “Is somebody there?” he asked again.

A figure shrouded in black stepped out of the dark.

Father Holland stiffened. “Why are you here?”

From the shadows, the eyes of the visitor glittered in the candlelight. “I’m a sinner, Father.”

Father Holland’s shoulders slumped. “We are all sinners in God’s eyes.”

Excerpt from The Last Sin by KL Murphy.  Copyright © 2017 by Witness Impulse. Reproduced with permission from xxx. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

K.L. MURPHY was born in Key West, Florida, the eldest of four children in a military family. She has worked as a freelance writer for several regional publications in Virginia, and is the author of A Guilty Mind and Stay of Execution. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two very large, very hairy dogs.

To learn more about the Detective Cancini Mystery series or future projects, visit her Website, Twitter and Facebook pages.

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Follow the tour:

3/13 Guest post/showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
3/14 Interview @ Mythical Books
3/15 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
3/16 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
3/17 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
3/18 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
3/20 Review @ Buried Under Books
3/21 Guest post @ Mystery Suspense Reviews
3/22 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
3/23 Guest post @ Books Direct
3/24 Interview @ BooksChatter
3/25 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
3/26 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
3/27 Showcase @ Tome Tender
3/30 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
4/03 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
4/10 Review @ Beths Book-Nook Blog

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Book Reviews: The Yid by Paul Goldberg and Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin

The YidThe Yid
Paul Goldberg
Picador, February 2016
ISBN 978-1-2500-7903-9
Hardcover

A very different novel is this.  Extremely well researched, a flight of fancy, original in form and content.  It chronicles the history of Soviet Russia from World War I to the death of Stalin in three acts starring an odd collection of characters ranging from an elderly Yiddish actor to a Yiddish surgeon and a Black Yiddish-speaking American engineer.  The novel takes place in a week following a late night attempt to arrest the actor, who turns the tables on the three security personnel by killing them.  This was at a time when Stalin was planning a “final solution” to the Jewish “problem,” planning to collect the minority population, pack them in cattle cars and ship them out of the Soviet Union.  It was also the period during which the so-called “doctor’s plot” was in the news: a group of Jewish doctors were arrested and accused of plotting the murder of Soviet officials.

The actor, Solomon Levinson, is soon joined by the surgeon, engineer and others, and conceives a plot to prevent Stalin’s massive pogrom by assassinating him, cutting off the head of the serpent.  In the intervening days the group debates, remembers the past, trades banter on a variety of subjects, from Shakespeare and Pushkin to anti-Semitism and racism and the broken promises of Socialism.  The novel is strewn with Yiddish phrases and poetry (conveniently translated).

For a debut novel, The Yid is most original, a flight of fancy based on reality, filled with excellent dialogue and innovative characters.  It has to be read to be appreciated, and it is hoped this suggestion is well taken.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2016.

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Burning Down George Orwell's HouseBurning Down George Orwell’s House
Andrew Ervin
Soho Press, April 2016
ISBN 97-1-6169-5652–6
Trade Paperback

This introspective debut novel chronicles the ups and downs in the life of Ray Welter, a farm boy who rose to the top of his profession until his inner self caught up with him.  Then he tossed it all away in effort to escape everything he had left behind in Chicago: a high-paying advertising job, a wife, and a way of life with which he had increasingly become disenchanted.  He takes off to the Scottish Isle of Jura.  And rents, for six months (with the last of his funds which he hopes to spend before his wife grabs the money in the divorce settlement), the cottage where George Orwell wrote and finished the satirical novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The inhabitants of Jura are an eccentric bunch, protective of each other and their way of life, especially disdainful of outsiders, tourists and the like.  Ray’s intrusion sets up many amusing situations.  That Inner Hebrides island is known for its single malt scotch, and Ray consumes a prodigious amount in an effort to either lose or find himself.  In the meantime, not only does he have to cope with his own troubles but also deal with the foibles and problems arising from the various characters in the community.

The author uses comedy to mask the seriousness of the novel, which deeply probes Ray’s thinking, seeking to define the good and bad of his life as he knows it and distilling the results until Ray can reach an inner peace.  It is quite an achievement, rarely seen in a first effort.  Can Ray reach his nirvana?  Read and enjoy the book, which is highly recommended, and find out.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2016.

Book Reviews: The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens and License to Dill by Mary Ellen Hughes

The Guise of AnotherThe Guise of Another
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63388-076-4
Trade Paperback

Following the success of his debut novel, The Life We Bury, author Allen Eskens has produced another winner. Intelligently constructed and almost perfectly written, this dark, dangerous and fast-paced noir thriller will be an example to study for budding writers in the genre.

The story begins with an auto accident in which a man abruptly dies on a highway in Minneapolis. Award-winning detective Alexander Rupert, facing a potentially troubling appointment with a grand jury, suddenly discovers a possible way out of his dilemma. If he can solve the mystery of the deceased James Putnam, who appeared to have fallen to earth fully formed a mere three years before, he might escape serious censure.

His case takes him to New York, and entanglement with a company engaged in government contracted black ops. He returns to Minneapolis, carrying the seeds of an insidious conspiracy. The plot is up-to-date, the action is relentless and the characters are consistent in their language and actions. While the outcomes, different for different characters, may become fairly obvious, the author is clever and fresh in his resolutions. This is an excellent novel and will be welcomed by readers of black arts, conspiracy theories, and multiple merciless murder.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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.

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License to DillLicense to Dill
A Pickled & Preserved Mystery #2
Mary Ellen Hughes
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-26246-7
Mass Market Paperback

Piper Lamb fled her job at a New York state tax office and opened a shop, “Piper’s Picklings,” in upstate Cloverdale. She sells pickles, spices, and canning equipment, has met Will Burchett—a tall, blond Christmas tree farmer—and life couldn’t be better.

The town is excited about the arrival of a semi-pro Italian soccer team, which will play a tournament against an all star team from Cloverdale. It turns out the coach of the Italian team was once an exchange student at the local high school, and all the high school girls had a crush on him. All the boys envied his position as a star on the soccer team.

All these years later, he’s still a flirt, and stirs up resentment among the women and their husbands. When the Italian’s body is found in a farmer’s dill field, everyone suspects a jealous man did the deed. Piper is shocked by the murder, and her shock grows when her ex-fiance, lawyer Scott Littleton, comes to town with a surprising announcement. For fans of foodie mysteries, like Laura Childs and Diane Mott Davidson. Of course, recipes are included.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2015.

Book Reviews: Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman

Every Last PromiseEvery Last Promise
Kristin Halbrook
HarperTeen, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-212128-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Kayla saw something at the party that she wasn’t supposed to. But she hasn’t told anyone. No one knows the real story about what happened that night—about why Kayla was driving the car that ran into a ditch after the party, about what she saw in the hours leading up to the accident, and about the promise she made to her friend Bean before she left for the summer.

Now Kayla’s coming home for her senior year. If Kayla keeps quiet, she might be able to get her old life back. If she tells the truth, she risks losing everything—and everyone—she ever cared about.

On the surface, this is a story about the aftermath of rape—and so it is—but it’s also a story about how there can be more victims beyond the person who suffers the actual assault. Those peripheral victims need to cope in a different sort of way and the guilt they feel can be enormous, guilt that they could have done something more, guilt that they might do the wrong thing after the fact, guilt that they’ve kept secrets, maybe even guilt that someone else was the one attacked. These people are survivors in their own way, certainly not lessening the impact of the true victim’s pain and recovery, but survivors nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Kayla is not the heroic figure we would like her to be and it’s very easy to decide that she’s a coward, more interested in her own well-being than anyone else’s. That actually is true but I think it’s important to acknowledge that many of us, myself included, have looked the other way at least once in our lives. Can we honestly say that we’re “better” than Kayla is?

Ms. Halbrook‘s intent is laudable and I wish I could have connected with Kayla in a more positive way but her narcissism is just a bit too overwhelming. Yes, I understood her but I didn’t care much about her. Still, the author has an important message and I hope this book will end up encouraging others to stand forth when circumstances call for it. In the meantime, I believe this author is one worth watching and I’ll be reading more by her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

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Conspiracy of Blood and SmokeConspiracy of Blood and Smoke
Anne Blankman
Balzer + Bray, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-227884-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives in England, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside down. When she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped—and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time—or will Hitler discover them first?

My appetite for young adult World War II-era fiction was sharpened when I was introduced to a wonderful book by Elizabeth Wein and I’ve been on the lookout for more ever since that one. The first book by Anne Blankman, Prisoner of Night and Fog, captured my attention in a very good way and I was really excited when  I heard about this sequel, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke. While I don’t think it has quite the intensity of Prisoner, it still kept me engrossed till the very end.

The years leading up to war are uncomfortable everywhere but Gretchen and Daniel really do think they have found a haven of peace in England and so, in a fashion, they have. Away from Uncle Dolf, Gretchen has a chance at a happy life and Daniel is a large part of that. Chance, though, has an ugly way of wreaking havoc and Daniel soon finds that he has no choice but to return to Germany, having no idea, of course, that he is about to be in even graver damage than he expected.

Gretchen and Daniel are an interesting pair. At times, they seem oblivious to the dangers facing them at nearly every turn but, at the same time, they have a certain gravity about them. Most teens in earlier generations must have been less frivolous than we see so frequently today for a lot of reasons including shorter life expectancy, poorer health, more manual labor and so on. In 1933, we have to add in a growing awareness that bad things might be happening in Germany, fueled by the devastating effects of the Great Depression. Hitler rose to power in part because of the need Germans had to rise above their massive discontent and only a few were able to see past his charisma to the nascent evil behind the facade. That Ms. Blankman has given her characters the opportunity to understand what was happening is powerful but I’m glad she also lets these teens make mistakes and fail to grasp the horror that was coming in just a few years. Very few did so I would not have believed it if Gretchen and Daniel had too much foresight.

The murder and the race to exonerate Daniel work as good reasons to get the kids back in Germany but it’s the rise of the Nazi Party and all that entails that provides the real story here. It’s one we should never forget and authors like Ms. Blankman who create such entertaining tales that focus on historic truth help us hold on to that knowledge. Along with such weighty issues, though, I relish keeping company with Gretchen and Daniel and am looking forward to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

Book Reviews: The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway and Unfed by Kirsty McKay

The Magician's DaughterThe Magician’s Daughter
A Valentine Hill Mystery
Judith Janeway
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0338-1
Hardcover

It is rare for a reviewer of crime fiction to encounter a truly fresh protagonist with a unique voice. Reviewers are reluctant to say so because we haven’t read everything, but I’m sticking my neck out here to suggest Valentine Hill, a busking, itinerant street magician with heady aspirations, is that character. She’s blunt, honest to a fault, scrappy, young and aggressive when necessary. She’s in Las Vegas as the tale begins, in the middle of a nine-year search for her mother. Not out of love, but because of some vital missing information in her life. Valentine wants a social security number and she wants to know her birthdate, her father’s name and where she was born. Her mother, Elizabeth is a grifter, highly adaptable, a consummate but amoral actress who used and abused her daughter, Valentine, in prior scams.

Valentine has learned from those experiences and become an honest magician, struggling through life. She learns her mother is probably in San Francisco. Her plans to go there are upset by her companion who steals her stash and disappears. When Valentine tracks her mother to an apartment in Pacific Heights, her world dissolves into mayhem, murder, multiple law enforcement operations and several characters who are not what they seem.

The novel is relentless, positing solution after explanation that dissolve almost as rapidly as they are presented, leaving the reader guessing as much as does poor Valentine. But then, even as the danger escalates, things begin to sort themselves and some really bad guys get conned out of their shorts. A fast, coherent, fully enjoyable novel featuring a young, vibrant protagonist. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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UnfedUnfed
Kirsty McKay
Chicken House, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-53672-1
Hardcover

Beginning with our main character waking from a coma to devastating news; totally unrelated to the current crisis: roaming diseased humans (whose behaviors suspiciously mimic those of the Late-Night-Movie Zombies); I certainly did not think, “Wow, this is going to be a fun read!”. Intriguing, fast-paced, action-adventure: sure; fun, no.

I was so very, very wrong. I find myself still ridiculously impressed and pleased that Ms. McKay presented Bobby’s story in such a fashion. This sequel to Undead is consuming. Comprised of small, deliberate mysteries, complete with obscure, baffling clues; this reader’s mind never strayed.

The display of dynamics within the small group of teens, forced together, just to have a glimmer of hope against the Zombie-like crowd is spot-on. Underlying currents: wariness, jealously, admiration, fear and sadness, swirl around the characters, twisting, enveloping and confusing. Churning emotions decrease focus, increase discord, frustration and distrust.

With the action-adventure aspect of physical battles between teens and Zoms, the mystery of where Bobby’s best friend, Smitty, is hiding (assuming he is still alive); never-minding the why of Bobby’s mom abandoning her; comatose, alone in a strange hospital, and pants-less; to run off and hide Smitty; it is so easy to be drawn in and invested in the tale. With the shocking revelation that The Enemy is quite likely made up of both Good Guys and Bad Guys, it becomes nearly impossible to stop reading.

These attributes are almost secondary to Ms. McKay’s charming and delightful writing style. As if the author feels immediate remorse for scaring (or grossing out) her audience, in comes the comic relief, effortlessly. A perfect fit, the humor enriches the entire book, keeping the tone from dropping to down-right dismal. Unexpected joy came from Bobby’s predicament of being pants-less, thus flashing her pals as she fights for her life, or making hilarious and embarrassing suctioning noises as naked thighs stick to a desk-top on which Bobby perches. Chastising herself harshly when Smitty-themed fantasies sneak into her mind; coupled with her comfortable and correct use of “dorky” endeared me to Bobby.

Although I started this trilogy right in the middle, I simply must know how Bobby’s story ends. I am already looking forward to Ms. McKay’s next book.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.

Book Reviews: The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan and The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill

The Last Dead GirlThe Last Dead Girl
Harry Dolan
Berkley Trade, October 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-27382-1
Trade Paperback

Billed as a prequel, this novel is a carefully constructed murder mystery which begins one night on a lonely dark road, a chance encounter between David Loogan, riding along in his truck, and Jana Fletcher, a young law student, standing next to her inoperable car. What follows is a brief 10-day love affair. Until one day David enters her apartment to find her lying on the living room floor, murdered.

As usual, the lead detective suspects the boyfriend, but there is no proof. Released, David is fixated on learning the truth about Jana and follows his nose, investigating her past and discovering a death in the past that might be related to hers.

The novel moves ahead straightforwardly, and the mystery unfolds so that it comes as no surprise when the killer is disclosed, but not before red herrings are introduced. It is a well-written story, well worth reading, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2014.

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The Axe FactorThe Axe Factor
A Jimm Juree Mystery #3
Colin Cotterill
Minotaur, April 2014
ISBN: 978-1-250-04336-8
Hardcover

I have enjoyed reading this author’s Dr. Siri series, so approached this new Jimm Juree Mystery with great anticipation. Unfortunately, the mystery alone is what the novel is all about. Jimm, a former high-powered crime reporter in her former habitat, now lives with her nutty family in southern Thailand where she is basically unemployed and at loose ends. That’s how one gets into trouble, and she does.

Basically, the plot is two-fold: how Jimm interviews a farang (European) writer and becomes sexually involved with him and also becomes enmeshed in a conspiracy in which a serial killer plays a part. Naturally this places Jimm in danger, while her love affair raises the suspicion of her grandfather, an ex-cop, who enlists the rest of the family to spy on the author.

Written in a light tone with many witty observances by Jimm, the novel sadly plods along and results in a slow read. It seems very unlike the author’s other efforts (especially the Dr. Siri series), which are delightful. Perhaps the next one will pull it all together.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2014.

Book Reviews: Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shecter, Love’s Sweet Sorrow by Richard Brawer, and Shadows on a Maine Christmas by Lea Wait

Curses and SmokeCurses and Smoke
A Novel of Pompeii
Vicky Alvear Shecter
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-50993-0
Hardcover

Curses and Smoke sizzles, like the soles of the feet racing away from the viciously spewing Vesuvius. Packed with heat, this book engulfs the reader with warmth and comfort while experiencing the friendship between Lucia and her best friend, the very pregnant and central Cornelia. Often smoldering, as the relationship between the daughter of the hate-filled, bitter Gladiator School Owner, Lucia, and his Healer Slave, Tags, deepens. Slow-burning admiration bordering on obsession adds flair as the spoiled-rich-man-playing-as-a-gladiator Quintus reveals his massive self-absorption and his desire for Tag’s approval.

Rumblings among this perfect blend of characters keep the pace moving as quickly as the animals fleeing Pompeii. Eruptions of anger, lewd displays of the overall disdain for women, and vile acts supporting and perpetuating the ignorance send red hot flames through the reader. Tension builds in direct correlation with the gathering of force within the earth and Cornelia’s expanding belly. Tender moments like those between Tags and his (self-appointed) assistant medicus, the young slave Castor; temper the heat quite kindly.

The interaction between the Roman and Etruscan humans create a spark. The author guarantees flames with her articulate presentation of both Roman and Etruscan gods and goddesses. Her knowledge of these histories, coupled with her clear understanding and empathy of the relationship the humans had with their gods and goddesses alludes to Ms. Shecter having had personal experience with her own goddess.

Divine assistance is the only explanation as to how Ms. Shecter brilliantly presents the geographical phenomena recorded during the weeks preceding the unfathomable eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, while encouraging fond recollections of Apollo, Hercules, Venus and Poseidon simultaneously introducing Mephistis, Samnite goddess of poisonous vapors, and Turan, the Etruscan goddess of love.

The author faced and conquered the formidable challenge of honestly portraying the ridiculous, inexcusable dismissal of females. She artfully hints at it with comments from the men in power: Lucia’s father, her “betrothed” and even Cornelia’s husband. The point is driven home in a heart-wrenching scene when Lucia confesses her consuming grief over the deaths of her baby sisters.

Throughout the engrossing story, there is hope. Genuine love, the true fondness for another person is rarely expressed as beautifully and sincerely. Decisions that Lucia and Tag are forced to make as the inevitable looms closer, demonstrate the kindness, generosity and support that we are all capable of.

Although only a small boy, Castor’s role is essential. He brings smiles, forces individuals to look deeply within and encourages the reader to keep perspective, while reminding us that there is always at least one reason to carry on.

I found this to be especially spectacular and I will be recommending it often.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2014.

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Love's Sweet SorrowLove’s Sweet Sorrow
Richard Brawer
Vinspire Publishing, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-9890632-7-2
Trade Paperback

Jason Sorren has put his murky past behind him and has landed on his feet in a big way. He’s changed his name to hide his past, has an impressive career and enjoys the best of everything. He has had many a girlfriend but none that caught his fancy as much as the ever elusive Ariel Hammond. But when Jason discovers a note that reveals a connection between two people involved in diverted arms shipments, he puts himself and Ariel in danger. After that the book becomes basically a cat and mouse chase between Jason, seeking the truth and gathering evidence, and the people trying to eliminate everyone with knowledge of the conspiracy. Oh, and there is a love story of sorts between Jason and Ariel.

The book was a fast paced read with many different plot threads to interest just about everyone. That would be my one criticism of the book. The author seems to want to please everyone and may instead leave everyone feeling a little empty. The book is basically a thriller with a love story, but also brings in a bit about the Quakers (Ariel’s religion) and Native Americans (a tie in with Jason’s childhood). And for good measures, the author threw in a mob connection.

The main characters are strong enough to carry a series. Perhaps the author should have used several books to cover the various topics. I would enjoy reading more about Jason and Ariel, but maybe with fewer topics involved.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, December 2014.

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Shadows on a Maine ChristmasShadows on a Maine Christmas
An Antique Print Mystery
Lea Wait
Perseverance Press, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-56474-547-7
Trade Paperback

Maggie Summer has come to Maine during Christmas vacation to visit a man she would like to be more than a boyfriend. The obstacles in the way of furthering the relationship include her decision to adopt and his opposition to the adoption. In addition, he is caregiver to his 90 year old aunt, and living in different states completes the unfavorable equation.

Sub-zero weather in the days leading up to Christmas adds challenges to Maggie’s visit and the seeming unwillingness of her friend to include her in his future business plans almost assures an end to their relationship. When an acquaintance is murdered and Maggie’s assistance is sought to find the killer, Will becomes even more withdrawn and secretive about his business affairs. In spite of the approval of Will’s elderly aunt, can the holidays bring anything but more distress to a troubled relationship?

Intriguing characters and a Christmas snow-covered Victorian town provides a lovely setting to a compelling plot. Recommended reading over the holidays.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, October 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.