Book Review: Vice and Virtue by Justin M. Kiska @JustinKiska @levelbestbooks @partnersincr1me

Vice & Virtue

by Justin M. Kiska

February 14 – March 11, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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Vice & Virtue
A Parker City Mystery #2
Justin M. Kiska
Level Best Books, February 2022
ISBN 978-1-68512-069-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Parker City, 1984…

Three years after the Spring Strangler case rocked the historic Western Maryland city nestled at the foot of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, life has returned to normal for Detective Ben Winters and his partner, Tommy Mason. With a new chief now leading the department and the city slowly crawling out of its economic distress, everything seems to be moving in the right direction.

Until one sweltering summer day, a killer begins targeting police officers. Ben and Tommy find themselves once again leading an investigation the likes of which Parker City has never seen. The detectives quickly come to realize that until the shooter is found, everyone wearing a badge is in danger. To complicate matters even further, when a recently unearthed skeleton mysteriously connects to the string of police homicides, Ben and Tommy begin to think their current case may be tied to events twenty years earlier.

But how could a skeleton buried two decades ago hold the key to solving their current case?

Not long ago, I was thinking about all the subgenres of crime fiction and that my tastes really hadn’t changed in a very long time. I read lots of traditionals, cozies, private investigators, true crime, thrillers, etc., but not much in the way of noirs, hardboiled, romantic suspense. One subgenre that has always appealed to me is police procedural and I’m forever looking for the next good one, either standalone or series and, in Vice & Virtue, I think I’ve “discovered” another.

Ben Winters and Tommy Mason have a partnership I really enjoyed getting to know and, as the novel moved along, they grew on me as just people, people I wouldn’t mind hanging around with in real life. These detectives are driven to solve crimes and this cop killer case has taken on a life of its own, not surprising since the targets are their own colleagues.

As Ben and Tommy delve deeper into this case as well as the unearthed skeleton from years ago, I appreciated the author not indulging in the overused trope of cops with baggage. That has become tiresome, in my opinion, partly because we all have baggage of some sort and, too often, it feels like the author is just padding the word count, drifting away from the core story. So, my thanks to Mr. Kiska.

Bottomline, this second book was my introduction to a series I think I’m going to enjoy and now I’m going to go hunt down the first book, Now & Then.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2022.

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble  // Kobo // Indiebound // Amazon

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An Excerpt from Vice & Virtue

Tall and athletic, Tommy Mason always reminded Ben of Tom Selleck’s Magnum P.I. character from television. Tommy always had that whole ruggedly handsome thing going for him. Mixed with a little bit of a “bad boy” vibe and he drove the women wild. Next to Ben’s clean-cut, buttoned-down appearance, their pairing caused many to do a doubletake. At first glance, they appeared to be complete opposites. But as one got to know them, they were very much alike. Each brought out the best in the other and at the end of the day, it was all about getting the job done. Sure, each had his own style, but that’s what made them such a formidable team. Tommy’s apparent willingness to skirt the rules was always offset by Ben’s ability to find ways to use the rules to their benefit. Just as Ben’s refusal to play the internal politics game allowed Tommy to use his charm to keep too many feathers from getting ruffled amongst the powers-that-be. They each knew the other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to adapt them to their own, which is why they’d been so impressive in getting the PCPD’s Detective Squad off the ground. “What are you doing here?” Ben asked, more than a little surprised to see his partner. “Shirley from Dispatch called me. She thought I’d be interested,” Tommy explained. “And before you say anything about what I’m wearing, I just want to remind you, it is our day off, so I didn’t think I needed to get dressed up to come to a potential crime scene. Especially when we don’t actually know this is a crime scene yet.” He was referring to the fact he had on a T-shirt and comfortable pair of jeans, as opposed to the full suit and tie Ben was wearing. “Besides, now you don’t have to worry about getting your fancy suit muddy. I have no problems getting down there in the dirt,” Tommy smiled, pointing at the fresh mud stains on his knees. With that, he knelt back down to take another look at the exposed skeletal remains under the floorboards. “So, tell me. What do we have?” Ben asked, crouching next to Tommy so he could get a better look. “You can see there’s a pretty big cavity here under this part of the floor,” Tommy pointed out. “It’s got to be a good ten by ten area where the ground has been eaten away, even though it’s not too deep, less than a foot in some places. It’s definitely because of water…there’s a lot of mud down there. As the earth under the floor eroded, it uncovered the skeleton. Partway, at least. Of course, no one could see what was happening under here until our friend Mr. Haggarty had the unfortunate experience of stepping on a board that was rotted through and it snapped, sending him falling through the floor. You can see where he landed in the mud. “And right there,” Tommy pointed, “you see the skull and top portion of the skeleton sticking out of the ground.” “You came face-to-face with that thing, man?” Tommy looked over at the construction worker who was leaning against the wall. “Not a good way to start the day.” “Yeah. You’re telling me,” Haggarty answered. Turning back to the skeleton, Tommy said, “I’m no expert, but that hole in the skull right there…see it, it looks like it could be a GSW from a pretty heavy caliber gun.” Leaning down and twisting his head so he could try and get a better look at the skull, Ben saw the hole and wondered if his partner was right. Finding a skeleton buried under the floor was one thing. Finding a skeleton buried under the floor with a bullet hole in its skull was something else. It took everything to a different level. Standing and stretching their legs, Tommy said, “When Shirley first called me, I thought this was going to have been some kind of prank. Some kids snuck into the site on a dare and left a skeleton for the crew to find.” “You thought kids somehow buried a skeleton under this building in the hopes someone would fall through the floor and find it?” Ben asked, raising an eyebrow. “Not to mention having to figure out how to bury the thing under the floor?” “In my defense,” Tommy started, raising a finger and shaking it at his partner, “I didn’t know the skeleton was buried under the warehouse. I just knew they’d found a skeleton at the warehouse.” The first thing that needed to happen was to get the skeleton out of the ground. That would be up to the crime scene techs. Even though he could easily reach in and pull the skull out to get a better look, Ben didn’t want to disturb anything more than it already had been when Lance Haggarty crashed through the floor. Thankfully, he hadn’t actually landed on the skull itself. “So much for our day off,” Ben said, looking at his watch, wondering where the crime scene guys were. *** Excerpt from Vice & Virtue by Justin M. Kiska. Copyright 2022 by Justin M. Kiska. Reproduced with permission from Justin M. Kiska. All rights reserved.

 

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About the Author

When not sitting in his library devising new and clever ways to kill people (for his mysteries), Justin can usually be found at The Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, outside of Washington, DC, where he is one of the owners and producers. In addition to writing the Parker City Mysteries Series, he is also the mastermind behind Marquee Mysteries, a series of interactive mystery events he has been writing and producing for over fifteen years. Justin and his wife, Jessica, live along Lake Linganore outside of Frederick, Maryland.

Catch Up With Our Author:

JustinKiska.com
Goodreads

BookBub – @JMKiska
Twitter – @JustinKiska
Facebook – @JMKiska

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Book Reviews: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, Bad Blood by Arne Dahl, and The Brave by Nicholas Evans

Watching the Dark 2Watching the Dark
An Inspector Banks Novel
Peter Robinson
William Morrow, February 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-06-228397-9
Trade Paperback

Lorraine Jensen, a patient at the St. Peter’s Police Treatment Center, is in the habit of getting up around dawn when her pain is keeping her awake to sit outside before the other members of the Center are up. As the light grew stronger, Lorraine thought she could see something like a bundle of clothes at the far side of the lake. Since Barry, the head groundsman and estate manager was in the habit of keeping the artificial lake and natural woodlands tidy, it was unusual to see anything that looked out of place. Although the grass was still wet with dew, Lorraine walked to where she had spotted the bundle of clothes. She did not get all the way to the spot when she realized that it was a dead body she was looking at and not a bundle of clothes.

DCI Alan Banks was immediately dispatched to St. Peter’s as soon as the authorities had been notified. Banks had visited Annie Cabbot there during her recent convalescence. Now Annie was due back to work on Monday and Banks was looking forward to working with her again. When Banks and the Dr. in attendance turned over the body, they found that the victim had been shot with a crossbow bolt. Lorraine recognized the corpse as DI Bill Quinn. Banks stated that he knew Quinn too but only in passing.

When Quinn’s room is searched, some photographs were found that placed Quinn in a compromising position. Quinn’s wife was deceased but the photographs looked as though they had been taken some time ago. Inspector Joanna Passero, of the Police Standards Division, is assigned to work with Banks to determine if Quinn has somehow done something that would reflect badly on himself as well as the department.

Banks feels hindered by Inspector Passero but has no choice in the matter. As he digs deeper into the case he keeps going back to a six-year-old missing person case that Quinn investigated and Banks is beginning to feel that there are crooked police officers involved in the old case as well as the current case of Quinn’s murder.

This is a fast moving story that keeps the reader guessing.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2014.

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Bad Blood 2Bad Blood
An Intercrime Novel
Arne Dahl
Pantheon Books, August 2013
ISBN: 9780375425363
Hardcover
A translation from the Swedish 1999 original.

This was an interesting experience, reading galleys from a book released over a year ago in the US. The original manuscript is even older, the book being first published in Swedish in 1999. All of that is explanation for the difficulties I encountered with this novel. Awkward strange phrases, missing words; are they the result of a less than stellar translation, difficulties with the original manuscript, or is some of the odd structure deliberate? Hard to say.

Still: Arne Dahl is a Hell of a writer. His vision of the world is often dark, troubling, awesome, and turbulent. Questions of good and evil, right or wrong, Islam or Christianity, dark versus light are all here, mostly unresolved. Crimes, the most horrific imaginable, perpetrated on the guilty and the innocent alike are here too in this dark crime novel. It is the story of a highly trained killing machine, a former member of a small elite American intelligence group that operated in Viet Nam. Disbanded after the war, the killing went on and the machine became a serial killer. But this is no ordinary serial killer.

An elite Swedish police unit is alerted by the FBI when a Swedish literary critic is murdered at an American airport. The killer eludes the police dragnet when he arrives in Sweden and subsequent information indicates he must be a killer who has long eluded the FBI. Or is he the reincarnation of a man destroyed in a fire years earlier?

The cast of characters, both in Sweden and the US is varied and excellent. The writer’s style is unusual and well suited to the subject matter, international conspiracy and crime. Add a large element of social commentary about some of our most troubling moral questions and the result is Bad Blood, a tension-filled thriller that is of immense proportions and a not entirely satisfying conclusion. Well worth the trouble.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The BraveThe Brave
Nicholas Evans
Little, Brown and Company, October 2010
ISBN 978-0-316-03378-7
Hardcover

In a story set both in England and the American West during the late 1950s to the present, the tale is mostly told through the eyes of Tom Bedford. A lonely child with older parents and a loving big sister, he’s an English child obsessed with watching American cowboy shows on television. His hero? The actor Ray Montane in the role of Flint McCullough, the epitome of tracker, rider, shooter and all around good guy. Tom couldn’t be happier when the day comes that his sister Diane, a rising British actress, is called for a part in one of the shows. She and Ray fall for one another and it isn’t long before she’s off to Hollywood and American fame and films.

Then we learn that instead of being his sister, Diane is Tom’s mother. She’s able to finally claim Tommy now, with Ray’s support, and Tom happily accompanies them to America where he learns to ride and shoot, living out his dreams. Until, that is, a violent blow-up brings them all down.

Shoot forward three or four decades. Tom is living now in Montana. He’s divorced from his wife when it comes out that his son Danny, estranged from him for many years, is up for court martial charged with the multiple murder of an Iraqi family.

Since I absolutely hated The Horse Whisperer, especially the ending, I’ve been reluctant to read another Nicholas Evans book. However, I can categorically state that The Brave is excellent, and that I’m happy I received this book to review. The storyline, the characters, the emotion throughout are outstanding and, as one would expect from a writer of this repute, the writing is excellent. Learning about the Hollywood of the 1950s is riveting.

The Brave receives my recommendation.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.