Book Review: Grand Lac by Carl Brookins—and a Giveaway!

Grand Lac
Carl Brookins
Brookins Books LLC, July 2017
ISBN 978-0-9969991-0-6
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A small group of investors has purchased lots on a mountain on the outskirts of Grand Lac in northern Idaho. One dark night one of the investors, Jack Ketchum, gets drunk, climbs aboard a large bulldozer and carves a raw track of destruction down the mountainside though the property of each of the other owners. Days later Ketchum is found dead in a ravine, a large-caliber bullet hole in his chest.

When a local day trader, young Sam Black, is jailed for the murder, his mother, Edie Black, calls her cousin for help. Marjorie Kane, ex-exotic dancer, enlists the aid of her partner, Alan Lockem. The pair are independent special investigators who specialize in solving unusual and sometimes strange cases.

The duo flies to Grand Lac to try to prove Sam innocent and catch the real killer. They quickly find themselves enmeshed in civic chicanery, corruption and other evils, which must be sorted out to save Sam from prison or worse.

Alan Lockem and Marjorie Kane are not your everyday couple (of a certain age) nor are they your everyday private consultants. Marjorie, in particular, has a less than boring past that has given her a rather different way of looking at things and that complements her partner’s more straightforward approach to life and the cases they take on. When Marjorie’s cousin, Edie, asks for their help, they don’t hesitate for long, mainly because it’s family.

Grand Lac is a vacation spot in the mountains of Idaho situated on a glacier lake, a beautiful area that has drawn the wealthy and the not so wealthy. Some of those on the more affluent side bought lots on Carson’s Mountain and built stunning homes but one of those homesteaders, Jack Ketchum, insisted on flouting the wishes and rights of his neighbors. Is that what got him killed? Certainly, the local law thinks so, but Marjorie and Alan begin to discover other possibilities that lead them to think the arrest of young Sam Black might have been a rush to judgement. Before all is said and done, the rough terrain and unsatisfied greed may just prove dangerous to a lot more people including our investigators.

I felt an immediate connection with this couple, not because I have anything in common with them but because they’re so charming and likeable and so very clever. The mystery itself is a good “thinker” with threads going in all different directions and, while I was not completely surprised by the denouement, the journey to get there was quite entertaining. I do think another round of edits should have been done as there were some noticeable construction flaws, such as occasional misnamed characters or misplaced words, but none of that kept me from enjoying Mr. Brookins‘ new sleuths and I hope to see more of this dynamic duo.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.


I’d love to send somebody my
very gently used paperback copy
of Grand Lac. Leave a comment
below and I’ll draw the winning
name on Wednesday evening,
February 7th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.


Book Review: Water Signs by Janet Dawson

Water Signs
A Jeri Howard Mystery #12
Janet Dawson
Perseverance Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-56474-586-6
Trade Paperback

Methodology is at the forefront of this story. There’s really never any doubt as to who the criminals are. The problem PI Jeri Howard has to work through is proving what happened to her friend Cal Brady who was discovered drowned in the Estuary. Why would anyone want to murder a lowly security guard? Well, unless he’s seen something he shouldn’t have and begun investigating it. Because when thugs turn to murder, there must be more at stake than keeping the homeless off a building site.

I think this story might find its audience with native Oaklanders. The book is filled with local political agenda items. I admit to skipping much of the driving directions and what building is on what corner and which business faces onto the Estuary and such. I’ve never been there, probably never will be there, and beyond a general setting, really didn’t care about reaching the closest Starbucks in the least time. IMO, all this doesn’t add to the plot, unless perhaps you live in Oakland.

That said, I sympathize with the problems of gentrification and can certainly see, with the big money involved, how it could lead to criminal activity. In fact, there’s probably not too much fiction in the plot. It’s all happened at one time or another.

But I wanted to read about Jeri solving her friend’s murder. The investigation sometimes got lost in the details. Besides, Jeri will go broke handing out all those business cards.

Even so, Jeri is sharply drawn. The reader definitely knows what makes her tick. I liked her friends. I liked the way she worked her way to the truth, and I  liked the way she took the murderers down, even though it happened a little fast at the end. Go Jeri!

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: An Aegean April by Jeffrey Siger

An Aegean April
A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery #9
Jeffrey Siger
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0945-1

Summary: A respected citizen with an idea as to how to end the refugee crisis in Greece is slaughtered outside his home. A man, himself a refugee involved in the humanitarian aid for refugees movement is found at the murder scene and is charged with the crime.

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis returns in his ninth case when he is asked to investigate the murder of a well known and respected citizen on the island of Lesvos. Lesvos is the destination for many of the refugees passing though Turkey on their way to Northern Europe, and the small island is overwhelmed with the numbers.  The murder victim, Mihalis Volandes, thought he had a solution for the refugee problem, however he was having trouble getting anyone with authority to listen. The night he was killed – slaughtered really – outside his home, a young man, Ali Sera, a refugee himself, had received a message asking him to meet with the victim at Volandes home. When he arrived, he found the victim sliced nearly in half. When the police arrived, they found a bloody Sera standing near the body.

Chief Inspector Kaldis is asked to look into the crime since while Sera was at the scene, much of the evidence doesn’t support him as the murderer.

Siger has chosen to have readers know very early on who the murderer is and tells the story from a shifting point of view. On one hand we are with Kaldis and his team as they investigate, but we are also with the killer as he moves through the aftermath of the crime. A third voice, that of Dana McLaughlin, a worker with a non-government organization (NGO), is heard occasionally. Sera was one of her workers. This allows readers  from almost the beginning know exactly how despicable the murderer is and how savvy the Chief Inspector is. Through Dana, readers are given a composite shot of how many things can go seriously wrong when idealistic people with good intentions become involved in high profile situations. Siger paints a grim picture of humanity. It is a picture of profiteers making money on the backs of the very people they are supposedly helping.  Surely Dante has a special ring of hell reserved for such people.

On a brighter note, the book is set during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. Readers are treated to the ongoing preparations for Easter. Highlighted are some things unique to the Greek Orthodox faith, others even more unique to those living in Greece and finally, things that many Christian readers of any denomination will recognize. I read the books for the crime fiction, but the parts I personally enjoy the most are the glimpses into Greek culture. Siger does not disappoint in this part in An Aegean April.

As with the other books in this series, Siger has taken a political issue in Greece, mixed in a heavy dose of Greek Culture and served up a delicious tale straight from the headlines that is almost as much travelogue as it is crime fiction. While An Aegean April is the ninth book in the series, each stands very much on its own merits. There is a large cast of characters who appear to varying degrees throughout the series, but sub plots are wrapped up in each book so readers can pick up any book in the series to read without feeling lost trying to straighten out the characters.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, December 2017.

Book Reviews: American Static by Tom Pitts and A Case of Vineyard Poison by Philip R. Craig

American Static
Tom Pitts
Down & Out Books, June 2017
ISBN: 978-1-943402-84-7
Trade Paperback

This novel is a long, detailed, twisting trail of a plot. Along the way two small-town cops, and readers, encounter many characters, nearly all of whom are consummate criminals in that vibrant, unusual city, Bagdad by the Bay, San Francisco. It follows the unwanted adventure of a rural California student, carrying weed from Humboldt County for friends to deliver to recipients in the city. Robbed and beaten at bus stop, Steven is collected and succored by one of the most relentlessly evil personalities one is ever likely to meet in a single story.

The student, Steven, left penniless and beaten in a small northern California town, is carrying a load of marijuana to people in San Francisco when he is set upon, viciously beaten and robbed. An interested bystander offers Steven a ride to` San Francisco with a stop or two along the way. There is a brief suggestion of connection between the young men who robbed and beat Steven, and Quinn, driving a stolen vehicle, who dispatches a prominent winery owner.

Two policemen from Calisto set out to find Quinn who has disappeared into San Francisco and begins a horrifying series of vendettas against the employees of a major crime figure in the city. His primary motive is to find the daughter of the crime figure, a strung-out teenager living on dope and the streets.

Somehow, Steven, now terrified of Quinn, connects with the girl, Teresa, and they flee together. The chase is on. Quinn after the teens, a corrupt cop chasing Quinn, followed by two Calisto cops and everybody under threat from the crime boss and his killer crew.

Complicated, slick maneuvering and sudden brutal murder is the hallmark of this well-designed novel. I lost count of the number of murders, shootings, knifings, beatings and car chase events. Suffice it to write, the novel is excellently conceived, full of abrupt violent action. I give it a strong recommendation of type.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2017.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.


A Case of Vineyard Poison
A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery #6
Philip R. Craig
Avon, July 1996
ISBN: 978-0-380-72679-0
Mass Market Paperback

This novel is part of an extensive series of mysteries set on Martha’s Vineyard.

Vineyard wedding bells are about to chime for J.W. Jackson and Zee Madieras. Zee’s bank account is suddenly one hundred thousand unexplained dollars richer. The bank calls it a glitch, and two days later the money has disappeared. Coincidentally, the college student lying dead in J.W.’s driveway, done in by a dose of locally grown poisonous herbs, recently withdrew a hundred grand from her own account.

Ex-cop J. W. Jackson is intrigued. Intrigue deepens when he is suddenly attacked by a local paramedic. The path he follows introduces readers to a number of interesting characters on the island and a scheme to parlay computer expertise into a massive swindle.

This novel is not as violent nor as action filled as are earlier books in this series. There are several lengthy passages about the island and about fishing. However, the cerebral gymnastics around the solution to the murder are presented in an interesting way and the vividly descriptive passages touring Martha’s Vineyard and fishing, cooking and eating are interesting and judiciously blended with the murder mystery. Craig is a good writer and the dialogue is expertly used to further the plot and provide a pleasant experience for any reader.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones

August Snow
Stephen Mack Jones
Soho Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-718-6

August Snow is the third book I’ve read so far this year that’s going on my “Best Reads of 2017” list. Yes, I’ve read other good ones, but the “best” are special in some way.

What’s special about August Snow, is August Snow. Jones has created a truly excellent character, heroic, honest, blessed with his friends and he knows it. The problem may lie in figuring out who his friends are. His enemies are pretty obvious.

August has been gone from Detroit for a year, trying to drown painful memories in travel and booze. He’s got plenty of money, having won a $12 million dollar case against the city after he lost his job as a cop. August, you see, blew the whistle on corrupt politicians and the police force running the city and they had him wrongfully dismissed from the force. But now he’s come home to live in his parents’ old home in Mexicantown.

All too soon he’s asked to investigate what may be embezzled funds from Eleanor Paget’s wealth management bank. He turns her plea for help down, only to learn that the very next day she’s committed suicide. Or has she? August doesn’t believe it, which soon lands him right in the midst of murder and more corruption than you can shake a stick at.

You may think you’ve read this plot before⏤Lord knows there’s enough corruption in the real world to make the premise almost commonplace⏤but you won’t have had a hero like August Snow.

Twists and turns carry the reader on a wild ride. The good guys keep you hoping for justice. The bad guys will twist you in knots.

Author Stephen Mack Jones is a novelist to watch!

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Compromised by James R. Scarantino—and a Giveaway!

A Denise Aragon Mystery #2
James R. Scarantino
Midnight Ink, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5040-8
Trade Paperback

The body of a teenage girl is found in a dumpster—she’s beautiful, even in death, and is surrounded by six dozen red roses. Santa Fe police detectives Denise Aragon and Rick Lewis , along with FBI Special Agent Tomas Rivera, investigate. Their job is complicated by the fact that their witness, former model Lily Montclaire, is not being entirely truthful with them. Montclaire is currently working for ruthless attorney Marcy Thornton, who is involved with Judge Judy Diaz. The detectives are sure that Thornton and Diaz used the victim for sexual purposes, but can’t connect her to the murder without Montclaire’s help. Montclaire only wants to save her own skin.

When the detectives contact the waste disposal company that owns the dumpster, E. Benny Silva Enterprises, they discover that Benny Silva and his twin brother are involved in a multi-million dollar lawsuit that they want to come to a speedy decision. Marcy Thornton and Judge Diaz are not moving fast enough for them.

Scarantino’s detective, Denise Aragon, is the character that makes the story breathe in jagged, sharp gasps. The reader slowly discovers her disturbing and violent backstory, and it puts her obsession with bodybuilding and Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system, into perspective. She is hard as nails, wears her hair shorn so that the scars on her scalp are visible, and her arms bulge with muscles she has worked obsessively to develop. Also proud of her heritage and her family’s ties to the Santa Fe area, she emerges proud and triumphant in the books final scene at the Santa Fe Fiesta. Compromised is the second book in the series, after The Drum Within.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2017.


To enter the drawing for a gently
used advance reading copy of
Compromised by James R. Scarantino,
just leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Tuesday night,
April 4th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly and Trap by Robert K. Tanenbaum

innocenceInnocence Or, Murder on Steep Street
Heda Margolius Kovaly
Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker
Soho Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-6169-5645-5
Trade Paperback

This murder mystery was written to disguise a political tract describing the author’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia during which her husband, an ardent party member and an assistant minister of trade, was falsely arrested, jailed and murdered.  Both had survived Nazi concentration camps.  The form the book takes was to somehow evade the censors and it surreptitiously tells his story as part of the plot, describing one of the characters.

Essentially, the plot revolves around the murder of a detective on a street on which a movie theater is located.  There are seven women who serve as ushers, each with a secret life, complicating the investigation into the death.  The stories of their lives unfold, together with the secrets they share with each other.

The promotional material recounts the author’s fame as a translator, and especially her love of Raymond Chandler.  It is doubtful that this work measures up to his standard of writing, and has to be judged on its own merits.  On that level, the reader has to cope with various obfuscations and, of course, the obscure Czech names and places which divert attention.  The conclusion is somewhat disappointing and really is somewhat ambiguous, whether by design or inadvertence.

The author really is known for her memoir, Under A Cruel Star, in which she describes her time in Auschwitz and the early years of Communism in her native land.  For its historical importance, the present novel deserves to be read.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016


A Butch Karp – Marlene Ciampi Thriller #27
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-9318-4
Mass Market Paperback

The customary courtroom drama in the Butch Karp series takes up about half of this novel, but it isn’t as dramatic as most of the prior episodes.  Although the legal description is proficient, it is highly technical in nature and less dramatic than many of the previous legal battles, which are always a highlight of a Robert K. Tanenbaum story.  This tale is a mixture of a Karp family saga, hate crimes, deranged arsonist and bomber, religious beliefs combined with Nazi sympathizers and events during the Holocaust and World War II, and the conflict between the public school system, the teachers union as led by corrupt officers and charter schools.  How’s that for a mouthful?

What leads up to the courtroom scene are a series of events and even a murder or two.  The Teacher’s Federation president is attempting to head off a bill in Albany which would result in an audit that would expose him and his cohorts for stealing funds from the union’s coffers.  The author certainly knows better than this premise.  Certainly unions are subject to regular audits.  But for the plot to work, this fact has to be ignored.

So the battle between proponents of the charter school legislation, who want a mandatory audit of the Teacher’s Federation, and the corrupt union and public officials, ultimately sets the stage for the dramatic trial.  As side issues, we have a scraggly group of Nazi sympathizers who conveniently serves as a red herring in the lead-up to murder charges, and Karp’s twin sons’ wishy-washy approach to their religious beliefs and late (by several years) Bar Mitzvah.

All in all, however, this was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.