Book Review: The Burden of Innocence by John Nardizzi @AuthorPI @partnersincr1me

The Burden of Innocence

by John Nardizzi

December 6, 2021 – January 31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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The Burden of Innocence
PI Ray Infantino Series, #2
John Nardizzi
Weathertop Media Co., December 2021
ISBN 978-1-7376876-0-3
Trade Paperback

Private investigators Ray Infantino and Tania Kong take on the case of Sam Langford, framed for a murder committed by a crime boss at the height of his powers.

But a decade later, Boston has changed. The old ethnic tribes have weakened. As the PIs range across the city, witnesses remember the past in dangerous ways. The gangsters know that, in the new Boston, vulnerable witnesses they manipulated years ago are shaky. Old bones will not stay buried forever.

As the gang sabotages the investigation, will Ray and Tania solve the case in time to save an innocent man?

Fifteen years is a long time to spend in prison and it’s an eternity when you’re not guilty as Sam Langford has been claiming all along. Sam is lucky enough to have people who believe him and, now, private investigator Ray Infantino has been hired to prove his innocence but doing so means finding the real killer and/or the reasons behind Sam’s conviction for rape and murder, a task that turns out to be very dangerous.

Southie has long had a reputation as the dark underbelly, the haven of gangs and assorted perpetrators of corruption in Boston. The more Ray delves into this old crime, with his apprentice Tania Kong’s help, the more obvious it becomes that certain parties don’t intend to let any light shine on what really happened and why.

I don’t normally read noir crime fiction but Mr. Nardizzi got my attention and held it with his clear knowledge and understanding of this gritty world and his vivid evocation of the setting. That, in turn, brought a sense of real life to his characters, good and bad, and I was compelled to keep reading into the night with the hope that Sam Langford would get justice, whatever that might mean.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2022.

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An Excerpt from The Burden of Innocence

Part 1

A SYSTEM OF JUSTICE Boston Massachusetts

Chapter 1

Two burly guards from the sheriff’s department walked Sam Langford to the van. He noticed a newspaper wedged in a railing—his name jumped off the page in bold print: Jury to Decide Langford’s Fate In Waterfront Slaying. The presumption of innocence was a joke. You took the guilt shower no matter what the jury decided. He thought of his mother then, and the old ladies like her, reading the headline as they sipped their morning coffee across the city. He was innocent. But they would hate him forever. A guard shoved Langford’s head below the roofline. He sat down in the cargo section, the only prisoner today. The guard secured him to a bar that ran the length of the floor, the chain rattling an icy tune. The van squealed off. Langford’s head felt so light it could drift right off his shoulders. The van lurched, and he slid on the cold metal bench. The driver bumped the van into some potholes. Langford dug his heels into the floor. This was a guard-approved amusement ride, bouncing felon maggots off good ‘ol American steel. Sam had observed this man that morning. Something about his face was troubling. Sheriffs, guards, cops—most of them were okay. They didn’t bother him because he didn’t bother them. But cop work attracted certain men who hid their true selves. Men with a vicious streak that could turn an average day into a private torture chamber. These men were cancers to be avoided. Average days were what he wanted in jail. No violent breaks in the tedium. The van careened on and stopped at a loading dock of the hulking courthouse, which jutted in the sky like a pale granite finger accusing the heavens. The last day of trial. Outside, Langford saw TV news vans and raised satellite dishes, the reporters being primped and padded for the live shot. The rear doors opened and the guard’s shaved skull appeared in silhouette. He tensed as the guard grabbed his arm and pulled him out. The guard wore a thin smile. “We’ll take the smooth road back. Just for you,” he muttered. A clutch of photographers hovered behind a wall above the dock. Langford looked up at the blue sky, as he always did, focusing on breathing deeply. He would never assist, not for a minute, in his own degradation. He was innocent. He would not cooperate. Let them run their little circus, the cameras, the shouted questions, boom microphones drooped over his head to pick up a stray utterance. He leveled his jaw and looked past them. He knew he had no chance with them. The guards walked him inside the courthouse and to an elevator. The chains clanked as they swung with his movement. They took the elevator to the eight floor where a court officer escorted the group into a hallway. Langford pulled his body erect toward the ceiling, as high as he could get. He intended to walk in the courtroom like some ancient Indian chieftain, unbowed. He was innocent and that sheer fact gave him some steel, yes it did. The door opened and he stepped inside the courtroom. The gallery looked packed full, as usual. Cameras clicked. Low voices in the crowd hissed venom. “Death sentence is too good for you, asshole,” whispered one. He whispered a bit too loudly. A court officer wasted no time, hustling over and guiding the man to the exit. Langford walked ahead, keeping his dark eyes focused. His family might watch this someday. Some ragged old news clip showing their son’s dark history. He struggled to keep the light burning behind his eyes. Something true, something eternal might show through. At least he hoped so. He had told his lawyer there would be no last-minute plea deal; he was innocent, and that was it. As he walked, he felt the eyes of the crowd pick over him, watching for some involuntary tic that would betray his thoughts. But fear roiled his belly. He was afraid, no doubt. He knew the old saying that convicted murderers sat at the head table in the twisted hierarchy of a prison. But the fact remained—every prisoner walked next to a specter of sudden violence. He desperately wanted to avoid prison. Keys rattled in the high-ceilinged courtroom as the officers unchained him. He rubbed his wrists and then sat down at the defense table. His defense lawyer, George Sterling, took the seat next to him. He was dressed in a dark blue suit with a bright orange-yellow tie. The color seemed garish for the occasion. “How you doing, Sam?” “Hopeful. But ready for the worst.” Sterling grabbed his hand and shook it firmly. But his eyes betrayed him. Langford got a sense even his lawyer felt a catastrophe was coming. The mother of the dead woman sat one row away from his own mother. Even here, mothers bore the greatest pain. Both women stared at him. Langford nodded to his mother as she mouthed the words, “I love you”. He smiled briefly. He glanced at the mother of the dead girl but looked away. Her eyes blazed with hatred and pain. He wanted to say something. But the odds were impossible. The reporters would misconstrue any gesture; the court officers might claim he threatened her. He saw no way out. Even a basic act of human kindness became muddled in a courtroom. A court officer yelled, “All rise.” The whispers died down, and the gallery rose. The judge came in from chambers in a black-robed flurry. The lawyers went to sidebar, that curious phenomenon where they gather and whisper at the judge’s bench like kids in detention. Then the judge signaled the sidebar was over and told the court officer to bring in the jury. The jurors walked to the jury box, every one of them fixed with a blank look on their faces. None of them met his eyes. One juror eventually looked over at him. He tried to gauge his fate in her flat eyes, the set of her face. But there was nothing to see. As the judge and lawyers spoke, the lightheadedness left him. Everything came into focus. Langford watched the foreperson hand a slip of paper to a court officer. She took a few steps and handed the paper to the judge. The judge pushed gray hairs off her forehead, examined the paper and placed it on her desk. A silence descended. Shuffles of feet, small muted coughs. People waited for a meteor to hit the earth. The clerk read the docket number into the record and the judge looked over to the foreperson, a woman with long dark hair and glasses. “On indictment 2001183 charging the defendant Samuel Langford with murder, what say you madame foreperson, is the defendant not guilty or guilty of murder in the first degree?” “We find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree.” To Langford, the words seemed unreal, from a world away. A mist slid over his eyes. Gasps of joy, cries of surprise. A few spectators began clapping. The judge banged the gavel. Someone sobbed behind him, and this sound he knew; his mother was crying now openly. His body petrified. He couldn’t turn around. Sterling put one hand on his shoulder, which snapped him back. The gesture irritated him. He didn’t want to be touched. Sterling’s junior assistant cupped his hand over his mouth. Sterling said something about the evidence, they would file an appeal. Langford stared at him. The reality of his new life began to emerge. The process moved quickly, the ending like all good endings—neat, nothing overdone, but nothing left to wonder about either. Court officers shackled him again and stood clasping his arms. The judge thanked the jury for their service. Langford felt overwhelmed by absurdity—they were being thanked for sending an innocent man to prison. The gulf between the truth and what was happening made him feel sick; they believed he had killed the poor woman. The judge told the lawyers to prepare for sentencing in a week. A guard pushed him through a door to the right and he could hear muffled sounds, people calling his name, as if the voices came through a dense fog over a distance. His head, floating, floating beyond the real. It was over. Down the long corridor they moved him, toward the rear lot and the prisoner’s dock. A flock of reporters circled the van. “Any comment, Mr. Langford?” “Mr. Langford, will you appeal this verdict?” “Do you want to say something to the family of the victim?” Then a hand pushed down on the back of his head and he stooped inside the van. The guard chained him to the floor. There was that slight smile on his lips. The engine shot to life. Langford waited for the door to close. Sludge ran through his veins. He closed his eyes and let despair surge through his heart.
Chapter 2
15 years later
In a corner at the Sanchez Boxing Gym in the South End, Ray Infantino braced his lean frame, fired a jab, threw a left hook off the jab and smashed an overhand right. The heavy bag jerked on the chain like a drunken tourist caught out late in the wrong part of town. He moved around the heavy bag, feet sliding, not hopping. He threw another right cross and then switched stances, the right foot in the lead. He hooked a low right followed by an overhead left. His father showed him that move when he was a kid. He stopped once the bell rang for the end of the round. Sweat poured off his toned physique. He pulled off the gloves to tighten his hand wraps. He wrapped his hands the way his father had taught: loop the thumb and then through the fingers, making the fist a steel ball. It pissed him off when he saw other fighters not wrapping between the fingers, a lack of finesse he found appalling. There was action all over the gym—sparring in the three rings, prospects putting in their bag work, trainers barking out instructions. Two young men gathered nearby and watched him. They were new. Ray had never seen them before. After he finished his workout, one of them ventured toward him. “You fight pretty good.” “Thanks.” “Hope I’m good as you when I’m that old.” Ray whipped a fist toward the guy and stopped an inch from his face. The guy’s mouth gaped. His friend broke out laughing. Ray walked away and pointed at the man. “Show some respect when you come in here,” he said. “Forty ain’t old.” He laughed and headed to the showers. The last few days were a rare respite from the grind. When his case involving a missing woman in the San Francisco underworld hit the news, his business boomed. He was a name now. That’s how it worked in the legal business. When you were newsworthy, clients deemed it safe to pay large retainers up front, and he could decline work he didn’t want. He still kept his black hair long in back and kept lean and fit, preserving illusions of youth, but he knew his time in this business was closer to the end than the beginning. By the end of the case in San Francisco, he had come to accept what happened. His old life was gone forever. His relationship with Dominique did not seem like it would survive. But the haunted rims below his eyes faded and he felt reinvigorated, ready for new challenges. He headed out for a coffee at a cafe across the street. Last year, his doctor advised him he should cut down, but he felt it was a minor vice. Not healthy to deny the small things that make life worth living. He took a seat in the window. He appreciated his new place in the South End. Long a home to Latino and black families, the 1990s brought an influx of new residents like him to the old brownstones—downtown office workers, architects, gay couples—looking for the rich canvas of city living. Block by block, cafes and restaurants were renovated, old wood paneling stripped and refurbished, the construction boom rolling out toward Massachusetts Avenue. He enjoyed walking the uneven brick sidewalks and coming upon vestiges of the old neighborhood: a bookstore packed with two floors of hardcovers in an old brownstone, the painted letters on a brick wall of the long closed Sahara restaurant, hollyhocks that bloomed from a tucked away corner. His cell phone rang and he saw the call forwarded from his office. He remembered that his receptionist Sheri had taken the day off. “Ray Infantino Agency, how can I help you?” “Hi, this is Dan Stone. I’m a defense lawyer here in Boston. I got your name from a lawyer I met at a bar event—you came highly recommended. Wondering if you might be able to help me on an old murder case. I’m going to see a new client, Sam Langford. Not sure if you heard about the case, it began over fifteen years ago.” “I don’t remember it.” “Langford’s case was high profile at the time. A violent rape-murder on the waterfront. The trial brought out the worst: witnesses with serious drug addictions, rogue cops. People thought Langford looked like the cleanest guy in the courthouse. But the jury still convicted. There was a dead girl. Someone needed to pay. Langford was easy. Not necessarily the right guy, but he was the available target.” Ray was used to this nonsense from defense lawyers. No one was guilty in their world. Still, he recalled now that he had heard something of Stone: bright guy, a plugger in the courtroom, well prepared rather than depending on flashy trial antics. “I’m going to see him this week and want to reach out to see if you would come with me. Schedule permitting. We have learned a few things, and he says he wants to talk over the next steps. I believe he is innocent, Ray. He’s been trying for close to fifteen years to prove it. You know the standard in these cases. Very high bar.” “Cops are allowed a lot of leeway to be wrong.” “Right. We have to show intent, or at least recklessness, when it comes to police misconduct. If we can uncover new evidence, I would plan on filing a motion for a new trial within a year.” Stone went blabbing on about the legal issues. “So what do you think? He had time to take it on. “Is this a private case?” Stone hesitated. “No. I’m appointed by the public defender’s office.” “Impossible odds and crappy pay. How can I resist?” Stone laughed. “Okay then. I know this is real short notice, but any chance you’re free this afternoon?” Ray checked his schedule. “That’s fine. Where’s he held?” “Walpole. There was an incident at the max so they moved him there.” “I’ll meet you in the lobby at 1:00 PM.” Ray hung up the phone and stood up, gazing out the window at the copper rooftops. The odds were terrible in such cases. He thought back to his father Leo and how they had destroyed him. He decided that the next time there was an uneven fight, he would ensure the little guy had a weapon. *** Excerpt from The Burden of Innocence by John Nardizzi. Copyright 2021 by John Nardizzi. Reproduced with permission from John Nardizzi. All rights reserved.

 

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About the Author

John Nardizzi is a writer and investigator. His work on innocence cases led to the exoneration of Gary Cifizzari and James Watson, as well as million dollar settlements for clients Dennis Maher and the estate of Kenneth Waters, whose story was featured in the film Conviction. His crime novels won praise for crackling dialogue and pithy observations of detective work. He speaks and writes about investigations in numerous settings, including World Association of Detectives, Lawyers Weekly, Pursuit Magazine and PI Magazine. Prior to his PI career, he failed to hold any restaurant job for longer than a week. He lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

Catch Up With John Nardizzi:

JohnNardizzi.com // Goodreads // BookBub — @johnf4 //
Twitter — @AuthorPI // Facebook — @WeathertopMedia

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Book Review: Devil by the Tail by Jeanne Matthews @JMmystery @DXVaros

Devil by the Tail
A Garnick & Paschal Mystery #1
Jeanne Matthews
D. X. Varos, July 2021
ISBN 978-1941072974
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What’s a 20-something Union war widow to do in 1867? Start up her own detective agency with a former Reb POW, of course!

Quinn Sinclair, who uses the name Mrs. Paschal professionally, and her wryly observant partner Garnick get two cases on the same day – one to help a man prove he didn’t kill his wife, another to help a lawyer find reasonable doubt that his client killed her ex-lover’s new bride. As the detectives dig deeper, they unearth facts that tie the cases together in disturbing ways.

This tantalizing tale of 19th Century Chicago comes complete with corrupt politicians, yellow-press reporters, gambling parlors, and colorful bawdyhouse madams. At every turn in the investigation, Quinn discovers more suspects and more secret motives for murder.

Not least among her worries, someone seems intent on murdering her!

Historical mysteries appeal to me a lot, depending on the time period, but I have to say I haven’t encountered many books focused shortly after the Civil War. The setting alone of Devil by the Tail gives this series debut a special element that is fresh and intriguing.

Ms. Matthews takes things a step further, really a leap further, by pairing a northern lady with a former Confederate POW, surely not an every day occurrence, and the compatibility of the two was the best part of the story. (In today’s world of hostility and mean spiritedness, we could use a healthy dose of their willingness to get past their differences.)

Well, having said that, I have to backtrack a little to say that the plot here, the work that Quinn Sinclair (using the name Mrs. Paschal) and Garnick are doing as private  detectives, is just as compelling as their choice to partner up. Since this is Chicago of the 1860’s, Quinn naturally has a lot of societal barriers in her way and I love her ability to find ways around them as well as Garnick’s’s willingness to aid and abet her rebellion against the rules.

When Garnick and Paschal accept a job looking into the case of a man wrongfully accused (so he says) of killing his wife, they have no idea how murky things are going to get, especially when a second case, to prove reasonable doubt that a woman murdered her ex-lover’s bride, starts to look like there may be a connection between the two crimes. The seedy underbelly of 1867 Chicago with its brothels and yellow journalism is on full display and adds greatly to the reader’s fun. On top of the detectives’ professional work, there’s also the interesting question of what will happen in Quinn’s unpleasant dealings with her inlaws.

Ms. Matthews is well known for her vividly descriptive settings and her impeccable research, not to mention the authenticity of her language, and I enjoyed Devil by the Tail so much that it’s going on my list of best books read in 2021.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

Book Reviews: Fatal Score by John Baird Rogers and Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering @Gotuit @carolatlovering @AtriaBooks

Fatal Score
Mayfield-Napolitani #1         
John Baird Rogers
Gotuit Publishing LLC, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-7322262-0-3
Trade Paperback

Here’s a novel for late-night reading. Or, depending on your belief, daytime/sunshine reading. The author has grasped both the marvelous advances and future of technology, big medicine big government and the insidious dark and dangerous aspects of human greed. Human greed, when exposed to opportunities to corrupt and steal, is almost a foregone conclusion, and in the author’s vision, fraught with hosts of bright accomplished people on the dark side as well as standing in the light.

Joe Mayfield, an accountant, happily married, does his job efficiently, and life is good. Then his wife is diagnosed with a cancer, her medical records are altered so her insurance is minimal and Mayfield’s life takes a nosedive. Why was her medical coverage designation altered? Was the national medical database hacked? Why this one woman?

Mayfield sets out to find some answers and that involves some penetration of a huge national database nicknamed YAK. He runs up against a highly intelligent security agent named Louise Napolitani. Her job is to protect the YAK against hackers. The author has set up the novel to follow these two separate but linked protagonists.

The pace of the writing is fast, persistent and occasionally furious. It is a well-written and cleanly resolved story, peopled with interesting characters. Through it all readers will learn in the most positive and comfortable way, a good deal about potential future developments in big data, data processing, government and the unchanging venality of people when confronted with opportunities to steal. I recommend this debut novel without reservation and look forward to the continuing adventures of Joe Mayfield and Weezy Napolitani.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Tell Me Lies
Carola Lovering
Atria Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-6964-9
Hardcover

A long, conflicting narrative of a young woman who goes away to college, meets and falls for a flawed fellow, and as a result suffers some emotional mountain peaks and deep valleys. Lucy Albright is the woman. Bright, good-looking, energetic, positive of outlook, she has the instincts to recognize and resist the questionable charms of Stephen DeMarco. But she doesn’t.

DeMarco is charming, handsome, confident and a little slimy. The two form a relationship, not a bond, that carries them through college experiences and into adulthood.

The novel is well-written, well-paced, lengthy, sexy and ultimately unsatisfying. Its tension and angst rise through the first half of the story and then levels off so there are fewer and fewer surprises and readers suspect an unsatisfactory and unhappy conclusion looms closer on the horizon.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Death and the Viking’s Daughter by Loretta Ross and Ghosts of Guatemala by Collin Glavac

Death and the Viking’s Daughter
An Auction Block Mystery #4
Loretta Ross
Midnight Ink, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5237-2
Trade Paperback

Auctioneer Wren Morgan with her fellow workers is preparing for an auction of a strange night club that was constructed on the plans of a Cincinnati nightclub that was the scene of a disastrous fire. A small level of nervousness is apparent.

At about the same time, her fiancé Death (pronounced Deeth) Bogart is tasked by a museum director to look into an apparent theft of a painting, a painting worth more to the owners due to the subject than for its artistic merit.

While preparing the site for the coming auction, a resident collapses upon seeing a figure in the nearby woods who looks like his long-missing daughter. Meanwhile, Wren and Death (pronounced Deeth) are looking for a home to buy. They find one at the end of a roadway not far away where a man, name unknown, is buried beneath rosebushes in the yard.

Get the picture? This is not a complicated mystery, but it has several threads that are cleverly woven together in this carefully and very well-written novel. Eventually all these threads will come together, along with tension-filled meetings between Wren and Death’s parent groups.

The tranquil setting becomes well-used as a foil against the tension that builds up. Private investigator Death Bogart wends his careful way through a variety of interesting experiences all while worrying about presenting a positive image to his about-to-be in-laws. A fun and intriguing novel that I recommend especially for those readers who are not wedded to intense and brutal violence on the page.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Ghosts of Guatemala
Collin Glavac
NIMA, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-9991631-6-7
Trade Paperback

Here is a terrific idea with some interesting characters in imperfectly realized circumstances. The novel begins with a bang, the attempted assassination of a Guatemalan drug czar. The scene is potent, rife with tension and murderous action. Unfortunately, although the assassination is successful, the assassin also dies in the attempt.

We then switch to scenes of dissention, corruption, loss of confidence and general incompetence in an important US government agency, the Central Intelligence Agency. Then commences a long and wandering dissertation about the life and development of a Seal, one John Carpenter. Sometime later in his career, he is mysteriously detached from the Navy to become an agent for the CIA, specializing in Latin America.

He is tasked with retaliation against the Guatemalan drug cartel, an assignment which takes the narrative deeply and in considerable detail inside that country. The narrative is wordy, resulting in an overlong novel which levels criticism against the U.S. government, the CIA specifically and the American public in general.

A good editor would have reduced the novel by at least a third and in the process elevated the action and tension. While some of the characters are unusual and more than passingly interesting, the novel’s potential is largely obscured in wordiness and a somewhat negative attitude.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Pyramid of Mud by Andrea Camilleri

The Pyramid of Mud
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery #22
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin, January 2018
ISBN: 978-0-143-12808-3
Trade Paperback

The discovery of the body of the chief accountant of a construction company in a sewer pipe on the development site is all the clue Inspector Montalbano needs to wonder what it’s all about, in this, the 22nd novel in this wonderfully understated series. Was the murder the result of his wife’s affair with her lover and being shot when catching them in the act?  Or a smokescreen created by a corrupt group of contractors?

This is but one of several questions to which the Inspector needs an answer before he can solve the murder.  And at the same time discover the goings-on in the area of construction and public works contracts.

As is usual in the series, the author exhibits many subtle touches, making the Inspector more human.  Beside his love of food, Montalbano shows signs of aging.  Is his hearing and sight going?  And he reminds himself, if that’s the case, it’s time to retire.  And his long distance love life with Livia.  In this novel she exhibits an illness or, perhaps, lethargy, until she gets a dog as a pet that keeps her hopping and bouncing back, giving rise to the old minor arguments with the Inspector on the telephone, which he enjoys, recognizing it as a symptom of recovery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2018.

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.

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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.