Book Review: Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young

Abuse of Discretion
Dre Thomas Series #3
Pamela Samuels Young
Goldman House Publishing, 2017
ISBN 978-1-530-52897-4
Trade Paperback

Here we have a suspenseful, current novel of crime and punishment that is not only engaging, exciting and enthralling, but takes a hard, insightful and sensitive look at our modern society and its attitudes and laws relating to juveniles and sex.

Because the sub-plot is so well developed, this novel is really two for one. The second plot involves the fraught relationship between an incarcerated pimp and sex trafficker and the criminally connected uncle of a kidnapped girl. Dre, the uncle, is able through his underworld connections, to thwart threats to his girl friend and others in his family which adds a level of tension to the novel.

The core of this interesting story centers around a bright fourteen-year-old named Graylin. He’s attending a private school and is found to have a single nude picture of a female classmate on his phone. He may have been set up and the novel in increasingly tension-filled chapters, traces the politically-influenced and rigidly inept laws relating to society’s attempts to deal with sex crimes such as sexting.

Graylin’s case is defended by two of the most interesting characters in the novel. Angela is a top defense attorney, companion to Graylin’s uncle Dre in a somewhat tense relationship, who is not used to working with children accused of crime. She seconds a juvenile specialist and after some early rough going, the two women bond into a formidable team. Although the final outcomes of the novel are somewhat expected, the paths to resolution are filled with disturbing and interesting barriers.

The locations, supporting characters and pace of the novel are all very well done and the ultimate resolutions are satisfying. Each chapter is labeled with the name of the character whose point of view is dominant in that chapter, allowing the author’s keen powers of observation free rein, to excellent effect.

For many reasons, I commend this fine novel to readers of crime fiction and to those likewise interested in the current state of our social affair.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens—and a Giveaway!

the-heavens-may-fallThe Heavens May Fall
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-205-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Featuring three characters from the bestselling book-club favorite The Life We Bury, this novel explores a riveting murder case told from two opposing perspectives.

Detective Max Rupert and attorney Boady Sanden’s friendship is being pushed to the breaking point. Max is convinced that Jennavieve Pruitt was killed by her husband, Ben. Boady is equally convinced that Ben, his client, is innocent. As the case unfolds, the two are forced to confront their own personal demons.

Max is still struggling with the death of his wife four years earlier, and the Pruitt case stirs up old memories. Boady hasn’t taken on a defense case since the death of an innocent client, a man Boady believes he could have saved but didn’t. Now he is back in court, with student Lila Nash at his side, and he’s determined to redeem himself for having failed in the past.

Vividly told from two opposing perspectives, the truth about the stunning death of Jennavieve Pruitt remains a mystery until the very end.

Although I haven’t read the second book by Allen Eskens, I very much enjoyed the first one and have kept tabs on him, you might say, through reviews by some people whose opinions I respect. When the opportunity arose to read this third book, I jumped right on it and, let me just say, I don’t know why I haven’t kept up with him. Shame on me.

Although these books are not precisely what readers mean by a “series”, The Heavens May Fall features Max Rupert, homicide detective and older brother of Alexander Rupert, also a detective and the lead character of the second book, The Guise of Another; Max also appeared in the first book, The Life We Bury. In that particular book, he played a strong role but, again, wasn’t the lead. This third book is his opportunity and, my goodness, I do like this detective, warts and all.

Max has a lot on his plate, not least of which is that he’s still grieving for his wife, dead several years now. Coping with that heartache is a part of who Max has become but he’s usually able to compartmentalize it. His friendship with Boady Sanden could end up being another wrenching loss as the two men are on opposing sides in the trial of Ben Pruitt in the horrific murder of his wife but Boady has his own demons. This is his first defense case since he believes he failed an innocent man and the stress of this one and the strain between him and Max may prove to be his undoing.

What follows is gripping police work as well as the kind of defense preparation we’d all like to have in such a situation and, as normally happens, the two have critically different goals and outcomes.

A first-rate thriller, The Heavens May Fall is also a compelling story of two men and how their pasts influence the present and Eskens has a masterly way with words whether it be during an emotional scene or while on the hunt for a killer. Not every writer can do that as well as this one can and, to my mind, Eskens is one of the best writers around. His stories tug at my mind and my feelings but they also carry me away on a rising tide of tension and suspense; add to that, this story has a humdinger of a twist at the end. I will certainly not delay reading the next book when it comes out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

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Book Reviews: City of Halves by Lucy Inglis and A Specter of Justice by Mark de Castrique

City of HalvesCity of Halves
Lucy Inglis
Chicken House, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-82958-8
Hardcover

What a way to start your day. Lily who lives with her barrister father in a London suburb, is a pretty proficient computer hacker and is currently helping Dad on a case. She’s looking for a forger whose identity can help free an immigrant woman her father is defending, who is facing imprisonment and deportation. When Lily snags some video footage from one of the ubiquitous surveillance cameras that are all over London, it shows what she thinks is the forger near a spot where he’s dropped papers in the past. She has time to check out the area because school isn’t in session.

When Lily reaches the alley where she saw the footage, she’s attacked by a two-headed dog that nearly kills her. The mystery figure she saw in the video appears, killing the dog and carrying her back to the large building where he lives. Despite her protests, the heavily tattooed boy named Regan, uses an ancient medical book to figure out how to give her an emergency blood transfusion from his own arm. When Lily tries to refuse because she has an extremely rare type, he informs her that she’ll die unless he does and he knows that she’s Type H. She begins to feel better almost immediately. Even more startling is the fact that all of her injuries have completely disappeared even though her clothing is still soaked by her own blood.

Thus begins an extremely well crafted combination fantasy thriller and romance that involves an evil government agency, a host of supernatural creatures (bandogges, dragons, wraiths, banshees, plague carriers, a man whose hands create fire, snake people and others too numerous to list here), lies from the past and threats aplenty to London, some natural, others supernatural.

As Lily and Regan slowly fall for each other, they have to figure out how their relationship fits into an ancient prophecy, avoid her getting captured by the government and learn where the girls and various mythical creatures who are being kidnapped have been stashed as well as for what purpose. None of these are easy, making this book a real page turner. It’s a perfect blend of urban fantasy and romance with mystery elements. While the ending is satisfying, there’s that delicious hint of a sequel in the future.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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A Specter of JusticeA Specter of Justice
A Sam Blackman Mystery #5
Mark De Castrique
Poisoned Pen Press, November 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0472-2
Hardcover

A strong, well-conceived story takes readers into some dark corners of the American judicial system. The concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” serves us well, except when it doesn’t. Criminal defense lawyers are wedded to the idea that they should bend every legal effort to protect their clients and use the system to see their clients go free, even the guilty ones. Should they? Even if they know their client is guilty? What about possible consequences of freeing a violent perpetrator?

Ours is not a perfect system but it is better than any alternative yet devised by the mind of mankind. These are questions raised in this enthralling story of lawyers, investigators and policemen all caught up in a web of deceit, murder and manipulation that has roots more than ten years old.

Sam Blackman and his lover and partner, Nakayla Robertson, join forces with a local group of boosters to create a fund-raiser to help twin orphaned boys. There are murky legends of ghosts, suicides and spectral happenings in Asheville, North Carolina, as there are about most cities. An evening tour of sites with costumed hosts seems innocent enough until the real dead body of one of the fund-raiser participants is abruptly injected into the proceedings.

Thereafter Sam and Nakayla are beset on all sides as they try to decipher obscure and musty clues, helpful and resistant witnesses, old and current case-loads, all told in neat, carefully constructed cleanly delivered prose. This novel is a clean, intense and fast read with some excellent characters and relationships that will leave many thoughtful readers with some difficult questions to ponder. I recommend this novel with no  reservations.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 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.

Book Reviews: Never Look Down by Warren C. Easley and What Waits in the Woods by Kieran Scott

Never Look DownNever Look Down
A Cal Claxton Mystery #3
Warren C. Easley
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0464-7
Hardcover

Cal Claxton is a liberal-minded lawyer practicing in a small town outside of Portland, Oregon. His practice and his interests bifurcate his activities and he spends a good deal of time bouncing back and forth between the two locations. He’s also a dog owner. Caxton, who propels this series of legal mysteries, is a former Los Angeles prosecutor who has moved over to the defense realm, although he doesn’t spend much time in court.

This story penetrates one of the highlights of cities like Portland, which attracts a vibrant subculture, in this case, the often homeless artful youth who find their kicks as taggers, writers, graffiti artists and other scribblers. Like all cultures, there are subcultures, one of which is usually called climbers. They are the daredevils who place their often elaborate art high on buildings in places which seem impossible to reach. One such who calls herself K209 is gaining notice for the quality and her risky locations.

One dark night from four stories up, she observes the murder of a woman. K209 escapes and the hunt is on. The killers and the cops seek to capture the elusive youngster and we reads many chapters in her anguished clever head.

As Cal Claxton is drawn into the case, the author uses his ongoing character to consider some aspects of the gun culture in our society. The characters and the novel are nuanced, balanced and worth every bit of their space. Portland is nicely evoked, the writing is strong and the plot develops higher and higher tension as it progresses.

If the story line is flawed at all, it is due to the frequency of Claxton’s travel between the town of Dundee where he is trying to expand his small practice and his office in Portland where similar efforts command his attention.

It is a minor flaw. I recommend this novel as an enjoyable and thoughtful experience, whatever your personal attitudes are toward gun control.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 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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What Waits in the WoodsWhat Waits in the Woods
Kieran Scott
Point, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69111-6
Hardcover

On the very first page of this YA suspense novel, the terror begins. This first unseen threat is scared away, but it’s only the beginning of many frightening episodes Callie must suffer during her camping trip into the woods of upstate New York. She doesn’t want to be there. Camping and hiking are not her things. She’s more interested in reading great books and writing stories. But Callie is new to her small community and goes along to bond with her two new BFF’s. Besides, her boyfriend will be part of the group, and it will only last for four nights.

From the start, though, strange events make the outing more than just the endurance of a few days spent with bugs, brambles, and sleeping three girls to a tent. The alpha female taunts the others, they lose their way, unexplained figures appear and disappear, a beheaded doll is found fireside, and a charismatic young man shows up and volunteers to help. Will that flirty, macho individual help them survive, or is he going to kill them all with the woodsman’s weapons he carries? Tensions common to teenagers complicate the dynamics further, and everyone in the group becomes a suspect.

I would rate this PG-13 for the violence and five stars for the page-turning thrill and the emotional and rational growth of the teenaged protagonist.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, October 2015.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Reviews: Twice a Spy by Keith Thomson, Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer, Did Not Finish by Simon Wood, The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly, and Mystery by Jonathan Kellerman

Twice a Spy
Keith Thomson
Doubleday, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53079-8
Hardcover

This sequel has more action packed between the covers than a fast-paced hockey game.  Charlie Clark and his father, Drummond [who suffers from the ups and downs of Alzheimer’s], find themselves in Geneva on the lam.  They fled the U.S. facing criminal charges and while in Switzerland, Drummond is being treated with an experimental drug, which seems to be helping reduce the effects of his disease..

All of which has little to do with events that ensue.  To begin with, Charlie’s lover, Alice, is kidnapped to force the Clarks to reveal where an atomic device is located, in return for her release.  Then the action gets underway at an unbelievable pace, vaulting Charlie into a whirlwind of activity to frustrate the bad guy but save his girlfriend.

The tale takes us from Europe to the Caribbean and various points in the U.S. from Langley to the Gulf Coast, with the Clarks fighting not only terrorists, but the CIA, Secret Service, and everyone in between. The plot moves at an incredibly rapid rate, if somewhat implausibly. Nevertheless, it’s an easy and entertaining read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Only Time Will Tell
Jeffrey Archer
St. Martin’s Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-53955-9
Hardcover

This aptly titled novel is the prelude to a series entitled The Clifton Chronicles, covering the lives of several characters over the span of a century.  In the hands of the author, Jeffrey Archer, it follows the life of the main character, Harry Clifton, from his birth shortly after World War I to just short of WWII with more curves than a talented big league pitcher.

The story is told in succeeding chapters from the point of view of various persons, each contributing some insight into the questions raised in the last summation.  It takes Harry from a fatherless tot to a school truant to a talented choir singer and his education right up to his acceptance at Oxford.  Meanwhile his life becomes complicated as he grows up by virtue of his background:  the mystery of his father’s death, his mother’s struggles to support him, his questionable parentage.

No comment is necessary regarding Mr. Archer’s ability to write a solid story, and to end it in cliffhanger fashion so readers will look forward to the sequel.  It remains to be seen how ingenious he can be in the next book in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Did Not Finish
Simon Wood
Crème de la Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-78029-007-2
Hardcover

The advice usually given to authors (and would-be authors) is to write what you know.  And that is just what ex-racecar driver Simon Wood has done.  He has written a mystery with motorsports as the theme; sort of a Dick Francis novel on wheels, if you will.

It all begins the night before a big race when a nine-time champion threatens to kill his rival, who is in the lead to capture the title.  When the rival actually is killed during the race under suspicious circumstances in a collision with the champion, Aidy Westlake undertakes to prove it was a case of murder.  Throughout all sorts of hardships and dangers, he doggedly continues his mission, until the plot inevitably takes a sharp turn.

Filled with loads of details on the racing scene and the people and equipment that make it possible, the novel moves spiritedly apace.  It is filled with suspense and startling revelations, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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The Fifth Witness
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-06935-9
Hardcover

The saga of the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, continues, following his previous appearance as a special prosecutor.  Times are hard and money scarce.  To scratch out a living, Mickey is now advertising in TV for clients facing foreclosure of their homes.  There is in this era no shortage of potential clients, and a thousand dollars here, a monthly payout there, and bills can be paid.

When one of his clients is arrested for the murder of a bank’s home loan officer, Mickey is once again a defense lawyer, giving the author to do what he does best: a dramatic courtroom story.  The drama is there, but a little bit of a potboiler, with the reader pretty much knowing not only the outcome of the trial but what follows.

Mickey, however, remains an interesting continuing character and we can be certain the sequel will take him into new territory once again. The author is excellent in constructing a plot that moves forward in a logical and careful manner, albeit with few surprises.  Written with aplomb and, to a degree, the flippancy necessary for Mickey’s personality, perhaps the next novel in the series will unveil more depth to the character. Make no mistake, however:  this one’s a good read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Mystery
Jonathan Kellerman
Ballantine, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-345-50569-9
Hardcover

Sometimes the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” refers to a good thing.  Certainly it applies to the Alex Delaware series.  For 25 novels, the basic plot has remained the same: a crime is committed and Dr. Delaware and Lt. Sturgis investigate, analyze, philosophize and eventually solve it.  This 26th story in the series is no different.

A beautiful young woman, obviously waiting for a “date,” first observed in a rundown hotel by Alex and his paramour Robin, is found later up in the Hollywood Hills shot in the face.  Sturgis invites Alex, by chance, to witness the scene, and the good doctor is able to identify the victim by the way she was dressed.  There is little in the way of clues or evidence, but that doesn’t stop them from researching and theorizing ad infinitum.

One would think that an author would tire of characters and plots after so many novels, but they remain fresh and interesting, readable and enjoyable.  So when’s the 27th?  It will undoubtedly be recommended as well.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.