Book Reviews: The Perfect Coed by Judy Alter and Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

The Perfect CoedThe Perfect Coed
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-9960131-0-9
Trade Paperback

A coed, one of Professor Susan Hogan’s American Lit students has gone missing, and a few days later, her body is finally discovered in the trunk of Susan’s car. Why was this particular coed,who seemed the perfect student, daughter, girlfriend, murdered? Why was Missy Jackson’s body hidden in her car? That’s what Susan and her boyfriend Jake, a security officer at the university, wants to know. However, they’d better work fast because she may be fated to be the killer’s next victim. Unless the cops hurry up and arrest her for the murder.

Lots of suspects are introduced for the reader to choose among in the quest to deduce the murderer. Lots of twists and turns and red herrings to either help or to hinder. Lots of threats and scary, tension filled scenes thrust the story along, and the ending is a satisfactory conclusion with just the right amount of final explanation.

The only thing that bothered me–and I’m not sure that’s the right word–is why Susan is so “prickly,” (a word used in the back cover blurb to describe her) especially with her loved ones and her supporters. I found her reluctance to accept help or to even discuss measures to preserve her own life distracting at times.

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

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Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth is Missing
Emma Healey
Harper, June 10 2014
ISBN 978-0-0623-0966-2
Hardcover

“Elizabeth is missing” is the sole notation made on most of the innumerable notes that Maud Horsham constantly makes and puts in any available pocket, as a hoped-for aid to her increasingly failing memory.  Maud is in an advancing state of dementia, and more often than not cannot remember where she is, or with whom, even when the latter is her daughter, or her granddaughter (sometimes mistaking the latter for the former).  But she knows that her best friend – – indeed, just about her only remaining friend, as she remembers “The others are in homes or in graves” – –  appears to be missing.  She takes any path she can conjure up to try to solve the mystery, resorting to putting an ad in the local newspaper for any information anyone may have as to her whereabouts.

And her friend Elizabeth is not the only ‘disappeared’ person Maud is trying to track down.  Even 70 years later (which doesn’t matter so much when one has no idea of time frames), Maud is still trying to find her sister, Sukey, missing since the time after the London blitz, when Maud was 15 years old and England was still trying to recover from the war, enduring rationed food and bombed-out homes.  The narrative, such as it is, jumps back and forth in time, from looking for her sister to searching for her friend, sometimes for both at seemingly the same time.  It is often difficult just to follow where Maud is, both for Maud herself as well as for the reader.

This book is unlike any I have ever read.  Maud is the first-person narrator, and that narrative is as disjointed as Maud’s mind, conveying, quite convincingly, that state of being.  I must admit to a feeling of ‘there but for the grace of G-d go . . .’ well, I, or indeed any of us.  The novel is one that literally haunted me well after I had finished reading it, and I suspect it may do that for many readers.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Review: Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman

Don’t Ever Get Old
Daniel Friedman
Minotaur Books, May 2012
ISBN 978-0-312-60693-0
Hardcover

Buck Schatz, an eighty-eight-year-old member of the “greatest generation” has, as ordered by his wife Rose, gone to the bedside of a dying comrade in arms—against his better judgment. Once there, his old army buddy, Jim Wallace, confesses he once took a bribe allowing the SS officer who ran their POW camp to escape. The bribe consisted of one gold bar, and according to Jim, there had been many more where that came from. What’s more, he knows the SS officer, Heinrich Ziegler, has lived all these years in the U.S. free as a bird. Who better, Jim demands, than the man who survived Ziegler’s worst brutalizations and who is a former police detective, to go after the war criminal. Oh, yes, and the gold, which he wants Buck to share with his family.

For such a supposedly well-kept secret, Buck soon finds just about everybody imaginable knows about the gold, and they all want a piece of it. Some want all of it. So Buck, suffering from increasing frailty and forgetfulness (he has to write himself notes about everything he wants to remember) is swept into one more case. He can’t count on the cops to be his allies, but his grandson Billy—under the nickname Tequila—becomes his sidekick as violent murder dogs his investigation.

I loved this book. Buck, with all his foibles and supposedly deteriorating mental acuity is a real kick in the pants. And the reader just knows that Tequila is sure to one day become as interesting as his grandfather. The mystery is good, but it’s the characters who make this book. Author Friedman brings them to life with sharp dialogue and just the right amount of description.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Don't Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman

Don’t Ever Get Old
Daniel Friedman
Minotaur Books, May 2012
ISBN 978-0-312-60693-0
Hardcover

Buck Schatz, an eighty-eight-year-old member of the “greatest generation” has, as ordered by his wife Rose, gone to the bedside of a dying comrade in arms—against his better judgment. Once there, his old army buddy, Jim Wallace, confesses he once took a bribe allowing the SS officer who ran their POW camp to escape. The bribe consisted of one gold bar, and according to Jim, there had been many more where that came from. What’s more, he knows the SS officer, Heinrich Ziegler, has lived all these years in the U.S. free as a bird. Who better, Jim demands, than the man who survived Ziegler’s worst brutalizations and who is a former police detective, to go after the war criminal. Oh, yes, and the gold, which he wants Buck to share with his family.

For such a supposedly well-kept secret, Buck soon finds just about everybody imaginable knows about the gold, and they all want a piece of it. Some want all of it. So Buck, suffering from increasing frailty and forgetfulness (he has to write himself notes about everything he wants to remember) is swept into one more case. He can’t count on the cops to be his allies, but his grandson Billy—under the nickname Tequila—becomes his sidekick as violent murder dogs his investigation.

I loved this book. Buck, with all his foibles and supposedly deteriorating mental acuity is a real kick in the pants. And the reader just knows that Tequila is sure to one day become as interesting as his grandfather. The mystery is good, but it’s the characters who make this book. Author Friedman brings them to life with sharp dialogue and just the right amount of description.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Reviews: The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon, Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith, Triple Shot by Sandra Balzo, and A Perilous Conception by Larry Karp

The Twisted Thread
Charlotte Bacon
Hyperion/Voice, June 2011
ISBN 978-1401341503
Trade Paperback

Madeline Christopher has landed a job at Armitage Academy.  Armitage is a prestigious school with many traditions but some of the traditions are not common knowledge among the faculty.  When Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room, the investigation brings some of these secret traditions to light.

Madeline is one of the first to view Claire’s body and was shocked that it appeared that Claire might have just given birth.   Madeline’s intuitions turn out to be accurate but the baby has disappeared. Not only is Armitage faced with the death of a very popular student but a student who has managed to keep her pregnancy hidden from the faculty.  Only a few trusted friends were aware that Claire was pregnant.

The only student deaths that Armitage had experienced were that of three other students.  One student died in a car accident, one died of leukemia and another in a climbing accident.  Now the police were out on the campus in full force.  Both the students and the faculty were in turmoil.

Three of the students came to Madeline’s room frightened and unsure what to do.  The students confided in Madeline about a secret society that Claire and her friends were involved in.  As soon as they confided they were sorry that they had revealed their secret and pressed Madeline not to report their conversation to the police.

The detective in charge of the investigation was a former Armitage student now employed by the police department.  Madeline was quick to fill in the police on the information that had been revealed to her in spite of the warnings she received.

This is a book that takes a good long look at college life and the teachers committed to educating children.  The end was a surprise for this reader.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2011.

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Bears With Us
Tempe Crabtree Mystery Series
Marilyn Meredith
Mundania Press, LLC, August 2011
ISBN 978-1606592649
Trade Paperback

Bears are all over Bear Creek, the small mountain community in the southern Sierra where Tempe Crabtree lives with her husband Hutch.   Hutch is a pastor in the local church.  Tempe is a deputy in the small community and it seems she is being called out so much that she hardly has time to eat or sleep.  The bears are preparing for their period of hibernation but are having a hard time finding sufficient food so a few have decided that they will forage for food wherever they can.   Tempe has been called when a bear is tearing up a Bear Creek resident’s kitchen and helping itself to whatever is available in the refrigerator and creating quite a mess.   A local apple orchard attracts a bear that is dead set on eating the entire crop before the owner of the orchard can get the apples picked and sent to market.  Some new residents of the community find a bear on their deck enjoying a nice big roast.  A bear even tries to get into the local school.

But it isn’t all about bears.   Tempe is called to the home of a new family who has moved into the community.  Their son has committed suicide.  Although Hutch, serving in his capacity as a minister, tries to offer comfort and help to the family he is not very well received.  The family is acting very strangely and seems to want the death of their son kept very quiet.

The mother of a young girl calls upon Tempe to investigate the young man her daughter wants to date.  That isn’t exactly in the line of duty for Tempe but she tries to reassure the mother that the boy is a nice young man and well liked in the community.  When Hutch invites the daughter to attend his youth group and the young man is in the group the girl’s mother decides to file a complaint with Tempe’s boss.

The most tragic of the episodes that Tempe becomes involved in is that of an older woman who is suffering from dementia.  The woman keeps wandering away from home.  The first few incidents turn out okay but finally the woman wanders too far and Tempe has to try to figure out what has happened to the woman.

This new Tempe Crabtree novel brings Hutch into the action.  If you want a few tips on how to keep a bear away from your residence and your food this is the book for you.  A very entertaining way to learn bear habits and understand what it is like to work in a small community as a Deputy.  When a hitman attempts to harm a local resident, it is even more dangerous than trying to scare away a big bear.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Triple Shot
A Maggy Thorsen Mystery
Sandra Balzo
Severn House Publishers, LTD, December 2011
ISBN 978-0727880796
Hardcover

There is story after story written about the Mafia.  Many of the stories are fact and have been proven true.  Others are tales that have been passed around by word of mouth and might have some basis in fact but are mostly legends.

Maggy Thorsen and her partner Sarah Kingston have Uncommon Grounds, their Brookhills coffee house up and running in the town’s historic train station.  The current specialty at Uncommon Grounds is the store’s autumn drink, Triple Shot, a drink full of caffeine and sugar. Customers coming into the coffee house are complaining about the odor.  Although Maggy and Tien Romano, a coffee house employee, have investigated the source of the odor remains a mystery until Sarah remembers the waiting room underneath the coffee house. This is a special waiting room designed for members of the Mafia to wait for the trains to Chicago without having to associate with any of the other travelers.

When Ward Chitown, a faded Chicago television personality, arrives in town to film a show,   He joins Sarah and Maggy in the investigation of the waiting room.   The group discovers the corpse of Brigid Ferndale, a sales apprentice for Sarah’s Kingston Realty.  Jake Pavlik, Maggy’s boyfriend, is not at all surprised to find that Maggy has found a corpse. She seems to have an uncanny ability to stumble into situations that other people would run from.  Pavlik has been investigating the deaths of a couple of real estate brokers who have met their death while showing homes and he feels that this victim is another to add to the list.

Ward Chitown is quite excited about finding Brigid’s corpse since he thinks it will add something to his show on “The Brookhills Massacre”.   He plans to televise the incident that occurred years ago at a local restaurant where the FBI broke up a Mafia meeting and lots of money disappeared.

Maggy can’t help sticking her nose in the investigation and although she finds facts that will help Pavlick, she puts herself in a lot of danger.  Her maneuvers make for good reading.  This is a good addition to the Maggy Thorsen series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, December 2011.

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A Perilous Conception
Larry Karp
Poisoned Pen Press, December 2011
ISBN No. 978-1590589731
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

In vitro fertilization is a common occurrence now but in 1975, the subject was very controversial.  Dr. Colin Sanford, an obstetrician in Emerald, Washington, is determined to be the first doctor to produce a baby by this method.  He has recruited Dr. Giselle Hearn, a laboratory geneticist-embryologist to work with him.  Because of Hearn’s department chair, their work must remain a secret.  Joyce Kennett, a patient of Dr. Sanford, is determined to have a baby.  With the help of Sanford and Hearn, Kennett gives birth to a healthy baby boy.

Dr. Sanford has assured Kennett that when he is in a position to make a public announcement about the baby’s birth, there will be no end to the publicity and Kennett will gain financially through the publicity.

However, before any announcement can be made, James Kennett, Joyce’s husband and the baby’s father, goes on a shooting spree, kills Dr. Hearn, and then kills himself.  This is where Detective Ernie Baumgartner steps in and determines to discover what motivated James Kennett to murder a doctor and then commit suicide.

The reader hears the story from the viewpoint of Dr. Colin Sanford as well as from the viewpoint of Detective Baumgartner.  Detective Baumgartner’s superiors keep pressing him to close the case since they feel it is obvious that James Kennett is simply a man who suffered a mental breakdown but Baumgartner is sure there is much, much more to the story.  Not only risking the wrath of his superiors Baumgartner neglects his wife to the point where she leaves him and he has to beg a place to sleep from an old acquaintance.

Larry Karp, in my opinion, has written an outstanding and intriguing book.  A Perilous Conception is a mystery I am very glad I read and would recommend the book as an exciting read.  The conclusion is a surprising and satisfying end to this excellent book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, January 2012.