Book Review: Hometown Burning by C.K. Crigger—and a Giveaway! @ckcrigger

Hometown Burning
A Hometown Homicide Mystery #2
C.K. Crigger
City Lights Press, December 2019
ISBN 978-1-64734-154-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Paramedic and Afghanistan veteran Frankie McGill and resident deputy Gabe Zantos are caught up in a case of arson and murder. A house at the end of a country road has stood vacant for years, it’s occupants mice and the stray raccoon or two.

When the derelict house catches fire, the Hawkesford Fire Department responds because of the danger to the dry wheat fields surrounding it. But then two bodies are found in the ashes, along with evidence of a meth cooking operation. Gabe suspects gang rivalry.

Soon, an experienced welder dies in what appears at first to be a horrific accident at his lonely farm. A second house burns, and Frankie barely saves the elderly occupant. Then there’s the mysterious call over 911 that cries for help at an isolated ranch. There’s one thing ties these events together…

People like Frankie, whether fictional or real, interest me because I wonder why war veterans frequently seem to get into EMT work (or firefighting or law enforcement). Is it because of the adrenalin rush, having become accustomed to always being on high alert? The aspect of danger or maybe the real need to continue finding ways to serve the greater good? I wonder, too, how much harder it must be for someone like Frankie who suffers from a certain level of PTSD, not to mention physical disabilities. Whatever her reasons, Frankie is a stand-out character and she continues to show her strength and intelligence in this second novel.

Frankie’s roommate, Gabe, is a deputy sheriff so, when a suspicious fire leads to the discovery of bodies, the two work together to follow the trail of what seem to be the repercussions of a particularly ugly drug operation. Before long, though, it becomes obvious that further deaths will take them down another path altogether.

While Frankie is certainly a strong woman with plenty of resilience, she would find life much more difficult if it were not for the love and assistance of her dogs. Then there’s Gabe who clearly cares for Frankie, and she for him, but we’ll have to wait to see if that mutual caring will develop into something more. I can only hope 😃

One further note: besides reading the print edition, I also listened to the audiobook. I thought that Gail Shalan’s tone was a little lightweight, almost like a teenager’s voice, but I still enjoyed her narration of the story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.

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Giveaway 

To enter the drawing for a paperback
copy of Hometown Burning by C.K. Crigger,
leave a comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Saturday evening, December 19th.
Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizushima

Burning Ridge
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #4
Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-778-4
Hardcover

Mattie Cobb is a Deputy Sheriff in Timber Creek, Colorado, with a special talent. She’s a highly accomplished K9 officer. With her faithful Shepherd, Robo, she’s trained and refined both her own and the dog’s capabilities to a very high level. The pair provides a rich vein of activity, characterization and plot movement. She’s of mixed ethnic heritage and though she spent early years in a troubled household, her grasp of right and wrong are strong. Timber Creek lies in the Redstone Ridge area, an immensely beautiful vista of rugged mountain, plains and streams, much of it covered with dense forest.

When she and a close friend find a partially burned body with signs of restraint and possible torture, Mattie begins a search that develops into a strange journey for her involving family, her law enforcement community and her future emotional life. The plot is intricate, the setting excellent and the tension rises on a continuum that almost compels readers to continue turning pages, exactly what every thriller author strives to accomplish.

As the story progresses, more and more intriguing, carefully delineated, characters are introduced. And, as Mattie and Robo draw ever closer to the answers she finds her family somehow entangled, as well. There are several violent scenes and a forest fire, all of which serves the story well. If there is any flaw here it is in the unwinding of some of the puzzling aspects of the plot. That takes somewhat more time than one would like but it is a small price to pay for an enthralling thriller of a crime novel peopled with varied and interesting characters.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 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: High Country Nocturne by Jon Talton

High Country NocturneHigh Country Nocturne  
A David Mapstone Mystery #
Jon Talton
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0398-5
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Author Jon Talton hails from a multi-generational line of Arizonians. As such he is privy to the historical development of the state. In 1915 the US Census registered fewer than 7,000 residents. In 2015, more than seven million. Lots of changes in that time. Most of them make Talton unhappy. His unhappiness occasionally gets in the way of a powerful, nuanced and complicated tale of murder and mystery.

Talton is a fine writer and you’ll realize it from the beginning. His sensitivity and understanding of more subtle pressure points in the relationship between Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff, David Mapstone and his wife, Lindsey, provide both complications and additional rhythm to this story.

Yes, Mapstone is still in Phoenix, first as a private investigator after his friend and former boss, Sheriff Mike Peralta, is defeated in the most recent election. Almost nobody likes the new sheriff in town and Mapstone is suspicious when the man coerces Mapstone into regaining his job as a deputy. This is particularly odd because Peralta is on the run, hotly pursued by an assortment of law enforcement types for stealing a large consignment of unset diamonds he was supposed to be guarding. It’s also an interesting development because it has unforeseen consequences for the new sheriff.

Nevertheless, and against his better judgement, Mapstone takes the badge and starts an investigation into a suspicious thirty-year-old death. Meanwhile, Peralta is still missing, Peralta’s wife is agitating Mapstone and vague accusations against Mapstone’s wife are clouding the picture.

The writing is clean, the characters are well delineated and separate and the pace relentless. Talton has a fine sense of when to insert emotional scenes that are important to readers’ understanding of character motivations and to readers invitation to bond with the attitudes of the protagonist, not just in relation to the crimes involved, but to the ongoing changes in the landscape of Arizona. And these are changes that the author resignedly accepts but not willingly. In some ways the novel is a plea for a return to older, simpler values.

Like others in the Mapstone series, the story winds up to a thrilling and tense solution. It’s well worth the ride and as a bonus, offers a look at some troubling aspects of modern Arizona.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 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: The Devil on Chardonnay by Ed Baldwin, Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger, and The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich

The Devil on ChardonnayThe Devil on Chardonnay
Ed Baldwin
Brasfield Books, September 2013
ISBN:978098929719
Trade Paperback

Ed Baldwin is a retired U.S. Air Force surgeon with many years in grade and a wide range of service duties and it shows. It shows in the authenticity of the research and the actions of the many characters that people this thriller. There is a list of characters that is helpful, but it fills two pages on my reader.

This excellent novel would have been improved by judiciously editing out about 3,000 words. That said, I found the novel to be a good read, mostly well-paced but at times the inclusion of in-depth background and history in large chunks tended to stall the narrative, just like a small plane attempting to climb at too sharp an angle.

The plot in its fundamental essence concerns an attempt by obscenely wealthy forces to produce a vaccine for one of the most deadly tropical diseases known in a way that will give a large pharmaceutical firm absolute and highly lucrative control of the disease cultures and the vaccine. International in scope, when news of a new outbreak of Ebola reaches Washington, the government moves rapidly to send troubleshooter and fighter jock Boyd Chailand into action. His task is to identify those on the ground and the lab developing the cultures, the sources of their funding and the ultimate recipient of their work.

The story takes us from Washington D.C. to East Africa, to the Azores and South Carolina. Some of the characters are fascinating, Raybon Clive, Davann Goodman and Neville St. James, among the most interesting. Some of the confrontations—and there are many—are exciting and truly action-packed. Some of the murders—and there are several—seemed gratuitous and almost casual. In addition to all the action there are lovely moments of introspection and appreciation of the natural beauty of the Azores and tropical Africa. I find the novel to be a mixed bag and I recommend it with reservations. The title of the book is just unfortunate.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Lethal LineageLethal Lineage
Charlotte Hinger
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2011
ISBN:978-1-59058-837-6
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

This is an amazing novel. Almost from the first line, one is interested, entertained, and enthralled. Lottie Albright is a first-class protagonist, a bright, wealthy, well-educated woman with a healthy measure of community sense and human empathy. The fact that she’s now living on the isolated windy plains of northwestern Kansas, second wife of a widowed farmer, only enhances her claim on the reader’s attention.

The author writes with such clarity, precision and verve, one is swept into the lives of these people with intimacy, with love, and with a clear eye on the realities of life in this place in the Twenty-first Century. As isolated as they are, and feel themselves to be, the citizens of four sparsely-populated counties will be touched in tender and horrific ways by larger events happening continents away beginning with a confirmation in a new Episcopal congregation meeting in a new church.

The novel’s sojourn into the world of historical research, especially Albright’s struggle to deal with the surprises of family history projects is a fascinating and relevant subplot. The characters are all well-laid on and consistent in their roles. All in all an outstanding effort.

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

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The Prince of RiskThe Prince of Risk
Christopher Reich
Doubleday, December 2013
ISBN: 978-0-385-53506-9
Hardcover

Mr. Reich illustrates here some of the difficulties of genre labeling in Crime Fiction. You might classify this as a flawed character study with too much bad dialogue and too little depth. You might, on the other hand, classify this as a strong legal thriller that takes a few minor liberties with the law while positing a terrifying possibility. Then again, because the story is essentially about a high-roller hedge fund manager, you might consider this an intriguing inside look at the world of the big-time gambling community we call Wall Street.

Regardless of classification, the novel has some serious problems as well as many excellent moments. In order to understand the enormity of the threat posed by the author, readers will have to wade through several background explanations of the way the world’s financial operations connect and work. For some readers that will be eye-opening. For others, tedious.

Bobby Astor is the high-flying multi-billionaire protagonist who begins as the unknowing stand-in for the puppet master who’s purpose becomes abundantly clear, to not only create financial chaos, but to destroy the American financial community. Part of the plan involves a physical attack somewhere at some near time. That threat opens the novel and underlies the rising tension that fuels the pace of this novel. There are echoes here of earlier tidier crime novels from Emma Lathen.

Enter Bobby Astor’s ex-wife, a top FBI agent in charge of counter terrorism in the New York Area. Finding and stopping threats before the fact instead of after the act is her mission. Alex is a gorgeous, driven, stone killer. Her intense desire to excel and bring down terrorists wherever they may be moves her to violate a number of federal and state laws and too frequently defy her superior.

The author does attempt to soften the hard-edged images of these two intensely driven individuals. They have a teen-aged daughter, but she is never on stage and her influence on her parents in this story is minimal. Some of the narrative which explains in great detail financial maneuvering at these billion-dollar-levels could have been profitably shortened to maintain the rising pace of the novel. The concluding chapters, while logical and satisfactory, have a mild feeling of a pro forma wrap-up. Not a bad story, but given the alarming core premise, somewhat disappointing in execution.

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

 

Book Reviews: Sleepwalker by Wendy Corsi Staub, Bleeding Through by Sandra Parshall, and The Fourth Conspirator by Barry S. Willdorf

SleepwalkerSleepwalker
Wendy Corsi Staub
Harper, 2012
ISBN No. 978-0062070302
Mass Market Paperback

Wendy Corsi Staub‘s novels are very addictive if the reader is looking for great characters, a lot of suspense and don’t mind a little cliffhanger at the end.  Sleepwalker is the second novel in a trilogy with Allison Taylor now Allison MacKenna as the central character.

Allison met her husband Mack MacKenna when she had an apartment across from Mack and his wife in New York.  Mack’s wife was killed in the 9-11 tragedy and Allison suffered a tragedy of her own at that time.  She discovered the body of Kristina Haines, another resident in the apartment building.  Kristina had been brutally murdered. Jerry Thompson, a maintenance man in the apartment building, was convicted of Kristina’s murder and sentenced to prison.

Allison and Mack eventually married and now have a wonderful family.  Now it is announced on the news that Jerry Thompson has committed suicide and suspicious things begin happening to Allison.  She feels that someone has invaded her space but who or how this can happen, she has no idea.  Mack is taking medication for his insomnia and Allison catches him walking in his sleep one night.  Allison fights back the thoughts that Mack may be the cause of some of the strange little things that are happening.

When Bob Lewis, Allison’s neighbor who is out of town, contacts Allison and asks that she go next door and check on his wife Phyllis, Allison agrees.  On arriving at the Lewis’ home Allison finds that Phyllis has been murdered and in the same manner as Kristina ten years before.

So the nightmare begins again for Allison and her family. Detective Rocky Manzillo, the detective who originally investigated Kristina’s death, is called in on the case even though his wife is very ill.  It seems that Jerry Thompson is speaking from the grave to those who found him guilty letting all involved know that there is still someone out there who won’t be satisfied until Allison and all involved are punished.

The last book in the trilogy is Shadowkiller.  I am waiting anxiously for the release of this third book.  I would suggest that readers start with the first book in the trilogy but I think the author gives enough background in Sleepwalker to make it an enjoyable read even though you have not read the first book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2012.

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Bleeding ThroughBleeding Through
Sandra Parshall
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2012
ISBN No. 978-1464200274
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Rachel and Deputy Chief Tom Bridger are living together and life has settled down into a satisfying routine,  Rachel’s sister, Michelle, fears she is being stalked.  Michelle hopes that her stay with Rachel and Tom will discourage the stalker.  This is the first time that Michelle has visited and Rachel is on edge about the visit and Michelle meeting Tom.   Rachel and Michelle also have past issues that they have never satisfactorily worked out.   Michelle’s visit gives the two sisters the perfect opportunity to solve past issues and to grow closer.

Rachel and Tom are supervising a group of teenagers cleaning up litter on a Mason County, Virginia highway when they discover the body of a young woman wrapped in plastic.  Sadly, the sister of the woman is one of the teenagers on the clean-up crew and the teenager sees the body before Rachel or Tom can pull her away.

When Tom begins his investigation, he learned that the deceased girl, Shelley Beecher, had been making inquiries in an attempt to free a person she felt had been wrongfully accused of the murder of Brian Hadley.  The Hadley family is furious at Shelley’s attempts to prove that Vance Langford, convicted of their son’s murder, is actually innocent.  Now Shelley’s family is pointing fingers at the Hadley family for the death of their daughter.  Tom is busy trying to find out who murdered Shelley and keep peace between the families until he can solve the crime.

This fifth addition to the Rachel Goddard series keeps the reader glued to the pages.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2013.

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The Fourth ConspiratorThe Fourth Conspirator
(Part 3 of the 1970’s Trilogy)
Barry S. Willdorf
Whiskey Creek Press, September 2012
ISBN No. 978-1611603323
Trade Paperback

This is an action packed book taking the reader in several different directions.  Nate Lewis is an attorney representing the property owner that shot and killed a crook ripping off his marijuana garden.  The shooter is a former Marine and does not intend to let anyone get away with raiding his property.  Nate has his hands full building a defense.

Nate’s wife, Christina Lima, has taken over public relations for her cousins Mendocino winery.  Christina has more than any woman should be asked to handle.  She is pregnant.  Christina’s father has Alzheimer’s.  Then Christina’s dying aunt asks Christina to mediate her cousin’s ongoing battles for control of the winery.

While attempting to prepare an accounting to present to the cousins Christina is injured.   Whether the injury is an accident or on purpose is not known.  Then it begins to look like Christina’s accident and Nate’s case might be connected.

Burning Questions and A Shot In The Arm  are the first two books in this trilogy.  I started with The Fourth Conspirator, but I intend to go back and read the first two books.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2013.

Book Reviews: Catch Me by Lisa Gardner, Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska, Creole Belle by James Lee Burke, and The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

Catch MeCatch Me
Lisa Gardner
Dutton, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95276-3
Hardcover

D.D. Warren, the Boston homicide detective featured in this widely-read series, faces two challenges in this latest installment: a new baby boy who keeps her and her boyfriend, Alex, up through the night and, now that she’s back from maternity leave, a complex mystery surrounding a young woman who approaches her with the admonition that she expects to be murdered four days hence and she hopes D.D. will handle the investigation. What to do?  How can you undertake the investigation of a murder that hasn’t even taken place yet?

The prospective victim’s name is Charlene, known as Charlie throughout.  She’s spent the past year in training:  running, boxing, and learning to shoot in anticipation of the big event.  It seems her two best friends were strangled on January 21 in each of the previous two years, and logic dictates that it’s now Charlie’s turn.

The plot traces the next days and the events that take place, which demonstrate D.D.’s evolving character change brought about by her domestic developments and Charlie’s preparations to meet her expected fate.  An interesting aside within the sub-plot, which addresses murders of pedophiles, involves a young boy lured into a potential sex act by the user of an internet game appealing to youngsters.  The author uses the technique to tell the story by alternating third person p.o.v. to relate D.D.’s activities, and first person describing Charlie’s.

Not a thrill a page, perhaps, but certainly an excellent thriller, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2012.

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AcceleratedAccelerated
Bronwen Hruska
Pegasus, October 2012
ISBN:  978-1-60598-379-0
Hardcover

Once the reader gets past and accepts the initial premise of this novel, that there is an almost universal conspiracy to boost children’s learning power by declaring them victims of ADD or ADHD and prescribing Ritalin or similar drugs, then it becomes a heart-warming story.  Sean Benn, a single father (the result of his wife’s abandoning him and their young son, Toby), is pressured to dose the boy, against his better judgment, after having refused for quite some time.

It should be noted that Toby’s best friend had gone into a coma and died.  The school told everyone it was the result of a peanut allergy. Shortly afterward, Toby fell during PT, suffering from an arrhythmia, and ended up in the hospital, comatose.  From that point the plot takes off in dramatic fashion.

Certainly the novel’s raison d’etre is a significant topic.  When over-medication is routinely used to force students to accelerate their ability to learn, something is wrong.  So exposure is warranted. But to raise the possibility that this technique is so widespread across the country, aided and abetted by pharmaceutical companies, while worrisome, is kind of hard to believe.  But maybe such exaggeration is needed to make the point.  And perhaps “worrisome” is required as well.  Written with a smooth hand and tightly plotted, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2012.

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Creole BelleCreole Belle
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, July 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4313-3
Hardcover

The latest adventures of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell read like a massive morality play in 500-plus pages.  The series tales place in southern Louisiana, the bayou country and New Orleans, with all the historic corruption derived from the Civil War and slavery, the oil industry, prostitution and other societal evils.  Dave and Clete are supposed to represent the good fighting the sleaziness.

In the previous entry in the series, the duo suffered near death in a bayou shootout, and we now find Dave in a New Orleans recovery facility in a morphine-induced haze where he receives a midnight visit from Tee Jolie Mellon, a creole barroom singer who leaves him an i-pod filled with music, including three songs she sings and which apparently only he can hear.  Raising doubts that the visit was in fact real.  Meanwhile, Clete is confronted by two goons claiming they hold a marker for a debt he believes was paid off many years before. To further complicate his life, Clete witnesses his illegitimate daughter murder one of the goons.  Then Tee Jolie’s young sister washes up on the Gulf Coast in a block of ice.  An oil well blow-off fouling the environment adds to the corruption endemic to their world.

To say the very least, the plot is a highly complicated series of inter-related components weaved into a long and somewhat tiring saga. The author has stretched his formidable abilities to include wide-ranging comments on a variety of subjects, some poignant, others evocative.  But always clear and concise.  One has to question the violence performed by Dave and Clete in their quest for justice.  Is it excessive and, perhaps, unwarranted?  But certainly it is in character, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2012.

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The Impossible DeadThe Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
Reagan Arthur/Bay Bay Books, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-316-07877-1
Trade Paperback

Ian Rankin usually lays a foundation of current and past events in his novels. And, in this second Malcolm Fox mystery, he creates a tale reaching back a quarter of a century, when agitation and violence marked efforts for a separate Scotland. Fox, who made his debut in The Complaints, grows exponentially as a protagonist, along with his sidekicks on his Internal Affairs team, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith. They are worthy successors to the now retired Rebus, although more subtle in the presentation.

This murder-mystery has its beginnings in an investigation of fellow cops who may have covered up for a corrupt co-worker, Detective Paul Carter, who had been found guilty of misconduct. The original accuser was Carter’s uncle, an ex-cop himself. When the uncle is found dead, perhaps murdered with a pistol that theoretically did not exist for it should have been destroyed by the police in 1985, and Carter himself dead by drowning shortly afterward, Fox is drawn into his own inquiry outside the aegis of a Complaints review, resurrecting the turmoil of the past and terrorist threats of the present.

Rankin also demonstrates his trademark attention to character development, concentrating much of the story on the deterioration of Fox’s father’s physical well-being and his relationship with his sister, each with sensitivity and care. At the same time, the author shows his talent for integrating the setting, plot and theme, tightly intertwining the various elements.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.