Book Reviews: The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn and Hell for the Holidays by Chris Grabenstein @donhartshorn @TCKPublishing @CGrabenstein

The Guilty Die Twice
Don Hartshorn
TCK Publishing, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-63161-073-8
Trade Paperback

An emotional, intense, persistent battle between attorneys who are brothers. Jake Lynch is the fictional District Attorney in Austin, Texas. His younger brother, Travis, also an attorney, struggles to make ends meet as the novel opens. Texas is a capital punishment state and part of the novel deals forcefully and thoughtfully with that issue.

The story is not, however a sociological or psychological treatise on the rights and wrongs nor on the social implications of an existing approach to capital murder. This is a bare-knuckle, stirring confrontation between opposing points of view in the persons of Travis and Jake.

The well written narrative switches between a decades old execution of a truly evil and unrepentant character and the truly awful results of the penetration of the modern drug culture into every aspect of Austin’s society. And while the well-defined characters raise several important tragic issues in the investigations and trials of some of the characters, the pace of the novel drives the narrative in relentless fashion through personal, political and even racial aspects.

Readers can ignore the sociological aspects and read the novel as a fine fascinating adventure. Or one could use the story as the basis for thoughtful debate. Either way, I recommend the novel without reservation.

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

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Hell for the Holidays
A Christopher Miller Holiday Thriller #2
Chris Grabenstein
Carroll & Graf, November 2007
ISBN 978-0-7867-2060-6
Hardcover

Snappy dialogue and spare, economical writing characterize this thriller. So why is it 400 pages long? The answer is that this is a marvelously complicated novel with many parts playing out simultaneously in various locations around the country. The essence of the story is the smuggling into the U.S. of a stinger missile with the aim of blowing up an airliner operated by an emerging African nation. The smugglers, naturally enough, are white bigots. The hard-to-read jacket copy invokes the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh. I’d choose, instead, the young sniper who terrorized Washington D.C. environs recently.

FBI agent Christopher Miller, an engaging protagonist, chases the terrorists aided and hindered by friends and antagonists in various local and federal law enforcement agencies. We get a wide range of issues from career CIA bureaucrats to dedicated cops who’ll unhesitatingly put everything on the line to thwart the criminals. The action takes place in several high-interest locations from a championship mid-Atlantic college football game to port-side freight operations, to a major international airport.

Apart from the two principal groups of characters, there’s a host of bit players who are logical, real, and who function almost exactly as you expect they should, given the circumstances.

The development and resolution of the story depend, not only on the plotting, the moves and counter moves of police, but on small mistakes
by people on the periphery. And these seemingly insignificant details are, for me, the real strength of the novel. Whether you buy the basic
premise or not, once in the story, readers will be hard-pressed to find places where they’ll rear back in disgust and say, “give me a break!” Hell for the Holidays is a terrific read. An outstanding novel of its type.

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

Book Review: Run Away by Harlan Coben

Run Away
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-5387-4846-6
Hardcover

First I have to confess I am a big fan of Harlan Coben. His latest book RUN AWAY is a complex tale about the Greene Family who live in New York City. Simon Greene and his wife Ingrid have three grownup children, Paige, Sam and Anya. Simon runs a financial company and Ingrid is a Pediatric Surgeon.

Life had been fairly normal until Paige, away from home attending Lanford College, became involved with a man named Aaron Corval, a drug addict. Stunned at the changes in their daughter, they tried to intervene, but Paige refused to listen and to their horror, left college with Corval and became an addict.

Months have passed and now, unbeknownst to his wife, Simon has been trying once again to find Paige with the intention of persuading her to leave Corval and enter rehab. A tip takes Simon to Central Park where he does find Paige, but Corval confronts him. A fistfight ensues and while Paige escapes, bystanders call the police. Simon is arrested.

A month later Aaron Corval is found brutally murdered in a run-down apartment in Mott Haven, The Bronx. The police pay Simon a visit. When he asks about Paige, thinking she might be a possible suspect in Corval’s death, he learns she is missing. Simon and Ingrid decide to check out the apartment where Corval was killed in the hope of finding a clue to where their daughter might have gone. They find no trace of Paige but as they leave they are confronted by a couple of armed drug dealers and in the contentious exchange Ingrid is shot.

Meanwhile we are introduced to two new characters, Ash and Dee-Dee and quickly realize they are killers, working their way through a list of people they have been hired to kill. While there seems to be no connection between the victims there is a strange and eerie logic to what they are being paid to do.

A combination of guilt, frustration and anguish over all that has happened to his daughter and wife (who is still in hospital), drives him to attend Aaron Corval’s funeral in the faint hope he’ll unearth a clue to where Paige is hiding. He gets an opportunity to talk to Corval’s step-mother at the bar she runs but learns little. But when he is approached by a woman who turns out to be a Private Detective looking for a missing young man they discover both Corval and the missing man were both adopted. Can this be the connection that will unravel the mystery?

This is indeed a twisted tale but at no time did I lose focus or interest in what was going on. As always the author did a commendable job of juggling the different story lines as they sped toward an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, April 2019.

Book Review: Never Kill a Friend by Martin Hill

never-kill-a-friendNever Kill a Friend
Martin Hill
Ransom Note Press, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-9773-7870-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Detective Shelley Krieg has lived her entire life in Washington, D.C.  At six’4”, she’s the giantess of DC Metro – – a tough cop who’s played by the rules on her long path to becoming a detective in the city she loves.  But when Rafael Hooks is arrested for killing his brother, all the rules change.  Shelley finds herself not only fighting the system, but also questioning her relationships with her co-workers, her closest friends, and even her partner.  It seems like an open-and-shut case:  Raffi confesses to murdering his drug-dealing brother.  But nothing is as it seems.  Each time Shelley finds evidence to exonerate Raffi, new evidence arises to confirm his guilt.  Fingerprints tying Raffi to multiple murders in both DC and neighboring Maryland suddenly appear out of thin air.  And on his first night in lock-up, Raffi is nearly killed.  With no allies left at DC Metro, Shelley turns to her estranged friend, Yasmira Tamer.  Together Shelley and Mira uncover a web of deceit and corruption that links a Russian assassin, a high-paid DC call girl, and an urban Robin Hood who renovates his crack houses before donating them to the poor.

Shelley, a 31-year-old African-American, works out of the Third Police District of Washington Metro, which extends “from embassies and gentrified townhouses to stretches of urban decay.”  The book opens with Shelley being called to the scene of a gruesome murder, the details of which I will kindly omit.  The young man who called 911 is 19-year-old Rafael Hooks, the aforementioned brother of the dead man, and Shelley is convinced of his innocence, his confession notwithstanding.  Her investigation leads her along unexpected paths, at times putting her in the cross-hairs of the assassin, being drugged in her own home, and not knowing who to trust, including her fellow police officers.  But she has to follow her conscience, and won’t stop till she gets to the truth.  The various plot lines did have this reader a bit confused at times (although not for too long).  The writing, although I did not feel it was particularly elegant, nevertheless pulled me along to the point that, surprisingly to me, I found myself at the end within forty-eight hours of opening it up to the first page.

This is the first in a new police procedural mystery series featuring Shelley Krieg, who is both a fascinating protagonist, and one tough gal.  I for one can’t wait for the next one!
Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2016.

Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood
Laura McHugh
Spiegel & Grau, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-8129-9520-6
Hardcover

Seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane lives in the tiny rural town of Henbane, in the Ozark Mountains. Lucy is an appealing narrator: smart, practical, empathetic, pretty, and resourceful, she is not judgmental and tends to take the side of the underdog. Lucy seems to have a lot going for her, as she looks forward to finishing up high school. Her father, Carl, is protective and loving, a hard worker who supports the goal of getting Lucy away to college. Her uncle, Crete, owns the restaurant and store in town, as well as much of the surrounding land, and his prosperity makes him an important figure in Henbane. Birdie, the savvy old woman who is Carl and Lucy’s closest neighbour, is like a grandmother to Lucy, teaching her important skills about cooking and gardening. All of these relatives and friends have done their best to support Lucy through a significant loss in her life:  Lucy’s mother, Lila, died when Lucy was just a year old, under mysterious circumstances. Lila’s body has never been found, and there are rumours that she committed suicide in one of the old mineshafts in the area.

Although Lila’s death has left a permanent mark on Lucy, and grief and loss are always with her, she still manages to be a typical teenager in many ways.  She enjoys giggling with her best friend, Bess, about Daniel, a boy Lucy likes who is also smart and college-bound. Even in the Ozark Mountains, Lucy has a cell phone, and she and Bess get up to no good at parties held by the riverbank.

Henbane may be beautiful in many ways, but it is seedy and dark in others. Drug dealing is prevalent, and just a few months before the story begins, the town has been shocked by the murder of a mentally challenged girl named Cherie, who had been particularly close to Lucy. It is Cherie’s brutal death that really galvanizes Lucy into action and forces her to begin looking more closely at the people around her, as she tries to discover who killed Cherie. Are the people Lucy has grown up with who she really thought they were? She begins to pay keener attention to the rumours about other girls who have gone missing, and of course she can’t help but connect this with Lila, her own young mother who disappeared so many years ago.

The Weight of Blood has a strong sense of immediacy. The novel begins with first-person alternating narratives between Lucy and Lila. While Lucy relates what is happening in the present, the reader is shown, in Lila’s words, what has happened in the past, so that the stories of mother and daughter unfold together. Then, as the book goes on, more characters begin to pick up the threads, and chapters are written from Carl’s point of view, from Crete’s, from Birdie’s, and from others who know Lucy and who had known Lila.

Unfortunately for Lucy, it begins to seem more and more obvious that it may be someone very close to Lucy who is responsible for the horrible crimes she learns about. Henbane seems to become creepier and more sordid, and Lucy faces danger both for herself and for those around her.

The Weight of Blood is a perfectly titled novel. While the plot revolves around Lucy gradually solving the questions she has about Cherie’s death and Lila’s disappearance, the book is also very much about what Lucy will do with this information once she has uncovered it. The Dane family has lived in the Ozark Mountains for generations; Lucy can’t divide herself from her own ancestors, no matter what they might have done. Lila was an outsider, so Lucy struggles with her sense of herself as someone who is, like her mother, quite different from many of the people around her. At the same time, Lucy is entrenched in the town’s ways, as her Dane grandparents were before her. McHugh has done a very successful job of writing a creepy, oppressive-feeling thriller, while at the same time exploring how someone can accept themselves when they discover harsh truths about the people they love the best.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, July 2016.