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: Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

Macbeth
Jo Nesbø
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Hogarth Shakespeare, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-553-41905-4
Hardcover

Since Shakespeare’s Macbeth was first performed in 1606 it has been reenacted in many guises and venues.  For instance, Orson Welles staged the play in 1936 with an all-black cast.  Jo Nesbø’s Macbeth is the most recent of six books in the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which the play is retold by various authors.  However, this is the first time the tale has been written as a crime story, Nesbø’s forte as a top Scandinavian writer well-known for his noir fiction, especially the Harry Hole novels.  As the author notes, the play is one of his favorites and provides an outline for the novel, a tale of love, corruption and lust for power.

Set in a decaying unnamed town, abandoned by industry, ridden by drugs and unemployment, the story has at its heart Macbeth’s grab for power using his position on the police force and his pact with the drug lord, Hecate.  Coupled with his love, Lady, whose ambition for power even exceeds his, Macbeth murders his way to the top, becoming police commissioner and grabbing to become Mayor and complete control of the town.  It is a gruesome story that only Mr. Nesbø could write, with a force so powerful only a Bard could have written it.]

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

Book Review: Silent Murders by Mary Miley

Silent MurdersSilent Murders
A Roaring Twenties Mystery #2
Mary Miley
Minotaur Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-05137-0
Hardcover

In an effort to escape her past, vaudeville actress Leah Randall has changed her name to Jessie Beckett and moved from Oregon to Hollywood, California. Jessie lands a job as a script girl, a position that makes her responsible for the continuity of the silent film she’s working on. Her efficiency soon brings her to the attention of actor and producer Douglas Fairbanks, and his wife, Mary Pickford. Aspiring actress Myrna Loy is one of Jessie’s roommates.

These connections are all very well and should work in her favor. Not so well is that Jessie garners the special attention of Bruno Heilmann, head of the studio where she works. This attention brings her an invitation to one of Heilmann’s notorious parties, renowned for the booze, the drugs, and the sleeping around.

Jessie, accompanied by Myrna Loy, attends the party, furthering her friendship with Pickford and Fairbanks. She and Myrna leave the party early. On the way out, they witness a shouting match between two actresses known for being mistresses of Heilmann. When Heilmann turns up murdered the next day, everyone seems to be a suspect.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the murders. Heilmann is shot, a caterer’s assistant is clubbed to death, a woman is drowned,and another man is poisoned. All factor in, making detection of the murderer even more difficult. When it turns out dirty cops have stolen a load of drugs from Heilmann’s house, everything becomes even more complicated. And then, when David, a man Jessie knew as a drug lord back in Oregon turns up, she doesn’t know what to think.

I loved the atmosphere of this novel. Prohibition, the roaring twenties, silent films, old Hollywood and silent film stars. What’s not to like? The history seems spot on, and while the motivation of at least some of the murders may be a bit contrived, the characters and the setting and era make this a lovely read. I like Jessie very much. She’s a character who comes alive in my imagination. And now she has a choice between two men in her life. I think we’re supposed to root for David, but I don’t know. I find myself drawn to Carl. I’ll be waiting for the next installment.

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