Book Review: A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum

A Welcome Murder
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63388-263-8
Trade Paperback

Steubenville, Ohio, residents come front and center in this engaging if somewhat rambling novel of drug dealing, infidelity, teen-aged pranks, civic wrong-doing and, of course, murder. Hence the title. While the title refers to a single death, several other characters would be cheerfully done away with by many readers.

That doesn’t take anything away from the delightful atmosphere created by the author with fine, accurate writing and an insouciance rarely found in crime fiction. Johnny Earl is a BMIT, a big man in town with a spectacular athletic career in high school and serious prospects for a pro career in baseball. A knee injury wipes that out and Earl returns to Steubenville where he fashions a new career selling cocaine and other illegal drugs.

Busted, he serves seven years. Now released, Earl returns to his home town intent on retrieving a large stash of cash he secreted in a bolt hole in case he had to leave town quickly, a plan interrupted by Earl’s arrest and imprisonment.

Several of his school classmates, a wandering wife or two and various law enforcement agencies tangle over his maneuverings and then, the man who nailed Earl is murdered. He is a most hated man and there are several suspects from the Sheriff, a classmate of Johnny, to the sheriff’s wife, Earl‘s lover, and two convicts Earl encountered while in prison.

Those two are neo-Nazis, planning to create a separate white male-dominated nation within the boundaries of the United States. They are after Johnny’s cash stash.

Eventually things get sorted, the FBI agents are sent packing, as are the nasty neo-Nazis, the killer is revealed, and….well, does Johnny get his cash? Read the book. I recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
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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Book Reviews: American Static by Tom Pitts and A Case of Vineyard Poison by Philip R. Craig

American Static
Tom Pitts
Down & Out Books, June 2017
ISBN: 978-1-943402-84-7
Trade Paperback

This novel is a long, detailed, twisting trail of a plot. Along the way two small-town cops, and readers, encounter many characters, nearly all of whom are consummate criminals in that vibrant, unusual city, Bagdad by the Bay, San Francisco. It follows the unwanted adventure of a rural California student, carrying weed from Humboldt County for friends to deliver to recipients in the city. Robbed and beaten at bus stop, Steven is collected and succored by one of the most relentlessly evil personalities one is ever likely to meet in a single story.

The student, Steven, left penniless and beaten in a small northern California town, is carrying a load of marijuana to people in San Francisco when he is set upon, viciously beaten and robbed. An interested bystander offers Steven a ride to` San Francisco with a stop or two along the way. There is a brief suggestion of connection between the young men who robbed and beat Steven, and Quinn, driving a stolen vehicle, who dispatches a prominent winery owner.

Two policemen from Calisto set out to find Quinn who has disappeared into San Francisco and begins a horrifying series of vendettas against the employees of a major crime figure in the city. His primary motive is to find the daughter of the crime figure, a strung-out teenager living on dope and the streets.

Somehow, Steven, now terrified of Quinn, connects with the girl, Teresa, and they flee together. The chase is on. Quinn after the teens, a corrupt cop chasing Quinn, followed by two Calisto cops and everybody under threat from the crime boss and his killer crew.

Complicated, slick maneuvering and sudden brutal murder is the hallmark of this well-designed novel. I lost count of the number of murders, shootings, knifings, beatings and car chase events. Suffice it to write, the novel is excellently conceived, full of abrupt violent action. I give it a strong recommendation of type.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2017.
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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A Case of Vineyard Poison
A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery #6
Philip R. Craig
Avon, July 1996
ISBN: 978-0-380-72679-0
Mass Market Paperback

This novel is part of an extensive series of mysteries set on Martha’s Vineyard.

Vineyard wedding bells are about to chime for J.W. Jackson and Zee Madieras. Zee’s bank account is suddenly one hundred thousand unexplained dollars richer. The bank calls it a glitch, and two days later the money has disappeared. Coincidentally, the college student lying dead in J.W.’s driveway, done in by a dose of locally grown poisonous herbs, recently withdrew a hundred grand from her own account.

Ex-cop J. W. Jackson is intrigued. Intrigue deepens when he is suddenly attacked by a local paramedic. The path he follows introduces readers to a number of interesting characters on the island and a scheme to parlay computer expertise into a massive swindle.

This novel is not as violent nor as action filled as are earlier books in this series. There are several lengthy passages about the island and about fishing. However, the cerebral gymnastics around the solution to the murder are presented in an interesting way and the vividly descriptive passages touring Martha’s Vineyard and fishing, cooking and eating are interesting and judiciously blended with the murder mystery. Craig is a good writer and the dialogue is expertly used to further the plot and provide a pleasant experience for any reader.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
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: Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt—and a Giveaway!

Shadow Girl
An Afton Tangler Thriller #2
Gerry Schmitt
Berkley, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-28178-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The brutal murder of a business tycoon leaves Afton Tangler and the Twin Cities reeling, but that’s just the beginning of a gruesome crime spree…
 
Leland Odin made his fortune launching a home shopping network, but his millions can’t save his life. On the list for a transplant, the ailing businessman sees all hope lost when the helicopter carrying his donor heart is shot out of the sky.
 
Now with two pilots dead and dozens injured, Afton Tangler, family liaison officer for the Minneapolis Police Department, is drawn into the case. As she and her partner investigate family members and business associates, whoever wants Leland dead strikes again—and succeeds—in a brazen hospital room attack.
 
The supposedly squeaky clean millionaire has crossed the wrong person—and she’s not finished exacting her revenge. The case explodes into an international conspiracy of unbridled greed and violence. And as Afton gets closer to unearthing the mastermind behind it, she gets closer to becoming collateral damage…

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When I read the first Afton Tangler book, Little Girl Gone, last fall, I was impressed with the seeming ease —except I’m sure it wasn’t easy—with which Gerry Schmitt made the transition from her Laura Childs persona. I know authors try their hands at different genres and subgenres all the time but, in my opinion, they don’t always succeed. For the most part, I thought Ms. Schmitt did what she set out to do and I have been waiting ever since to see if her second book would be as good; I have to say I think it is.

The emotional hook of a kidnapped baby isn’t here this time but destroying a donated organ has its own brand of pathos, not to mention the apparent disregard for the lives of the innocent pilots. Someone clearly hates the intended recipient, Leland Odin, enough to go to dramatic lengths to kill him and they don’t care about collateral damage. Afton and her partner and mentor, Detective Max Montgomery, are first on the scene of what everyone thinks is a helicopter crash and are immediately involved in the investigation into the crash…and the human heart that landed in a dorm room.

The reader knows from the beginning who did this horrific thing but not why so we’re only a half-step ahead of Afton and Max but there were times I wanted to say, “Look at that!” or “Stop! Think about this!” I don’t often talk to characters and don’t know why I did this time but I suspect it was because I like these two a lot and Ms. Schmitt had me on the edge quite a bit. Anyway, by the time they suddenly figure out who, my nerves were pretty well shot. On the other hand, I took a tiny measure of satisfaction in egging Afton on as she went after her own brand of personal revenge, even if it wasn’t proper protocol.

Once again, Max and Afton prove to be a partnership meant to be and I’m very glad that Chief Thacker continues to recognize Afton’s potential as an aspiring detective. She inevitably makes mistakes because she hasn’t had all the training or experience and, naturally, she becomes a target but Afton is a smart woman and learns from her missteps. Shadow Girl is a tale full of stops and starts, much like most investigations, along with assaults, abductions, a cast of international players and a little dog with the heart of a lion; what more could I ask for?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt,
just leave a comment below. The winning
names will be drawn on Wednesday night,
  September 6th, for one Advance Reading Copy
and one finished hardcover copy. This
drawing is open
to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks

Weave a Murderous Web
Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks
Melange Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-68046-252-4
Trade Paperback

Jane Larson, a high powered litigator with Adams & Ridge, a big New York law firm, takes on a domestic case as a favor to a friend. The friend is a legal assistant at the firm, Francine, who has a friend with a troublesome divorce. Gail is model-beautiful but seems more interested in extracting cash from her lawyer husband than the welfare of her daughter. There is a suitcase full of cash that Larry Hawkins, the ex-husband, is hiding from her, and she wants Jane to find it.

After attending a Young Lawyers dinner, Jane is shot and wounded by Larry . Although this attempt on her life failed, will someone try again? Carmen Ruiz, a cable news reporter, is investigating a story about another local attorney who was believed to die of a drug overdose. Carmen, who knew that the dead attorney had dealings with Larry, thinks he was killed.  A tip from Carmen leads to the discovery of a safe deposit box with cash and two insurance policies. But Gail claims that the there’s still that suitcase out there, and she is desperate for the cash.

Unfortunately, the author telegraphed the killer early on, in a bit of back story that was out of place. It was difficult to find something sympathetic about any of the characters in this tale of lies, drugs, and murder.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

Shorts Reviews: Half-Life by Tina Ferraro and The Last Second by Robin Burcell

Half-LifeHalf-Life
Tina Ferraro
Leap Books, March 2015
ISBN 9781616030261
Ebook

From the publisher—

Half a life is not worth living.

Probably not a good idea to take advice from your dead twin sister. High school sophomore Trisha Traynor and friends have played the Halloween mirror game for years, the one that’s supposed to show a glimpse of the guy they’ll marry. But no one’s ever seen anything.

Until tonight—when Trisha is gob smacked by the candlelit arrival of her long-deceased twin sister, instead of her crush, Kirk Maxwell.

In a voice and vision that only Trisha can hear and see, Chessie claims to be back on a compassionate journey. Trisha fears she’s gone nuthouse crazy. But she nonetheless follows the instructions Chessie outlines in their nightly conversations, until she finds herself stepping across some ethical lines, and probably ending all chances with Kirk.

When a sisterly showdown ensues, resulting in the shattering of the mirror, Chessie’s gone again, and a heartsick Trisha sets about righting her recent wrongs. That is, until she stumbles upon the real reason Chessie had come back and the most important glimpse yet that the mirror could never predict.

One thing really struck me about Half-Life that doesn’t often happen with books, young adult or otherwise. I connected with Trisha in a major way because she and I had a lot in common if you just forget the facts that she doesn’t actually exist and that there is about a 50 year spread going on. Pah! Minor details! Now, I didn’t have a twin who died as a young child and I’ve never seen a ghost in a mirror or anywhere else but I was a 14-year-old girl when I had my first kiss and my first boyfriend and, my goodness, the memories and the feelings of my 14-year-old self all came flooding back.

Trisha’s home life is just shy of normal. Her mom has never been able to come to terms with Chessie’s death so Trisha, her little brother and her dad all have to tiptoe around her, not even daring to talk openly about Chessie. That all makes it even more critical that the rest of Trisha’s life—school, friends, potential boyfriends, etc.—stay on an even keel. Unfortunately, her BFF, Abby, has pretty much dropped her because she has a boyfriend and a neighboring schoolmate is pressuring Trisha to do something she knows is wrong. Oh, and what is she going to do about those two guys, the DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous) Kirk and Chadwick, and her ghostly sister?

Half-Life is a sweet story with a little bit of intrigue and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is my introduction to Tina Ferraro‘s work and I just may have to try some more 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

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The Last SecondThe Last Second
Robin Burcell
Witness Impulse, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-2273734
Ebook

From the publisher—

Covert agent Zachary Griffin and FBI Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick are sidetracked from an ongoing investigation to follow up on a potential lead. In a small Arizona border town, gunrunning and drug trafficking into Mexico are a part of the landscape—but not when they’re orchestrated by an officer in uniform. At least that’s the story told to agents Griffin and Fitzpatrick.

But the dirty cop is now missing, and his sister says he’s innocent, a victim of a corrupt police department. She is convinced they set him up to take the fall, then killed him, and she can prove it—with help from a highly unusual witness. Suddenly an open-and-shut case seems anything but, and the clock is ticking as Griffin and Fitzpatrick take on an entire police department in a deadly match that could go up in smoke at the last second.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of Robin Burcell‘s books, not because I didn’t want to but just because I have a mountainous TBR that never gets any smaller. Anyway, I’m very glad that I picked up this short story because it reminded me of how much I really do like Sydney and Zach.

At first, the case seems to be relatively simple: a dirty cop, Calvin Walker, working with the Mexican cartels, might be the person who can lead Sidney and Zach to the head of the operation, a gunrunning ex-CIA agent named Garrett Quindlen. Trouble is Calvin has disappeared and may be in possession of a lot of explosives. Finding him is problematic until they hear about a special witness named Max.

I really enjoyed this story. As short as it is, Ms. Burcell has packed a good deal of action and suspense into this reminder that this is an author well worth reading. I hope that, by the time I catch up on her work, a new book will be coming out, either in this series or Kate Gillespie’s or, what the heck, something entirely new 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

Book Reviews: Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly and Sorrow Bound by David Mark

Keep Your Friends CloseKeep Your Friends Close
Paula Daly
Grove Press, September 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2320-6
Hardcover

This novel from Paula Daly (whose last book, Just What Kind of Mother Are You I absolutely loved!) brings back D.C. Joanne Aspinall of the CID.  The protagonist who crosses paths with Aspinall is Natasha (“Natty”) Wainwright, who with her husband, Sean, run a successful hotel in Windermere in  England’s Lake District, and has an enviable life with him and their two daughters, 16 and 14 years old, when their younger daughter becomes ill while on a school trip, and Eve must fly off to southern Normandy where the girl must have an appendectomy.  As fate would have it, Eve Dalladay, Natty’s best friend from college, has just come on a visit from the States and offers to stay at the house until Natty can return home.

As things transpire, it would appear that Eve is not who she seems, by any definition, and is a more devious woman than anyone could have guessed. The plot twists follow closely upon one another, but suffice it to say that Natty comes to the attention of the police, and D.C. Aspinall, when she rams her Porsche into the back of a Maserati where Eve is sitting in the driver’s seat.  And it is no accident.

Sean and Natty met at a sixteenth-birthday party when they were in school, deciding upon graduation that he would study law, and she would study biology.  After sixteen years of marriage, things did not work as they had hoped or planned.  But this turn of events is something far, far different.  The suspense mounts, and lives are altered, literally and figuratively.  The question arises, “Would you ever kill another person out of jealousy or hatred?”

The author has written another gripping novel, one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2015.

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Sorrow BoundSorrow Bound
David Mark
Blue Rider Press, July 2014
ISBN: 978-0-399-16820-8
Hardcover

This is the third entry in the series featuring Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy, and is every bit as terrific as the first two. McAvoy is with the Yorkshire Serious and Organized Crime Unit, in the small English city of Hull, still working on a series of crimes committed by a vicious group seeking to take over the drug trade previously run by Vietnamese, something they had not been able to do in Original Skin, the predecessor novel. England has been going through a prolonged and oppressive hot spell, although the sky holds promise of a saturating rain storm at any moment.

The Scottish McAvoy, described as “a humble, shy giant of a man” at 6’ 5”, passionately in love with his much younger Romany wife, his young son and baby daughter and preparing to move into their new home, has been directed to attend sessions with a police-approved counselor because of perceived emotional problems. In a separate plot line, McAvoy is assigned the investigation into two killings which take place within 24 hours. McAvoy is second-guessing himself, and his career choice: “He has done this too many times. Sat in too many rooms with too much grief; felt too many eyes upon him as he made his promises to the dead . . . insists that he does his job as a police officer before he allows himself to become a human being.” Despite being written mostly with a light touch, the murders are quite sadistic, and it is speculated that a serial, probably deranged, killer is on the loose. The only connection between the victims seems to relate to events almost 15 years in the past, an even more horrific series of crimes perpetrated by a man who was incarcerated but sentenced to treatment in a psychiatric facility, and is now mostly incapacitated by a stroke.

The supporting cast of characters/police colleagues is very well-drawn, as usual: D.S. Trish Pharoah (with “four kids and a crippled husband” and a drinking problem, DIs Helen Tremberg and Shaz Archer et al, and McAvoy’s wife, Roisin. The novel is wonderfully well written, and gradually the suspense mounts until, with less than a hundred pages to go, I became actually fearful of reading further, not wanting to find out what is about to happen next, as I nonetheless started turning pages more and more quickly. The only certain thing about the plot is that one must expect the unexpected.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Review: Endangered by Ann Littlewood

EndangeredEndangered
A Zoo Mystery #3
Ann Littlewood
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2012
ISBN 978-1-59058-621-1
Hardcover

Such a well written book as this held my interest all the way through. When you add an exciting plot involving drugs, murder and smuggled exotic birds and turtles to the mix, you’ve got a real winner. The author, Ann Littlewood, comes from a background of working in a zoo. From her first-hand knowledge, she provides realistic and accurate details, descriptions and information about exotic birds and reptiles.

When Iris Oakley and her companion are sent to a farm recently found to house a meth lab, the last thing she expected to find was a dead girl in the bushes and the escaped meth dealers on a deserted road. Thanks to a timely rescue, the crooks flee but they aren’t finished with Iris yet, believing she has information that will lead them to further riches.

Until adequate facilities can be found, Iris takes the birds to her own basement. Unfortunately, this keeps her in the cross hairs of the smugglers, further endangering her and her infant son.

Iris feels the need to investigate the murder. With the help of a friendly reporter and her friends, she learns that not all information, people or circumstances can be taken at face value.

This book contains fascinating details about drugs and smuggling exotic birds and reptiles in the United States. Little do we know about the smuggling of such creatures, often right in our own back yard.

Entertaining, exciting and informative, I found Endangered to be a winner all the way around and give it a thumbs up for mystery readers everywhere.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, April 2015.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy and Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer.