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.

Book Review: Montana by Gwen Florio

MontanaMontana
Gwen Florio
Permanent Press, October 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57962-336-4
Hardcover

Foreign correspondent Lola Wicks has just returned from Afghanistan, a place where “filing the story and staying alive remained the only two things that mattered.” She is called back to the home office of her newspaper in Baltimore, where she finds that all the foreign bureaus were being shut due to the faltering US economy and the ensuing layoffs, and is faced with an assignment in the suburbs, told that she is lucky she still has a job.

She is directed by her editor to take some R&R, since she’d not taken a vacation in years. Still determined to return to the war zone (reasoning that “once he saw the stories she’d file when she got back to Kabul, he’d realize it was a mistake to close the bureau”), she decides to first visit her friend Mary Alice, who she hadn’t seen in five years after their career paths diverged, with Lola going to Afghanistan and Mary Alice to Montana to work at a small local paper. When Lola arrives at the cabin in Magpie, Montana, she is faced with a grotesque scene: Seeing dead bodies in Afghanistan was one thing, but finding her best friend shot to death was quite another. Despite her planned return to Kabul, she vows to herself that if the apparently incompetent sheriff could not find the killer, she would.

Finding any leads proves a difficult task, made harder when she is told she cannot leave Magpie, as she is a person of interest. Her reaction? “I’ve got a dead friend and a sheriff who won’t let me leave town until he figures out how she got that way.” Other deaths soon follow. Lola is told “Bodies [are] dropping like flies. How do you like Montana so far?” (A place, btw, that she finds can have snow in June.) After initially staying in a local hotel, she decides to stay in Mary Alice’s cabin, and there are wonderful passages about her friend’s dog and horse, neither of which is an animal with which she has had any experience. Her pursuit of the investigation leads to some unexpected twists and turns in a well-fashioned plot, and a whale of an ending.

A gripping and fast read, beautifully written, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2014.

Book Review: Known Devil by Justin Gustainis—and a Giveaway!

Known DevilKnown Devil
An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation
Justin Gustainis
Angry Robot, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-85766-166-1
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

A new supernatural gang is intent on invading Scranton – as if I didn’t have enough to contend with!

Supernatural gang warfare? Not on my watch!

Mix some elves, vampires, goblins and werewolves; add turf wars among the vampire fangsters, sleazy politics and drug-addicted supes (supernaturals); toss with a human police detective and his vamp partner and what do you get? Why, impending chaos in the streets of Scranton, of course!

Stan Markowski and his partner, Karl Renfer, have been my favorite pair of crossgenre detectives since I read Hard Spell, first in the Occult Crimes Unit series, in 2011. My enjoyment continued with the second book, Evil Dark, and I’m just as happy now with Known Devil. Stan and Karl fight crime just as police detectives everywhere do but it just so happens that many of the bad guys they have to deal with are supes. Some of those—elves, for instance—are just annoyances compared to the vampire gang run by the vampfather, Don Pietro Calabrese, so the guys are caught by surprise when they run  into a pair of clearly high elves in an armed robbery because everyone knows no supes are susceptible to drugs except goblins.

The questions about this mysterious drug known as Slide soon lead to more disturbing events and then shootings and other attacks on the vamps begin to escalate. Much to everyone’s discomfort, it becomes apparent that the evil the Scranton cops know may not be nearly as alarming as what’s come to town.

Any reader who is bothered by vulgar language should be prepared to see a lot of it in this book. Personally, I don’t much like it but I do feel it’s pretty appropriate in a noir tale such as this. Let’s face it, gangsters and cops don’t sugarcoat their language and the story would be weak if such word choices weren’t included. That aside, there’s really nothing about Known Devil that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy and it was a real pleasure to spend time with Stan and Karl and their colleagues and even some of the bad guys. Mr. Gustainis ties off the ending with a hint of things to come and I wish I didn’t have to wait so long for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2014.

************

One lucky reader will win a copy of Known Devil
by Justin Gustainis and you have two chances

to enter the drawing. For the first entry, leave a
comment here on today’s review. For the second
entry, come back tomorrow, February 7th, and
leave a comment on Justin’s guest post. The
winning name will be chosen at random on the
evening of Monday, February 10th. This drawing
is open internationally and the winner
can choose print, Epub or Mobi.

Book Reviews: Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson, Original Skin by David Mark, and Andrew’s Brain by E. L. Doctorow

Capital MurderCapital Punishment
Robert Wilson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-93519-5-5
Hardcover

It’s not often that kidnappers do not demand money in exchange for the victim.  But that is precisely what happens when Alyshia D’Cruz, daughter of an Indian billionaire, Frank D’Cruz, is grabbed one night in London, and she is subjected to intense psychological interrogation, for reasons that are unclear to her father.

The ramifications of the abduction are wide.  One possible motive is revenge on her father—but at whose instigation and for what reason: Gangster associates with whom he has been in business?  Terrorists in Pakistan, where he has operations and dealings with intelligence agents?  There are other theories involving MI-6 and other spy agencies, personal relationships of various characters, including Frank’s ex-wife, Frank’s relationship with his daughter, and her relationship with her mother (Frank’s ex-wife).  Ultimately Charles Boxer, a private security officer, is retained by Frank to rescue his daughter.

This is a very complicated novel, written with great depth and on many levels, encompassing religious fanatics, Indian mobsters, London crime lords, Pakistani politics, and British government officials, all kinds of plots within plots and distorted personal relationships.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2013.

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Original SkinOriginal Skin
David Mark
Blue Rider Press, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-399-15865-0
Hardcover

Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy showed in his debut in The Dark Winter that he not only blushes easily, but his gut leads him to see crimes passed over by others.  Once again, he follows his instincts to solve a murder chalked up by others in the CID as a suicide.  It’s not as if the Yorkshire Serious and Organized Crime Unit hasn’t enough to do, but by conducting his “informal” investigation, McAvoy brings the “solve” statistics way up as at least two more murders occur.

Simultaneously, the Unit is overwhelmed by a series of crimes brought about by a vicious group seeking to take over the drug trade previously run by Vietnamese.  But McAvoy sniffs foul play in the year-old discovery of the nude body of a young man found choked in his home, hanging in his kitchen.  So he looks into it informally, with a sort of blessing by his superior, Detective Trish Pharaoh, and learns more about underground erotic sex activities than he bargained for, as well as coming too close to politicians who can cause him more trouble than it’s worth.

The plot moves swiftly, and the interchanges between Aector and Trish are so understated and poignant that the reader can only marvel at the author’s low-key approach.  This follow-up to the debut novel is more than a worthy successor; it is a wonderful addition to the series, which, we hope, will continue strongly in the future.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

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Andrew's BrainAndrew’s Brain
E. L. Doctorow
Random House, January 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6881-4
Hardcover

The eponymous Andrew reminds me of the Al Capp (Li’l Abner) character,Joe Mxstlpk, who walked under a black cloud and was followed by a calamity wherever he went.  That is the story told by this Andrew, presumably to a psychologist or “shrink,” of his life:  the trials and tribulations, loves and losses, highs and lows.  In a way, the novel also reminds me somewhat of James Joyce’s Ulysses, except that it is written in clear prose and complete sentences.  The tale is related in a disjointed stream of consciousness, flitting from topic to topic, but is grouped into eleven “chapters,” various phases of Andrew’s life.  Apparently, Mr. Doctorow set out to write a book of very different quality than his previous efforts, which include such popular novels as World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate, Loon Lake and Ragtime [which also found its way into a hit musical].

It is unfortunate that this novel may not attract readers of his previous work, although it should gain plenty of critical acclaim.  As such, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2013.