Book Reviews: The Osiris Curse by Paul Crilley and Assignment: Nepal by J.A. Squires

The Osiris CurseThe Osiris Curse
A Tweed & Nightingale Adventure
Paul Crilley
Pyr, October 2013.
ISBN 978-1-61614-857-7
Hardcover

Sebastian Tweed, seventeen-year-old reformed con artist, has dedicated his phenomenal brainpower to foiling the schemes of mysterious evildoers. Octavia Nightingale, Tweed’s best (and only) friend, is an intrepid newspaper reporter, intent on finding her kidnapped mother. Together, Tweed and Nightingale roam the streets of early 20th-century London. It’s the London of an alternate universe, though, featuring sentient automatons, invisibility devices, and “Tesla guns” that shoot electrical rays.

Over the course of The Osiris Curse, the second Tweed and Nightingale Adventure by Paul Crilley, our heroes stow away on a massive airship to Egypt, visit The Great Pyramid (which has been hollowed out and turned into a hotel for the enjoyment of the rich), and discover a hidden civilization inhabited by a (sort-of) alien race. This is the kind of book where Nicola Tesla is murdered by Osiris-worshipping cultists in the first chapter and that’s not even the novel’s big mystery.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Crilley has simply cobbled together every trendy cliché he could think of from neo-Victorian steampunk sci-fi, and . . . truthfully, that seems pretty accurate. Yet this ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach is responsible for much of The Osiris Curse‘s considerable charm. If Crilley stuck to one or two familiar tropes, Tweed and Nightingale might get lost in the crowd of similar stories. Instead, the author throws high concepts together with such maniacal glee, it’s hard to avoid being swept along.

The Osiris Curse, like its prequel The Lazarus Machine, is marketed to young adults, and it might be particularly enjoyable to readers encountering some of its sci-fi concepts for the first time. However, this series should also appeal to seasoned fans of steampunk, Doctor Who, or any of the recent Sherlock Holmes retellings. In fact, the novel’s characters share a connection to Holmes himself. (Holmes and Moriarty are real people in this universe, just as H.G. Wells is really a time traveler.) I don’t want to give the connection away in this review, though, for the sake of anyone who wants to read The Lazarus Machine first; it’s a plot point in that novel, and it’s far too good to spoil.

If you’ve been reading too many novels lately where it seems like nothing happens, this book’s breakneck pace might be just what you need in your life. It’s not all about mindless fun, though. Crilley takes time to address the moral quandaries that the plot raises in a way that manages to be thoughtful without stopping the story dead. The Osiris Curse doesn’t claim to solve all the dilemmas it raises, but that’s another nod to the narrative’s complexity. I’d be glad to see the consequences unfold in future Tweed and Nightingale books.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, November 2013.

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Assignment NepalAssignment:Nepal
An Irene Adler Mystery
J.A. Squires
Echelon Press, October 2011
ISBN 978-1-59080-854-2
Ebook

Readers of this review should be aware that this press has published some of my crime fiction and I am acquainted with the publisher, though not with the two authors writing under a single pseudonym.

The protagonist is named Irene Adler. Not the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes at his own game, her modern namesake, a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology at Boston University. Adler has a demi-cynical outlook on life and it turns out she supplements her income by playing poker; specifically Texas Holdem in the gambling parlors around the New England area. Irene Adler is a bright, smart, single woman, an endearing protagonist.

Her former advisor, a fellow faculty member, prevails on Ms. Adler to travel to Nepal to inquire into the life and times of a former fellow undergraduate student of Irene’s, a Margot Smith, who’s in Nepal doing research on one of that country’s goddesses, one Chwwaassa Dyo. The problem is that there appears to something awry with Margot and her physician husband and Adler is supposed to sort things out. What needs sorting turns out to be only part of the story. Irene agrees to go half-way around the world to see a woman she barely knows. From this most unlikely beginning, the plot drives poor Adler into one complexity after another.

Her assignment clearly has unstated dimensions about which neither we readers nor Irene Adler herself are clear. Now, Nepal is an exotic nation from which assaults on Mount Everest are mounted and the ubiquitous Sherpa play a  important part, as do digital cameras, former Cold War adversaries, political unrest in the country, and a whole series of meddlesome individuals who seem to still show up on the fringes of the former English Empire.

The novel winds its way through a variety of conflicts among wanderers, a boorish American tourist couple, and murder and bomb blasts. At times the narrative suffers from a pedestrian pace and some lapses of editing discipline over the point of view. Still, the story is interesting, Irene is definitely a character to build a series around, the exotic setting in and around Katmandu is, well, exotic, and a satisfactory conclusion is fashioned. I think four stars in too strong a rating, but the novel is more enjoyable than three stars would indicate. Sample the novel and make your own judgment.

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

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Book Reviews: Reunion by Carl Brookins, Crashed by Timothy Hallinan, Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman, and When the Past Haunts You by L. C. Hayden

ReunionReunion
A Jack Marston Mystery
Carl Brookins
Echelon Press, 2011
ISBN No. 978-1590806685
Trade Paperback

Jack Marston, a former investigator for the Navy, is now a student service director at City College in Minneapolis.  Jack is living with Lori Jacobs and Lori has just received an invitation to the reunion of the Class of 1989 in the town of Riverview. Lori isn’t too excited about going but Jack encourages her to accept the invitation.   Lori accepts but wants Jack to attend the reunion functions with her.

The couple travel to Riverview to attend.  There are some interesting sounding events set up for the attendees at the reunion.  Jack takes a walk outside on the first night and finds a dead body and this won’t be the first murder to happen during the reunion.

Lori didn’t expect things to remain the same in Riverview but it isn’t the town that she remembers.  It seems that there are a lot of shady dealings going on and certain people will go to any length to keep their secrets hidden.  Jack is using his investigator skills to attempt to figure out what is actually going on in this crooked town and Lori is helping with her knowledge of the people.

The couple’s investigations lead them to a discovery that puts their lives on the line.  Can Jack possibly figure out a way to save them both before they become the next victims?

Reunion is a book that I didn’t want to end and I was surprised when the complicated plot and the actual murderer was finally revealed.

Carl Brookins is a retired professor, author and reviewer.  I would recommend Reunion as well as The Case of the Greedy Lawyers, another Brookins novel.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2012.

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crashedCrashed
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, November 2012
ISBN No. 978-1616952747
Hardcover

Junior Bender is a burglar but he has some rather unique ways of approaching his jobs.  Some of his methods will have you rolling on the floor laughing but they seem to work for him – at least most of the time.  There are a few moments when the reader wonders if Junior will survive to steal another day.

An LA crime boss is producing a porn movie starring Thistle Downing. Thistle is a former child star who was loved by her fans but time has taken a toll on Thistle and she is currently living in a drug-induced stupor, destitute and uninsurable.  The movie would bring income to Thistle but would only send her further down her current path of destruction.

Junior is blackmailed into accepting the free-lance job of finding out who is sabotaging this movie.  His job is to keep the movie on track. The problem Junior is running into is that he likes Thistle and knows the movie is not the best thing for her even though she needs the money.  Junior sets out to fulfill his obligation but at the same time do right by Thistle and this isn’t an easy thing to do.  Junior has some very interesting friends who lend a helping hand  along the way.

I want to read more and more about Junior.  He is a character that is full of charm and certainly has some interesting escapades.   Crashed is written in a totally different style from the Bangkok series.  This novel proves that Timothy Hallinan can entertain us with more than one type of novel and I for one want to read everything he writes.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, January 2013.

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Don't Ever Get OldDon’t Ever Get Old
Daniel Friedman
Minotaur Books, May 2012
ISBN No. 978-0312606930
Hardcover

Buck Schatz has been married to his wife, Rose, for 64 years.  Buck can be pretty set in his ways but when Rose speaks Buck does listen.  Rose insists that Buck go to the hospital to visit Jim Wallace.   Jim is dying and is asking to see Buck.  Buck uses the excuse that he can’t drive to the hospital but Jim’s daughter Emily Feely agrees to drive him.  Jim and Buck have never been close but they did spend time together in a POW camp back in 1944.

Jim confesses to Buck that he had seen Heinrich Ziegler in France in 1946.  Ziegler was not a happy memory for Buck.  Zeigler was head of the POW camp and was very cruel to Buck, partly because Buck was Jewish but mostly because Ziegler was simply a very cruel individual.  Buck had heard that Ziegler was dead but Jim states that not only was Ziegler alive but he had given Jim a gold bar to let Ziegler go.

Buck having fulfilled his agreement to visit Jim is more than ready to return home and daytime TV.  A retired homicide detective, Buck has had many dangerous adventures in the past but is now pretty much content to just stay at home, visit the Jewish Community Center on occasion, eat Rose’s cooking and smoke Lucky Strikes.  Buck carries a “memory book” jotting down notes of things he needs to remember because at 87 a person can’t be expected to remember everything.  Buck can’t understand why he can’t light up a Lucky in public and that is just one of the many things Buck finds unacceptable.

But it seems that Jim Wallace told more than one person about Ziegler and the fortune in gold bars that Wallace seemed to think Ziegler possessed so soon Buck is very popular because some of these people think Wallace told Buck how to get his hands on the gold bars.

It turns out that Ziegler is still alive.  Buck’s grandson Tequila decides he will help out his Grandpa and find Ziegler and the gold bars.  So in spite of the fact that Buck isn’t too keen on this idea the two set out to bring home the treasure.  Buck’s almost forgotten detective instincts take over and soon the two have a very exciting adventure.

Don’t Ever Get Old is a joy to read, a wonderful story with great characters.  I am sure that all of us know some elderly person that has a lot of Buck’s attitudes.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2012.

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When the Past Haunts YouWhen The Past Haunts You
A Harry Bronson Mystery
L. C. Hayden
Books by Hayden, February 2012
ISBN No. 978-1470074791
Trade Paperback

It would be difficult to find a happier married couple than Harry and Carol Bronson. Harry is retired from the Dallas police department and enjoys traveling with Carol.  Harry has been involved in a number of mysteries in spite of the fact that he is retired.

Carol Bronson would be the first to tell you that there are no secrets between her and Harry.  However, Carol is going to find out that this statement is not entirely accurate.  Harry has a huge secret that he has never discussed with his wife.  This secret is a sister that he has pushed to the back of his mind and never mentioned her existence to his wife.

Lorraine, Harry’s sister, had a terrible fight with Harry’s parents.   She immediately left home and Harry had no further contact with her until recently when she began calling him.  Lorraine begs Harry to come to Pennsylvania and meet with her.  Harry finally agrees and they meet in a state park that had been a location for good childhood memories for both brother and sister.  However, before the two had a chance to reconnect Lorraine was shot and killed right in front of Harry and there was not one thing Harry could do to save her life.

Even though it was too late to reconnect with his sister, Harry is determined to learn all that he can about her life since she left home.    As Harry traces Lorraine’s life by following up on any information he can discover, he learns that she lived quite a different life than he imagined.  He also learned that she had never forgotten her brother and was always very proud of Harry and his accomplishments as a police officer.

Harry’s quest to learn everything about Lorraine’s past since she left home puts his life in danger but he has no intentions of giving up.  Harry intends to uncover all of Lorraine’s secrets and to bring her killer to justice.  Harry feels that this is the very least he can do for the sister he has ignored for all these years.  Lorraine’s life has involved people from every walk in life, from pimps to millionaires.   Harry is in for many surprises as he investigates.

L. C. Hayden has written an exciting book that keeps the reader on edge every step of the way.  I have read several L. C. Hayden novels and would recommend them.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2013.

Book Review: Thrilled to Death by L.J. Sellers

Thrilled to DeathThrilled to Death
L.J. Sellers
Echelon Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59080-727-9
Trade Paperback

Homicide Detective Wade Jackson, of the Eugene, Oregon Police Department, returns in the newest entry in the series by L.J. Sellers, following her terrific Secrets to Die For and The Sex Club, and this one is every bit as exciting and suspenseful as were those earlier books.

Wade’s girlfriend, Kera Kollmorgan, enlists his help when Danette Blake, her 20-year-old not-quite daughter-in-law, fails to return to pick up her three-month old grandson Micah, following her appointment with a psychiatrist. [Danette and Nathan, Kera’s son, had never married before he was shipped out and later died in the war.]   His search for Danette proves frustrating and fruitless.  But when another young woman who apparently has nothing in common with Danette also disappears on the same day, the investigation widens.  The women appear to live in completely different worlds:  Danette lives in public housing, and the second woman to go missing, though superficially similar in appearance to Danette, is an heiress with no connection to Danette that the police can find.  The only lead takes them to the home of an agoraphobic man who hasn’t left his house in a year.

A cop for over twenty years, Wade is dealing with issues in his personal life as well, primarily health issues – he’s had abdominal pain for months, along with what could be cardiac symptoms – as well as his relationship with his daughter, Katie, and her reluctant acceptance of her father’s new romantic interest when she still hasn’t given up on her parents’ getting back together now that his ex-wife is sober.  [He has full custody of Katie, her time with her mother being at Wade’s discretion.]

Fast-paced, well-plotted and with terrific writing, the book is recommended.  [It should be noted that the author has two books due out in 2011, the fourth book in the Jackson series, as well as a standalone.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

 

Book Review: Thrilled to Death by L.J. Sellers

Thrilled to DeathThrilled to Death (A Detective Jackson Mystery)
L. J. Sellers
Echelon Press, September 2010
ISBN No. 978-1-59080-727-9
Trade Paperback

Although Kera Kollmorgan loves to take care of her grandson, three month old, Micah, she is disturbed when his mother Danette does not return when promised.  Kera is even more disturbed when Danette’s cell phone goes unanswered.  Kera’s son Nathan was killed in Iraq and never knew his son Micah.  Kera is always glad to pitch in and help but when Danette’s absence caused her to miss her shift at Planned Parenthood she couldn’t help but feel that something was very, very wrong.

Kera first attempted to contact Detective Wade Jackson. Detective Jackson and Kera had been in a relationship for sometime and Kera was sure he could help her find Danette.  Detective Jackson was unable to answer her call because he was at a doctor’s appointment checking out a medical condition he had tried to ignore for sometime.  When Jackson finally received Kera’s message he made a trip to the office of the psychiatrist that Danette had planned to visit.  The doctor verified that Danette had been there but made no mention of where she might be going.

Elle Durham also contacted the police.  She was very upset about the fact that her daughter Courtney was missing.   Courtney is the direct opposite of Danette.  Courtney comes from a prominent family.  Her father, Dean, now deceased, owned a good part of downtown Eugene, Oregon.   Courtney enjoyed every advantage and tended to do as she pleased with not much regard about how other people felt about it.

Elle Durham insisted that Courtney’s disappearance receive first priority so Jackson is placed in charge of the investigation.  This leaves Kera to carry on her own investigation into the disappearance of Danette.

Sellers keeps the reader guessing as the investigations uncover a business that will commit any crime for money and a witness that won’t leave the house.  This is the third book in the Detective Jackson series.   Try all three and get to know Sellers wonderful characters.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2010.

Book Review: Thrilled to Death by L.J. Sellers

Thrilled to DeathThrilled to Death
L.J. Sellers
Echelon Press, September 2010
ISBN 1590807278
Trade Paperback

Two young women are missing in Eugene, Oregon, and there is no apparent connection between them, one a single mother of a baby and the other a wealthy local heiress.  Danette could have gone off on her own, suffering from postpartum depression, but Detective Wade Jackson isn’t so sure.  He begins to look into her disappearance before the usual waiting period for missing persons because he’s dating the baby’s grandmother and his gut tells him something isn’t right.

Soon after Danette’s vanishing, Courtney is reported missing, having failed to come home after going to a nightclub.  Courtney had run off for a couple of days some months earlier and the missing persons detective in charge thinks she has probably done so again.  Reflecting her family’s influence and position in the community, as is so often the case in today’s world, the media pays much more attention to Courtney’s case than to Danette’s.

Then the first body is found and it looks as if the death might be the result of a make-believe kidnapping arranged by an adventure company.  Seemingly serendipitous connections between the two women begin to come to light and yet one of them is still missing and Jackson is more and more sure that she did not run away.

Early on, a thought of one of the bad guys caught my attention:

This was only his second pickup of a live person, and he thought it would be easy.

Something about that struck me as chilling.

Not having read the first two Detective Jackson books,  I missed out on some backstory but Ms. Sellers is a very good writer and is adept at giving enough of that backstory without letting the newest book get bogged down in rehashing the past.  I enjoyed the secondary characters, especially Jackson’s colleagues, and want to get to know them better.

I thoroughly enjoyed Thrilled to Death and will go back to read the first two in the series.  My only quibble is with the physical product in that the gutter (the space between the print and the binding) is too shallow, making the book a little difficult to handle without breaking the spine.  Still, that did not prevent me from getting caught up in a very good story and I applaud the author and the publisher for high-quality editing.  Ms. Sellers is an author with talent and I’m happy to have “discovered ” her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2010.