Book Reviews: The Fourth Courier by Timothy Jay Smith and The Spying Moon by Sandra Ruttan @TimothyJaySmith @arcadepub @DownAndOutBooks

The Fourth Courier
Timothy Jay Smith
Arcade Publishing, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-94892-410-8
Hardcover

The author is a capable, experienced author and he fully understands and uses the techniques of the crime novelist. The novel reflects the author’s grasp of craft. Crimes happen early and more than once, from murder to adultery, to smuggling and other crimes, and multiple misdemeanors.

The search to identify and capture the many criminals is detailed and interesting. Several various interactions, sexual and ordinary, between various characters in this novel are also interesting.

The novel is set in Warsaw, Poland, in 1992. FBI agent Jay Porter is assigned to assist local law enforcement in a case of smuggling and multiple murder. The case has international implications because of connections of some characters to nuclear research laboratories in Russia. Remember that Communism has just departed Poland and the nation’s systems, including law enforcement, are still finding themselves and adjusting to the new era. The novel illuminates the difficulties of living and working under the Soviet and now Polish authority.

The local characters especially seem authentic and real. The descriptions of the city and countryside also seem carefully and accurately depicted. Although the novel addresses the emotional changes and connections of the characters more than the implied danger of smuggling nuclear components out of Russia, the tension is quite apparent. This is a thoughtful novel of connections and international undeclared warfare, well worth a  thoughtful read.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2019.
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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The Spying Moon
Integrated Border Enforcement Team, Book 1
Sandra Ruttan
Down & Out Books
ISBN 978-1-948235-27-3
Trade Paperback

Mixed parentage doesn’t seem to hamper the career advancement of RCMP constable, Kendall Moreau. Even when she encounters a sexist constable at the entrance to her newly assigned post, Maple River, British Columbia. This had not been her plan and she was already irked. Now this man seemed to represent everything wrong with relations between men and women, in life, as in the law enforcement profession. She didn’t want to be here. Her belief was that she’d been assigned to Burns Lake, a small community many miles north, after an exemplary early career with the federal law enforcement agency.

Moreau was desperate to go to Burns Lake where a surprising number of women, including her mother, had been disappearing. It was not to be. The head of RCMP in Maple River needed a task force to deal with a growing drug distribution problem in the area so Moreau is abruptly reassigned. She discovers a morass of murder, drugs, corruption and a mélange of fascinating characters, in and out of law enforcement.

Readers will be drawn swiftly into the complicated taut relationships of the task force she abruptly joins. The puzzles she and her colleagues must solve, even for their own protection, are many and fraught, all set against a small city environment nearly surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.

Well written, the pace of the novel is maintained at an appropriate level as Moreau, a strong and realistic character, works to solve personal interactions and a growing list of crimes and infractions.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2019.
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: Diary of a Dead Man on Leave by David Downing @soho_press

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-61695-843-5
Hardcover

Josef Hoffman isn’t his real name. He’s a German who has recently returned to his native country, to the town of Hamm. It’s April, 1938. Adolf Hitler is in power.

Josef has a mission. He works for the International Liaison Section of the Communist International and with a list of members of the Comintern his orders are to locate the men on his list and confirm they are still members of the Party. The Soviet Union’s leaders, sure that another war in Europe is imminent, want to find out whether there are enough Communists in Germany to form an underground group willing to undermine and disrupt the Third Reich.

Josef manages to get a room in a boarding house near the railway yards, where he has landed a job. The boarding house is run by Frau Anna Gersdorff, her father Erich who is blind and bedridden, and Walter her eleven year old son. There are also three other lodgers staying at the boarding house, Askel Ruchay, Jakob Barufka and Rolf Gerritzen.

Josef knows he shouldn’t get too friendly with the people around him. He is there to observe and report, and track down the men on his list. But he finds himself drawn to Anna and her son Walter, especially when he discovers Walter, an intelligent boy, is being bullied at school and not just by other children. A teacher is determined Walter is too clever by far and makes it his mission to degrade and diminish him at every turn. Walter’s only friend is Marco a younger black boy, the son of Verena who works as the cook at the boarding house and this does not sit well with the current regime.

Every six weeks Josef is instructed to meet with a colleague to report his progress. He has decided to keep a journal detailing his day to day efforts to track down these men…and it is through his journaling he reveals the characters of the lodgers, as well as the men he works with at the Railway Yard. We also see his growing attachment to the Gersdorff family.

As the days unfold, Josef slowly becomes ever more entangled with the lives of the people in the boarding house. HIs progress in finding his Communist brothers is slow. His need to be careful approaching these men intensifies, fearful at any moment he will be reported to the authorities or arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. Tension is rising throughout the country as Hitler and his Third Reich grow more brutal and violent.

I found this book engrossing. Written in journal form makes for an easy read, but throughout, the author is adept at keeping the stakes high.
Check this one out…and find out what becomes of Josef and the people he has grown to love.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2019.

Book Review: Winter Frost by Lauren Carr

Winter Frost
A Chris Matheson Cold Case Mystery Book 2
Lauren Carr
Narrated by Mike Alger
Acorn Book Services, January 2019
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

It all started with a chance encounter in the city with Blair, his late wife.

Chris Matheson and the Geezer Squad, working under the guise of a book club, dig into the events surrounding his late wife’s supposed death halfway around the globe. A state department employee shoots himself in the back three times. A CIA operative goes missing. A woman is targeted by an international assassin three years after being declared dead in a terrorist attack overseas.

Nothing is as it seems.

In his most personal cold case, Chris fights to uncover why the state department told him that Blair, the mother of his children, had been killed when she was alive. What had she uncovered that has made her a target? Who terrified her so much that she had gone into hiding and why are they now after him?

When Chris spots his supposedly deceased wife and, moments later, kills the assassin who’s after her, the retired FBI agent is thrust into the center of his own mystery, one that will take a large cast of retired and current members of all sorts of law enforcement agencies to figure out. Along the way to solving what turns out to be a complex, intriguing puzzle, all these people sift through a plethora of clues but it’s not all just a lot of mental work for the reader; some of these folks, and a number of pets, bring an air of lighthearted humor to the proceedings.

Chris is part of the Geezer Squad, a group of retirees who ostensibly belong to a book club that meets at odd times but, in fact, keep their minds sharp and entertained by looking into cold cases and, since Blair “died” several years ago, this certainly qualifies as a cold case. I am in love with the Geezer Squad, all of whom care deeply about their cases and especially this one and the way they work together like a think tank is impressive. With the help of others in their wider orbit—CIA operatives, the state department, Chris’s mom, Doris, etc.—a nebulous truth begins to take shape, one that may just endanger the world.

There are so many characters here that I like, for a variety of reasons, and even the bad guys are vividly drawn and entertaining. Doris is a hoot and, like most librarians, is not to be trifled with but the crowning glory is a bunch of pets that add extra life to the story. Chris’s German Shepherd, Sterling, is a supersmart retired police dog whose talents include playing and cheating at cards and he’s the love object of the smitten Spencer, an exuberant Sheltie. Doris’s Doberman, Sadie, retired from the law and golden lab, Mocha, used to do search and rescue but it’s Thor who absolutely stole my heart. Thor isn’t a retiree from law enforcement but he’s probably the most loveable and scene-stealing large rabbit dressed in pink frills I’ve ever come across.

Lauren Carr’s Winter Frost is a terrific mystery lightened by a good deal of humor but, for an audiobook listener, one more thing is really important for full enjoyment and that’s the narration. At first, I thought Mike Alger was going to be a bit irritating but he soon changed my mind with his wonderful array of voices and his perfect pacing and sensing of the proper mood to fit the story. I do believe he may be one of my favorite narrators.

P.S.: See that dog in Lauren Carr’s picture beside her bio? That’s the real-life Sterling but I don’t know if he actually changes car radio stations or plays poker 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2019.

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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About the Author

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

​Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author: Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

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About the Narrator

Channel 2 Meteorologist Mike Alger joined KTVN-TV in May, 1989. Prior to that Mike had worked at KNDU-TV in Washington. Mike has provided northern Nevada “Weather Coverage You Can Count On” during the 1990 President’s Day Blizzard, the drought in the mid- 1990s, the New Year’s Flood of 1997 and the historic Snowstorms of 2005.

Mike has been married for more than 30 years and has two grown children. His hobbies include golf, music, biking, tennis, scuba diving, writing. He has written and published one novel and is working on a second. He is also a narrator of several audio books, and his work can be found on Audible.com.

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

Prizes: Win a $50 Amazon.com gift card
(open to wherever Amazon.com delivers)
(ends July 6, 2019)

Enter here.

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Book Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

The Lost Girls of Paris
Pam Jenoff
Park Row, January 2019
ISBN 978-0-7783-0861-4
Hardcover

One simple statement changed the course of Eleanor’s life forever.

It was 1943 when the infuriated Director of Special Operations Executive called a meeting. As his secretary, Eleanor was present. As his metaphorical right-hand, she understood the operations better than anyone else in the room. The SOE, created three years prior to light Europe up with sabotage and subversion, had run smoothly and successfully until now.

Too many agents were being caught, and the captures seemed to quickly follow infiltration. The Director demanded to know why. The answer so apparent, it exploded from Eleanor, “It’s that they are men.”

After her outburst, albeit an accurate assessment, Eleanor was tasked with recruiting and training female spies. Working harder and longer than she ever imagined, she did everything in her power to ensure the safety and success of ‘her girls’; but she never considered the possibility of a saboteur within the SOE.

This historical-fiction magnificently manages to demonstrate how we’ve come so very far, while simultaneously showing a stubborn stagnation—but in an oh-so-subtle way. The improbable intermingling of three ladies’ lives, over three tumultuous years, spanning several countries, certainly takes center stage.

I was buoyed by the strength, drive and determination of those in training and totally intrigued with the spy techniques. Easily invested in the characters, many emotions were evoked as they worked diligently—both independently and collectively—to identify the traitor in the ranks.

I am psyched to submit this copy to my favorite classroom library. It brings me great joy to introduce historical fiction highlighting how much harder it is for the person breaking through barriers built from determined ignorance and I know the students will love Ms. Jenoff’s entertaining and engaging writing.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

Book Reviews: The Dark Clouds Shining by David Downing and The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Dark Clouds Shining
Jack McColl Series #4
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-606-6
Hardcover

With this, the fourth Jack McColl spy story, David Downing concludes the series.  It takes place just as the civil war in Soviet Russia is ending and developments are dire with respect to the original high hopes that accompanied the Revolution, and the nation suffers from all kinds of shortages, especially food for a starving populace.  Jack is not faring any better, languishing in jail for assaulting a Bobby, when his Secret Service boss visits him and presents Jack with a way to get out if he accepts an unofficial assignment.  Jack is disillusioned by the slaughter of so many in the Great War and can’t abide spying for his country any more, but accepts the assignment to get out of jail.  So he goes to Russia to learn what other British spies are planning at the behest of MI5.  And unknown to him, he will again meet with the love of his life, Caitlin, who is now married to one of the men involved in the MI5 scheme which Jack was sent to investigate and possibly foil.

The author’s ability to recreate the environment of the historical period, along with descriptions of the economic and political atmosphere, is outstanding, as is the recounting of the action resulting from the hunt by both Jack and the Cheka, the Russian secret service and forerunner of the GPU, for the plotters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

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The Cutting Edge
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel #14
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-3641-2
Hardcover

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a multi-faceted conspiracy in the latest Lincoln Rhyme novel.  It begins with the murder of a prominent diamond cutter in the heart of New York’s jewelry district on 47th Street, although the murderer apparently left behind a small fortune in gems, so the motive remains obscure.  A young apprentice walks in during the murder and is shot at but is saved when the bullet hits a bag filled with rocks instead.

Subsequent murders take place, ostensibly by a psycho who is out to save diamonds from being defaced as engagement rings and who trails young couples in the act of making purchases and killing them.  Meanwhile Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are analyzing the few clues available and seeking to locate the apprentice, who is hiding from view.  Then a series of explosions take place, believed to be earthquakes in the heart of Brooklyn.

And as a sidelight, Rhyme agrees for the first time to assist a defendant, a murderous Mexican drug lord on trial in Federal court for illegal entry and murder, by reviewing the evidence in the hope of establishing an error.  This gives the author another chance to fool the reader with another twist.

Of course, the whole plot is premised on Mr. Deaver’s ability to surprise readers by leading them down a path only to divert them finally by revealing something else in the end.  The series is long- standing and always diverting, especially when forensics are analyzed and explained.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: Beyond the Pale by Clare O’Donohue

Beyond the Pale
A World of Spies #1
Clare O’Donohue
Midnight Ink, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5650-9
Trade Paperback

Hollis Larsson is a tenured university professor married to her college sweetheart.  She has a comfortable middle-class life in Michigan and she is bored senseless. Her husband Finn is an internationally recognized expert in European literature. He enjoys interacting with his students and watching baseball more than spending time with his wife, who keeps trying to reignite his interest in her. When a former friend from her brief fling with the CIA shows up and asks them to go to Ireland to buy a rare manuscript to save the life of a U.S. agent, it seems just the break from monotony she’s been looking for. Her husband is not interested but eventually agrees to the trip with the understanding that the task is a fast and simple one and they will be home again after a long weekend. Oh, and Holly owes him big time.

Once in Ireland, equipped with a large amount of cash, Holly and Finn approach the store to make the purchase, only to find their designated contact has disappeared. They retreat to regroup and quickly discover that they are being followed by competing CIA and Interpol agents who plan to take the manuscript as quickly as it can be acquired, followed by an unfortunate accident for Holly and Finn. Their search for the manuscript while eluding the agents who all claim the others are part of a criminal gang takes them across much of the country with wonderful descriptions of the scenery and history. The verbal sniping between Holly and Finn that opened the book vanishes as their teamwork kicks into gear to keep them both alive.

O’Donohue’s previous books include five mysteries in the Someday Quilts series. This title is the first of a new spy series that will take occasional agents Holly and Finn around the world.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, May 2018.

Book Reviews: The Irregular by H.B. Lyle and Earthly Remains by Donna Leon

The Irregular
A Different Class of Spy #1
H.B. Lyle
Quercus, November 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4026-2
Hardcover

It’s not easy for an author to come up with an original idea for a novel, much less a plot involving Sherlock Holmes.  But that is just what H.B. Lyle has done, albeit the great detective here only playing a minor cameo role, offstage, as it was.  Instead, he has grasped an historical development, the forerunners of Britain’s MI5 and MI6 in 1909 and using the “best” of the Baker Street Irregulars,Wiggins, as a protagonist.  Not only Holmes, but no less a personage than Winston Churchill plays a minor role in the plot.

The story revolves around Vernon Kell, who apparently headed up the original efforts to establish a counter-intelligence operation in Great Britain, hindered by his inability to find good agents until his friend, Holmes, suggested Higgins.  A substantial portion of the novel recounts Higgins’ exploits and a good deal of background on how the Baker Street Irregulars came to be.  And, of course, we learn a great deal about the conspiracies pre-dating World War I and espionage efforts by Germany and others not only to obtain secrets but also to sow discontent and confusion in London.

The novel is exciting, interesting and fast-moving.  It is an historical mystery, the beginning of what is promised to be a new series, and a welcome one. The author captures the atmosphere of 1909 London with sharp observations and dialogue.  We look forward to its sequel with great anticipation.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

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Earthly Remains
A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery #26
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2647-4
Hardcover

Commissario Guido Brunetti, in the midst of interrogating a suspect, suddenly collapses (intentionally, to prevent a colleague from committing a foolish act) by faking a heart attack. He is taken to the hospital, where no evidence of an attack is found, but just high blood pressure.  While waiting for the results of tests, he concludes that he no longer enjoys his job, and after discussing it with his wife, and on the advice of the attending doctor, decides to go away from it all alone.

His wife sets him up with a villa owned by a relative on an island in the lagoon, where he intends to rest, row and read.  He rows with the caretaker, Davide Casati, whom he befriends.  Incidentally, Casati and Brunetti’s father won regatta years before.  All goes well until Casati is found drowned following a violent storm.

Brunetti then undertakes to investigate the circumstances of Casati’s death to determine whether it was an accident or suicide, despite his self-imposed sabbatical.  Along the way, the Commissario learns a lot about his friend, nature, and our failure to protect the environment, as well as the result of one’s actions during our lives.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.