Book Review: Forty Dead Men by Donis Casey

Forty Dead Men
An Alafair Tucker Mystery #10
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0937-6

This latest of the Alafair Tucker mysteries sees Alafair’s son, Gee Dub, home from WWI.  Unfortunately, although he reconnects with his large family and puts on a good face, Alafair knows something is wrong with her strong, quiet son. When he finds a young woman in a field behaving oddly and brings her home to his mother, the situation only grows worse. Alafair befriends the woman, but then a murder is committed and suspicion falls on Gee Dub. Even Alafair has her doubts when she finds an ammunition case that generally holds forty bullets, but now holds only one, which then goes missing.

Soldiers have always suffered from PTSD. In WWI it was called shell shock and Gee Dub has more reason to suffer from it than many. He often struggles with what is real and what is not, but even so, this story holds some surprising twists and turns.

This is a powerful story of family, love and kindness, and hardship, too. Not to be missed.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Adam’s Needle by Beth Lyon Barnett and Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

Adam's NeedleAdam’s Needle
Beth Lyon Barnett
Prairie Acres Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-1503268968
Trade Paperback

Will grows up in a shack tucked away outside of the town of Pecan Grove in the Ozarks. His father is an abusive alcoholic who causes Will to quit talking when he is five years old, and his mother has been beaten down by abuse, ailments, and life. Will’s rescuer is his part Native-American granny who instills in him a sense of right and wrong and inner strength that allows him to survive.

Some of the town leaders, members of the local fundamentalist church, and several uneducated hotheads on neighboring farms are connected with white supremacist organizations. The towering white cross on Adam’s Needle was placed there by the Ku Klux Klan. Incidents of teenage pregnancy and the drug culture are growing among the poverty-stricken families.

A young Jewish couple, scientists from K.U. dedicated to improving agriculture and restoring wildlife in the area, buy a neighboring farm. A gay couple moves to town to run the florist shop. Then, the church’s pastor retires and is replaced by a phony preacher bent on making his reputation by stirring up trouble with his xenophobic interpretations of Bible passages that appeal to the poor farmers and townsfolk ready to blame their situations on something or someone. Predictable trouble.

Mass hysteria can be caused by unscrupulous, power-hungry leaders anywhere. This book is both an engrossing story unique to Will’s Ozark community and also a universal phenomenon. It’s both timely and ancient. Compare it to Winter’s Bone but with a political edge.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, March 2016.
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.


Lee S. Hawke
Blind Mirror Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-925299-03-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head and your entire city might turn out to be a lie… what would you sell yourself for?

In recent times, we in the US have come to have a rather jaundiced view of corporations, particularly the big ones, and we’ve largely lost the naive faith our parents and grandparents had that corporations cared about people. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good ones that DO have an altruistic bent but the moneycrunching type seem to be prevalent. Even with our mounting distrust, though, I don’t think we’ve anticipated the theme that Lee S. Hawke has built her story around in Dissolution.

How repugnant is the idea that our children can be bought and sold by corporations with the true parents aiding and abetting the process? I immediately felt a good deal of empathy for Maddie not only because of the auction that’s happening but also because she doesn’t know how wrong this is, never having experienced any other lifestyle. She’s an interesting girl, quite appealing, and I came to like her quite a lot despite her blind dependence on the existing system (and imagine how unromantic it must be to have to pay to spend time with your boyfriend!).

More than anything else, I found Dissolution to be somewhat incomplete. There’s no real worldbuilding and that’s pretty important in a tale like this one, a way to let the reader know how we got to such a point in our future and what propelled the corporations to a position of absolute control. The lack of such information is understandable in a novella but I’m sure I would have enjoyed Maddie’s story more in a full-length novel with space enough to provide the backstory and flesh out the characters more.

All that said, I do want to know more and I appreciated Dissolution enough to hope Ms. Hawke will bring Maddie back in the near future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.

Book Review: Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb

Whose Names Are UnknownWhose Names Are Unknown
Sanora Babb
University of Oklahoma Press, February 2006
ISBN 978-0-8061-3712-4
Trade Paperback

It’s 1938 and a young talented, adventurous woman from the Oklahoma panhandle lands a job with the Farm Security Administration in California, working with the refugee farmers from her home state. These were the people of the high plains who saw their farms and their lives blown away in the horrendous dust storms of the nineteen thirties. The camps in California were one legacy of the Dust Bowl.

Out of that experience, those associations, Sanora Babb fashioned this novel, a first-hand up-close story with intense empathy and understanding for the people. The novel has an interesting and unfortunate history. In 1939 the author submitted her manuscript to a New York publisher, Random House. The publisher’s editor, Bennett Cerf, called the novel an exceptionally fine piece of work and planned to publish it. A few months later, publication was halted in the face of the huge success of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Sanora Babb went on to a strong literary career, authoring five books and numerous shorter pieces published in the top literary magazines of the Twentieth Century. Now finally, sixty-five years late, this moving, intimate novel is seeing daylight. Is it as good or better than Steinbeck’s? Read it for yourself and judge. This is no grand pronouncement to illuminate the scope of what we know as the Dust Bowl Years. Whose Names are Unknown looks poverty and deprivation in the face and deals with the lives and deaths of those most materially affected.

Babb’s writing is clean, she wastes no words and the narrative voice brings her fascinating characters to the pages in a way that will remain with the reader for some time. This is truly a novel to savor.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.