Book Review: Below the Radar by Dana Ridenour @ridenour_dana @Wiseink

Below The Radar
The Lexie Montgomery FBI Series #3
Dana Ridenour
Wise Ink Creative Publishing, August 2019
ISBN 978-1-63489-224-7
Trade Paperback

FBI Special Agent Lexie Montgomery is still recovering mentally from her previous undercover assignment. But when she is asked to take on a new one, her therapist, Dr.Levering, doesn’t think Lexie is ready to return to action. Lexie assures her she’s fine, adding she’s the only Agent available with the experience to take on this assignment. A Dutch Police Officer, working undercover with a group of eco-extremists, has gone missing and Lexie, who has worked and lived with a similar group in a previous undercover operation, knows their mindset and methods.

While her immediate supervisor isn’t pleased with her decision, Special Agent Adam Harper is eager for her to take this on and return to the field. Special Agent Harper has also been assigned Agent Blake Bennet, mainly for the purpose of keeping an eye on Lexie.

The Agents meet and Lexie fears that two people trying to infiltrate a terrorist group will make the operation more difficult, but Agent Harper is insistent. Two days later they are on their way to the Hague. After being briefed, Blake and Lexie travel to Amsterdam where they meet up with a man who will take them to the Gathering (a meeting of protestors,) and introduce them to a few members of the eco-extremeists and persuade them they are as eager to join their group with the hope they will find out what has become of the missing Police Officer.

Blake and Lexie play their part well and are invited to join the inner group at their private camp. At this camp their phones are confiscated, but as they settle in and meet the other members of the group, there is no sign of the missing Policeman. Lexie seems to have a better handle on how to behave and the leader of the group, Holden, takes a fancy to her. Blake, however, finds himself on the outs with the possibility that he might be sent packing.

Initially the assignment to find and hopefully rescue the missing policeman had a certain urgency. And while there was a level of tension in the story once Lexie and Blake arrived at the inner camp, little progress was made. Whatever the extremists were planning came across as vague. Yes, they were up to something…but with little detail of their plan the urgency was lost.

While I understand that any type of undercover is undoubtedly a slow process, this story seemed to be going nowhere. Initially the assignment had seemed urgent to find the missing policeman, I never fully engaged in the plot and the ending came across as rather flat.

Just My Humble Opinion.
Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, August 2019.

Book Review: The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer

The Middleman
Olen Steinhauer
Minotaur Books, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-2500-3617-9

A thriller wrapped in a mystery which cannot make up its mind where it is going, or even coming from.  At the heart of the plot, Special Agent Rachel Proulx of the FBI is studying and preparing a report on terrorist groups.  Consequently, she spearheads the FBI’s efforts to monitor a group whose leader does not favor active terrorism, but cerebral efforts to change society.

The FBI plants an undercover agent in the group and he is forced to act as a sniper on July 4, 2017, shooting a Congresswoman spearheading an investigation into a couple of financial institutions,  Three other members of Congress are killed, although the Congresswoman is only shot in the neck and survives.  One of the other three is also a leader in the investigation of the financial companies.  So much for peaceful demonstrations, and the group is now classified as a terrorist organization.

What remains is for Rachel and the undercover agent to team up and try to find out what really took place along the way and discover the answers to unexplained questions and events, making these attempts while outcasts from their own FBI.  While the novel is constructed to move along and keep the reader interested, it is buried in obscurity and sometimes difficult to follow.  For the most part, the story meanders back and forth, past to present, adding little to forward movement.  It really is a tale of conspiracies compounded by double-crosses, but not a bad read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

Book Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers—and a Giveaway!

Thief’s Mark
A Sharpe & Donovan Novel #8
Carla Neggers
MIRA, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-778-33031-8

From the publisher—

A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man’s search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel 

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.  

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York’s country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished. 

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver’s account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver’s small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the United States, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.  

My favorite mystery setting, an English village, and a pair of FBI agents who are definitely out of their geographic element…what more could I want? Throw in an art thief (which I’ve always found fun and exciting, probably because these art thieves are daring and, well, sort of James Bond-ish, even the women) and a heinous crime from the past and the stage is set for an engrossing read.

Emma’s grandfather is an art detective in the private collector realm and has a strange tale for Emma and Colin. It seems that he’s had a break-in by someone apparently interested in items connected to one Oliver York. To add a little more mystique, Oliver used to be an accomplished art thief but then became an MI5 agent. Emma and Colin have years-long ties to Oliver through both of his professions but, when a dead man is found at his home, the case becomes ever-expanding and eventually involves multiple countries and law enforcement organizations.

While this is part of the Sharpe & Donovan series, it’s essentially a standalone and focuses largely on Oliver. He is a fascinating man and he makes it easy to understand why cops and robbers sometimes can’t help liking and even respecting each other. Emma and Colin are a delightful couple as well as being really good agents and Oliver’s colleague, Henrietta, is a force of nature but it’s Wendell, Emma’s grandfather, who really stole my heart. All in all, Thief’s Mark was a grand introduction, for me, to this series and the rest of the books are going on my wishlist right now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.


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About the Author

Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including her popular Sharpe and Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 35 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, Carla lives with her family in New England. To learn more and to sign up for her newsletter, visit

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Book Review: Devonshire Scream by Laura Childs—and a Giveaway!

Devonshire ScreamDevonshire Scream
A Tea Shop Mystery #17
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-28166-6

From the publisher—

Catering a high-class trunk show at Heart’s Desire Jewelry is a shining achievement for Theodosia and the Indigo Tea Shop. After all, a slew of jewelers, museums, and private collectors will be there to showcase their wares and sip some of Theo’s best blends. But just as Theo settles in to enjoy the fruits of her labor, the party is crashed by a gang of masked muggers who steal the precious gems and jewels on display. The thieves disappear almost as quickly as they arrived, leaving shattered glass, scattered gemstones, and a dead body in their wake. 
Although the last thing Theo wants is to get involved, she can’t help but intercede when her dear friend Brooke, aunt of the victim and owner of Heart’s Desire, begs for help in figuring out who committed the brutal burglary. Though the FBI believes this daring “smash and grab” is the work of an international gang of jewel thieves, Theo is convinced that the felon is someone much closer to home…

Right off the bat, let me just say I love this cover. It’s so…so cozy 😉 Seriously, though, the combination of colors was just the thing to bring spring to my mind and I send kudos to designer Lesley Worrell and artist Stephanie Henderson.

Laura Childs juggles three longrunning series and I have endless admiration for her ability to do that and do it well. I enjoy them all but, of the three, I like the Tea Shop series the best. (By the way, she’ll be debuting a fourth series in July and there’s a preview at the back of this book. That one’s definitely not cozy so she’ll be using her real name, Gerry Schmitt, and I can barely stand the wait.) Anyway, there are a lot of reasons this series strikes a chord with me—I love tea of all sorts, Charleston is one of my favorite cities, the included recipes always sound and are scrumptious and the main character is a woman I can relate to.

Theo has a lot going for her in her personal life and in her shop and catering a high-end jewelry show is sort of the icing on the cake. When violent thieves strike, Theo is as confused and frightened as everyone else but she quickly gathers herself together and does what an experienced amateur sleuth should do, taking charge until the police and ambulances arrive and trying to keep people calm. When the first responders get there, Theo sets right in to help wherever she’s needed and it’s this kind of behavior that makes me like Theo so much.

This is, however, a cozy and, as we all know, that means our intrepid sleuth needs must do some sleuthing. In this case, Theo is reluctant to meddle as the curmudgeonly “real” Detective Burt Tidwell would call it but her friend Brooke, owner of the jewelry shop and aunt of the dead girl, makes it impossible to refuse her pleas. She soon finds herself involved with not only the local police (Tidwell knows it’s in his best interest to share information with Theo because of previous cases) but also a pair of FBI agents and they all have a lot to do to solve this case and prevent another heist, that of a Fabergé egg that’s on its way to town.

Amongst all the snooping…er, detecting…we’re given a good look at the inner workings of a tea shop in Charleston and I always love this part. It’s a curious blend of murder, mayhem and the tranquility that goes along with such an oasis of gentility and peace, a blend that’s hard to beat, and it’s extra fun to watch Burt Tidwell become a marshmallow when confronted with delectable scones and tea. I think I would enjoy having a cup with Burt at the Indigo Tea Shop and I’m definitely going to have to try the recipes for Drayton’s Devonshire Cream and Haley’s Beef Stroganoff 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.


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Book Review: Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk—and a Giveaway!

Method 15-33-2Method 15/33
Shannon Kirk
Oceanview Publishing, May 2015
ISBN 978-1-60809-145-4

From the publisher—

Imagine a helpless, pregnant 16-year-old who’s just been yanked from the serenity of her home and shoved into a dirty van. Kidnapped…


Now forget her…

Picture instead a pregnant, 16-year-old, manipulative prodigy. She is shoved into a dirty van and, from the first moment of her kidnapping, feels a calm desire for two things: to save her unborn child and to exact merciless revenge.

She is methodical—calculating— scientific in her plotting. A clinical sociopath? Leaving nothing to chance, secure in her timing and practice, she waits—for the perfect moment to strike. Method 15/33 is what happens when the victim is just as cold as her abductors.

The agents searching for a kidnapped girl have their own frustrations and desires wrapped into this chilling drama. In the twists of intersecting stories, one is left to ponder. Who is the victim? Who is the aggressor?

Well, this is an odd turn of events. Just yesterday, I reviewed a book about a young woman’s fight back when she’s held captive. Today, I’m reviewing a book about a young woman’s fight back when she’s held captive. And there the comparisons end.

This time, the reason the girl has been taken is not because the usual really bad guy wants to hurt her in his own “special” ways. Sixteen-year-old Lisa is being held because she’s blonde, blue-eyed and pregnant, making her baby worth quite a premium. Ms. Kirk has taken a fairly common theme in crime fiction and given it a very interesting twist—her protagonist is almost as creepy as her captor, especially in the unnerving way she seems able to turn her emotions on and off. She’s also very clever at finding uses for odd items and, when the FBI finally arrives, they just might find the captive has gotten the better of her captors.

FBI agents Roger Lui and his partner, Lola, are interesting characters on their own merits, especially Liu with his hyperthymesia, an extremely rare condition causing him to remember his own past in great detail. As for Lisa, one might wonder if she’s a sociopath or just a very intelligent girl with an inventive mind and the ability to focus on the needs at hand without getting distracted by such unimportant things as fear or loneliness and certainly not by remorse.

Lisa is a protagonist I’m not likely to forget and I’m getting a bit tired after having two books in a row keep me up all night 😉 To say anything more would mean spoiling the things that make this book so terrific so I’ll just say…read Method 15/33 as soon as you can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.



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About the Author

Shannon KirkShannon Kirk is a practicing attorney and a law professor. She attended West Virginia Wesleyan and St. John’s Universities, is a graduate of Suffolk Law School, and was a trial lawyer in Chicago prior to moving to Massachusetts. She has been honored three times by the Faulkner Society in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a physicist, and their son. Method 15/33 is her first novel.

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Book Review Roundup by Gloria Feit

Known to Evil
Walter Mosley
NAL, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-451-23213-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter McGill is a 54-year-old African-American man, an amateur boxer known to have had his “finger in every dishonest business in the city” including being a fixer for the mob, who is trying to turn his life around, now working as a private detective. He describes his marriage as “twenty years of unfaithfulness on both sides of the bed;” he has fathered only one of the two sons he has raised with his wife, she of the “gorgeous Scandinavian face.”  At present both his wife and his girlfriend have taken on new boyfriends, and his two sons are involved in some kind of trouble.  And that’s only his personal life.

He is hired [although insisting it will be a ‘favor,’ with no money to change hands other than expenses] by a very powerful man to find a young woman who it seems is being stalked, with no information except for an address; when he goes to that address it quickly becomes apparent that it is a crime scene where two dead bodies have been found.  The ensuing investigation, by McGill and the police, is not a simple one; ‘convoluted’ would be an understatement, but one never loses interest for a minute.   The woman he was sent to find was “a mystery and missing, the object of attention of a man who was as dangerous as any terrorist or government-trained assassin.”

I must admit to only having read one of this author’s prior books, which took place in an LA of earlier times.  I found this novel, which takes place in contemporary New York City, more accessible, which probably says at least as much about me than about the author.  But his evocation of present-day Manhattan is a vibrant one, as are his characters.  His writing is enjoyable on so many levels:  The frequent irony; the depiction of his protagonist as a deeply flawed man but one with his own immutable moral code; the wonderful names he gives his characters:  e.g., a young man who I want to describe as a computer genius except that that wouldn’t do him justice, with the two nicknames of “Tiny” [because he isn’t] and “Bug,” [no idea]; his father was self-named “Tolstoy;” an ex-cop’s middle name is Proteus; an assassin friend is named Hush; his brother is Nikita; he himself has named his sons Twilliam and Dmitri.

The writing is wonderful. When something bothers McGill, he describes it as “a feeling at the back of my mind, something that was burgeoning into consciousness like a vibrating moth pressing out from its cocoon.”  When he turned 49, the man who was a surrogate father to him gives him this wisdom:  “When you hit your fifties life starts comin’ up on ya fast . . .  Before that time life is pretty much a straight climb.  Wife looks up to you and the young kids are small enough, and the older kids smart enough, not to weigh you down.  But then, just when you start puttin’ on the pounds an’ losin’ your wind, the kids’re expecting you to fulfill your promises and the wife all of a sudden sees every one of your flaws.  Your parents, if you still got any, are getting’ old and turnin’ back into kids themselves.  For the first time you realize that the sky does have a limit. You comin’ to a rise, but when you hit the top there’s another life up ahead of you and here you are – – just about spent.”

Mr. Mosley has been called a master of contemporary noir, and I cannot disagree with that assessment.   Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2011.


Misery Bay
Steve Hamilton
Minotaur, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38043-4

The first page of the newest book by Steve Hamilton, which brings the welcome return of Alex McKnight, describes a scene wherein the body of a young man is found hanging from a tree branch at the edge of a bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  For those new to the series, McKnight is a former Detroit cop and current holder of a p.i. license, although he protests that he ‘doesn’t do that anymore’:  He owns and rents out cabins to ‘the snowmobile people’ in season.

Three months after that first-page event takes place, McKnight is approached by Roy Maven, Chief of Police in “the Soo” [Sault St. Marie], who asks for his help.  This from a man whose relationship with McKnight could at best be described as ‘fraught’ – as the Chief says, ‘just call it a persistent lack of liking each other.”  The dead boy’s father had been Maven’s partner on the police force, and Maven wants McKnight to investigate the circumstances that could have led to what appears to have been a suicide.  Having suffered horrendous personal losses himself – his partner on the Detroit police force, the woman he loved – there is no way this particular man could refuse.  In what is perhaps the unlikeliest of alliances, McKnight agrees.

The place where the body was found is the eponymous Misery Bay, a fitting enough name for the site itself and for what happened there, and a five-hour drive away from McKnight’s home on Lake Superior, in a town called Paradise.  McKnight once again periodically turns to his friend Leon Prudell, the once and perhaps future p.i., for his unerring ability to point him in the right direction.  The investigation takes some unpredictable turns, as more lives are lost and more still endangered.

The writing is wonderful – no surprise here.  The long, long winter of Paradise is once again made palpable by the author:  “The sun went down.  The wind picked up and started howling and I knew the wind chill would be something like thirty below.  Another beautiful April night in Paradise. . . [where] springtime felt like a fairy tale.”  [And I loved that the author tips his hat to fellow mystery writers, both from NYC: Reed Coleman and Jim Fusilli, both police sergeants in this incarnation.]

As dark as the story line is, there is just enough humor injected into the writing and, as usual for this author, it is a sheer pleasure to read, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.


The Retribution
Val McDermid
Little, Brown, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4087-0319-9

[This review is based on the UK edition and the US edition is now available from Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 9780802120175]

In her twenty-fifth novel, Val McDermid brings back Jacko Vance, introduced to readers in The Wire in the Blood, and to television viewers in its wonderful series adaptation.  As the book opens, this truly malevolent serial killer, whose resume includes “killer of seventeen teenage girls, murderer of a serving police officer, and a man once voted the sexiest man on British TV” as well as an Olympic athlete and an outwardly charming and charismatic man, has served over 12 years in prison, owing mostly to the efforts of DCI Carol Jordan and psychological profiler Tony Hill.  Vance has spent most of that time meticulously planning his escape, as well as his future after its successful completion:  the revenge suggested by the books title, directed toward those who had caused his imprisonment, first among them Jordan and Hill, as well as his ex-wife whose betrayal he sees as making her equally culpable.  Of course, his plan for vengeance merely begins there.

Carol Jordan, as yet unaware of what is about to happen, is dealing with a shake-up at the Bradfield Metropolitan Police, where the powers that be are disbanding her Major Incident Team.  In an attempt to go out in a ‘blaze of glory,’ they are faced with finding a killer who has been killing street prostitutes in gruesome ways, and branding them with a distinctive tattoo on the wrist of each.   Suddenly, Jordan’s priorities change with Vance’s escape, and its implications.  Tony’s priorities as well must be divided between these investigations.

The relationship between Jordan and Hill has always been difficult to define, becoming more so all the time.  They are not quite lovers, although they share space, and different flats, in Tony’s house.  But their emotional entanglement has always been obvious to all, even if they themselves do not admit to one.  That relationship, both professionally and personally, is about to be threatened now as never before.

The author goes into more of Tony’s background, and the emotional and psychological paths that have shaped him, and caused him to work at “passing for human,” than I remembered having been done in the past.  He tells a colleague “I won’t deny that the people who do this kind of thing fascinate me.  The more disturbed they are, the more I want to figure out what makes them tick.”  It is his empathy and his oft-times brilliant insights that have made him so successful.  But this is a challenge unlike any he has ever faced.

The pace steadily accelerates along with a sense of dread as Vance begins to carry out his plans, and the resultant page-turner is as good as anything this acclaimed author has written.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2011.


Split Second
Catherine Coulter
Putnam, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15743-1

There are three story lines presented in the newest book by Catherine Coulter.  The first appears on page one, and isn’t resolved until nearly the final page in the book:  The owner of a small convenience store in Washington, D.C. is nearly killed late one night in an apparent robbery gone wrong, the latter not having counted on FBI Agent Dillon Savitch being the customer in the shop at the time.  When the same man is shot in another incident shortly thereafter, leaving him seriously wounded, it would seem there is more going on than a “simple” robbery.

The second, and main, story line deals with a series of crimes involving women in their 20’s and 30’s who are picked up in neighborhood bars, brought back to their own apartments, and strangled with a length of wire, no apparent connection among them, and the crimes occurring in various large cities including Cleveland, Ohio; San Francisco; and Chicago.  Autopsies show the women were drugged with Rohypnol and ketamine.   One of the victims had scratched her attacker before being killed, leaving a nice sample of DNA to be analyzed and run through databases, after which it is determined that the killer is the offspring of none other than Ted Bundy, the man who kidnapped dozens of young women, raped, tortured and then murdered them before he was caught and ultimately electrocuted in Florida in 1989.

The last of the plotlines is a very personal one, having to do with a horrifying family secret just discovered by Lucy Carlyle, another FBI agent in the Washington DC office, and her attempt to put it on the back burner while joining her boss, Savitch, and her partner, Cooper (“Coop”) McKnight, in the investigation of the serial killer, whose victims number five and counting.

I had several problems with the book, starting with the fact that one of the agents, whose name is, disconcertingly, Lacey Sherlock, is never referred to or called Lacey but, always, “Sherlock,” even by her husband.  As well, much of the writing felt stilted, the dialog often not what I felt one or another would be expected to utter or their actions not ringing true, e.g., a 27-year-old FBI agent “bouncing up and down” upon being given news of an important breakthrough in the case; a cup of coffee described as “dark as sin.”  And would a woman who had just been told her niece had lost control of her car and been badly injured, upon seeing that niece, really say to her “Oh, you’ve got a bandage on your head!”  Nor am I enamored with the supernatural in mysteries, as is the case here.

On the other hand, almost in spite of myself, I was caught up in the story, the pages turning quickly, and anxious to find out how each story line was resolved.  I am obviously in the minority with my reservations about the book, since the author consistently makes the bestseller lists.  This is her seventeenth book in what is termed “the FBI Thriller” series.  It made for good reading, on balance, and I’m sure most readers will find it very enjoyable.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2011.


Very Bad Men
Harry Dolan
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15749-3

This new novel from the author of the acclaimed Bad Things Happen, his writing debut, has no ‘sophomore book’ problems.   Very Bad Men immediately engages the reader, and one is quickly drawn into this compelling tale of murder, specifically, the murder of two men who were part of a bank robbery seventeen years ago, and the attempted murder of a third.  All three men had been convicted, and served jail time of varying lengths.  But what could be the motive?  These three men had not seen nor contacted one another in all the intervening years.  And the killer – for his identity is quickly revealed – is not a cool, professional hit man; that is immediately made clear.

David Loogan, the editor-in-chief of a mystery magazine, receives, in a plain, unmarked envelope, what at first glance appears to be a manuscript, only several pages long, bearing no signature, the first line of which reads “I killed Henry Kormoran . . . “   Loogan, who lives with his ‘significant other,’ Elizabeth Waishkey, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, detective, and her precocious 16-year-old daughter, ultimately begins a kind of parallel and unofficial investigation.

Each character in the novel is wonderfully well-drawn.  These include the killer, who suffers from synesthesia, a rare affliction which results in a confusion of the senses, with words taking on dimensions far beyond their ‘normal’ printed appearance, according to his emotional reaction to them; Lucy Navarro, a young and rather endearing reporter, who comes up with a bizarre theory of the motive for the crimes; assorted politicians and their ‘handlers,’ among others.  The writer invokes some wildly disparate images: Occam and his razor, Aristotle, jazz musician Charlie Parker; mystery authors Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly; and a theme:  “We all want to be known.  To be seen for who we really are.” There are carefully placed, and easily missed clues, and startling and unexpected twists in this rather complex and engrossing novel, which is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.