Book Review: Echoes of Terror by Maris Soule

Echoes of Terror
Maris Soule
Five Star, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4328-3281-0
Hardcover

Skagway, Alaska, is a small northern community with a small police force. In spite of the tour ships that visit, bringing many short-time visitors, and an active tourist industry, major crimes are not part of their usual operation. The Chief of Police is recovering in the hospital from a procedure. A senior officer with a day off is not responding to radio calls and an oddly emotional woman stands at the intake desk announcing abrasively that her step-daughter, also just off a cruise liner, is missing. The lone woman law officer on the force, Katherine Ward, is assigned to take care of the woman.

It turns out the girl is the daughter of an extremely wealthy businessman, now in China. The case quickly becomes a kidnapping for ransom and then yet another young girl goes missing. Katherine Ward, an experienced police officer, is beset by conflicting pressures and the odd feeling that there are parallels here to an earlier case, one directly involving Ward. Readers will quickly realize that this is far more complicated than it seems, and with Officer Ward leading the way, we’re drawn into a brutal murder thriller.

The characters are well-delineated and the plot moves forcefully through the book to its conclusion. Along the way there are several surprises which add dimension and heft to the story line. Echoes of Terror is a worthwhile, interesting novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2017.
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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Book Review: Cold Heart by Karen Pullen—and a Giveaway!

cold-heartCold Heart
A Stella Lavender Mystery #2
Karen Pullen
Five Star, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3257-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Motivated by her mother’s long-ago unsolved abduction, Stella Lavender has joined the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation only to be severely challenged by her first assignment: undercover drug agent. Stella works nights, buying drugs from paranoid drug dealers, gathering evidence to send them to prison or turn them into informants. She’s great at the job because, as her boss says, “you don’t look like a cop.” But the physical danger and the necessary betrayals are getting to her. When she sees a chance to work homicide, she’ll always take it.

One afternoon Stella gives a hitchhiking teenager a ride to her babysitting job in a wealthy neighborhood. Horror awaits them–the father lies dead in a pool of blood, and his toddler is missing. Stella joins the murder investigation as the puzzle quickly grows. Most importantly, where is the toddler? A dizzying array of plausible suspects provides more questions than answers.

At the same time, Stella’s personal life offers plenty of distractions. Her grandmother Fern, a free-spirited artist with male admirers wrapped around every one of her paint-stained fingers, needs Stella’s help with expensive house repairs. And Stella’s attraction to three very different men means her romantic life is, well, complicated.

Cold Heart draws the reader into a darkly delightful page-turner as Stella rummages through every strata of society in her relentless and sometimes unconventional pursuit of a cold-hearted murderer who won’t stop at just one victim.

If you’re not careful, sometimes what you wish for turns out to be much more than you think it’s going to be. Stella Lavender is good at what she does, working Narcotics, but she really wants to get into the Homicide division. When she picks up a hitchhiker, she has no idea that she’s about to walk smack into a murder case but she’s more or less prepared for that. What surprises her are the connections she discovers she has to the case, kind of a six degrees of separation thing.

The fact that Stella made a drug buy just the night before from the man who’s now lying dead is just one of those links and she soon finds that her personal life isn’t as separated from work as she’d like it to be. For instance, could one of the many men who orbit around her charismatic grandmother be somehow involved and is Fern hiding things from Stella? Are other people being attacked because Stella herself is really the target and, if so, why? Most importantly, what has happened to the dead man’s toddler daughter, Paige?

There are a few too many coincidences in the plot but a plethora of leads and suspects kept me guessing for quite a while and the characters, particularly Stella, are interesting. I liked her very much and appreciated her determination and even her occasional rule-bending. Stella Lavender is a cop I could be friends with 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Just by leaving two comments,
you’ll have a chance to win a
print copy of the first book in
the series, Cold Feet. Leave
one comment today and one
on yesterday’s guest blog by
Karen Pullen. The winning name
will be drawn Thursday evening,
January 26th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US.

Book Review: When Krishna Calls by Susan Oleksiw and Forensics by Val McDermid

when-krishna-callsWhen Krishna Calls
An Anita Ray Mystery #4
Susan Oleksiw
Five Star, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3225-4
Hardcover

Indian American photographer Anita Ray lives at her Auntie Meena’s tourist hotel in South India. She is preparing for a one woman show at a prestigious gallery and her aunt is pleased that she is not involved in solving other people’s problems, for a change. When a young woman abandons her daughter inside the Hotel Delite and then flees, Anita recognizes the child as the daughter of an employee, Nisha. Soon the police come searching for Nisha, whom they want as the suspect in the stabbing death of her husband, Panju. Panju was angry about the local farmers losing their land to people who want to exploit the land, and he made enemies. Anita discovers that Panju owed debts to the unscrupulous moneylender from the family’s village.

When Anita goes to take some more photographs for her show, she sets up her camera for a shot and discovers a piece of paper wrapped around the batteries and someone else’s memory card inside. She doesn’t recognize the photos on the card, but someone is sending her a plea for help. Anita is drawn into the search for Nisha and wants to exonerate the hotel’s employee, while navigating the world of moneylenders and debts of honor.

The author does a wonderful job of capturing the rhythm of the speech and weaves references to food, clothing and customs throughout the story. The juxtaposition of the traditional India and the influence of new technology (cell phones are essential to the plot) make for a delightful journey. Readers who enjoy the mysteries of Tarquin Hall and Michael Stanley may like the Anita Ray series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2016.

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forensicsForensics
What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA, and More Tell Us About Crime
Val McDermid
Grove Press, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8021-2515-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  The dead talk – – to the right listener.  They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them.  Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces.  Forensics goes behind the scenes with some of these top-level professionals and their groundbreaking research, drawing on Val McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

Along the way, McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one’s time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer, and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide.  It’s a journey from war zones to fire scenes and autopsy suits and brings McDermid into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness, as she traces the history of forensics from its earlier beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.

Ms. McDermid starts the book with facts dating from eighteenth-century scientific discoveries, when the term “forensic, meaning a form of legal evidence – science, was born,” to the present time.  The first case, in the opening chapter, describes dates back to 2005, going on to the opening of the first crime investigation lab in 1910 in France, the founder of which wrote a landmark 7-volume textbook on which he called “criminalistics,” and coined the phrase “every contact leaves a trace.”  The second chapter, “Fire Scene Investigation,” goes back to September of 1666, then to a case in County Durham in 1844, one in Derbyshire in 1981, and on from there, covering each milestone reached.  The ensuing chapters discuss at length other aspects of forensics, i.e., entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood spatter and DNA, anthropology, facial reconstruction, digital forensics, forensic psychology, as well as the all-important courtrooms where all the evidence is presented, to the ends that justice is, irrevocably, done.

Not a dry recitation by any means, the author has made it very real and intense by recounting the names of victims and the circumstances of many of the cases cited.  The book makes for fascinating reading, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2016.

Book Review: Four Furlongs by Carol Wright Crigger—and a Giveaway!

four-furlongsFour Furlongs
A China Bohannon Novel #4
Carol Wright Crigger
Five Star, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3215-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Smart and sassy bookkeeper China Bohannon is a modern 1890s career woman who’d rather sleuth than type. China is in charge of the Doyle & Howe Detective Agency office on the day a fourteen-year-old girl shows up seeking the detectives’ help in a case of what she’s calling murder. Neva Sue O’Dell’s jockey brother has been killed during a race, the horse he was riding — the dead-on Derby favorite — lamed. Neva claims her mother and grandfather are involved, having been paid a lot of money to rig the race. Who paid them? Neva doesn’t know, but she wants China to find out and somehow bring those who harmed her brother to justice.

The Wild, Wild West was still a little in evidence in 1890’s Washington State and young women such as China Bohannon were supposed to be prim, proper and running a man’s household. That is most decidedly not the life she chose for herself once she decided to leave an untenable situation and working in her uncle Montgomery Howe’s private investigation firm is almost perfect. That “almost” would disappear if she could just convince her bosses that she really is capable of much more than bookkeeping. Fortunately, both her bosses are occasionally willing to let her try her hand at things so China and her beloved terrier, Nimble, are with Gratton Doyle one day at the racetrack looking for a con man (much more fun than sitting at her newfangled typewriting machine).

When they come upon a loud, angry confrontation involving their quarry, China lands literally in the middle of the fray and foils the miscreant’s escape. Unfortunately for our heroine, the times and society are not forgiving of women showing up in certain situations such as a police station in the company of a petty criminal but China refuses to bow to convention, as we might expect she would, and soon proves her worth to the firm that should have her name on the door.

Alas, China is stuck back at her desk the next day but she can hardly be blamed for taking on her own case when 14-year-old Neva O’Dell comes in looking for someone to find out why her jockey brother was killed. Neva has some harsh suspicions and it’s not long before she and China are embroiled in a lot more danger than they might have anticipated. Shockingly, when all seems to be resolved, the good ol’ boy network threatens to get in the way of justice until China is confronted by a wicked twist that just might end very badly for her.

The bibliographic information available on various retail sites as well as modifications in how the author’s name is shown make it a little difficult to read this series chronologically but there’s a very handy hint—all the titles involve a number:

One Foot on the Edge by C.K. Crigger
Two Feet Below by C. K. Crigger
Three Seconds to Thunder by C.K. Crigger
Four Furlongs by Carol Wright Crigger

The fifth book is tentatively titled Five Days, Five Dead and, while I don’t know when it will be released, I’m looking forward to it eagerly. China Bohannon is one of my very favorite historical sleuths and Ms. Crigger writes with a clear love of the western frontier leavened with a lot of quiet humor and a real knowledge of the period. I’ve read one of the earlier books but I’m driven now to get the others before the next one arrives.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

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I’d love to send somebody my
very gently used advance reading
copy of Four Furlongs. Leave a
comment below and I’ll draw the
winning name on Tuesday evening,
September 20th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Reviews: Sail Into Treachery by Gary R. Bush and The Musubi Murder by Frankie Bow

sail-into-treacherySail Into Treachery
A Jamie Sharpe Adventure
Gary R. Bush
40 Press, March 2016
ISBN: 978-1-938473-16-6
Trade Paperback

Although this debut novel is aimed at a young adult readership, nothing in its style, subject matter or plot in any way restricts its audience. The story is presented in the rousing style of a Patrick O’Brien, and draws nicely on the author’s meticulous research in the post-revolutionary years when America was a young nation, just coming into its own as a maritime power. The novel calls to mind Arthur Ransome’s fine boating series about the Swallows and the Amazons, set in England in the early Twentieth Century.

Jamie Sharpe is all of fifteen growing up at the turn of the Nineteenth Century. He’s already been to sea with his merchant father and experienced the terrors of sea battles. Now, at the behest of his far-seeing family, he’s finishing an advanced high school course of study that blends cultural studies with several languages and the practical skills that any young man growing up in the rough-and-tumble mercantile world of the commercial harbor of Boston will find necessary.

His father is away in the China Trade and financial troubles loom over the Sharpe family. This sets young Jamie on an exciting if terrifying adventure in which he faces murder, kidnapping, slavery, storms at sea, and more than one kind of death. The dialogue enhances the rollicking sense of adventure though and Jamie and his friends are able to survive through wit, intelligence and force of arms. I recommend this novel as a fast, enjoyable adventure, likely to be the first of an enduring series.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
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-musubi-murderThe Musubi Murder
A Professor Molly Mystery #1
Frankie Bow
Five Star, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-4328-3074-8
Hardcover

A classically framed and realized light murder mystery. It does offer a clever mis-direction. The setting, Hawaii, is well-limned and readers will delight in many of the idiosyncrasies of behavior, language and descriptions of the settings.

The primary action location, a small business college on the Big Island, where our accused protagonist teaches, is apparently struggling at all levels, from its administration right down to an absence of adequate janitorial services. The private college is beset by a lack of funding which leads to some compromising of academic standards and practices. Against this setting, enhanced by the usual wrangling and maneuvering of tenured and untenured faculty, financial supporters are naturally carefully handled and even cash contributions from thugs like Johnny Tanaka are welcomed.

Of course there is a murder, false accusations, the mystery of a purloined skull, an itinerant unclaimed suitcase, romance and some sparkling dialogue. The pace of the unraveling is a little ragged at times, but for readers looking for a light murder mystery, here’s an intriguing entry.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2016.
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: American Nights by Gerrie Ferris Finger

American NightsAmerican Nights
A Moriah Dru / Richard Lake Mystery #6
Gerrie Ferris Finger
Five Star, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3221-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Saudi Arabian prince, Husam al Saliba, hires child-finder Moriah Dru to find his missing wife, Reeve and daughter, Shahrazad.

The inquiry begins with Husam tells Dru of falling in love with Reeve, of turning his back on his ascendancy to the Saudi power structure for the woman he loves. He talks of his king’s disapproval of him marrying and siring an infidel.

But there are cracks in his story. At times he seems to long to return to the good graces of the royal family and marry cousin Aya and be an heir to kingship. Sometimes Dru thinks she’s fallen into a fairy tale, since the prince is fond of telling tales from the Arabian Nights.

Her search for mother and child had just begun when Reeve’s parents, Lowell and Donna Cresley were killed. They hated their prince son-in-law for fear of losing their grandchild to the land of his ancestors and for a generally racist attitude. The prince is immediately suspected when the Atlanta police, in the person of Dru’s lover Lt. Richard Lake, come into the case.

It’s soon evident infidelity abounds and everyone has something dreadful to hide.

When a four-year-old child and her mother go missing and a Middle Eastern prince hires Moriah to find his wife and daughter, she’s initially perplexed. This clearly is not the kind of abduction she would have expected involving Saudi law and religion and, with a French-born child and American mother, Interpol and a US federal agency should be looking for the pair. What makes it even more puzzling is that the prince insists that the investigation remain private. Moriah agrees to look into the matter but with one caveat…she must be allowed to discuss the case with her other half, Atlanta police lieutenant Richard Lake, although the APD will not be involved.

Most surprising of all is that, upon first meeting Prince Husam, he doesn’t seem very concerned, just slightly impatient that Reeve and Shara have been gone longer than usual. Still, it’s apparent that their disappearance could be connected to the king’s disapproval of the marriage and the need for a successor, most likely Husam.

When Reeve’s parents are murdered, the case takes on an entirely new aspect with hints of bigotry and infidelity and their hatred of Husam, leading Moriah and Lake in several directions. Every theory and idea they have, though, goes right out the window when Moriah learns that Husam is not at all who he purports to be and that he has some very powerful secrets.

As always, I enjoyed spending time with Moriah and Lake and this case takes them far beyond the norm. This is a couple I really like, largely due to the respect they have for each other and the way they can share information openly because of the absolute…and warranted…trust. They’re a power couple in their own way and about as appealing as can be. Ms. Finger has given us another winner 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

Book Review: Peak Season for Murder by Gail Lukasik

Peak Season for MurderPeak Season for Murder
A Leigh Girard Mystery #3
Gail Lukasik
Five Star, September 2013
ISBN 978-12-4328-2729-8
Hardcover

Door County, Wisconsin, is a vacation spot known for art galleries, live performances, and trendy restaurants. It’s a place where the well-heeled summer people and tourists meet with the locals who live there year round. Leigh Girard, Door County Gazette reporter, is investigating the death of a formerly homeless man, Brownie Lawrence. Brownie’s friend, Ken Albright, is accused of his murder, and while Leigh attempts to prove his innocence, she discovers Brownie had assumed another man’s identity.

The Bayside Theater is a Door County institution, and this season’s cast seems to be shadowed by a past mystery. Twenty three years ago local actress Danielle Moyer vanished after starring in a play. Her body was never found. Nina Cass, the theater’s owner and actress, has hired her ex-husband, actor Nate Ryan, for the season. Ryan, who was one of the players when Danielle Moyer disappeared, is out of rehab and still a heartthrob but his good looks are fading. Former ballerina Gwen Shaw is also one of the players, along with Shakespearean stage actor Julian Finch, and young actress Harper Kennedy.

Leigh is interviewing the cast members for an article, but a series of misfortunes haunt the theatre. On the opening night of the first play, a swarm of bats converge on the stage, causing Gwen Shaw to trip and break her arm. During rehearsal for “Merchant of Venice,” a real knife is substituted for a prop, and Julian is cut.

This is the author’s third Leigh Girard mystery. She has a wonderful feel for language and uses it well to describe the characters and the setting, but doesn’t neglect the plot. Leigh is a character with a lot of backstory, but it is revealed a little at a time, as you come to appreciate her perseverance and curiosity.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2015.