Book Review: Cast Iron by Peter May

Cast Iron
An Enzo Macleod Investigation #6
Peter May
Quercus, October 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4161-0
Hardcover

This is the sixth and final book in the Enzo Files series, and it is a worthy addition indeed.

From the publisher:  In 1989, a killer dumped the body of twenty-year-old Lucie Martin into a picturesque lake in the west of France.  Fourteen years later, during a summer heat wave, a drought exposed her remains – – bleached bones amid the scorching mud and slime.  No one was ever convicted of her murder.  But now, forensic expert Enzo Macleod is reviewing this stone-cold case – – the toughest of the seven he has been challenged to solve.  But when Enzo finds a flaw in the original evidence surrounding Lucie’s murder, he opens a Pandora’s Box that not only raises old ghosts but also endangers his entire family.  The challenge was from a Parisian journalist, Roger Raffin, who told Enzo that his skills would be insufficient to solve these very cold cases, including that of his [Raffin’s] wife.   Candor makes me admit that all of the nearly interchangeable relationships in the novel at times confused this reader, what with the various characters’ relationships with each other, both parental and marital.

Time frames range from the time of Lucie’s murder in 1989 in the book’s Prologue to the discovery of the bones of the victim in the summer of 2003 on the 1st page of Chapter 1,  to the concluding chapter in the Spring of 2012, with p.o.v. initially being that of Enzo but soon nearly alternating with that of Sophie, Enzo’s daughter, and Bertrand, her lover.  The question of the identity of Lucie’s murderer, as well as that of Pierre Lambert, a significant character in the tale, is not resolved until very nearly the end of the novel, as well as “the enigma that is Regis Blanc,” thought initially to have killed many (all?) of the many victims enumerated here. Macleod explores the possibility that Lucie was murdered by a man she met while doing social work with recently released felons, on one of whom Enzo focuses: But Enzo has so much personal baggage to wrap up – – the vindictive ex-wife, the uncertain paternities, the infidelities, his new girlfriend – – enough to negatively influence his investigation.  The frequently [and wonderfully] poetic writing, combined with the suspense wrought by the author, makes this a highly recommended read.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2017.

Book Reviews: Kind of Blue by Miles Corwin, Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson and Blowback by Peter May

Kind of Blue
Miles Corwin
Oceanview Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60809-007-5
Hardcover

The author, a former crime reporter for the L.A. Times, has published three non-fiction books prior to this, his first novel.  It certainly reflects his deep knowledge of crime and police procedure, and certainly reflects all the past works that have preceded this effort, including such established authors as Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, James Ellroy, Jonathan Kellerman et al.

The protagonist, Asher (“Ash”) Levine, has an unusual background:  son of a holocaust survivor whose relatives all perished in the gas chambers, he volunteered to serve in the Israeli Defense Force.  Upon returning to Los Angeles, he became a cop and eventually a top homicide detective with an elite felony squad. When a witness to a murder he was investigating and whom he was trying to protect was murdered, he was blamed and suspended for a week.  Instead he quit.  A year later he is lured back on the recommendation of his former superiors when an ex-cop is murdered.

Tenacity is the only word that can be used to describe Ash.  His dogged determination and the haunting memory of the murdered witness keep him on a straight path to solving murders. In many ways, the novel is excessive:  over-plotted and with much violence, making Ash a violent and over-zealous character, sort of a Jewish Rambo.  But on the whole, the novel is well-written, smooth but complex, riveting to say the least.  Let’s hope this is the start of another interesting series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

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Junkyard Dogs
Craig Johnson
Penguin, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-14-311953-1
Trade Paperback

The Walt Longmire series reaches its sixth entry, and judging by the various physical damage the Absaroka County, WY, sheriff absorbs during this episode, one wonders if he can last much longer.  He is bitten by a vicious dog in the rear end, suffers from a torn retina, is almost run over by a tow truck and almost shot, among other dangers to his body.  Not to mention other injuries, from events in prior series books, some of which have yet to heal.

Common to a Longmire mystery are a series of incidents, which by themselves may not seem important or are just plain hilarious, but usually add up to be interrelated clues to a baffling case to be solved.  Junkyard Dogs is no different.  First Walt is called to the scene of a bizarre accident in which the owner of a junkyard, George “Geo” Stewart, has been dragged two and one-quarter miles tied behind a car driven by his daughter-in-law.  After which Geo tells Walt he has found a severed thumb in a Styrofoam cooler.

Then there is the rest of the Stewart clan, son Duane, the aforementioned daughter-in-law Gina, and the Stewart “mansion” with its secret tunnel. Not to mention the developer, Ozzie Dobbs, who would like to have the Stewart junkyard and the adjacent town dump moved far away from his nearby real estate development.  And the owner of the severed thumb.  All inter-related and keeping Walt and his deputies hopping.

Typical of a Longmire novel are the well-drawn descriptions of the mountains, frigid Wyoming temperatures, and the snow.  And more snow. The novel is well-drawn and eminently readable, with the regular cast of characters, undersheriff Vic Moretti, long-time buddy Henry Standing Bear, and, of course, Dog, companion and savior.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blowback
Peter May
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-841-3
Hardcover

The reader of an Enzo Macleod mystery faces a formidable task: Confronted by the deviousness of the unsolved crime Enzo seeks to solve, the magnificent descriptions of the area in France in which he works to complete the task, and the culinary delights of le haute cuisine Francaise, the reader has to overcome the temptation to weigh one element against the other.  Fortunately, in this novel, the fifth of seven unsolved cases on which Enzo has wagered he can bring to a successful conclusion, all three aspects are on such a high level, that the reader shouldn’t even try.

The case is a seven-year-old murder involving a world renowned chef of a three-star Michelin restaurant in the central French plateau, Chez Fraysse, named after its chef and half-owner, Marc.  There are no clues or forensic evidence, making Enzo’s task harder.  He places his daughter on the kitchen staff to give him an inside view.  Working with a young, female, gendarme, Enzo plows ahead, gastronomically as well as on the case.  As a side issue, some deep insight into Enzo’s personal life and past is provided, giving a more rounded view of the protagonist.

A well-written novel which only gives rise to the desire to read about the sixth unsolved mystery (much less the seventh!) yet to come, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

Book Review: Dexter Is Delicious by Jeff Lindsay

Dexter is Delicious
Jeff Lindsay
Doubleday, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-53235-8
Hardcover

Jeff Lindsay is back, with his totally unique creation, Dexter Morgan. Mr. Lindsay’s trademark alliteration is firmly in place, e.g., on the second page of the novel, Dexter references his Dark Dabbler, Dexter Dead for Decades, and Dexter the Decidedly Dreadful.  [Although the tale is told in the first person, the protagonist routinely refers to himself in the third person.]  But in this, the fifth novel in the series, it seems that these references might belong to an earlier Dexter, since now, at first blush at least, he appears to be a changed man, with a new appellation, Dex-Daddy, courtesy of the gorgeous, perfect baby girl to whom his wife has just given birth, to wit: Lily Anne; he now sees himself as “something that almost feels, that so very nearly resembles a human being.”  And amazingly, he welcomes the change.  But can this kinder, gentler Dexter prevail?

As those who have read the prior books in the series, as well as fans of the wildly popular tv series based thereon, know, Dexter is by day a blood splatter expert who works for the Miami-Dade P.D., by night an avenging angel who delights in cutting up and disposing of those whose heinous acts fall into the category of those who fully deserve to die, according to the ‘code of Harry,’ his cop foster father.  But his infant daughter has wrought this extraordinary change in our hero, and now, when Dexter perceives a threat, it is not danger to himself or the world at large that awakens his old predilections, it is any possible peril to Lily Anne which is ‘not a thing he can allow.’

Dexter’s protective instincts jump into high gear, as opposed to his usual mode of “recreational homicide,” when what at first appears to be a kidnapping turns into the disappearance of not one but two teenage girls.  In this appearance Dexter’s adoptive sister, Deborah, a sergeant in the Homicide Division, seems to have undergone a change as well, her usual contentious self showing some softer, more vulnerable moments, a truly unnerving thing.  And by the time the book ends, it would appear that there are a lot of other people out there with an unsuspected dark side, their own “Dark Passenger.”  This is a macabre tale which, however, regularly induces smiles despite the occasional grimace, in almost equal measure.  It is thoroughly enjoyable, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2010.

Ted Feit’s Book Review Roundup

Burn
Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-61456-0
Hardcover

It is likely that fans of the Anna Pigeon series might be put off by several aspects of this novel.  To begin with, it takes place in the urban setting of New Orleans rather than the accustomed [for this series] wide open spaces of a national park.  Then there is the topic: not only child abuse, but child sex and white slavery.  Also there is much, if not excessive, violence (which does not mean that there has not been some in previous entries).

With that said, we can turn our attention to Burn.  It is an intriguing work, albeit somewhat heavy-handed.  Anna is on leave to recover from some sort of mental breakdown, visiting a friend in the Big Easy.  Instead she becomes involved in what appears to be a voodoo curse as well as assisting a stranger in recovering her daughters, apparently kidnapped to be imprisoned in a sex emporium.

This reader found the novel slow to read and bogged down in a lot of unnecessary detail.  The plot – – child sex – – certainly is worthy of an important look, and the book does achieve that aim.  Somewhat confusing to this reader were the various descriptions of the “character” changes in the distraught mother, a professional actress, as she takes on each role as the situation arises.  On the whole, however, it is an interesting read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Track of Sand
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-14-311793-3
Trade Paperback

Strange dreams and perfect intuition and logic are the keys to solving a mystery in this Inspector Montalbano novel.  It seems that even when he is asleep he can proceed with an investigation with dispatch.

He awakens one day and looks out of his beach house to see a bludgeoned horse lying in the sand.  When his men arrive after his call to investigate, the horse has disappeared.  In short order, Rachele, an equestrian champion rider, and Saverio Lo Duca, one of the richest men in Sicily, each report a missing horse.  Which one was the horse the inspector sighted?

In consultation with Fazio, a colleague, Montalbano learns of a clandestine horse racing scheme operated by the mafia.  Meanwhile, several burglary attempts take place at the inspector’s house, as well as an arson attempt.  What, if any, is the connection to the investigation?  With his customary unorthodox methodology, the inspector proceeds to unravel all the possibilities.

With humor and charm, the author writes a procedural of a different kind:  one which is full of good food, good-looking women and lots of fun.  Eat, drink and read hearty.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She Felt No Pain
Lou Allin
RendezVous Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-926607-07-8
Trade Paperback

RCMP Corporal Holly Martin, newly transferred to Vancouver Island, faces adjustment to her new command, along with encountering her own past along the way.  The reader is treated to all kinds of descriptions of the island in all its glory.

Almost incidentally, a mystery unfolds when an apparently homeless man is found dead of what looks like a drug overdose.  An autopsy shows a deadly combination of heroin and a potent synthetic opiate, a deadly combination. Holly soon discovers something the man had hidden near the site of his death, and she struggles to find its meaning. At the same time, Holly is encouraged by her elderly aunt to investigate the disappearance of her mother many years before.

Slowly, Holly begins to look into the background of the homeless man, uncovering his relationship with a sister and aunt still living on the island.  Consequently, Holly is able to begin piecing together the background story and investigate the possibility of murder.  The author concentrates on developing the story against the raw beauty of
nature and environment, which not only provide a truly forceful setting for the plot, but also a powerful conclusion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Evidence of Murder
Lisa Black
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-154450-7
Mass Market Paperback

Persistence is a virtue, and Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist in the M.E.’s office exhibits plenty of that in this novel in which she still has not recovered from the death of her fiancé.  A young woman has been found frozen to death on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland and there are almost no clues as to the cause of death.  She left behind a husband of three weeks and a young baby.

Theresa smells a rat and she can’t let go of the case.  She learns that the baby has received a $1.5 million inheritance from its grandparents and Theresa suspects that the baby’s life is in danger because of the money.  But unless she can prove murder, and she can’t seem to find any evidence, there might be another death in the near future.

This reader found the book slow reading, bogged down in minutiae and over-detailed descriptions, especially of forensics procedures.  But for this criticism, it is an interesting and well-drawn plot, with an exciting but rather implausible conclusion.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

Ted Feit's Book Review Roundup

Burn
Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-61456-0
Hardcover

It is likely that fans of the Anna Pigeon series might be put off by several aspects of this novel.  To begin with, it takes place in the urban setting of New Orleans rather than the accustomed [for this series] wide open spaces of a national park.  Then there is the topic: not only child abuse, but child sex and white slavery.  Also there is much, if not excessive, violence (which does not mean that there has not been some in previous entries).

With that said, we can turn our attention to Burn.  It is an intriguing work, albeit somewhat heavy-handed.  Anna is on leave to recover from some sort of mental breakdown, visiting a friend in the Big Easy.  Instead she becomes involved in what appears to be a voodoo curse as well as assisting a stranger in recovering her daughters, apparently kidnapped to be imprisoned in a sex emporium.

This reader found the novel slow to read and bogged down in a lot of unnecessary detail.  The plot – – child sex – – certainly is worthy of an important look, and the book does achieve that aim.  Somewhat confusing to this reader were the various descriptions of the “character” changes in the distraught mother, a professional actress, as she takes on each role as the situation arises.  On the whole, however, it is an interesting read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Track of Sand
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-14-311793-3
Trade Paperback

Strange dreams and perfect intuition and logic are the keys to solving a mystery in this Inspector Montalbano novel.  It seems that even when he is asleep he can proceed with an investigation with dispatch.

He awakens one day and looks out of his beach house to see a bludgeoned horse lying in the sand.  When his men arrive after his call to investigate, the horse has disappeared.  In short order, Rachele, an equestrian champion rider, and Saverio Lo Duca, one of the richest men in Sicily, each report a missing horse.  Which one was the horse the inspector sighted?

In consultation with Fazio, a colleague, Montalbano learns of a clandestine horse racing scheme operated by the mafia.  Meanwhile, several burglary attempts take place at the inspector’s house, as well as an arson attempt.  What, if any, is the connection to the investigation?  With his customary unorthodox methodology, the inspector proceeds to unravel all the possibilities.

With humor and charm, the author writes a procedural of a different kind:  one which is full of good food, good-looking women and lots of fun.  Eat, drink and read hearty.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She Felt No Pain
Lou Allin
RendezVous Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-926607-07-8
Trade Paperback

RCMP Corporal Holly Martin, newly transferred to Vancouver Island, faces adjustment to her new command, along with encountering her own past along the way.  The reader is treated to all kinds of descriptions of the island in all its glory.

Almost incidentally, a mystery unfolds when an apparently homeless man is found dead of what looks like a drug overdose.  An autopsy shows a deadly combination of heroin and a potent synthetic opiate, a deadly combination. Holly soon discovers something the man had hidden near the site of his death, and she struggles to find its meaning. At the same time, Holly is encouraged by her elderly aunt to investigate the disappearance of her mother many years before.

Slowly, Holly begins to look into the background of the homeless man, uncovering his relationship with a sister and aunt still living on the island.  Consequently, Holly is able to begin piecing together the background story and investigate the possibility of murder.  The author concentrates on developing the story against the raw beauty of
nature and environment, which not only provide a truly forceful setting for the plot, but also a powerful conclusion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Evidence of Murder
Lisa Black
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-154450-7
Mass Market Paperback

Persistence is a virtue, and Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist in the M.E.’s office exhibits plenty of that in this novel in which she still has not recovered from the death of her fiancé.  A young woman has been found frozen to death on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland and there are almost no clues as to the cause of death.  She left behind a husband of three weeks and a young baby.

Theresa smells a rat and she can’t let go of the case.  She learns that the baby has received a $1.5 million inheritance from its grandparents and Theresa suspects that the baby’s life is in danger because of the money.  But unless she can prove murder, and she can’t seem to find any evidence, there might be another death in the near future.

This reader found the book slow reading, bogged down in minutiae and over-detailed descriptions, especially of forensics procedures.  But for this criticism, it is an interesting and well-drawn plot, with an exciting but rather implausible conclusion.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.