Book Review: Kill Devil Falls by Brian Klingborg

Kill Devil Falls
Brian Klingborg
Midnight Ink, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5201-3
Trade Paperback

Imagine, if you will, a country house mystery but instead of in a beautiful old house filled with interesting things the setting is a nearly deserted old mining town high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and instead of mostly unaquainted invited guests the characters are a few “hanger-oner” town residents, a prisoner and a U.S. Marshal sent to transport the prisoner. That in a nutshell is what Kill Devil Falls is. Does it work? For the most part I’d say it does. But for fans of the country house mysteries, be aware, this is no cozy, the action is on stage and at times brutal. The language is just what you would expect from a band of low life scumbags-rough and filled with cursing.

The basic premise of the book is U.S. Marshal Helen Morrissey is sent to pick up a prisoner who is wanted for a string of robberies. Rita, the prisoner, is one tough sounding woman who is on the run from her partner in crime. She took the money and her partner is not the only one looking for the loot. Morrissey is unhappy because she is forced to travel up a winding mountain road to a place so small it is not even in her GPS system to pick up the prisoner she was supposed to fetch from the county seat. She gets to Kill Devil Falls to find the remainders of a rundown nearly deserted community that has been condemned, a hand full of ragtag residents who for some reason have stayed. The sheriff is not in town, his son the deputy cannot assist with the transport and darkness is quickly approaching. And then Helen’s car breaks down and her prisoner is murdered. She is stuck in this Godforsaken place with at least one murderer on the loose, a target on her back and people dropping like flies.

This book is a bit of a surprise for a few reasons. First, it is published by Midnight Ink whose offerings tend to run more to the softer side of the mystery genre.  The author does put an interesting and fresh spin on the “country house” theme. And, in spite of the fact that none of the characters are particularly likable, the overall book is. This is due in part to the vividly described setting.

This book appears to be the first in  a series. Helen could certainly support a series, but I think if that is to happen, the reader is going to need to have her fleshed out more. We really learn very little about Helen in Kill Devil Falls, but hopefully we will the next time out.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, April 2017.

Book Review: If I Run by Terri Blackstock

If I RunIf I Run
Terri Blackstock
Zondervan, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-3103-3243-5
Trade Paperback

Casey is in the classic “wrong place, wrong time” situation.

The wrong place is her best friends Brent’s apartment. The wrong time is finding his body.

With Brent’s blood on her shoes and knowing the police can trace the shoes to her, she runs.

Casey is a good girl, but her dad was a police officer so she knows her way around forensics and disappearing. With the remains of her inheritance, she’s on the lam; hiding her car, taking a bus and paying cash, finding a man who will make her a false ID. This goes against her grain, but she knows she has no chance if law enforcement tracks her down.

Dylan was in the Criminal Investigations Division in the army and spent time in Afghanistan. Now he’s home and faced with attending the funeral of his best friend, Brent. He and Brent grew up together and Brent’s parents were like his own. They don’t think the local police are doing enough to find Brent’s killer, who they suspect is a woman named Casey, so they hire Brent to track her down. The local police accept Dylan’s help and one of the CID detectives, Keegan, is his contact.

Casey manages to make it to Atlanta when she gets in contact with her sister, Hannah, who sends her a thumb drive Brent left for her and the information on the drive fills in all the blanks about Casey’s father’s death…as well as giving a motive for Brent’s killing and the killer.

This is a tight, tense chase novel with a slight twist. Casey can’t let go of her do-gooder inclinations so even as she’s hiding out, she uncovers what happened to a young girl who went missing years ago on the night of her prom.

Reminiscent of “The Fugitive,” this book is a classic chase with Casey using all her knowledge to keep one step ahead of Dylan. With a cliff-hanger ending, Ms. Blackstock undoubtedly has more episodes of Casey and Dylan’s story.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, February 2016.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.

Book Review: Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn

Forget Tomorrow Tour Banner

************

Title: Forget Tomorrow
Series: Forget Tomorrow #1

Author: Pintip Dunn
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult
Continue reading

Book Review: After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

After I'm GoneAfter I’m Gone
Laura Lippman
William Morrow, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-06-208339-5
Hardcover 

Felix Brewer flees the country after his conviction leaving his wife, three daughters and a girlfriend behind.The book opens in 1976 with Felix’s departure for Canada. The rest of the story is told in a slow reveal on two interwoven timelines. The first begins in 1959 when Felix meets his wife, Bambi. Each segment jumps forward a number of years, usually five, until we get to 2012. The second timeline begins in 2012 when Sandy Sanchez, a retired investigator of cold cases, decides to reopen the murder case of Felix’s girlfriend who disappeared ten years after Felix left whose body turned up 2001.

It’s hard to find someone to root for here but it’s an intriguing story and I found myself reading the book quickly because I wanted to know what had happened. Gradually we watch the three daughters grow up, marry, we get to know what happens to the wife, the girlfriend, a few friends of the family and even the investigator and his family. Slowly, bit by bit, the complicated plot is revealed. I think the story suffers from a cad like Felix being at the heart of it but ultimately it’s all about the impact of his actions on those who loved him, even if he didn’t deserve them.

But it reads like a true story and from the author’s note, we know similar things have happened. I wanted to know what happened to Felix, his family and his girlfriend and that curiosity kept me reading. Throughout, there is a long slow reveal, due to the style of the book shifting in time backwards and forwards and I was surprised time and again.

It’s an intriguing read.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, June 2015.

Book Reviews: The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan, How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner, and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Livia J. Washburn

The Fear Artist
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2012
ISBN No. 978-1616951122
Hardcover

Poke Rafferty’s wife, Rose, has taken their daughter Miaow out of town to visit Rose’s mother.  Poke is left to his own devices and decides to paint the apartment while they are gone. But Poke has a lot of hoops to jump through before he gets the apartment painted.  As he exits the paint store a large man runs into him and lands on top of him. As Poke struggles to get up he sees that the man has been shot.  Before he dies the man whispers three words to Poke.  The words have no meaning to Poke but he soon realizes that other people are very concerned about what the man whispered.  They suspect that Poke has information about something, but he is clueless.

Thai secret agents interrogate Poke, but he has nothing to tell. He is released only to find that his apartment has been ransacked.  Next thing he knows he is accused of murdering the man from the street.  Poke goes into hiding and is determined to discover the identity of the man and the meaning of the whispered message.  This time as Poke searches for answers he has to go it alone.  Fearing for his wife and daughter, he orders them to stay away from Bangkok until he can find a way to dig out of the hole he finds himself in.

Tragic things that happened in the past all come to light as Poke finally goes after the person responsible for not only the death of the man in the street but for many more tragedies. The final confrontation makes for an exciting and terrifying conclusion.

I love the Bangkok series and find it very difficult to pick a favorite.  The characters are strong and the reader will either love them or hate them.  Even though I’ve just finished The Fear Artist, I can’t wait for the next addition to the series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2012.

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How To Party With A Killer Vampire
(A Party Planning Mystery)

Penny Warner
Obsidian, October 2011
ISBN No. 978-0451235015
Mass Market Paperback

Where is the best place to hold a film wrap party for producer Lucas Cruz?  The film is a vampire parody and party planner Presley Parker manages to wheel, deal, and line up a cemetery for the party.  Not everyone would be brave enough to throw a party in a cemetery but Presley thinks it is the ideal location.

The day before the party is to take place Presley runs into a group of young people practicing the art of Parkour.  Parkour includes vaulting, running, jumping and climbing around obstacles and a cemetery offers plenty of obstacles.

Presley warns the group that they are trespassing but this does not seem to bother them at all.  The next morning the body of one of the participants in Parkour is found in the cemetery.  This does not bode well for Presley’s party.  Presley begins her own investigation and soon has plenty of suspects but before she narrows the suspects down more violence occurs.

Presley has a strong and persistent character that drives her to jump into situations that she should leave to the police but she does tend to get to the bottom of the story in her determined manner.  Following the clues, she makes some wrong turns but eventually winds up with the correct answer but not without putting herself in danger.

The characters in the book are fun and make for a fast read.  Each chapter begins with a tip on how to host your own Vampire party.  The book also offers a sneak peek at the next Party Planning Mystery.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, December 2011.

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For Whom the Funeral Bell Tolls
Livia J. Washburn
CreateSpace, February 2012
ISBN No. 978-1470050306
Also available as an ebook in multiple formats

A trip to Key West and a stay at the Brandenton Beach Resort is the latest on Delilah Dickinson Literary Tours.  Fans of Ernest Hemingway were all looking forward to an adventurous vacation but no one, not even Delilah Dickinson, had any idea just how adventurous this trip would turn out to be.

The participants on the tour were a diversified group and some had something more than Hemingway on their mind.  Luke, Delilah’s son-in-law and assistant, comes along on the tour and does his best to help Delilah keep everyone under control.

Walter Harvick who is on the tour alone feels that he knows more about Hemingway than the author knew about himself and does not hesitate to let everyone know that he is an expert.  He even goes so far as to start a fight in “Sloppy Joe’s”, a bar with the same name as the bar that Hemingway was known to frequent.

Delilah found the owner of Brandenton Beach Resort to be an attractive single man and was dividing her time between keeping the tour guests to the schedule, flirting with the new man in her life and keeping Walter out of trouble.

The juggling act was working out pretty well until Doris Horton and Julia Dunn, two widows on the tour, happened to find a body on the beach as they took an early morning stroll.   It would appear that the victim had committed suicide.  The police investigation put a halt to the activities of the tour group but not to Delilah and her curiosity about the death and whether or not it was really a suicide or murder.

Washburn writes an interesting story with some good information about the Key West area.  The characters are interesting and the ending is a surprise.  Readers are sure to enjoy Livia Washburn’s travel agent series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2012.

Book Reviews: House Divided by Mike Lawson, The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon, Dreams of the Dead by Perri O’Shaughnessy, and Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman

House Divided
Mike Lawson
Atlantic Monthly Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1978-0
Hardcover

The reader is asked to suspend disbelief and just sit down and read this sixth Joe DeMarco thriller.  The plot involves a clandestine operation conducted by the President’s Chief of Staff, totally illegally and possibly even irrationally.  Pitted against him is an equally covert National Security Agency operation whose activities and personnel somehow defy belief.

Caught in the middle is poor Joe DeMarco, also an underground tool of the Speaker of the House, who for purposes of this novel, at least, is in a coma at Walter Reed Army Hospital, giving his sometime employee hopes for spending a week or so playing golf.  No such luck.  Joe is sucked into the byplay when his cousin is apparently murdered early in the A.M. one day.  As a result, Joe has to settle his affairs, and along the way learns too much, sucking him into the internecine warfare between two powerful forces.

Once disbelief is suspended, this becomes an enjoyable read.  It is well written, and the plot is tight.  It moves forward at a fast pace, and even the somewhat mechanical conclusion satisfied this reader, and so it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

The Hypnotist
Lars Kepler
Translated by Ann Long
Sarah Crichton Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-17395-1
Hardcover

This Scandinavian mystery/thriller shows a glimmer of what readers have come to expect from the masters of the genre, but falls short. It is overly long, and in dire need of editing.  But it does introduce an interesting protagonist in Inspector Detective Joona Linna, apparently a relentless investigator who doesn’t rest until he solves a case, always arguing he is right even when others, especially his superiors, do not think so.  And when he proves them wrong, always asks, “Was I right,” insisting on an answer in the affirmative.

This is a complicated story in which a couple of subplots recount the results of an experimental program conducted by a doctor, Erik Maria Bark, who specializes in group therapy using hypnotism.  When, ten years earlier, one of his patients accused him of an impropriety, he was suspended. He questions the results of his efforts and swears never to hypnotize a patient again, but is persuaded by the detective to try his talents on a young boy, now hospitalized and in a coma, who apparently murdered everyone in his family but his sister, who was not present at the scene. She cannot be found, and Bark must try to discover her whereabouts.  The doctor relents, but the ramifications give way to the rest of the novel’s twists and turns when the boy manages to leave the hospital after awakening from the coma, and is soon suspected of kidnapping Bark’s 14-year-old son.

Inspector Linna insists on leading the case to find the boy before he is able to kill his sister or, he suspects, harm Bark’s son, as he also assumes the lead in the kidnapping case.  And the chase is on, with Bark, his wife and his father-in-law, a retired detective, playing important roles.  I wish some greater effort had been made to streamline the book.  Then it would have received a higher rating from this reviewer and been unreservedly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Shut Your Eyes Tight
John Verdon
Crown, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71789-4
Hardcover

In his second appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney faces an ever-shifting set of “facts” in his effort to solve a bizarre murder case.  A bride is found decapitated within moments of her marriage ceremony, and there is absolutely no forensic evidence available.  As only a “consultant,” retained by the mother of the bride to find the murderer, Gurney not only faces the challenge of an ingenious adversary, but also the official police investigators who have failed in four months to make any progress in solving the crime.

The novel is not so much as a murder mystery than a “thriller,” suffused with a series of logical and sometimes illogical assumptions that do little to move the story forward as much as to just muddy the investigation.  The juxtaposition of Gurney’s obsession with his craft and his wife’s deep desire to just enjoy their retirement does little to add to the forward movement of the book, except to contribute to its length, which could have been shortened to good effect by some judicious editing.  On the whole, however, it is a good story, enlivened by some clever twists, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Dreams of the Dead
Perri O’Shaughnessy
Gallery Books, July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4973-4
Hardcover

This is a long-running series featuring Nina Reilly, a South Lake Tahoe, California attorney with a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. This novel actually arises from some of Nina’s past experiences, including the death of her husband in a snow avalanche caused by Jim Strong, son of Phillip, owner of a resort facility headed for bankruptcy.

As a result of Phillip’s need for cash to pay off creditors, he has agreed to sell his property, but the sale is complicated by the fact that a local attorney has intervened, presenting “affidavits” from Jim, who disappeared two years before, demanding that his share of the money be sent to him in Brazil where he is supposedly hiding.  The attorney representing Phillip asks Nina to join her in representing Phillip in the court proceedings, which draws her into a complicated conspiracy compounded by a couple of murders.

The novel is hampered by various extraneous side issues, especially an abundance of fashion descriptions and undue attention to Nina’s footwear.  Also, for some reason the authors, two sisters, insert portions of a not-so-good “novel” being written by Nina’s secretary, Sandy.  The basic mystery is interesting and well-drawn, but the distractions hindered this reader.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Thick as Thieves
Peter Spiegelman
Alfred A. Knopf, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26317-9
Hardcover

As standalone novels recounting tales of thefts go, this story of a gang that shows little trust in each other, despite huge paydays, is so riveting and well-written that it deserves a sequel.  It tells the story of Carr, drummed out of the CIA for a temperament not deemed suitable for supervising agents or informers, but has a talent for planning and watching the slightest details during an operation, is recruited to join a band of thieves who undertake grand monetary thefts.

The bulk of the novel centers on a plan to steal $100 million from a money laundering operation running several Florida banks headquartered on a Caribbean island and headed by a man named Prager. It is meticulously planned, but when it appears that prior intelligence is faulty, Carr has to improvise.  And complications also include mistrust of his co-workers, who show no hesitation at double-crossing or stealing from him and the sponsor who fronts costs.  At the same time, Carr has to solve his own emotions about his father and his care as he is slowly dying.

The novel is so well-written and plotted, with a conclusion so unexpected, that this reader wished it would continue.  Needless to say, there isn’t much more one could add to encourage another reader to pick it up.  So giving it a strong recommendation is an easy decision.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

Book Reviews: House Divided by Mike Lawson, The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon, Dreams of the Dead by Perri O'Shaughnessy, and Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman

House Divided
Mike Lawson
Atlantic Monthly Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1978-0
Hardcover

The reader is asked to suspend disbelief and just sit down and read this sixth Joe DeMarco thriller.  The plot involves a clandestine operation conducted by the President’s Chief of Staff, totally illegally and possibly even irrationally.  Pitted against him is an equally covert National Security Agency operation whose activities and personnel somehow defy belief.

Caught in the middle is poor Joe DeMarco, also an underground tool of the Speaker of the House, who for purposes of this novel, at least, is in a coma at Walter Reed Army Hospital, giving his sometime employee hopes for spending a week or so playing golf.  No such luck.  Joe is sucked into the byplay when his cousin is apparently murdered early in the A.M. one day.  As a result, Joe has to settle his affairs, and along the way learns too much, sucking him into the internecine warfare between two powerful forces.

Once disbelief is suspended, this becomes an enjoyable read.  It is well written, and the plot is tight.  It moves forward at a fast pace, and even the somewhat mechanical conclusion satisfied this reader, and so it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

The Hypnotist
Lars Kepler
Translated by Ann Long
Sarah Crichton Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-17395-1
Hardcover

This Scandinavian mystery/thriller shows a glimmer of what readers have come to expect from the masters of the genre, but falls short. It is overly long, and in dire need of editing.  But it does introduce an interesting protagonist in Inspector Detective Joona Linna, apparently a relentless investigator who doesn’t rest until he solves a case, always arguing he is right even when others, especially his superiors, do not think so.  And when he proves them wrong, always asks, “Was I right,” insisting on an answer in the affirmative.

This is a complicated story in which a couple of subplots recount the results of an experimental program conducted by a doctor, Erik Maria Bark, who specializes in group therapy using hypnotism.  When, ten years earlier, one of his patients accused him of an impropriety, he was suspended. He questions the results of his efforts and swears never to hypnotize a patient again, but is persuaded by the detective to try his talents on a young boy, now hospitalized and in a coma, who apparently murdered everyone in his family but his sister, who was not present at the scene. She cannot be found, and Bark must try to discover her whereabouts.  The doctor relents, but the ramifications give way to the rest of the novel’s twists and turns when the boy manages to leave the hospital after awakening from the coma, and is soon suspected of kidnapping Bark’s 14-year-old son.

Inspector Linna insists on leading the case to find the boy before he is able to kill his sister or, he suspects, harm Bark’s son, as he also assumes the lead in the kidnapping case.  And the chase is on, with Bark, his wife and his father-in-law, a retired detective, playing important roles.  I wish some greater effort had been made to streamline the book.  Then it would have received a higher rating from this reviewer and been unreservedly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Shut Your Eyes Tight
John Verdon
Crown, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71789-4
Hardcover

In his second appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney faces an ever-shifting set of “facts” in his effort to solve a bizarre murder case.  A bride is found decapitated within moments of her marriage ceremony, and there is absolutely no forensic evidence available.  As only a “consultant,” retained by the mother of the bride to find the murderer, Gurney not only faces the challenge of an ingenious adversary, but also the official police investigators who have failed in four months to make any progress in solving the crime.

The novel is not so much as a murder mystery than a “thriller,” suffused with a series of logical and sometimes illogical assumptions that do little to move the story forward as much as to just muddy the investigation.  The juxtaposition of Gurney’s obsession with his craft and his wife’s deep desire to just enjoy their retirement does little to add to the forward movement of the book, except to contribute to its length, which could have been shortened to good effect by some judicious editing.  On the whole, however, it is a good story, enlivened by some clever twists, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Dreams of the Dead
Perri O’Shaughnessy
Gallery Books, July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4973-4
Hardcover

This is a long-running series featuring Nina Reilly, a South Lake Tahoe, California attorney with a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. This novel actually arises from some of Nina’s past experiences, including the death of her husband in a snow avalanche caused by Jim Strong, son of Phillip, owner of a resort facility headed for bankruptcy.

As a result of Phillip’s need for cash to pay off creditors, he has agreed to sell his property, but the sale is complicated by the fact that a local attorney has intervened, presenting “affidavits” from Jim, who disappeared two years before, demanding that his share of the money be sent to him in Brazil where he is supposedly hiding.  The attorney representing Phillip asks Nina to join her in representing Phillip in the court proceedings, which draws her into a complicated conspiracy compounded by a couple of murders.

The novel is hampered by various extraneous side issues, especially an abundance of fashion descriptions and undue attention to Nina’s footwear.  Also, for some reason the authors, two sisters, insert portions of a not-so-good “novel” being written by Nina’s secretary, Sandy.  The basic mystery is interesting and well-drawn, but the distractions hindered this reader.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Thick as Thieves
Peter Spiegelman
Alfred A. Knopf, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26317-9
Hardcover

As standalone novels recounting tales of thefts go, this story of a gang that shows little trust in each other, despite huge paydays, is so riveting and well-written that it deserves a sequel.  It tells the story of Carr, drummed out of the CIA for a temperament not deemed suitable for supervising agents or informers, but has a talent for planning and watching the slightest details during an operation, is recruited to join a band of thieves who undertake grand monetary thefts.

The bulk of the novel centers on a plan to steal $100 million from a money laundering operation running several Florida banks headquartered on a Caribbean island and headed by a man named Prager. It is meticulously planned, but when it appears that prior intelligence is faulty, Carr has to improvise.  And complications also include mistrust of his co-workers, who show no hesitation at double-crossing or stealing from him and the sponsor who fronts costs.  At the same time, Carr has to solve his own emotions about his father and his care as he is slowly dying.

The novel is so well-written and plotted, with a conclusion so unexpected, that this reader wished it would continue.  Needless to say, there isn’t much more one could add to encourage another reader to pick it up.  So giving it a strong recommendation is an easy decision.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.