Book Reviews: IQ by Joe Ide and Righteous by Joe Ide

IQ
An IQ Novel #1
Joe Ide
Mulholland, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-3162-6773-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  East Long Beach.  The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate.  Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered.  But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.  A high school dropout, Isaiah Quintabe has an unassuming nature that disguises a ferocious intelligence.  Most people call him IQ.  Word has gotten around:  If you’ve got a problem, Isaiah will take care of it, his rates adjustable to your income or lack thereof.  Because of his unconventional business model, cash is getting tight for Isaiah, forcing him to take on the case of a rap mogul whose life is in danger.  The list of suspects includes a socially inept marksman who never misses, a crew of hangers-on that conceals that one man with a dangerous agenda, and an attack dog the size of a horse.  IQ finds his investigation encompassing much more than he bargained for.  No one expects a kid from East Long Beach to have what Isaiah’s packing – – a blistering intellect, an incredible sense of percepti9on, and some serious skills behind the wheel.  It all adds up to one major advantage:  When you come from nothing, nobody sees you coming.

 

This is the first in a very original new series from Joe Ide, an author of Japanese-American descent, who has created an even more original protagonist in IQ, in a book which won the Macavity Award for best first novel.

The year is 2013.  In the opening pages, we meet Isaiah, an unlicensed detective described as six feet tall and rail thin, his roommate, Juanell Dodson, 17, who has been sharing IQ’s apartment since the death of the latter’s beloved brother, Marcus, 25 years old, in a hit-and-run incident in 2005 which completely devastated IQ. We also meet Juanell’s sometime girlfriend, an innocent teenage girl named Deronda. We are told that IQ had more work than he could handle but not many who could pay him.   A client who could “pay his per diem gave him enough income to support himself” but often the only compensation given him would be “with a sweet potato pie or cleaning his yard or one brand-new radial tire if they paid him at all.”  In one instance payment came in the form of a chicken named Alejandro.  After his brother’s death IQ dropped out of school and quit the academic decathlon team he was on.

IQ likes rap because “music without words let him fill his head with images of his own making or no images at all.”  Juanell brings IQ a new case, if they can split the fee, the client being one Calvin Wright, a rapper known as Black the Knife. Juanell tells IQ “you lucky you got skills, son, ‘cause if you had to survive on your personality you’d be working at the morgue with dead people.”  But the team does just fine.

The author creates some fascinating characters here, primarily of course IQ, and a book that won’t soon be forgotten.  One of the many glowing reviews of this book [from fellow author Ben Winters] ended with the words “you’ll be as excited as I am for a sequel.”  I couldn’t, and can’t, disagree, and when that sequel was published, less than a month ago, I read it as soon as I could, the result of which can be found in the review which will be written as soon as this one concludes – it’s every bit as excellent as is this debut novel and, like this one, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

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Righteous
An IQ Novel #2
Joe Ide
Mulholland Books, October 2017
ISBN: 978-0-3162-6777-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Ten years ago, when Isaiah Quintabe was just a boy, his beloved brother was killed by an unknown assailant. The unsolved crime has gnawed at his gut and kept him up nights, boiling with anger and thoughts of revenge.  The search for the killer sent him plunging into despair and nearly destroyed his life.  Now, Isaiah has a flourishing career, a new dog, and a near-iconic status as a PI in his hometown of East Long Beach, but a chance encounter reopens a wound that never fully healed.  He has to begin the hunt again – – or lose his mind.  A case takes him and his skeptical don’t-call-me-a-sidekick partner, Dodson, to Vegas, where Chinese gangsters and a terrifying seven-foot loan shark are stalking a beautiful DJ and her deadbeat boyfriend.  If Isaiah doesn’t find the couple first, they’ll be murdered.  Awaiting the outcome is the love of IQ’s life:  fail, and he’ll lose her.  Isaiah’s quest is fraught with treachery, menace, and startling twists, leading to the mastermind behind his brother’s death, Isaiah’s own sinister Moriarty.  Rich with action, suspense, and ingenious surprises, Righteous confirms Joe Ide as one of crime fiction’s most exciting new voices.

 

To say that Marcus was “the best person in the world” is only an understatement to Isaiah.  He’d never gotten over his brother’s death, which haunts him more each day, and he is determined to track down the person responsible.  Everything that follows in this second book in the series stems from that.  And this book is everything that the initial book led the reader to expect from this author.  And the more he discovers leads him to only one conclusion:  “This was no accident.  This was a hit.”

Chapter One introduces Janine Van, a young Asian woman working as a DJ, whose name as a DJ is Dama, so chosen because “it was different and the Chinese word for weed.”  Only 21 years old, she gets paid $750 a set, and plays 2 sets a week, but the gambling she does in her hometown of Vegas eats up her paychecks very ably. Now she and her boyfriend Benny are deeply in debt; the 20% vig has now raised that debt to $9,000, $1400 for the vig alone.  She loved Benny, but he was a lousy gambler, “More than half the debt was his.”  The loan shark is getting very impatient for his money, Janine and Benny were living out of a seedy motel room, “a dump to begin with,” and the collector, a man named Balthazar, was seven feet tall, from Saskatchewan, “right across the border from Montana.”  Their reaction to the unpaid debt is to dump Benny in a 360 acre, 200 foot deep landfill, threatening to give the same punishment to Janine if the debt isn’t paid by the end of the week.

The author has a new assortment of fascinating characters to whom his readers are introduced in this book, including Sarita, a young woman who had been Marcus’ girlfriend “back when Isaiah was in high school, and he’d always had a crush on her.”   The bad guys in this series entry are pretty frightening, and there’s a great deal of violence and gunplay, reader be warned.  But the tale is brilliantly told, Isaiah a fascinating protagonist.  Can’t wait for the next in the series!  And this entry, as was the first one, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: War, Spies, and Bobby Sox by Libby Fischer Hellmann

 

War, Spies, and Bobby Sox
Stories About World War II At Home
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1938733970
Trade Paperback

From the author—

As World War II rages across Europe and the Pacific, its impact ripples through communities in the heartland of America. A farm girl is locked in a dangerous love triangle with two Germans soldiers held in an Illinois POW camp … Another German, a war refugee, is forced to risk her life spying on the developing Manhattan Project in Chicago … And espionage surrounds the disappearance of an actress from the thriving Jewish community of Chicago’s Lawndale. In this trio of tales, acclaimed thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann beautifully depicts the tumultuous effect of war on the home front and illustrates how the action, terror, and tragedy of World War II was not confined to the front lines.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is one of the few authors who can surprise me nearly every time I pick up one of her books. Here, the surprise comes in her clear understanding of the World War II homefront, almost as though she had lived it herself.

Three tales provide a glimpse of how people, especially women, coped with the hardships, opportunities and moral pitfalls here at home while the main attention was on events overseas. Lena, a young Jewish girl, is sent to America before our involvement and makes her way in the world supported by her aunt Ursula and uncle Reinhard eventually getting a secretarial position in a university physics department. That, in itself, seems innocuous but this is the time when scientists are in the early stages of developing nuclear fission and Lena finds herself in a world of trouble.

Mary-Catherine lives in rural Illinois and helps her mother and siblings keep the farm running. When ten German POW soldiers are assigned to work the harvest, Mary-Catherine can’t help being interested by one in particular, a man who gives her the tiniest of smiles. To her, Reinhard is intriguing; to Reinhard, she is an “Irish mongrel” and, in that moment of meeting, a scheme is born that will change Mary-Catherine’s life while another POW will find a new direction.

Life as a Jewish gangster calls to teenaged Jacob Forman but he doesn’t bargain for what happens to a beautiful actress he admires from afar as she starts walking out with the charming gangster, Skull. When Skull invites Jake and his friend, Barney, to work for him as runners, they think they’ve hit the jackpot but can’t help noticing the sad distance that has grown between Skull and Miriam. Not long after, murder and a local Nazi open Jake’s eyes to a world much grimmer than he ever thought.

Once again, Ms. Hellmann has knocked it out of the park and, if you haven’t tried her mysteries and other work yet, this is a good place to start 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

Book Review: Jimmy and Fay by Michael Mayo

Jimmy and Fay
The Jimmy Quinn Mysteries #3
Michael Mayo
Open Road/Mysterious Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-5040-3607-8
Trade Paperback

Jimmy and Fay reads like one of those old gangster films from the thirties, mixing noir and glamour with a touch of the illegal thrown in to keep it interesting. Jimmy Quinn runs a speakeasy in New York City; his girlfriend Connie Nix and right-hand man Arch Malloy keep the business going. Someone has made dirty photos of the film “King Kong” but anyone can see the woman in the photos in not Fay Wray. Even so, the studio is anxious to make the story go away. They will pay $6000 to the blackmailers and Jimmy is tapped to be the go-between for ten percent.

“Jimmy the Stick” is not your usual good guy battling evil. He’s short, has a bum leg, and sometimes uses his cane as a weapon. The story focuses on the seedy world of stag films, corrupt cops and blackmail. Real life gangsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano provide background for the world of Prohibition in 1933 New York City. Plenty of colorful slang and details from the time period add to the solid mystery at the center of this story.

The author writes on film for the Washington Post and the Roanoke Times, and is the author of American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media. This is the third in the Jimmy Quinn series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2017.

Book Review: Dial Up for Murder by Clem Chambers—and a Giveaway!

Dial Up for MurderDial Up for Murder
The Hacker Chronicles Book 1
Clem Chambers
CreateSpace, November 2014
ISBN 9781503179981
Trade Paperback

Fascinating. Funny. Clever, and, at the end, rife with tension-filled risk. Today, most of us have some sense of the shorthand of text messaging. In the mid-1980’s that was a skill yet to be mastered. Digital technology and communication thereby gained was still only on the horizon for many people.

But, as is true of so many inventions of the clever human intellect, there is almost always a potential for evil, as well as for good. Here we have a young man, Peter Talbot, by name, who has built upon a rock of a computer, a modest information service. Forces of both good and evil immediately discover ways to use Peter and his service for their own ends. The resulting expansion is making Peter a wealthy man, but it is also making him vulnerable to forces that first would use him and then destroy him. Will he win out in the end?

Like many English crime novels, the story is heavily populated with quirky, unusual, and odd characters and ordinary folks who act in quirky and odd ways. Consider George, an old ex-paratrooper who is at odds with the world. When he saves Peter from undesirable attention, Peter offers him a job. A shadowy figure we are expected to accept at face value, apparently some sort of government spook, enjoins Peter to provide client information, some of whom are obviously on the wrong side of the law, prostitution and espionage appear in the mix. Young hackers or computer game developers wander in and out and then the American Mob show up.

Readers will have already caught on to the odd style, often cheeky observations of the characters, the unusual and often abrupt short—hand style that cuts off potentially tedious descriptive passages. The author employs a sometimes wild narrative style that fits well with the story and the characters.

There are some aspects of the book that may put readers off. Logical progression sometimes is let go by the boards in favor of a faster pace. Foregone conclusions and almost-obvious results crop up from time to time. Still, the characters are charming if mis-identified. Talbot, for example, is not a computer hacker, he’s a smart, up-coming young businessman. He’s also wise beyond his years, careful around murderers, fit enough to get out of tight scrapes and has a way with certain female characters.

High tension, screaming car chases, a brief air-borne chase, guns and bombs all make this a delightful cyber-crime reading experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Leave a comment below to enter the drawing
for a print copy of Dial Up for Murder
. There
will be three winners and the winning names
will be
drawn on Tuesday evening, March 31st.

Open internationally.

Book Review: Known Devil by Justin Gustainis—and a Giveaway!

Known DevilKnown Devil
An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation
Justin Gustainis
Angry Robot, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-85766-166-1
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

A new supernatural gang is intent on invading Scranton – as if I didn’t have enough to contend with!

Supernatural gang warfare? Not on my watch!

Mix some elves, vampires, goblins and werewolves; add turf wars among the vampire fangsters, sleazy politics and drug-addicted supes (supernaturals); toss with a human police detective and his vamp partner and what do you get? Why, impending chaos in the streets of Scranton, of course!

Stan Markowski and his partner, Karl Renfer, have been my favorite pair of crossgenre detectives since I read Hard Spell, first in the Occult Crimes Unit series, in 2011. My enjoyment continued with the second book, Evil Dark, and I’m just as happy now with Known Devil. Stan and Karl fight crime just as police detectives everywhere do but it just so happens that many of the bad guys they have to deal with are supes. Some of those—elves, for instance—are just annoyances compared to the vampire gang run by the vampfather, Don Pietro Calabrese, so the guys are caught by surprise when they run  into a pair of clearly high elves in an armed robbery because everyone knows no supes are susceptible to drugs except goblins.

The questions about this mysterious drug known as Slide soon lead to more disturbing events and then shootings and other attacks on the vamps begin to escalate. Much to everyone’s discomfort, it becomes apparent that the evil the Scranton cops know may not be nearly as alarming as what’s come to town.

Any reader who is bothered by vulgar language should be prepared to see a lot of it in this book. Personally, I don’t much like it but I do feel it’s pretty appropriate in a noir tale such as this. Let’s face it, gangsters and cops don’t sugarcoat their language and the story would be weak if such word choices weren’t included. That aside, there’s really nothing about Known Devil that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy and it was a real pleasure to spend time with Stan and Karl and their colleagues and even some of the bad guys. Mr. Gustainis ties off the ending with a hint of things to come and I wish I didn’t have to wait so long for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2014.

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

One lucky reader will win a copy of Known Devil
by Justin Gustainis and you have two chances

to enter the drawing. For the first entry, leave a
comment here on today’s review. For the second
entry, come back tomorrow, February 7th, and
leave a comment on Justin’s guest post. The
winning name will be chosen at random on the
evening of Monday, February 10th. This drawing
is open internationally and the winner
can choose print, Epub or Mobi.

Book Reviews: The Perfect Suspect by Margaret Coel, Stolen Souls by Stuart Neville, The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld, The Fallen by Jassy Mackenzie, and An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

The Perfect Suspect

The Perfect Suspect
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-425-24348-0
Hardcover

When she wrote Blood Memory, featuring reporter Catherine McLeod, Margaret Coel meant it to be a stand-alone novel.  Well, she waited three years before that changed, and now we have what appears to be a series.

The plot of this entry is pretty straightforward, including politics, unfaithfulness, unrequited love and, of course, Catherine’s doggedness in following the story.  From the beginning, the reader knows who murdered the handsome, charming, adulterous gubernatorial candidate, a beautiful blonde police detective he spurned after a torrid affair, following which she attempts to remove witnesses to the murder (while Catherine attempts to find them).

The Catherine McLeod novels lack the charm and detail of the Wind River Reservation mysteries.  They are, of course, being Margaret Coel novels, well-written and tightly constructed. But somehow Suspect remains somewhat predictable.  Nevertheless it is a good read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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Stolen Souls
Stuart Neville
Soho Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-983-4
Hardcover

After two previous harrowing D.I. Jack Lennon novels set in the time of the Troubles in Belfast and Northern Ireland, Stolen Souls centers instead on the subject of sex trafficking.  A young woman lured from the Ukraine with the promise of working with a family, teaching its children English, instead ends up in a brothel from which she escapes only to wind up in mortal danger at the hands of a madman.

To get out of the brothel she murders the brother of a powerful gangster, setting off a chain of events, including three more murders, which brings the detective inspector into the picture.  He finally traces the whereabouts of the woman on Christmas Eve (all the action takes place during that holiday) and the plot involves rescuing her from the thug’s attempt to murder her in revenge.

The novel is written in powerful prose, with increasing tension and vivid characterizations.   It is quite a switch from the previous noir tales of the violence and fragility of the Irish peace.  But it is welcome proof that the author has the wherewithal to continue writing a series beyond its original dramatic theme.  Jack Lennon is a human and sympathetic policeman with plenty of room to grow.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2012.

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The Death Instinct

Jed Rubenfeld
Riverhead, January 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59448-560-2
Trade Paperback

Following the very favorably received The Interpretation of Murder with this ambitious novel using many of the same lead characters, including Dr. Sigmund Freud, and mixing the story with real historical personages and events, the author has  created a historical piece of fiction with several mysteries intertwined.  It begins with the detonation of a bomb-laden horse-drawn wagon at Broad and Wall Streets, the results of which can be seen today in the pockmarked outer wall of the House of Morgan opposite The New York Stock Exchange.

While the perpetrators of the explosion have never been identified, nor the reason for the deed exposed, the plot attempts to propose a rationale, including a cast of characters, behind it.  Along the way, other themes emerge, including the horrors on the World War I battlefront, the emergence of Freud’s controversial theory of a death instinct in humans, Madame Curie and the effects of radium, kidnapping, assassins, and various other developments.

Well-plotted in a grand manner, the novel combines several genres and should appeal to a broad range of readers.  It weaves into its themes mystery, thriller and history.  What more can be said, except to heartily recommend?

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2012.

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The Fallen
Jassy Mackenzie
Soho Press, April 2012
ISBN:  978-1-61695-065-1
Hardcover

P.I. Jade de Jong organizes a vacation to a seaside resort with her erstwhile lover, David Patel, only to get involved in a murder investigation and a potential ecological disaster.  Some vacation, further complicated by the fact that when David does show up he tells her he is returning to his four-months pregnant wife.  So much for a happy trip

Before David’s arrival, Jade was taking scuba diving lessons and attempting to overcome her fear of underwater activities.  Her instructor, Amanda, is soon knifed to death.  Jade and David undertake to assist the local police in the investigation, hindered by an organized crime conspiracy.

A continuing theme in this series is Jade’s attempts to learn more about her mother, who died when she was merely a year old in the very area in which she is now vacationing.  This novel, as its predecessors, is set in South Africa.  But unlike the former entries in the series, there is much less emphasis on that country’s post-apartheid era and more on greed and revenge unrelated to that part of the nation’s history.

As a rip-roaring heroine, Jade is still in the forefront of rugged protagonists.  The book is a careful examination of the subjects and a superb thriller.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2012.

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An Unmarked Grave
Charles Todd
William Morrow, June 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-201572-3
Hardcover

The Bess Crawford series, in which this is the latest entry, takes place during World War I, with Bess serving as a nurse in France, but usually getting involved in all sorts of crimes, including murder. This time, deaths result not only as a result of the conflict, but the Spanish influenza epidemic and at least four murders, including that of a major who served with her father, the Colonel sahib, in India. Unfortunately, the major had no identification and was buried in an unmarked grave before Bess could supply his name.  But first, she falls ill with the flu and is returned to England to recover.  And it’s quite possible that Bess saw the murderer, placing her in jeopardy.

The rest of the book finds Bess, after recovering from her illness, shuttling back to the front and then returning to England in search of the killer. Of course, there are the Colonel’s mysterious capabilities and super-human contacts within the British establishment which are never disclosed, as well as the abilities of his sergeant-major, Simon Brandon, which permeate the novel, as well as Bess always finding just the right help, be it a person, automobile or telephone, just in the nick of time to make the reader scratch his or her head.  And too often, coincidences arise along the way.

Nevertheless, as in previous books in the series, the battlefield descriptions, the medical efforts to save the wounded and the effects of the conflict on both military and civilians are excellent.  Perhaps the plotting is over-developed, but that is typical of this mother-son writing team, which pays great attention to detail.  Characters are well-drawn but the conclusion is sort of forced.  Over all, though, the novel reads well, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2012.

Book Reviews: The Burning Soul by John Connolly, Trackers by Deon Meyer, What It Was by George Pelecanos, A Mortal Terror by James R. Benn, and A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

The Burning Soul
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6527-0
Hardcover

John Connolly’s Charlie Parker Thrillers usually combine an element of the supernatural with basic detective work.  In this, the tenth in the series, the eerie aspects are slight, while the hard work of solving a case winds its way through the pages with realism and power.  It is a twisted story that begins when an attorney asks Charlie to assist a client, and unfolds with a ferocity of dynamic proportions.

It appears that the client, Randall Haight, as a 14-year-old, and with a friend, murdered a young girl in an incident with sex-related overtones. Following long jail terms, both men were released with new identities to give them a chance at rehabilitation.  Randall is now an accountant leading a quiet life in a small town on the Maine coast. And then a 14-year-old girl goes missing and Randall starts receiving reminders in the mail of his past transgression from someone who apparently has discovered his true identity.  He asks the attorney and Charlie to protect his anonymity by finding the source.  And this leads Charlie into a labyrinth of complications.

It is a gripping story, one in which the author throws red herrings into the reader’s path before unveiling a completely unexpected conclusion. Tightly written and plotted, the novel is a most welcome addition to an outstanding series and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Trackers
Deon Meyer
Atlantic Monthly Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1993-3
Hardcover

Bringing back two characters from previous novels, the South African author has written a complicated story with three separate plots which are related both in circumstances and the people involved.  One theme involves what appears to be a Muslim plot, which a government intelligence service suspects at first to be a tradeoff between the smuggling of diamonds in exchange for weapons.  A second, an offshoot of the smuggling operation by a man seeking to recover a large sum of money he claims was stolen from him by gangsters (who incidentally are involved in the smuggling operation).

Then there is free-lance bodyguard Lemmer, who makes his second appearance in a Deon Meyer novel  [the first being The Blood Safari], who becomes involved indirectly in the smuggling operation when he accompanies a truck bearing two black rhinos into South Africa from a neighboring country which the gangsters believe is the method for bringing in the diamonds.  And finally Mat Joubert, the enigmatic South African detective, now retired, on his first day working for a private detective agency, who manages to bring all the threads together.

This stand-alone thriller aims high, and largely achieves its ambitions.  Adding to the spice is not only the author’s ability to portray the social, economic and political background of South Africa in depth, but a chilling look at how it is also a place where terrorists can run rampant.  And, icing on the cake, a first-rate mystery to keep the reader enthralled.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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What it Was
George Pelecanos
Reagan Arthur Books/Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-316-20954-0
Paperback, 246 pp., $9.99

The year was 1972.  Derek Strange was out of the Metropolitan Police Dept. for four years and struggling to build up his PI agency.  Nixon was in the White House, but not for long.  Watergate was just up ahead.  The riots that tore the nation’s Capitol apart were some years ago, but unrest and attitude still ran strong.

Against this background George Pelecanos has written about Strange’s early career as a 26-year-old and his relationship with Detective Frank Vaughn.  It all starts when Strange is retained by a good-looking babe to find a missing ring of little “value” but “great” sentimentality.  This takes him on a journey, which enables the author to describe the crime conditions – – including a one-man murder wave – – and population and living conditions of D.C., along with almost a catalogue of the music of the era.

Written with the usual vernacular and tight prose as displayed in the previous novels in the series, the graphic details of the characters are mesmerizing.  Highly recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the novel is available in three different forms: the paperback, as well as a limited hardcover edition and an eBook version.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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A Mortal Terror
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-994-0
Hardcover

The Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries follow the progress of that conflict in this, the sixth installment, albeit it with a different twist.  It brings Billy his first murder case, either as a Boston detective (in his previous civilian life) or as “uncle” Ike’s special investigator.  But the horrors of the war in Italy, and especially the Anzio beachhead invasion, provide the backdrop for the tale.

When two officers are found murdered with clues left behind, one a ten of hearts on the body of a lieutenant and a jack of hearts on that of a Captain, the signs of a possible serial killer bent on revenge against the brass emerge, causing concern back at Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters.  So Billy is recalled from a three-day pass during which he met with his girlfriend in Switzerland and sent to Naples to begin an investigation into the crimes.  Then he has to face the fact that his younger brother is arriving as a replacement in the very platoon in which he suspects the killer is a member.

The author, a librarian, writes with accuracy of the difficulties and what would today be called PTSD endured by the GIs, as well as the physical hardships and psychological manifestations of infantry warfare.  His plotting is taut, descriptions graphic.  All in all, the series just keeps on getting better and better.  And the Second Front hasn’t yet been opened.  The series has a long way to go, and that’s a good thing.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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A Bitter Truth
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-201570-9
Hardcover

This Bess Crawford mystery, set during World War I, finds her on a short leave from the front, intending to spend the Christmas holidays with her parents.  When she arrives at her apartment in London, she finds a young woman huddled on her doorstep, cold, hungry and distraught.  In sympathy, Bess takes her up to her room and learns that she has run away from her husband and home because he has abused her, and her disfigured face is proof.

From this improbable beginning, Bess becomes involved in a family’s secrets and along the way in a few murders, since she accompanies the young woman back to her home and family.  The novel rambles on, as the plot unfolds and the police fumble in an effort to solve one murder after another.  Bess returns to France, only to be recalled by the police for additional inquiries.

There are some excellent aspects to the novel, including insights into the lives of upper crust Britons of the period.  But it appeared to this reader that to bring the plot to a conclusion, the mother-son author duo reached out to contrive a solution that has little if any foundation. Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.