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 Reviews: Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly and Sorrow Bound by David Mark

Keep Your Friends CloseKeep Your Friends Close
Paula Daly
Grove Press, September 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2320-6
Hardcover

This novel from Paula Daly (whose last book, Just What Kind of Mother Are You I absolutely loved!) brings back D.C. Joanne Aspinall of the CID.  The protagonist who crosses paths with Aspinall is Natasha (“Natty”) Wainwright, who with her husband, Sean, run a successful hotel in Windermere in  England’s Lake District, and has an enviable life with him and their two daughters, 16 and 14 years old, when their younger daughter becomes ill while on a school trip, and Eve must fly off to southern Normandy where the girl must have an appendectomy.  As fate would have it, Eve Dalladay, Natty’s best friend from college, has just come on a visit from the States and offers to stay at the house until Natty can return home.

As things transpire, it would appear that Eve is not who she seems, by any definition, and is a more devious woman than anyone could have guessed. The plot twists follow closely upon one another, but suffice it to say that Natty comes to the attention of the police, and D.C. Aspinall, when she rams her Porsche into the back of a Maserati where Eve is sitting in the driver’s seat.  And it is no accident.

Sean and Natty met at a sixteenth-birthday party when they were in school, deciding upon graduation that he would study law, and she would study biology.  After sixteen years of marriage, things did not work as they had hoped or planned.  But this turn of events is something far, far different.  The suspense mounts, and lives are altered, literally and figuratively.  The question arises, “Would you ever kill another person out of jealousy or hatred?”

The author has written another gripping novel, one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2015.

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Sorrow BoundSorrow Bound
David Mark
Blue Rider Press, July 2014
ISBN: 978-0-399-16820-8
Hardcover

This is the third entry in the series featuring Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy, and is every bit as terrific as the first two. McAvoy is with the Yorkshire Serious and Organized Crime Unit, in the small English city of Hull, still working on a series of crimes committed by a vicious group seeking to take over the drug trade previously run by Vietnamese, something they had not been able to do in Original Skin, the predecessor novel. England has been going through a prolonged and oppressive hot spell, although the sky holds promise of a saturating rain storm at any moment.

The Scottish McAvoy, described as “a humble, shy giant of a man” at 6’ 5”, passionately in love with his much younger Romany wife, his young son and baby daughter and preparing to move into their new home, has been directed to attend sessions with a police-approved counselor because of perceived emotional problems. In a separate plot line, McAvoy is assigned the investigation into two killings which take place within 24 hours. McAvoy is second-guessing himself, and his career choice: “He has done this too many times. Sat in too many rooms with too much grief; felt too many eyes upon him as he made his promises to the dead . . . insists that he does his job as a police officer before he allows himself to become a human being.” Despite being written mostly with a light touch, the murders are quite sadistic, and it is speculated that a serial, probably deranged, killer is on the loose. The only connection between the victims seems to relate to events almost 15 years in the past, an even more horrific series of crimes perpetrated by a man who was incarcerated but sentenced to treatment in a psychiatric facility, and is now mostly incapacitated by a stroke.

The supporting cast of characters/police colleagues is very well-drawn, as usual: D.S. Trish Pharoah (with “four kids and a crippled husband” and a drinking problem, DIs Helen Tremberg and Shaz Archer et al, and McAvoy’s wife, Roisin. The novel is wonderfully well written, and gradually the suspense mounts until, with less than a hundred pages to go, I became actually fearful of reading further, not wanting to find out what is about to happen next, as I nonetheless started turning pages more and more quickly. The only certain thing about the plot is that one must expect the unexpected.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James, Sixkill by Robert B. Parker, and Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Thirteen Hours
Deon Meyer
Grove Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-4545-1
Mass Market Paperback

Post-Apartheid South Africa has undergone many traumatic changes.  But for homicide detective Benny Griessel, nothing much changes except for the murder victims, the politics, unsettled race relations and his own personal problems.  Benny is saddled with “mentoring” newly promoted black, or “colored,” detectives.  Of course, he is the only experienced white.

The plot involves two murders and a kidnapping, each a potential PR disaster for the SA government.  It is up to Benny and his untested troops to save a captive American girl who witnessed the murder of her fellow tourist.  Meanwhile, a well-known music executive is found shot in his home with his pistol lying at his feet, his alcoholic wife asleep in a chair.

Deon Meyer has written six novels and Thirteen Hours is probably the best (not taking anything away from its predecessors).  It is taut, moving and deeply memorable, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Dead Man’s Grip
Peter James
Macmillan, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-230-74724-1
Trade Paperback
Released in the US by Minotaur Books, November 2011
ISBN 978-0-312-64283-9
Hardcover

This is the seventh in the Roy Grace series, detailed police procedurals that take place in the Brighton area of Great Britain.  The tightly written plots carry the reader from page to page wondering what comes next.  And the nearly overwhelming [in a good way, to be sure!] detail keeps the reader from guessing the next step.

This novel begins with the gruesome death of a young man, who defies his mother, the daughter of a mafia don in New York City, to study at a Brighton university and live with his English girlfriend.  One day, on the way to school, riding his bike on the wrong side of the road, he is narrowly missed by a car driven by Carly Chase [who swerves onto the sidewalk to avoid him], but is hit by a tailgating white van [which leaves the scene], then rolls under a truck’s wheels and is killed.

The plot stems from this incident, with the mother hiring a hit man to torture and murder the three drivers.  When two of them are found dead, it behooves Carly to attempt to protect herself and her young son.  And thereby hangs a tale, a rather detailed description of the killer’s movements, and the efforts of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and the entire Sussex police force to capture him.

By all means get a copy and read it!  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Sixkill
Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15726-4
Hardcover

To quote some of the immortal words of the Bard, “I come to praise” Robert B. Parker, and, of course, the work that he has left behind obviously will “long live after him.”  In this, the last, Spenser novel, he once again provides an outstanding example of his talent and creativity.

Spenser is enlisted by his sometime buddy, police captain Quirk, to investigate the death of a young woman, who died after apparently having sex with a repulsive movie star in his hotel room.  The obvious conclusion is that the man is responsible for her death, but Quirk is not so sure and asks Spenser to find out what happened.  And Spenser goes about the task in his usual manner, this time accompanied by a brand new character (Hawk is in Asia), a “wasted” Cree Indian who Spenser takes under his wing to rehabilitate and train.

Enough has been written about Parker, his unparalleled ability to write sharp and amusing dialog, create funny barbs and unusual stories.  So such comments are really unnecessary here.  All one can say is, Mr. Parker, we’ll miss you.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Kiss Her Goodbye
Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-15-101460-6
Hardcover

When Mickey Spillane died, he left behind a treasure trove of manuscripts, plot notes, rough outlines, character notes and drafts of final chapters.  He told his wife to give everything to Max Allan Collins who “would know what to do.”  And this Collins has done, three times so far [with a fourth due out in October].  In this novel, he combined two partial manuscripts and shaped and expanded them from an unfinished version that was a false start.

In this entry, the death of his mentor, officially termed a suicide, brings Hammer back to New York City from Key West, where he has been recuperating for a year after a shootout in which he killed a Mafia don’s son.  He returns to the Big Apple with a jaundiced eye, denigrating everything he sees and hears, determined to return to Florida quickly following the funeral.  Instead, of course, he becomes enmeshed in investigating the death, which he believes to be a murder, as well as four others, and committing the usual bloody mayhem of his own.

It is pure Spillane, and Collins as usual has performed a service to those who ate up the millions of copies of Mike Hammer novels sold in the 1960s and ‘70s by keeping the flame alive.  How much is Spillane, and how much is Collins, is really not important.  The book is vintage Spillane, and is a tribute to both authors.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

Book Reviews Ted Feit-Style

Iron River
T. Jefferson Parker
NAL, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-451-23242-7
Trade Paperback,

A temporary assignment to an ATFE task force for Deputy sheriff Charlie Parker to stem the tide of illegal arms and money flowing across the U.S.-Mexican border gives rise to eerie insights into law enforcement from San Diego to Corpus Christie and, in addition, how cutthroat the drug lords can be, as well as how unscrupulous legal and illegal gun dealers are.

To begin with, a stakeout on a gun deal goes wrong, and in the shooting of a perpetrator which ensues, the son of the ruthless head of a cartel is killed, resulting in a vengeance kidnapping and torture of an AFTE operative, leading in turn to a rescue mission by Charlie and his new associates.  Then that operative is kidnapped a second time from the hospital by a rival organization, and Charlie again has to go to Mexico to ransom him and bring him back across the border, dodging the first drug lord’s minions.

The title is derived from the corridor running along the southern border, from California to Texas.  Up to 90 per cent of the guns in Mexico, where about 15,000 persons have been murdered, are said to come from the United States.  This is hardly the ideal for a Good Neighbor Policy. Mr. Parker has thoroughly researched the subject, which brings back Charlie Hood for a third and welcome appearance in a well-written and exciting novel.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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The Confession
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-52804-7
Hardcover

The author is on the Board of Directors of the Innocence Project in New York and is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the U. of Miss.  A well-known attorney and best-selling novelist, the conviction and scheduled execution of an innocent man fall within his purview in these various activities.  It is too bad, however, that the resulting novel is not up to his usual standard.

The arrest, jailing and eventual execution of a young innocent Texan sets the stage for a long, dry story, filled with stereotypes: the less-than-ethical police detective, the corrupt DA and his lover, the judge, and the real murderer, among others, including the defense attorney. Unfortunately they do not add up to an accomplished novel. Nor do the long harangues and long-winded diatribes, which obviously belong more in a legal brief than a novel.

All this is not to take away from Mr. Grisham’s ability to tell a tale and write it well.  But, unfortunately, over-all, at least to this reader, he should have relied more on his ability as a novelist, than as an advocate for a cause.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Red Herring
Archer Mayor
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-38193-6
Hardcover

This long-running series featuring Joe Gunther and his team at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation has been consistently excellent.  And this, the 21st entry, is of similar high quality with an inventive plot:  Three murders are committed, seemingly with no connection, except for a single drop of blood.  The victims are apparently unrelated and the evidence at each scene appears to be, at best, confusing, as if the crime scenes were deliberately arranged so that forensics would not be particularly useful in the investigation.

The Vermont forensics department, with limited resources and funds, is unable to process the few items of interest, but the suggestion that the Brookhaven National Laboratory on New York’s Long Island might have the ability to find clues is followed, resulting in a series of possibilities that, with  old-fashioned police work, lead to common threads.

Once again, the author’s love of the Green State, its environment and people, provides a human touch to an otherwise macabre tale. Descriptions of the countryside are adept.  And insights into antagonism between politicians, the public, the media and cops are vivid and insightful.  Written with a deft touch, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Collusion
Stuart Neville
Soho Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56947-855-4
Hardcover

This follow-up to the highly praised The Ghosts of Belfast deserves the same reception.  It picks up where the earlier noir ended, carrying forth the characters and events, and, presumably, planting the seeds for a third novel which hopefully will develop into a full-blown series.

Jack Lennon, a Catholic detective in an otherwise Protestant police force in Northern Ireland, is warned off investigating the deaths of three persons associated with the massacre of numerous criminals and politicians at Bull O’Kane’s farm in Belfast.  But having knowledge of the event, at which his girlfriend, Marie McKenna, and their young daughter, Ellen were present, pressures him to continue pursuing knowledge of the murders and their relationship to the past.  Marie was whisked away from the massacre by the notorious killer, Fegan, and into hiding, promising to return whenever she needed protection.  He leaves for New York City for adventures of his own.

O’Kane has a grudge against Fegan and employs The Traveler, a killer of equal stature to Fegan, to kill the three victims as well as his nemesis, who was responsible for a gut wound which incapacitated the gangster.  When Marie comes out of hiding to visit her dying father, she and the child are abducted, serving as lures to draw Fegan out of hiding and resulting in an unlikely collaboration between Lennon and Fegan to rescue Marie and Ellen.

The novel develops the characters in more depth than was exhibited in “Belfast,” and the pace is steadier.  But the writing is the same tense hard-driven prose which made the first so highly readable.  It is a graphic tale of the corruption between the politicians, criminals, British authorities and others in the fraught Northern Ireland of the era.  It is powerful and tragic, with intense violence and deep insights into a country still affected by long-continued terror.  It is highly recommended, and we look forward to the hoped-for sequel.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Skin
Mo Hayder
Grove Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-4517-8
Trade Paperback

There are all kinds of protagonists, but the two featured in this novel (after first appearing in Ritual) are very different.   Jack Caffery and Phoebe (“Flea”) Marley carry pretty heavy baggage from their past, but they get the job done somehow in this thrilling police procedural, despite their individual quirks and iconoclastic attitudes.

DI Caffery is engaged in two separate investigations which somehow become intertwined with an escapade in which Flea is involved.  As a result, he has to weigh whether or not to expose Flea’s efforts or to keep silent.  One case involves a series of strange deaths, initially thought to be suicides, although Caffery believes them to be murders. Another has to do with a missing person, a woman who may or may not also be such a victim, but no body has been found.

Marley is a police diver and the descriptions of her efforts, especially in the opening scene, are especially gripping, as Flea is seeking the body of the MisPer in a flooded quarry, diving deeper and deeper beyond recommended depths and apparently seeing a supernatural sight.  Both she and Caffery think there is a “Tokoloshe” in the area, a creature out of African witchcraft.

This sequel is so tightly written and absorbing one can hope that the author can follow up with more such unusual efforts in the future. Recommended.  [It should perhaps be noted that the author’s newest book, Gone, was published simultaneously by Atlantic Monthly Press in hardcover.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

Book Review: The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie

The Toughest Indian in the World
Sherman Alexie
Grove Press, 2001
ISBN 0802138004
Trade Paperback

“Are you an Indian?” he asked me.

Of course I was. (Jesus, my black hair hung down past my ass and I was dark as a pecan!) I’d grown up on my reservation with my tribe. I understood most of the Spokane language, though I’d always spoken it like a Jesuit priest. Hell, I’d been in three car wrecks! And most important, every member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians could tell you the exact place and time where I’d lost my virginity. Why? Because I’d told each and every one of them. I mean, I knew the real names, nicknames, and secret names of every dog that had lived on my reservation during the last twenty years.

“Yeah, I’m Indian,” I said.

—   from “One Good Man”

The Toughest Indian in the World is a collection of short stories by acclaimed author Sherman Alexie. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie writes almost exclusively about Indians (Indians, not Native Americans), particularly those who are also all or part Spokane or Coeur d’Alene.

The stories in The Toughest Indian in the World are about identity and how it informs and guides relationships: about what it means to be an Indian, a man, a woman, a person, a Coeur d’Alene, a Spokane, a wife, a husband, a lover, a son, and many other labels people either find themselves tagged with or claim for themselves. “Assimilation,” the story that opens the collection, makes this examination of identity and its role in forming relationships explicit in its opening paragraph:

For the first time in her life, [Mary Lynn] wanted to go to bed with an Indian man only because he was Indian. She was a Coeur d’Alene Indian married to a white man; she was a wife who wanted to have sex with an indigenous stranger. She didn’t care about the stranger’s job or his hobbies…. She didn’t care if he was handsome or ugly, mostly because she wasn’t sure exactly what those terms meant anymore and how much relevance they truly had when it came to choosing sexual partners.

The narrator of the title story informs the reader that, because he is a Spokane Indian, he only picks up Indian hitchhikers, a habit he acquired from his father. “Dear John Wayne” records an interview between a white anthropologist and an elderly Indian woman who claims to have had an affair with John Wayne during filming of “The Searchers.” When the interviewer attempts to assert his erudition and authority she retorts:

For the last one hundred and eighteen years, I have lived in your world, your white world. In order to survive, to thrive, I have to be white for fifty-seven minutes of every hour.

Q: How about the other three minutes?

A: That, sir, is when I get to be Indian, and you have no idea, no concept, no possible way of knowing what happens in those three minutes.

Q: Then tell me. That’s what I’m here for.

A: Oh, no, no, no. Those three minutes belong to us. They are very secret. You’ve colonized Indian land but I am not about to let you colonize my heart and mind.

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