Book Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Song of the Lion
A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel #2
Anne Hillerman
Harper, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-062-39190-2
Hardcover

Anne Hillerman continues to demonstrate she is a solid author in her own right, albeit using the characters developed by her late father, Tony, in the series featuring Jim Chee, Bernadette Manuelito and Joe Leaphorn.  And by expanding Bernie’s role, she has added her own stamp on the series, which began in 1970, and in which this is her third novel.

The action begins when a bomb explodes, destroying a BMW belonging to a local hero who is mediating a hearing on a proposed resort on Navajo land adjacent to the Grand Canyon.  A young man is killed while sitting in the car.  The owner is playing in an alumni-student basketball game, and Jim Chee is assigned to be his bodyguard, driving him to the hearing and watching over him.  The plot develops in unexpected ways and as it unfolds, Bernie gets to play a deeper role than that of a bystander.  She takes over uncovering the real reason for the explosion, enlisting the assistance of Leaphorn, who still suffers from a bullet wound in his brain, but recalls an earlier incident, which helps Bernie resolve the case.

Common to the series are the descriptions of the arid Navajo country, the rituals, myths and customs of the people so well-done by Tony Hillerman and now continued on an equal footing by his daughter.  Her plotting is similarly on a par with the series’ founder.  And by introducing an environmental issue in the plot, she has brought the series up to date, while maintaining the integrity of the basic story and its characters.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

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Book Reviews: Innocent Blood by Michael Lister and The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

Innocent BloodInnocent Blood
Michael Lister
Pulpwood Press, May 2015
ISBN:  978-1-8881-4649-3
Hardcover
March 2015
ISBN 978-1-8881-4650-9
Trade Paperback

The sub-title of this novel by Michael Lister is Book #7 and A John Jordan Mystery, to which description is added The Atlanta Years, Volume One.  It is basically a prequel to the six earlier books in the series, and a fascinating look into what made the protagonist into the man he became, to wit: an ex-cop turned prison chaplain.

From the publisher:  When he was twelve years old he came face to face with the man who would be convicted of the Atlanta Child Murders.  Six years later, John returned to Atlanta determined to discover who was truly responsible for all the slaughtered innocents.  But first he must ascertain whether or not LaMarcus Williams belongs on the infamous list of missing and murdered children.  The questions in the case are many, the answers few.  Who killed LaMarcus Williams?  How was he abducted from his own backyard, while his mom and sister watched him?  Is he a victim of the Atlanta Child Murderer that didn’t make the list or is his killer still out there, still operating with impunity?

Opening with a brief Introduction by Michael Connelly, whose own iconic creation, Harry Bosch, assists John and gives him all the impetus he needs to devote the next several years of his life to becoming a cop like Bosch [whose telephone conversation has the background of jazz saxophone that Bosch fans will immediately recognize].  Although Bertram Williams was found guilty of both of the murders with which he was charged, one of them of a 27-year-old and the second a 21-year-old, John is not convinced that he committed all or any of the other murders mostly of young black children who had been victims of the Atlanta Child Murderer, not all of whom were young or black.  His commitment is made at age 17; as he is told, “the empathy you feel with the victims, the unquenchable thirst burning inside you for justice . . . for restoring some kind of order . . . the rage you feel at the murderer . . . your obsession with knowing, with uncovering, with finding the truth . . . they are the very things that make you perfect for this kind of work.”  And John himself feels “That’s what I’m called to do – – help people damaged by violent crime, salve the suffering of the living while searching for some kind of justice for the dead.  As both a minister and an investigator I’d be in a unique position to do both.”

John Jordan’s dedication to the task he has set for himself results in a well-plotted, well-written mystery, the resolution of which is stunning, and one which I for one did not see coming, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2016.

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The Good LiarThe Good Liar
Nicholas Searle
Harper, February 2016
ISBN: 978-0-0624-0749-8
Hardcover

In the early pages of this debut novel by Nicholas Searle, we met Roy, who, we are told, could “pass for seventy, sixty at a pinch,” but he is a decade older than that.  He is meeting a woman on a blind date, each initially giving the other a “nom de guerre,” but they quickly admit the truth and re-introduce themselves to the other.  He tells her “I can promise you that was the last time I will lie to you, Betty, everything I say to you from now on will be the truth.  Total honesty.  I can promise you, Betty.  Total honesty.”  As the title suggests, however, this in itself is as far from honesty as one can get.  Instead, he sees in her little more than a mark, a very vulnerable woman.  But once the bloom is off the rose, so to speak, she still things it can work, “for the sake of the satisfaction and security she craves.”

The book is replete with flashbacks, each one rather lengthy, harking back decades earlier, first to mid-1998, then early 1963, mid-1946, and finally back to December of 1938 and a time of war.

The writing is beautiful.  One early scene in particular I would like to cite as an example:

“Boys of secondary school age are mere blustering rhinos, carried on a wave of hormonal surges of which they are the helpless victims and to which they are utterly oblivious.  Their female peers have gained an awareness.  And with awareness comes uncertainty, expressed in various ways.  The plain and studious invest in their faith that diligence and intelligence may help them navigate the horrors, away from loneliness and failure.  The fresh-faced, pretty girls of the class – – pretty vacuous too, most of them – – sense inchoately that their attractiveness may be ephemeral and dependent on the vagaries of their coming physical development.”

Roy turns out to be surprisingly likeable, this reader found, to her surprise.  But be assured, please, that this novel is nothing at all what one expects, whatever that may be.

From the publisher:  “Roy’s entire life is a masterfully woven web of lies, secrets, and betrayals that will blindside you.”  If anything, that understates the case.  This is a book that stayed with me long after the cover had been closed and the last page read.  And it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Book Review: All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

All Day and a NightAll Day and a Night
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2014
ISBN: 978-0-0622-0838-5
Hardcover

Ellie Hatcher, a detective with the NYPD, and her partner, Jeffrey James (“J.J.”) Rogan, working homicide in the 13th Precinct, return in the fifth entry of this wonderful series by Alafair Burke.  The pair have conflicted reactions when Ellie’s boyfriend, ADA Max Donovan, assigns them, on behalf of the Conviction Integrity Unit, as a “fresh look” team to look into the 18-year-old murder conviction of Anthony Amaro, a man who had been put away as a serial killer and is serving a life sentence without chance of parole (in prison slang, “all day and a night,” “all day” simply being a life sentence).  The problem arises when a Park Slope psychotherapist is found murdered in a manner identical to that of the women Amaro had been accused of killing [those having apparently all been working prostitutes], and the police start receiving anonymous tips.  Things get more complex when there is a question about the possibly coerced confession made by Amaro to one of the murders, the fallout of that being a review of all ‘confessions’ elicited by that same cop, again reminiscent of something along similar lines in New York in recent years.

The rather obscure DA unit handles cases of “wrongful conviction,” of which there have been many successful ones over recent years.  The attorney who represents Amaro here is Linda Moreland, a celebrity trial lawyer with 8 exoneration wins under her belt, who in turn contacts Carrie Blank, a former law student of Moreland and now an attorney with a prestigious law firm who is the step-sister of one of the victims, killed many years ago in Utica, NY.  Carrie can’t refuse, hoping she can gain some insight into her step-sister’s murder.  The novel’s point-of-view alternates accordingly, with the parallel investigations.

The writing completely captures the toxic atmosphere currently plaguing the US and, especially, New York City, with regard to community vis-à-vis police relations, and the stop-and-frisk policy just recently changed by New York’s current mayor.  The case revolves around both venues, the upstate New York area where most of the murders occurred and where the most recent victim once worked, as well as the New York area, now home to Ellie [originally from Wichita, Kansas], Rogan, Max and the author as well.  The novel moves ingeniously and quickly to a terrific conclusion, with several unexpected twists and turns along the way.  The author gets everything right, with many ‘ripped from the headlines’ story lines, and the book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Review: Vanishing Acts by Philip Margolin and Ami Margolin Rome

Vanishing ActsVanishing Acts 
A Madison Kincaid Mystery #1
Philip Margolin and Ami Margolin Rome
Harper, October 2011
ISBN 978-0-06-188556-3
Hardcover

Madison Kincaid is a precocious athletic seventh-grader in the Portland public schools as the novel opens. Her widower dad is a top criminal attorney and Madison spends a lot of time alone or with her best buddy, Ann. They have been soccer teammates for years and Madison is upset when Ann is a no-show for team tryouts.

Meanwhile, her dad is hired to defend the husband of Madison’s second-grade teacher against a charge of murder. Coincidental? A bit of a stretch in some of Madison’s actions? Sure, but this story is engaging, the kids and their voices are real and the plot moves along smartly. It’s easy to see that the senior member of this writing team paid close attention to the advice of his daughter.

Not only does Madison enlist a new school friend named Jake to help her solve her dad’s latest case, she figures out how to learn what has happened to her best bud, Ann. There’s sufficient tension, the kids don’t stray too far into dangerous territory and the writing is excellent.

I enjoyed the story and the action and although readers should note that it’s not a lengthy novel, it’s well worth the price and an afternoon’s reading.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2014.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet and The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Tokyo KillTokyo Kill
Barry Lancet
Simon & Schuster, September 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9172-6
Hardcover

Jim Brodie made his initial appearance in Japantown, an action-packed thriller and the series debut.  He now returns in a novel which is no less filled with derring-do and lots of exotic descriptions of Japanese culture and history.  Brodie inherited a half-interest in Brodie Security, founded by his late father and headquartered in Tokyo, and also operates an art dealership, which he claims is his main profession, in San Francisco.

In Tokyo seeking a rare painting, Brodie is approached by a 90-year-old veteran of World War II asking for protection because members of his military detachment in Manchuria during the war-time occupation by Japan were being murdered.  After he supplies a security detail, events take over the course of the rest of the novel, as Brodie investigates the possibility of Triads, Chinese spies and others as the culprits.  And that takes on a life of its own.

The author has lived and worked in Japan for more than a quarter century, and the flavor and information about the country permeates with authenticity throughout the novel.  His description of various types of martial arts practiced in Japan is a further exhibit of his expertise.  Powerfully written, Tokyo Kill is a very enjoyable read, and this reader is looking forward to additions to the series.
Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2014.

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The Care and Management of LiesThe Care and Management of Lies
A Novel of the Great War
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, July 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-222050-9
Hardcover

The old adage that an army travels on its stomach certainly is an apt description for this standalone by the author of the terrific Maisie Dobbs series.  Like those novels, it is sent in and around World War I and captures the horrors of the Great War, the muddy trenches, the deaths and its effect on the folks back home.

The plot centers on Kezia Marchant who marries Tom, the younger brother of her good friend, Thea Brisenden, with whom she went to school, both becoming teachers.  Then upon marrying Tom, Kezia becomes a farm wife.  All this takes place shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, and when the war breaks out, Tom feels imperiled to enlist, leaving Kezia to manage the farm.

In the brief time before Tom leaves for France, a ritual develops, as Kezia learns to cook with a flourish, using ingenuity and good sense to set a table unlike anything her husband had ever experienced.  And when he receives letters in the trenches they are filled with glowing accounts of dinners Kezia has prepared for him, filling his drudgery with lightness.  And the rest of the soldiers in his unit take to the descriptions as well, adding to their joy in the face of the poor rations they have to endure.  This is a novel demonstrating the ability of people to withstand all sorts of horrible experiences and survive, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: The Perfect Coed by Judy Alter and Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

The Perfect CoedThe Perfect Coed
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-9960131-0-9
Trade Paperback

A coed, one of Professor Susan Hogan’s American Lit students has gone missing, and a few days later, her body is finally discovered in the trunk of Susan’s car. Why was this particular coed,who seemed the perfect student, daughter, girlfriend, murdered? Why was Missy Jackson’s body hidden in her car? That’s what Susan and her boyfriend Jake, a security officer at the university, wants to know. However, they’d better work fast because she may be fated to be the killer’s next victim. Unless the cops hurry up and arrest her for the murder.

Lots of suspects are introduced for the reader to choose among in the quest to deduce the murderer. Lots of twists and turns and red herrings to either help or to hinder. Lots of threats and scary, tension filled scenes thrust the story along, and the ending is a satisfactory conclusion with just the right amount of final explanation.

The only thing that bothered me–and I’m not sure that’s the right word–is why Susan is so “prickly,” (a word used in the back cover blurb to describe her) especially with her loved ones and her supporters. I found her reluctance to accept help or to even discuss measures to preserve her own life distracting at times.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth is Missing
Emma Healey
Harper, June 10 2014
ISBN 978-0-0623-0966-2
Hardcover

“Elizabeth is missing” is the sole notation made on most of the innumerable notes that Maud Horsham constantly makes and puts in any available pocket, as a hoped-for aid to her increasingly failing memory.  Maud is in an advancing state of dementia, and more often than not cannot remember where she is, or with whom, even when the latter is her daughter, or her granddaughter (sometimes mistaking the latter for the former).  But she knows that her best friend – – indeed, just about her only remaining friend, as she remembers “The others are in homes or in graves” – –  appears to be missing.  She takes any path she can conjure up to try to solve the mystery, resorting to putting an ad in the local newspaper for any information anyone may have as to her whereabouts.

And her friend Elizabeth is not the only ‘disappeared’ person Maud is trying to track down.  Even 70 years later (which doesn’t matter so much when one has no idea of time frames), Maud is still trying to find her sister, Sukey, missing since the time after the London blitz, when Maud was 15 years old and England was still trying to recover from the war, enduring rationed food and bombed-out homes.  The narrative, such as it is, jumps back and forth in time, from looking for her sister to searching for her friend, sometimes for both at seemingly the same time.  It is often difficult just to follow where Maud is, both for Maud herself as well as for the reader.

This book is unlike any I have ever read.  Maud is the first-person narrator, and that narrative is as disjointed as Maud’s mind, conveying, quite convincingly, that state of being.  I must admit to a feeling of ‘there but for the grace of G-d go . . .’ well, I, or indeed any of us.  The novel is one that literally haunted me well after I had finished reading it, and I suspect it may do that for many readers.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Review: Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes—and a Giveaway!

Under a Silent MoonUnder a Silent Moon
Elizabeth Haynes
Harper, April 2014
ISBN 978-0-06-227602-5
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback and ebook

From the publisher—

In the crisp, early hours of an autumn morning, the police are called to investigate two cases . . .

A beautiful young woman has been found dead, her cottage drenched with blood.

A car with a woman’s body inside has been found at the bottom of a quarry pit, an apparent suicide.

As DCI Louisa Smith and her team gather evidence over the course of the next six days, they discover a shocking link between the two cases—a bond that sealed these women’s terrible fates one cold night, under a silent moon.

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Recently, and still today, I’ve been dealing with some personal issues that have made reading difficult so I had trouble connecting with Under a Silent Moon at first. I’m glad I kept on, though, because I ended up enjoying it for the most part, enough that I plan to re-read it when I’m in a more receptive state of mind.

Multiple points of view can be confusing sometimes and I do think there were too many characters, some quite unnecessary to the story, but the author gave us a cast of characters that helped a good deal. The multiple POVs offered a broader look at things and I did like that; this style allows the reader to know more than any individual character and, while I wouldn’t want it in all books, it’s a nice change now and then.

Lou Smith has all the earmarks of a detective with some experience but thrust into her first major crime as a DCI. Some mistakes are made but she shows herself to be a contender and that her promotion was well-deserved. Her investigative techniques are valid and mostly successful; less successful are various personal relationships but the ending of this book leads me to think some of those issues will be resolved in the next one. Hopefully, those relationships will have more depth to them then.

On the whole, I did enjoy Under a Silent Moon and, as I mentioned before, I’ll be reading it again when I’m in a better frame of mind. I like Lou and want to spend more time with her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.

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About the Author

Elizabeth HaynesElizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. Dark Tide is her second novel; rights to her first, Into the Darkest Corner, have been sold in twenty-five territories. Haynes lives in England in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

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Follow the tour:

Wednesday, February 25th: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Thursday, February 26th: Dreams, Etc.

Monday, March 2nd: Wont to be Quilter

Tuesday, March 3rd: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, March 4th: Vivacious Hobo

Thursday, March 5th: Buried Under Books

Tuesday, March 10th: Olduvai Reads

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Leave a comment below to enter the drawing
for a very gently read hardcover
copy of
Under a Silent Moon. The winning name will be

drawn on Sunday evening, March 8th.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

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