Book Review: Murder in the Dog Days by P.M. Carlson—and a Giveaway!

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Title: Murder in the Dog Days
Series: Maggie Ryan Series #6
Author: P.M. Carlson
Publisher: The Mystery Company/
Crum Creek Press

Publication Date: May 15, 2014
Genres: Mystery

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Smashwords
Amazon // Indiebound

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Murder in the Dog Days
Maggie Ryan #6
P.M. Carlson
The Mystery Company/Crum Creek Press, May 2014
ISBN 978-1-932325-37-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

On a sweltering Virginia day in 1975, reporter Olivia Kerr, her husband Jerry Ryan, his very pregnant sister Maggie and her family decide to have a beach picnic. Olivia invites her colleague Dale Colby and his family to join them. At the last minute, Dale decides to stay home to pursue an important story. But when the beach-goers return, they find Dale lifeless in a pool of blood inside his locked office.

Police detective Holly Schreiner leads the investigation, battling Maggie—and demons of her own.

A funny thing happened (to me) on the way to my reading this book. Originally published in January 1991 (but copyrighted in 1990), Murder in the Dog Days came into existence a scant 15 or so years after its setting in 1975 and would not have been considered historical in nature. Returned Vietnam vets were to be seen everywhere, PTSD was in evidence but didn’t really have a name quite yet in the public lexicon, overuse/abuse of prescribed medications was probably not especially common yet but, at the least, very well hidden, and people were still split on the validity of our having been at war in a tiny country so far away. In 1990 or 1991, we didn’t yet have any real perspective on those times but it was beginning to become clearer and any reader’s personal experience and/or knowledge would have affected how he or she felt about this story.

Today, enough years have passed to consider the setting of Ms. Carlson’s novel to be historical or very close to it. As so often happens, our sensibilities about that period have softened somewhat and, although we now feel strongly that vets need the respect and assistance they so valiantly earn, we also have largely put the war itself into the past, shunted aside, I suppose, by the conflicts that have arisen since then. I bring up all this because the violence and repercussions of that particular war affected me in very different ways then and now and thus affects my reaction to certain people and storylines. I also confess that I had a less enlightened attitude towards some social issues then than I do now.

Anyway, getting to the actual mystery, this one is a keeper. There’s nothing I like more than a locked room puzzle and the author crafts her story with finesse and nicely developed plot points and characterizations, especially Maggie, Detective Holly Schreiner and Josie, the young daughter of the murdered man, Dale. A reporter who’s driven, Dale has been digging into a particular story with political implications but there are also other reasons someone might have had for killing him. The immediate question, though, is how since his study door was bolted and there seemed to be no way the killer could have gotten out. That one piece of the puzzle kept me going hither and yon until a most surprising denouement. My introduction to Maggie Ryan was a great success and I’ll be looking for the other books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

An Excerpt from Murder in the Dog Days

“I don’t understand!” Donna Colby cried out. Her self-control cracked. She reached toward Holly in appeal, tears starting. “It was bolted! How could anyone—even if Dale let them in, they couldn’t bolt it again after they—”

“Yes, Mrs. Colby.” Holly broke in, firm and reassuring, to deflect the outburst. “We’ll check into it. You can depend on it.”

‘Thank you,” said Donna with a little choking sound.

“Now, what did you do when you realized the door was bolted?”

“Well, he usually takes a nap. I thought maybe he was asleep.” Donna Colby was trying to revert to her numbed monotone again, but a tremor underlay her words. “Then Maggie went to look in the window and came running back in and said hurry up, we had to get the door open. So she did, and—” She stopped. The next part was the unspeakable, Holly knew. Donna Colby turned her face back to the pink flower on the back of the sofa, tracing the outline with a forefinger. “All that blood,” she murmured. “I just don’t… Why?”

“I know, Mrs. Colby.” Holly tried to keep her voice soothing in the face of the incomprehensible. A husband and father lay twisted in the den. Why? Tell me why. And the others, so many others. A flash of reds at the back of her eyes. A blue-green stench. A tiny whispered beat, ten, eleven. Twelve. No more. Hey, cut the bullshit, Schreiner. Just get the details. Ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die. Holly flipped to a new page, keeping her voice colorless. “What did you do when you got the door open?”

“We all ran in—I don’t remember, it was so—I couldn’t—the blood. Maggie went to him. Sent Olivia to call an ambulance. Told me to keep the kids out, take them to the kitchen.”

Holly noted it down. This Maggie sounded like a real take-charge type. “Okay. And then what?”

“I don’t remember much. She made me leave, take care of the kids.”

“What was she doing?”

“I don’t know. There was so much…” The word escaped Donna and she stared at Holly in mute terror before finding it again, with an almost pitiful triumph. “Confusion. The men came back. Maggie will tell you,” she added hopefully, trying to be helpful. All her life, probably, being nice had kept her out of trouble. But now she’d hit the big trouble, and Holly knew that no weapons, even niceness, could help now.

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Excerpt from Murder in the Dog Days by P.M. Carlson. Copyright © 2017 by P.M. Carlson. Reproduced with permission from P.M. Carlson. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

P.M. Carlson taught psychology and statistics at Cornell University before deciding that mystery writing was more fun. She has published twelve mystery novels and over a dozen short stories. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Macavity Award, and twice for Anthony Awards. Two short stories were finalists for Agatha Awards. She edited the Mystery Writers Annual for Mystery Writers of America for several years, and served as president of Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With Our Author:

Website // Twitter // Smashwords // Goodreads

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Follow the tour:

09/01 Interview @ BooksChatter
09/01 Review @ Rockin Book Reviews
09/02 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
09/03 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
09/04 Review @ Cabin Goddess
09/05 Interview/Showcase @ CMash Reads
09/06 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
09/07 Review @ Reviews From The Heart
09/11 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
09/12 Interview @ Mythical Books
09/13 Showcase @ Suspense Magazine
09/15 Review @ Just Reviews
09/18 Review @ Buried Under Books – GIVEAWAY
09/19 Showcase @ Teresa Trent Author Blog
10/05 Review @ Cheryls Book Nook

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Murder Is Academic, 2nd in the
series,
leave a comment below. The
winning
name will be drawn Thursday
evening,
September 21st, and the book
will be
sent out after the tour ends.

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Book Review: Sacred Games by Gary Corby

Sacred Games
An Athenian Mystery #3
Gary Corby
Soho Crime, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-6195-369-0
TradePaperback

This is the second novel by Corby I’ve read in this series. Set in ancient Greece, the main characters are royal investigator Nicolaos and his incredibly smart wife, the priestess Diotima. Nico’s brother, Socrates–yes, that Socrates–is featured as well, plus a good many other names I’m sure you’ll recognize from your ancient world history classes.

The story takes place at the 80th Olympiad, where competitors play for keeps, as in fight to the death. On the competitive field, if an opponent dies, no one can be tried for murder. The same does not hold true off the field, which draws Nico, under orders from Athen’s top politician and diplomat, Pericles, to find the killer of an elite Spartan pankration athlete named Arakos. The Athenian champion in pankration is the accused, and refuses to provide an alibi for himself. In order to prevent a war between the states of Athens and Sparta, Nico has to figure it all out before the end of the games.

Pankration? you may ask. I’m still not sure but it sounds like a mixture of various martial arts, kick boxing, and plain old street fighting, including kidney punches and the gouging of eyes.

The story contains plenty of suspects, although everyone has a hard time believing anyone but another pankration player could possibly beat a big man like Arakos, and there are so many twists and turns you’re apt to get dizzy. At the same time, it’s going to keep you involved. And what a good way to learn something about ancient history! Mr. Corby’s research is extensive, and is the best way I know of to teach the rest of us a bit of Greek history and culture. Meanwhile, the humor in the Nico and Diotima mysteries always brings a laugh, and Socrates is a hoot. I’m pleased to recommend this one.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 3

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

Deep Cover Jack
The Hunt for Reacher Series #7
Diane Capri
AugustBooks, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-940768-70-0
Trade Paperback

If you’ve never tried any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, you need to read at least one before you tackle this series because this is all about the “other side” of the equation, the law enforcement folks who think they need to apprehend Reacher because he’s such a horrible person, a desperately wanted man. Well…our FBI Special Agents, Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar have learned a few things by the time we get to this seventh book and they’ve picked up a little help along the way from other interested parties but they haven’t yet caught the man. Will they this time when they head for Houston? Hmm…if you know Jack, you know their chances are on the slim side but will they at least get close?

This is an intriguing, entertaining companion to the Jack Reacher series and, yes, Lee Child himself speaks highly of it. Oh, and before you think these must be the most incompetent agents ever if they’ve been chasing him through seven books, think again. Try it, you’ll like it 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Stalking Jack the Ripper
Stalking Jack the Ripper Series #1
Kerri Maniscalco
jimmy patterson, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-316-27349-7
Hardcover

As you might surmise from the name of the publisher, this is “presented” by the megawatt author James Patterson himself and, if I do say so, this is a good ‘un. Audrey Rose Wadsworth loves to spend time in her uncle’s lab learning medical stuff but gets drawn into a serious criminal investigation, that of the gory deaths of some women of ill repute. With the assistance of Thomas Cresswell, apprentice to her uncle, Audrey Rose really wants to get justice for these poor women as well as bring a killer to justice but the stakes get even higher when the long arm of the law reaches out to someone close to her.

I like the Victorian era, young adult mysteries and the Jack the Ripper case (plus I love the cover) so trying this was a no brainer for me. Mounting clues and hair-raising theories lead to a horrifying discovery but, throughout it all, Audrey Rose maintains her intelligent, thoughtful focus even if she can’t be completely objective. The next case for this young lady and the charming if annoying Thomas, Hunting Prince Dracula, involves another string of killings while Audrey Rose studies forensic medicine in Romania and I can hardly wait to dive in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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March of Crime
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #11
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5263-1
Trade Paperback

This cozy series has been fun and frothy since the beginning and I continue to like them a lot, especially because they never seem to get stale, if you know what I mean. They have plenty of humor along with tension and Mira Ross might as well be called the Jessica Fletcher of Battle Lake, Minnesota, since people seem to drop like flies in her vicinity. No wonder this mild-mannered librarian has aspirations of being a private eye!

One thing that intrigues me about cozies is the myriad ways authors find to present a dead body without offending sensibilities and I think Ms. Lourey has outdone herself and everyone else this time. Lifesize dolls are kind of creepy anyway (to me at least) but when one turns out to be an actual corpse sitting proudly right next to Mira, well I ask you, how could she NOT want to snoop? Mira and her assorted crew of cronies and nemeses are soon hot on one trail or another and I chortled all the way to the end.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Enemy Within
Scott Burn
Scott Burn, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-9978429-1-3
Trade Paperback

There have been people throughout history who have had visions of the future, some believable, many more not so much, but I had to have a lot of sympathy for the 17-year-old Max who has been seeing hellfire and damnation at the apparent end of the world. In his situation, I’m not sure I wouldn’t at least consider his way of ending these horrific sights that just won’t stop but one thing that would prevent me from  doing such a drastic thing is my own suspicion that I’d bungle it. And he does, landing himself in an institution.

Three other boys have found each other but know that they’re missing one and can’t do what they’re supposed to do without him. Who are they? Suffice it to say, there’s a new unclaimed satellite in orbit and things are about to get very unsettling for us and for our survival on this planet.

This was such a fun story with aliens and other cool science fiction-y stuff. Technically speaking, this is Young Adult but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good apocalyptic story full of adventure and mayhem, not to mention some pretty appealing characters. I hope we’ll see more of Max before too long.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Matthew Sullivan
Scribner, June 2017
ISBN 978-1501116841
Hardcover
Narrated by Madeleine Maby
Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

As a former bookstore owner, I naturally had to read this and, while I enjoyed it, I also had some reservations. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a strange sort of place, attracting some rather odd people called the BookFrogs, some of whom seem to spend all their waking hours just hanging out, rarely buying anything. And, since Lydia Smith was Joey Molina’s favorite bookseller, you have to wonder why he would commit suicide in the bookstore, leaving his supposed favorite to find him.

But so he does and he leaves all his worldly goods to Lydia leading her to puzzle over certain things that pique her curiosity, not only because she thought Joey was a nice young man but also because she seems to have an odd connection to this mystery, a connection that takes her back to a most unpleasant murder-tainted past.

The ebook of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore grabbed my attention despite my initial reluctance and I decided I wanted to try listening to the tale. Narrator Madeleine Maby has a pleasing tone with identifiable vocalizations and I do think the audio edition helped evoke emotions a bit more easily than the written version. Bottomline, while the rampant dysfunction in these characters’ lives made me somewhat unsettled, the mystery itself was engaging.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

Book Reviews: Drag Teen by Jeffrey Self and The Arrow Shooter by James Mather

Drag Teen
Jeffery Self
Push, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-82993-9
Hardcover

Remember the first time you released your inner-most self?  Knowing you, to your very core; adoring and admiring that person so much it had to be celebrated—the joyful, buoyant feeling had to be released, good vibes to everyone.  Imagine being in that moment when a hate-filled, bitter person brings contempt so tangible that the light is smothered; the joy stolen.  Because most of us have experienced that, it is almost intuitive to empathize with JT’s predicament.

His parents do not support his desire to attend college after high school.  They appear offended by his plan, as if his ambition is as an affront to the lives they lead.  Rather than seeing and hearing their son, they seem to have created a persona of an ungrateful, arrogant brat that is easy to dismiss.  But JT has Seth, and Seth has a plan.

A Drag Teen pageant is being held for high school seniors needing financial aid for college; the prize—a full scholarship.  The idea of being a Drag Teen doesn’t bother JT; the terror of doing it again, with the same results is paralyzing.  With the support of his boyfriend, their best friend Heather and an assortment of souls along the way, JT tackles the terror.

I was amused, delighted and entirely invested in this story.  The combination of blue-collar parents, an over-the-top, former country music sensation, teen-agers and Drag Queens is quirky in the best possible ways and works wonderfully for JT’s journey to New York City and self discovery.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

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The Arrow Shooter
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-692-46617-9
Trade Paperback

The novel has enormous unrealized potential to provide a long look into what is sometimes referred to as the inscrutable East. Yakuza target Jonathan Lusk leaves Japan and his professional activities as a special undercover operative and enrolls at Stanford University. He is following his father’s trail and seeking the murderer of his father.

Of course his life is complicated by his growing infatuation, a forbidden love for Princess Nanami Yoritomo. A non-Japanese and a commoner, the love between the couple is overladen with difficulties. The campus atmosphere in the 1960s, the threat of a killer stalking Lusk, the efforts of the romantic couple to develop their relationship, all offer great opportunity for emotional soaring narrative.

Alas, the writing is competent, straight forward, efficient and flat. Although we are surely meant to identify with the young couple, the lack of emotion tends to set barriers so we never fully empathize with Jonathan or his princess. On the other hand, the narrative passages that reveal much about Japanese culture are quite interesting. In sum, an interesting read for those who wish to look more closely at a specific cultural element of the East.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2017.
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: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker and The Eyes of Pharaoh by Chris Eboch

Emma in the Night
Wendy Walker
St. Martin’s Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-14143-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

When two sisters vanish one night, Cass watches the aftermath on TV, the interviews with her mother who, somehow, makes it all about herself. It has always been about Judy Martin and her need to be the center of attention is at the core of the emotional distance between the sisters. Given that distance, why were they both gone?

FBI forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters and Special Agent Leo Strauss worked the case when the girls disappeared three years ago and they’re drawn back in now that Cass has returned out of the blue. She has a strange tale to tell and there are inconsistencies but, of course, the big question is where is Emma? Were the two girls together all those years or not? The answers that begin to trickle in are increasingly disturbing and you can’t help wondering what has really brought Cass back to her family.

Creepy, that’s the paramount feeling I had while reading this and the author’s evocation of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder brought to mind such infamous people as Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her kids in the car so she’d be unencumbered in her pursuit of a man. This disorder doesn’t get a lot of serious attention but perhaps it should. Nicely done, Ms. Walker!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Eyes of Pharaoh
Chris Eboch
Spellbound River Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-945017-27-8
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

The Eyes of Pharaoh, 1177 BC: During the reign of Pharaoh Ramses the Third, Seshta, a 13-year-old dancer in the Temple of Hathor, dreams of becoming a famous entertainer. Horus, the brother of her heart, is content as a toymaker’s apprentice. Reya, at 16, has joined Egypt’s army with hopes of becoming a hero. Despite their different paths, nothing can break the bonds of their friendship. Yet when Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt?

Then Reya disappears. Seshta and Horus set out to find him–and discover a darker plot than they ever imagined. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

I’ve had a love affair with ancient Egypt for so long I can’t remember how or when it started. When I had a chance to spend a week there in 1989, I found the modern country just as fascinating and wonderful and I’m sorry I’ll probably never get back there, also sorry for the political troubles that plague those wonderful people. Anyway, I’m always delighted to read any fiction or nonfiction about Egypt, especially set in ancient times and The Eyes of Pharaoh hit just the right spot with me.

Most of the mysteries I’ve seen set in this civilization are adult, which is great, but it usually means the characters are officials or slaves or high society, not so much the general population. These teens are a good cross-section, if you will, with a temple dancer, a soldier and a servant’s son, and I think that really added to my enjoyment because they’re not yet mature enough to be leery of risk and adventure and they’re comfortable with day-to-day life among the common people. One of the trio has gone missing and the other two are determined to find him. ‘Nuff said.

Because I love Egypt and its history so much, I wholeheartedly approve of anything that might entice young readers to fall under its spell and this book would be an excellent introduction. And, for those of you who aren’t so young anymore, you should give this a shot for rousing exploits and a darned good mystery 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes by David Handler

Continue reading

Book Reviews: Run by Kody Keplinger and Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Run
Kody Keplinger
Scholastic Press, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-83113-0
Hardcover

To say that Agnes and Bo are polar opposites would be grossly overstating their similarities….at least at first glance.  It is difficult to imagine what the serene, docile blind girl would discuss with the most promiscuous wild-child in the small southern town.  It is initially inconceivable that the two would form a bond built on trust and whole-hearted acceptance.  Run isn’t a SnapChat view of two teenagers’ lives.  Ms. Keplinger uses a wide lens to clearly capture the vast and complicated contributing factors that affect not only how other people see the girls; but also their own perceptions of themselves.

That is not to say, however, that this is a dark and heavy tome.  Contrarily, I found this to be immediately irresistible and I ended up reading the book in one day.   It is so easy to become immersed, then invested in a story that is told from two points of view.  Ms. Keplinger spins the tale in that fashion, with a fantastic little tense twist.  True to her very core, Bo’s side of the story is happening right now, present tense, in your face—exactly the way she lives her life.  Agnes takes us back—remembering, yes….but also, considering and contemplating.

While I hesitate to use comparisons in reviews, I genuinely feel that I would be remiss if I did not say: this story, to me, feels important in an Eleanor and Park kind of way.  Although it is undeniably Bo and Agnes’ story; their parents do play a key role.  Just like the teens; adults can be guilty of making and sticking to snap judgments.  Also alongside adolescents; adults have plenty of room to grow.  I’ve no doubt Run will have mass appeal in the YA world and I’m pretty confident that there are plenty of Not-So-Young Adults that will dig it, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

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Death in the Tunnel
A British Library Crime Classic
Miles Burton
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0581-1
Trade Paperback

First of all, a short synopsis: Sir Wilfred Saxonby dies as he takes the five o’clock train home. He’s in a locked compartment, shot through the heart by one bullet, the pistol that fired it under his own seat. His death seems straightforward enough, the only odd thing being the fact the train was traveling through a long tunnel at the time. A very noisy, very dark tunnel. And there were the mysterious lights the engineer and fireman saw on the tracks, changing from red, which slowed the train, to green again, when the train sped up.

Was Sir Wilfred’s death suicide, or was it murder?

That is the question posed to Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard. Terribly puzzled himself, Arnold calls in Desmond Merrion, an amateur expert on criminology. Together they set out to discover the truth in this convoluted plot.

See. No spoilers.

Death in the Tunnel was first published in 1936, the author contemporaneous with Agatha Christie. The plot plods, in my most humble opinion, although the premise is classically intriguing. The characters never really come alive, composed, for the most part, of talking heads. I never really see them. The action, what there is of it, seems constrained. Nobody, even the dead man’s children, seems to care all that much.

Writing styles come and go. Perhaps the British version of that day was more stilted, although Christie, Sayers, Creasey, among others, always struck me a writers of good stories. American author Mabel Seeley, from the same era, brought the reader into her characters’ world, always with a sense of danger involved.

As a puzzle concept, Death in the Tunnel, delivers. As a rousing good story, I can only say, “Not for me.”

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.