Book Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey @sujatamassey @soho_press

The Satapur Moonstone
A mystery of 1920s India
A Perveen Mistry Novel, Book 2
Sujata Massey
Soho Crime, May 2019
ISBN 978-1-61695-909-8
Hardcover

Lawyer Perveen Mistry, Esquire, an employee of the British Raj, has been sent from Bombay to the princely state of Satapur to settle a dispute over the education of the ruling family’s children. The male succession line has been interrupted by the deaths of both the maharaja and his eldest heir and now the dowager maharani, (grandmother) and the younger maharani (the mother) can’t agree. But just how intense is their disagreement? This is what Perveen, India’s only female lawyer, must discover. She is the only one who can negotiate as the two maharanis live in purdah.

When Perveen arrives, she finds turmoil and even fear as the dowager maharani has assumed all power. But is she also a murderess? From the oddities surrounding the young maharaja’s death, supposedly killed by a tiger, Perveen’s suspicion grows. As she guards the young crown prince’s life, she’s on the edge of death herself as someone makes repeated attempts on her life and on the young prince’s.

The rather slow pacing in the beginning will fool you into thinking there’s no action, but as the pomp and ceremony of the state unfolds, you’ll find something different. Jealousies large and small, the wielding of power, the strictness of the caste system become intense. The character of the countryside is fascinating, as is the political aspect of the British Raj. Then there is the matter of women’s place in this closed world, and Perveen’s growing response to the white British agent Colin Sandringham. As events wind down to an exciting conclusion, you’re sure to be riveted.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Diary of a Dead Man on Leave by David Downing @soho_press

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-61695-843-5
Hardcover

Josef Hoffman isn’t his real name. He’s a German who has recently returned to his native country, to the town of Hamm. It’s April, 1938. Adolf Hitler is in power.

Josef has a mission. He works for the International Liaison Section of the Communist International and with a list of members of the Comintern his orders are to locate the men on his list and confirm they are still members of the Party. The Soviet Union’s leaders, sure that another war in Europe is imminent, want to find out whether there are enough Communists in Germany to form an underground group willing to undermine and disrupt the Third Reich.

Josef manages to get a room in a boarding house near the railway yards, where he has landed a job. The boarding house is run by Frau Anna Gersdorff, her father Erich who is blind and bedridden, and Walter her eleven year old son. There are also three other lodgers staying at the boarding house, Askel Ruchay, Jakob Barufka and Rolf Gerritzen.

Josef knows he shouldn’t get too friendly with the people around him. He is there to observe and report, and track down the men on his list. But he finds himself drawn to Anna and her son Walter, especially when he discovers Walter, an intelligent boy, is being bullied at school and not just by other children. A teacher is determined Walter is too clever by far and makes it his mission to degrade and diminish him at every turn. Walter’s only friend is Marco a younger black boy, the son of Verena who works as the cook at the boarding house and this does not sit well with the current regime.

Every six weeks Josef is instructed to meet with a colleague to report his progress. He has decided to keep a journal detailing his day to day efforts to track down these men…and it is through his journaling he reveals the characters of the lodgers, as well as the men he works with at the Railway Yard. We also see his growing attachment to the Gersdorff family.

As the days unfold, Josef slowly becomes ever more entangled with the lives of the people in the boarding house. HIs progress in finding his Communist brothers is slow. His need to be careful approaching these men intensifies, fearful at any moment he will be reported to the authorities or arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. Tension is rising throughout the country as Hitler and his Third Reich grow more brutal and violent.

I found this book engrossing. Written in journal form makes for an easy read, but throughout, the author is adept at keeping the stakes high.
Check this one out…and find out what becomes of Josef and the people he has grown to love.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2019.

Book Review: Charity’s Burden by Edith Maxwell @edithmaxwell @midnightinkbook

Charity’s Burden
A Quaker Midwife Mystery #4
Edith Maxwell
Midnight Ink, April 2019
ISBN 978-0-7387-5643-1
Trade Paperback

The story opens as Quaker midwife Rose Carroll is called out to attend Charity Skells, one of her previous patients. The patient insists she’s having a miscarriage, but Rose sees a discrepancy in the woman’s symptoms. After all, Charity had just delivered a child a few months ago, when Rose had warned the father that his wife was too fragile to bear another child any time soon. Rushing the woman to the hospital where she bleeds to death, it soon develops that a botched abortion is involved. But abortion is against the law. Who can have done such a thing? At least two possibilities seem likely.

Rose feels she must take a hand, helping her good friend police detective Kevin Donovan solve the mystery. After all, it’s easier for a midwife to ask ladies personal questions. The list of suspects grows as she discovers Charity’s husband is involved with another woman. There is a substantial inheritance in the offing, as well. Jealousy and greed are powerful motives and Rose never hesitates when it comes to keeping her clientele safe.

The story is a historical gem where we learn about attitudes toward abortion, birth control, and family planning. Oh, and some pure evil. I was a little surprised by some of it but I must say my sympathies are all with the desperate mothers. Rose is a brave, compassionate soul and an excellent sleuth; a heroine well-worth reading.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Reviews: State University of Murder by Lev Raphael and Cattle Kate by Jana Bommersbach @LevRaphael @PPPress

State University of Murder
A Nick Hoffman Mystery #9
Lev Raphael
Perseverance Press, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-56474-609-2
Trade Paperback

Satirical, amusing, sometimes funny, scalpel sharp and relentless, this Nick Hoffman murder story will engage most academics, offend a few and, in the bargain, offers up a classic who-dunnit. Raphael’s writing, as always, is incisive, often cutting and mostly to the point.

The author provides an extensive context of the lives of the two principal characters, Professor of Literature, Nicholas Hoffmann, a semi-professional investigator and his marriage and life partner, Stefan, also a professor at the State University of Michigan (SUM) and a highly thought-of successful crime novelist.

Their department has recently been renamed English and Creative Writing, in the apparently usual manner, by Trustees of the University with little or no faculty consultation. This gives the author opportunity to swing wider his cleaver of criticism, aimed at all members of the academic community, top to bottom. A new chair has also been named, a flamboyant, self-centered, egotistical man of letters from France. He endears himself immediately to all full-time and adjunct faculty by making a series of unilateral decisions without consultation, thus raising to untold levels the ire of the department. Hoffman deplores the new office spaces as well.

The author carefully introduces us to many department members and sets the stage for murder, pointing to faculty jealousies and resentments which abound on this campus. The story moves along at a reasonable pace, with many side trips to drinks, dinner, a dog and social activities. All of it is precisely and clearly written with many quips and even sarcastic references to the world at large.

The story is well-placed in the world of today and reflects accurately the author’s world view and that of a more compressed academic community. The mystery is solved, the murderer arrested and the academics return to their emotionally fraught tasks of educating eager young people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Cattle Kate
Jana Bommersbach
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0302-2
Hardcover

Award-winning journalist and author, Bommersbach brings to this moving thoughtful novel, years of careful research, good writing and yes, a jaundiced eye. Those attributes are particularly important for this project because the author is directly confronting long-standing scurrilous myth about the subject of the novel, a woman named Ella Watson, and about the mythology of the settlement of the west.

Every child alive in America today as well as previous generations grew up on stories of the men who settled the western plains of North America in the years following the Civil War. There were strong mountain men, trappers, taciturn cowboys, sodbusters and cattlemen. Mostly missing from the narrative are the stories of the strong women who proved up on land grants, herded cattle and made homes for the men in their lives.

This is the story of once such strong woman, secretly married, who owned land in Wyoming Territory and was murdered, along with her husband on a July day in 1889. The couple was murdered by several landowners who claimed, along with help from local newspapers, that she was a pimp and a prostitute and a cattle rustler. Her attackers simply wanted her land and water rights.

The author meticulously tells the story of Ella Watson from her early life in Canada and Kansas to her death. Bommersbach’s canvas is broad and richly colored with the times, the trials and the triumphs of so many women on the frontier. The characters are clever and vividly portrayed. The pace at times slows to a thoughtful meander, but never loses focus. Here is a novel of the true old west to be read, savored and read again.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby @novelcarolyn @dzancbooks

The Conviction of Cora Burns
Carolyn Kirby
Dzanc Books, March 2019
ISBN: 978-1945814846
Trade Paperback

Set in 1880s England, this is a rather horrifying story featuring chronic liars, the murder of a child by a child, of experimentation both mental and physical on unwilling victims, overwork and near starvation…in other words, a story of almost no hope. Sound depressing? Well, yes. But at the same time, it is a study in possible redemption. Is the violence within a convicted killer hereditary, or is it caused by being born in jail and the conditions of life following? Either way, can someone with a history like this change?

That’s what Cora Burns sets out to learn. But first, Cora will need to dig into a past that haunts her as she takes a job in the household of a gentleman-scientist making a study of these very questions. Most of all, Cora will have to discover if she can grow beyond her sordid past.

The book is well-written, well-paced, with excellent dialogue to carry the story along. The grim history of orphanage/workhouse/goal situations seems spot-on. Even the descriptions of pseudo-medical experimentation during those years strikes a chord and is well-researched. But it’s also a sad commentary on the human condition. Be prepared.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: A Baby’s Bones by Rebecca Alexander @RebAlexander1 @TitanBooks

A Baby’s Bones
Sage Westfield Book 1
Rebecca Alexander
Titan Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-7856-5621-7
Trade Paperback

Archaeologist Sage Westfield is excavating a sixteenth century well near a listed building, Bramble Cottage, on the Isle of Wight. Expecting to find only some pieces of pottery and maybe some animal bones, she and her two students, Elliott Robinson and Stephanie Beatson, uncover human bones. Two skeletons, that of a woman and an infant, are covered under a pile of rubbish. The bones are at least four hundred years old, and Sage is curious to discover how they ended up in the well. There are tales of witchcraft and a haunted house on the property, and a grave with the inscription “Damozel” hidden in the woods.

While Sage works on the dig, she is also facing problems in her personal life. Six months pregnant, she has recently broken up with her married lover, and is planning to raise the child on her own. Marcus, her lover, has other ideas, and keeps inserting himself into her life. While on the dig, she meets the local vicar, Nick Haydon. and can’t help thinking about him.

Told in alternating chapters—the contemporary story of the dig and the story from the 1500s about Lord Banstock’s daughter Viola’s wedding preparations—this book will appeal to readers of Barbara Mertz, Dana Cameron, and Lyn Hamilton. Alexander has a particularly deft way with description; the vicar is described as “handsome in a 1950s, knitting pattern way.”

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, August 2019.

Book Reviews: Black Site by Philip Mudd and November Road by Lou Berney @RoguePhilMudd @LiverightPub @Lou_Berney @WmMorrowBooks

Black Site
The CIA in the Post-9/11 World

Philip Mudd
Liveright Publishing, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-63149-197-9
Hardcover

Here is an eye-opening, compelling inside narrative of our premiere intelligence agency during one of the most upsetting periods in the life of our nation. Remember that the Central Intelligence Agency was not very old when Al-Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and literally shocked the American public to its core. In intelligence and political circles especially, the question arose: is there a plan to protect us against a second attack?

None of the law enforcement and counter-intelligence operations in our government could answer that question with any assurance and the political organizations of the nation were peopled with a lot of very nervous individuals.

Written in the third person, by a former executive in the CIA and at the White House, and also at one time an executive at the FBI, the author has a deep experience with the changing mores and culture of the intelligence world pre- and post-9/11 world. He draws on his knowledge of the important players at all levels from the Oval Office to some of the regular workers at Langley, striving to make sense of ever-increasing flows of information.

The Central Intelligence Agency was never planned as a keeper of prisoners. It had no jails and it had no protocols to deal with high or low value prisoners who had been members of the CIA’s principal target, Al-Qaeda. Author Philip Mudd follows the torturous path of interrogation techniques through the Department of Justice, the politicians and the operators, agents and analysts of the agency, the creation of black site jails and much of the rising and falling tension and shifting attitudes throughout the nation.

From it’s very first incident to the final conclusion this is a riveting exploration of the secret and the prosaic world of intelligence gathering.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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November Road
Lou Berney
William Morrow, October 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-266384-9
Hardcover

A powerful, engaging crime novel of unusual breadth and perception: the story is a kind of road novel, involving a savvy canny New Orleans mob facilitator named Frank Guidry and an ordinary Oklahoma housewife and mother of extraordinary grit and talent.

Charlotte, mother of two small girls, is married to a husband who seems stuck in a bottle of booze and she’s frustrated with her work limitations and life in general.

It’s November 1963, and readers may remember what happened in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The assassination of President Kennedy sends Guidry to Dallas to retrieve an unused get-away-car he assumes was parked there to be used by an assassin. Real life interfered with mob plans and Guidry is expected to clean up loose ends. He divines that he is a loose end to the New Orleans mob and takes a runner.

In Oklahoma, one more drunken episode with her husband and a putdown by the local newspaper editor is the final insult and Charlotte packs up her children and departs for the west coast.

Weather and fate bring these two adults together down the road and new adventures ensue as Charlotte and Frank meet and grow ever closer. The time period is the weeks immediately after the Kennedy assassination and Charlotte still plans to make it to Los Angeles with her daughters. Of course, other forces are at play, other characters have different plans. Carefully and thoughtfully with excellent attention to pace and environment, the author carries readers along and steadily draws us into his unique world.

This is an excellent crime novel in every aspect. NOVEMBER ROAD is not a bang-bang-shoot-up with ever increasing time-sensitive tension. The tension, and there is plenty, lies in the author’s attention to important detail and the smooth artistry of his narration as well as the thoughtful and understandable conclusions.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.