Book Review: Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis

Baby Blue
Stratos Gazis Series, Book 1
Pol Koutsakis
Translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife
Bitter Lemon Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-908524-91-1

Modern day Athens is rife with corruption. Stratos Gazis makes his living by dealing with that corruption. He doesn’t consider himself a hit-man, although plenty of other people do. He sees himself as more of a problem solver; often the problem requires removing a person from a given situation on a permanent basis. Stratos is OK with that; some people deserve their fate. Stratos does have a code: if a client lies to him, he keeps the deposit and doesn’t do the job. Many people don’t believe this. Stratos believes that when you’re the best, you can afford to make the rules for your job.

One evening a friend, Angelino, calls in a favor. Angelino has a protégé, Emma. Emma wants Stratos to find out who killed her adoptive father several years ago. Definitely a cold case. Emma is blind, and has an amazing talent for card tricks. Angelino, who normally deals in information in and around Athens, plans on making a bundle of money by promoting Emma. Concurrently, there is a group (or maybe just one person) who killed pedophiles; there is a definite signature to the killings and this resembles the way in which Emma’s father was killed. Was Themis Raptas, once a well-known and respected reporter, a pedophile?  Why is there virtually no trace of him on the Internet?  Why was his adoption of Emma expedited?  The more Stratos looks into this old case, the worse everything looks for practically anyone and everyone involved.

There is a sub-plot related to Stratos and his past. The woman he is living with, Maria,  is pregnant. Stratos is not sure he is the father; there is at least one other potential candidate, who happens to be Maria’s previous boyfriend and a man Stratos considers to be his best friend, Kostas Dragos. Drag is also a policeman, a detective. He is investigating the pedophile murders; there may be some overlap with Emma’s situation. Maria isn’t sure where her relationship with Stratos is going, considering his occupation. Life is complicated.

Koutsakis paints a very dark portrait of Athens. Corruption is the rule and there seem to be almost no exceptions to that rule. Good people are difficult to find in this city, and their lot is not generally a pleasant one. Stratos comes by his world view via American film noir; references to classic films are scattered throughout the novel. Like back alleys in some Greek neighborhoods, the plot twists and turns many, many times before the truth (if that what it actually is) is revealed. There are lots of dead bodies, most of them justifiably so. This is the second book in the Stratos Gazis crime series; if one is prone to dark reads, tracking down ATHENIAN BLUES (the first) would probably be time well spent. BABY BLUE can stand quite well on it’s own two feet.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2019.

Book Reviews: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg and Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey

GangsterlandGangsterland
Tod Goldberg
Counterpoint Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-578-3
Trade Paperback

The idea of juxtaposing the mafia, a hit man, and a Reform Jewish temple in Las Vegas forms the basis for this outrageous but satisfying novel.  It is filled with a variety of characters and a plot that carries the theme with aplomb.  While the concept may appear to be beyond the realms of reality, the author carries it out with grace and humor.

It all begins in Chicago, where Sal Cupertine is an extraordinary hit man for the mob, efficient, careful and never caught.  Until one day he is assigned to meet with some purported drug sellers who turn out to be FBI agents and, for the first time, his face becomes known, so he has to kill them for self-preservation but has to flee the Windy City hidden in a refrigerated truck.  Sal ends up in Las Vegas, undergoes facial surgery and, because he has a retentive memory, is turned into Rabbi David Cohen, part of a new racket.

While many of the Talmudic and Biblical references, which colorfully emit from David’s (Sal’s) lips throughout the novel, may be questionable, they set the tone for the incredible plot.  If there is one drawback to the novel it is the final passages which to this reader did not ring true, although, supposedly, are intended to provide a morality to this mafia story.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2015.

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Shark Skin SuiteShark Skin Suite
Serge Storms #18
Tim Dorsey
William Morrow, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-224001-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  “Bottom feeders beware: The Sunshine State’s favorite psychotic killer and lovable Floridaphile, Serge Storms, has found a new calling, legal eagle, and he’s going to make a killing as a crusading attorney – – and star as a dashing lawyer on the big screen – – in this madcap escapade . . . When it comes to swimming with the sharks, there is no bigger kahuna than Serge Storms.  Binging on a marathon of legal movies set in Florida, Serge finds his vocation:  the law.  Never mind law school or that degree; Serge becomes a freelance fixer – – wildcat paralegal and pilgrim to the hallowed places where legal classics of the big screen such as Body Heat, Cool Hand Luke, and Absence of Malice were filmed practically in his own backyard.”

I found it nearly impossible to summarize the plot of this book; suffice it to say that I began and ended the book with a silly smile on my face, which was the default display for much of everything in between.  As stated above, much of the novel is an homage to those classic films; to say that Serge is a movie buff is a huge understatement.  In addition, the author captures the feel of the Florida streets in, e.g., downtown Miami:  “The foot traffic was determined in the midday heat.  Folded newspapers, briefcases, take-out bags with Cuban sandwiches.  A teenager sprinted up the middle of the street with a fistful of wristwatches.  A whiskered man on the corner of Flagler had been screaming and kicking his own bicycle for five minutes.  A shopowner chasing the shoplifting teen was hit by an ambulance.  One of the folded newspapers told of a mysterious eyeball the size of a cantaloupe that had washed upon the beach.  Everything was normal.  Pedestrians continued chatting on cell phones.”

The author’s writing style is certainly unique, and the resulting work is recommended.  Just what I needed after a fairly steady recent diet of dark, death- and danger-filled books.  (Although I should perhaps add that there are a couple of dead bodies before the book comes to a close.)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Reviews: Accidents Waiting to Happen by Simon Wood, Vanishing Girls by Katia Lief, All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara, and If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

Accidents Waiting to HappenAccidents Waiting to Happen
Simon Wood
Thomas & Mercer, November 2012
ISBN:  978-1-612-18402-9
Trade Paperback

Josh Michaels, a young man with a wife and little girl he adored, while driving back to his home in Sacramento, California, is forced off the highway and into the river in what appears to be an accident born from what he thinks of as reckless stupidity on the part of the other driver.  But the actions of that driver, before he gets back into his car and speeds away, convince Josh that it is anything but. Josh survives the ‘accident,’ but starts to doubt his ability to continue to survive the ensuing events, all appearing to be accidents by increasingly obviously [to him] staged attempts to end his life. Josh is staggered as he comes to this unavoidable conclusion and cannot believe that he is the target of a killer, but has no choice but to accept this fact and attempt to figure out who wants him dead, and why, if he is to survive.  To make matters worse, if that’s possible, past indiscretions and errors in judgment are now coming back to haunt him.

At Chapter 4 the reader meets “the professional,” the man hired to kill another person, a woman, as well as Josh.  Who has hired him?  Is there a connection between the two intended victims [something not readily apparent]?  And what is the motive?  As ‘the professional’ himself muses, “a seemingly motiveless murder was just as hard to solve as a well-planned accident.”

Simon Wood has fashioned an exciting and well-written novel of suspense, with a nail-biting conclusion during which this reader held her breath in anticipation of what new horrors might be in store.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls
Katia Lief
Harper, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-0620-9504-6
Mass Market Paperback

Karin Schaeffer, ex-NYPD and now a private detective, working with her husband at MacLeary Investigations, in the newest book by Katia Lief, becomes embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer dubbed The Working Girl Killer.  As you might guess, the victims have all been killed in the same manner, with the same exact type of weapon, and were all prostitutes.  Seven young women had been found dead across Manhattan, then two in Brooklyn.

At 38, Karin is now seeking an undergraduate college degree in forensic psychology.  She has not had an easy time of it, having survived the murder of her first husband and her daughter six years ago, and just recently had a miscarriage.  She dotes on their little boy, Ben, though still grieving for her losses.  As the book opens, Ben receives a text from Billy Staples, a detective at their local precinct in Brooklyn and Mac’s closest friend, from a crime scene that Billy believes to be where the serial killer has left his latest victim.  Eerily, a little girl is found badly injured several blocks away after what is believed to be a hit-and-run accident.  The cops feel the two things could somehow be connected, as the location and timing seem to rule out coincidence.

Billy had been fighting his own demons.  He has been hunting this killer for over a year. At the same time, Mac and Karin believe he is having hallucinations, suffering from PTSD after a horrifying incident when the woman he loved had tried to kill him, instead leaving him blinded in one eye; he had been forced to shoot her dead.  The current investigation triggers all his symptoms again, and envelops Karin as well to a very personal degree.

It is an interesting plot, telling a very dark tale that stayed with this reader for quite a while after turning the last page.  I have to admit, however, that after having read – –  and loved! – – the author’s two previous books, You Are Next, and Next Time You See Me, I felt this one did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  And though it was an interesting read, in the end I was disappointed.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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All Mortal FleshAll Mortal Flesh
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-01855-7
Trade Paperback

All Mortal Flesh, the fifth in the Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series, finds Clare, the parish priest in the small Adirondack, upstate NY town of Millers Kill, and Russ, the local police chief and married man she loves, having just wrenchingly ended their relationship.  The following day, an even more devastating event occurs:  Russ is told that his wife, from whom he had recently separated when he told her of his love for Clare, has been brutally murdered.  Loving Clare, yet still loving his wife, matters are only compounded when both Clare and Russ are considered prime suspects, not only by the police but by the local gossip-loving town residents.

With her usual adroit skill, Ms. Spencer-Fleming has written another wonderful tale of these very human protagonists in this book, available for the very first time in a trade paperback edition.  The sense of place is vivid, and the wintry weather graphically evoked. There is a slam-bang ending with a final unexpected and stunning turn as this suspense-filled tale concludes.  An excellent and fast-paced read, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

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Sacrifice FlySacrifice Fly
Tim O’Mara
Minotaur, October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00898-5
Hardcover

Raymond Dunne is a very dedicated schoolteacher, working with eighth-graders in a middle school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and taking the welfare of his students very seriously.  In particular, one of the most promising, Frankie Rivas, has obtained a scholarship to a private high school on the basis of his baseball skills and the fact that Ray has called in a favor from their coach.  When Frankie fails to show up for school for a couple of weeks, Ray decides to try to find out why.  His visit to the home of the boy’s father results in his discovery of the man’s dead body.

Ray’s involvement at that point derives as much from his concern as his teacher as from the fact that Ray is a former cop.  His feelings when he walks into his old precinct are made palpable to the reader, his emotions roiling as he remembers back five years, when “you fall thirty feet, and your whole life changes.”  Among those changes are the physical ones; Ray has an umbrella with him every day, knowing it has to rain sometime; besides, it means he doesn’t have to carry a cane.

Frankie and his younger sister are nowhere to be found, and Ray follows up every lead he can find in order to locate the two children and ensure their safety.  Then the pace, and the suspense, move into higher gear, beyond the “controlled chaos” of Ray’s classroom, and the stakes go up as well.

When one has a terrific protagonist [with a valuable friend, a wannabe cop, nicknamed “Emo”], a well-developed plot, writing that makes the Brooklyn streets come to life and, as the title might imply, a lot of baseball references, what more could one ask?  [Well, this reader had to get past the fact that Ray is a Yankee fan, although he does don a Mets cap when the situation requires it.]  This is a wonderful debut novel from a writer whose next book I will anxiously await, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2013.

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If You Were HereIf You Were Here
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-220835-4
Hardcover

In her ninth novel, and second standalone, Alafair Burke introduces McKenna Jordan, a writer for the fictitious NYC Magazine.  Before her marriage five years ago, she was McKenna Wright, who had spent four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, a job she lost in the aftermath of a police officer’s shooting of a 19-year-old youth, there being a question as to whether or not the boy had been unarmed, the gun found nearby planted.  McKenna’s zealous investigation into that incident, accusing the officer of homicide and perjury, ultimately caused her disgrace and ended her prosecutorial career.  This was soon followed by another, only slightly less traumatic event, when one of her best friends, beautiful West Point grad [and daughter of a two-star general] Susan Hauptmann, disappeared without a trace.

Now, all these years later, a cell-phone photo comes into McKenna’s hands showing a mysterious Superwoman, a female crime victim who had plucked her attacker’s body from the subway tracks to safety, who McKenna believes is that same friend, who she had become convinced was long dead.  Susan, an athletic 32 years old who had been deployed in the Middle East prior to the time of her disappearance, could have easily been capable of the feat in the subway station.

There ensue a series of bizarre and seemingly unrelated incidents that this reader never saw coming, including but not limited to a mysterious private operative [hitman?  private detective?  something else altogether?], a dead cop, someone hacking into and forging e-mails, and no clue as to who is pulling the strings.  The author somehow manages to tie them all up in a relentlessly intriguing plot.

Another well-written book by this author [who gives a tip-of-the-hat, without needing to name his completely recognizable protagonist, to Lee Child, which I loved], and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2013.

Book Reviews: Nemesis by Jo Nesbo, Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins, The Litigators by John Grisham, Defending Jacob by William Landay, and The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

Nemesis
Jo Nesbo
Harper, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211969-8
Mass Market Paperback

There have now been several Harry Hole novels, but this was only the second to be published in the United States (the first was The Redbreast). Both demonstrate the author’s uncanny ability to continually lead the reader astray with one red herring after another before disclosing, in a final twist, a most unexpected dénouement.

In the present novel, these principles apply to two separate story lines.   One involves a bank robbery in which a woman is shot in the head. The other finds a woman with whom Harry had a short affair shot in her bed the day after Harry had dinner at her home (but he can’t remember a thing about the evening).  In fact, there are clues implicating him in the deed and in fact, the cover asks the question: “How do you catch a killer when you’re the number one suspect?”

The translation by Don Bartlett from the Norwegian flows smoothly. The novel was a number one best-seller in Norway, spending 39 weeks on the best seller list.  Past novels from this author saw Bangkok and Australia as settings, and the next to Hong Kong – Harry certainly gets around!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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Quarry’s Ex
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-08-5768286-4
Trade Paperback

Max Allan Collins writes noir crime novels which read very much like Mickey Spillane, with whom he was a close friend and collaborator [and completed some started by the late author].  This novel is no exception, and is full of sex, violence and hard-boiled prose.  It is a prequel to a long-running series about a hit man who has turned the tables on other assassins by developing a new business: collecting his fees from intended victims by eliminating killers and those who hired them.

This novel takes us back in time, providing the back story for the Quarry series, when he was a young marine, met Joni and married her, returned from Vietnam to find her in bed with another man (who he murders) and then going off the deep end.  After a while, he is contacted by the “broker,” and becomes a paid assassin, until he kills his “employer” in a double-cross and stealing his files which identify other murderers.  With this information, Quarry turns the tables, targeting them for elimination and saving the intended victims.

This brings us to the present story during which, purely by accident, Quarry finds his ex-wife married to a movie director, the latter the target of a pair of killers Quarry knows from the files.  The ex is really incidental to the story, which revolves around Quarry’s efforts to save the director’s life and identifying who retained the killers. It is fast and furious, with colorful characters, entertaining with panache, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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The Litigators
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53513-7
Hardcover

Early in his career, John Grisham wrote novels that whacked a home run every time.  But even Babe Ruth couldn’t do that every time.  This book is workman-like, perhaps a double.  But then, if you can do even this often enough, you’re an All Star.  And John Grisham certainly is that.

The story is extremely contrived, with sort of caricatures for characters.  It might have been more fun if they were less predictable and more cartoonish, if that’s possible. Attorney David Zinc belongs more in a soap opera than a legal novel.  His two partners, Finley & Figg, are even more unbelievable, other characters even more wooden.

But all this criticism doesn’t negate the fact that Grisham can still write an entertaining novel, albeit somewhat stilted and predictable. About the only interesting character in the book is a 90-year-old Federal judge, presiding over a comical case.  So, despite all this negativism, the novel is recommended with caveats.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2012.

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Defending Jacob
William Landay
Delacorte Press, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-385-34422-7
Hardcover

Is this novel a courtroom drama, a psychological study of a family, an introspective study of a man, or is it about truth and justice?  Or all of the above?  It’s hard to tell in this rambling book which attempts to keep the reader in suspense and leaves much to the imagination.

Andy Barber, the First Assistant DA in Newton, MA, is the man who faces the questions posed by the story and really doesn’t come to grips with the essential problems raised.  His 14-year-old son is accused of murdering a fellow student and goes to trial for Murder One.  Did he or didn’t he? Andy, who initially ran the original investigation, does not believe his son is capable of doing the deed. The effect of the pressures of the trial on Andy and his wife are weakly described.  The courtroom drama is, to some extent, extremely well done, but, for the most part, drawn out to a great degree.  And the snideness of the comments about Andy’s replacement when he’s taken off the case and during the trial are too often petty.

On the whole, the novel is an interesting presentation, but could have been edited severely, especially the front end which drags on slowly until the book picks up steam toward the middle.  It is no spoiler to note that there is more than one surprise waiting for the reader at the end, some attention-grabbing, others a little far-fetched.  That said, it is an off-beat novel that is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2012.

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The Lost Years
Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster, April 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6886-5
Hardcover

A good idea wrapped in a lot of superfluous schmaltz sums up this latest effort by Mary Higgins Clark.  The plot involves the discovery by a Biblical scholar, Dr. Jonathan Lyons, of the only letter supposedly ever written by Jesus, and Lyons’ subsequent murder, presumably as a result. The mystery, of course, is which of his various friends and co-workers wants the manuscript to sell on the black market instead of it being returned to the Vatican library from which it was removed in the 1400’s.

Instead of a straight police procedural, the story becomes bogged down in several side issues:  Dr. Lyons’ daughter’s guilt over her alienation from her father over the issue of his mistress and her own “love life;” a couple of characters, Alvirah and Willy, who outwit the police and the perpetrator; and Lyons’ wife’s dementia, among other things.

The author can still write smoothly, but the novel smacks of a manufactured outline, rather than a carefully developed plot, with each step carefully constructed to fit.  It is unfortunate because the idea for the story is excellent, and if the characters were more deeply drawn, and the irrelevancies omitted, the novel could have been more intriguing.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2012.

Book Reviews: Stagestruck by Peter Lovesey, Ringer by Brian Wiprud, Infernal Angels by Loren Estleman, No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie, and The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman

Stagestruck
Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-947-6
Hardcover

What a pleasure to find a book which includes two of my favorite things:  a crackling good mystery, filled with humor, and a tribute to the theater. As the title might imply, the author obviously has much respect for the theater, with both a lower case “t” and upper case as well [see below].  His protagonist, on the other hand, not so much. In the newest book featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, head of Bath’s CID, the reader learns that Diamond has always suffered from a phobia, what the author terms a “deep unease’ and resulting in what can only be described as panic attacks where the theater is concerned.

Diamond is forced to confront his fear when he is called to the 200-year-old Theatre Royal, in Bath, which some refer to as “an itsy-bitsy provincial theatre” and others as “the prettiest theatre in the kingdom,” when on opening night, the celebrity pop star with the unlikely name of Clarion Calhoun who has been cast as the lead in a production of “I Am a Camera” is stricken, just after the curtain goes up.  She is apparently the victim of something which has caused third degree burns to her face and upper chest, precisely where her stage makeup had been applied some moments before, effectively destroying her career, not to mention her looks.  Things get even dicier when two days later a dead body is found in the theater.

The novel is thoroughly enjoyable, with the last twenty or so pages keeping the reader in great suspense as the culprit is unmasked.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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Ringer
Brian Wiprud
Minotaur, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-60189-8
Hardcover

Ringer is a sly tale revolving around an encounter between a 65-year-old billionaire and a Mexican man of less than savory background.  A caper novel with a plot arising out of a stew comprised of an ancient ring which may or may not be blessed and/or cursed, a spoiled and willful 19-year-old girl, a Greenwich Village palmist and her assorted relatives, and a smattering of several truisms purportedly from the mouth of Abraham Lincoln, among many other things, make up this consistently delightful concoction.

The protagonist is Morty Martinez, introduced to readers in the author’s Feelers, Brooklyn native and former house cleaner, who now considers himself as La Paz gentry now that he is living in Mexico again and he has a few million in the bank.  The aforementioned teenager is [ironically] named Purity Grant, who has a mutually hateful relationship with her stepfather, the billionaire.  Their toxic dynamic fuels thoughts of murder as the easiest way out of matters financial and emotional, by both parties, and somehow Morty becomes the designated hit man of each.  The mantra invoked from time to time, by each of the major players, is Earn Destiny, and they all go about trying to achieve that end in a manner which seems most logical to those involved, as opposed, perhaps, to anyone in the ‘normal’ world, such as, e.g., the reader.

Purity’s speech is regularly peppered with acronyms, as though her mind is permanently in text-speak.  [Being in the minority that is not thoroughly conversant with that particular mind-set, I have to admit to being unable to decipher them all.  Typing this, it only just dawned on me, e.g., that “ITWYT” means “if that’s what you think.” “NHNF” and “YGAGA m9” still elude me, as does in general the concept of people actually using these in everyday, that is to say verbal, speech.  Hopefully there is nothing profane in any of that.]  But that only contributes to the enjoyment of this zany tale, which had me smiling or laughing aloud throughout.  I have to admit I have not yet read Feelers, but will try to correct that without much further ado.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2011.

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Infernal Angels
Loren Estleman
Forge, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-1955-5
Hardcover

In the twenty-first novel in the wonderful Amos Walker series, Loren Estleman once again captures the spirit of Detroit, as much a character in the novel as it is the mise en scene.  As the author describes it, it is a city which “continued its slug’s crawl toward bleak oblivion.”   Although the tale begins innocuously enough, when Walker is hired to recover 25 stolen cable-TV converter boxes, it is soon apparent that there is more going on than meets the eye, when two people with whom Walker has spoken turn up dead, within hours of those meetings.

Walker is undaunted, and pursues the case with even greater zeal.  He is no longer invincible, he admits:  “In the pursuit of my profession I’d been shot, beaten, coldcocked, drugged, and threatened with death. . . It would be a good joke on a lot of bad people if it was a heart episode that took me.”  The title derives from the line, soon after the second body is discovered, that of a man Walker had known for years:  “Once you’d made the decision to live on the dark side of the moon, all your friends were infernal angels at best.”

His descriptions of several characters are exquisite portraits.  Of a detective:  “He’d lost flesh from age and the weight of the world, pasting skin to bone like shrink-wrap.  His boys were grown and married, one of them was still speaking to him, and his wife, who earned more money than he did working shorter hours, was often away on business.  Home for him was just a place to change horses between shifts;” of a colleague:  “His face was the same vintage as mine, but he ironed his more often and packed it in ice overnight;” a building caretaker “an ambulatory dandelion gone to seed.”  The prose is equal parts elegance and street.

There are perfect fleeting references on such eclectic topics as jazz musicians, politics and politicians past and present, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, as well as little-known facts on historical figures as diverse as Black Bart and Marcus Garvey, and nostalgia for Tigers Stadium.

A fast-paced and consistently witty entry in this terrific series, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2011.

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No Mark Upon Her
Deborah Crombie
William Morrow, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-199061-8
Hardcover

In the opening pages of Deborah Crombie’s 14th novel, DCI Rebecca [“Becca”] Meredith, an Olympic contender and a senior officer in West London’s Major Crimes unit, is found dead in the waters of the Thames near her home in the town of Henley, 35 miles from London.  The events that follow take place, amazingly, over a period of about a week.  I say ’amazingly’ because so much happens, in a terrifically plotted novel.  The case falls to Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, of Scotland Yard’s Murder Investigation Team, with some aspects of it falling to his bride, Gemma James, DI with the Notting Hill Police.

The book is filled with wonderfully drawn characters, including not only both the protagonists but also Kincaid’s partner, Sgt. Doug Cullen, about to become a first-time homeowner and nervous at the prospect; Gemma’s colleague, Melody Talbot; Becca’s ex-husband, Freddy; Kiernan Connolly and Tavie Larssen, members of the SAR [Search and Rescue], or K-9, team as well as its four-legged members, Finn, a Labrador retriever and Tosh, a German shepherd, every bit a part of the plot as are their human partners.

The common thread among several of the characters is a love of – in fact, a passion for – rowing or, to be more specific, sculling, a very specific skill employing the use of sleek racing shells, apparently a world of its own.  Just how much so is made very clear through the author’s use of quotes, preceding the start of most chapters, from various publications on the subject, as well as Ms. Crombie’s own prose in the early pages, describing the victim shortly before she is killed:  “she sat backwards on a sliver of carbon fiber narrower than her body, inches above the water, and that only her skill and determination kept her fragile craft from the river’s dark grasp.”

The James/Kincaid family dynamic of ‘his’ [Kit], ‘hers’ [Toby – – their respective 14-year-old sons], and ‘theirs’ [Charlotte, the mixed-race 3-year-old foster child they are planning to formally adopt], is a constantly active one that makes the protags’ personal lives every bit as engaging as their professional ones.

The author comments “Things were always so much more complicated than they appeared on the surface,” and employs mini-cliffhangers throughout, maximizing the suspense, as well as some shocking revelations, producing several OMG moments.  But I’ll leave those discoveries to the readers of this highly-recommended novel.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

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The Most Dangerous Thing
Laura Lippman
William Morrow, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-170651-6
Hardcover

The new standalone novel from Laura Lippman was, to this reader, unlike anything this wonderful author had written to this point. [Among her more recent ones, I’d Know You Anywhere and What the Dead Know still stand out in my memory and resonate with me.]  The present work is not really a mystery [although there is a death early on in the book] nor procedural, but instead a series of in-depth character studies which will be difficult to match.

The author takes her time recreating and juxtaposing scenes from the past with those of the present, from the time when “everything was perfect until the moment it wasn’t,” in the lives of five youngsters in their early teens, three brothers and two young girls.  Ultimately each of these, along with their parents and siblings and extended families, will have their own chapters, describing events which took place in 1980, in their native Baltimore, with p.o.v. changes from one character to another and from those early years to the present time, when most of them have grown children of their own, all of it shaped by one pivotal ‘incident’ [insert your own euphemism] which changes all of their lives forever.  The reality of the events of that night is different for each of them, children and parents alike.  And ultimately it is about secrets kept, or not.

One of the three brothers, Gordon (“Go-Go”) Halloran, nine years old in 1980 and always the most reckless of the three, although presently two years sober, leaves the bar at which he has just fallen off the wagon and does not make it home alive, crashing into a wall at about 100 mph. There is a question about whether it was a tragic accident, or something somehow worse.

I found this book [in which, btw, Tess Monaghan makes a cameo appearance] a departure for this author, and very thought-provoking. I suspect it too will stay in my memory for a long while. Parenthetically, I loved Ms. Lippman’s description of one perpetually angry character who, when counting to ten, started at nine.  But there are many memorable moments, and personalities, here.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

Book Reviews: Bad Weeds Never Die by Christopher Valen, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis, and Danger Sector by Jenifer LeClair

Bad Weeds Never Die
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001730
Trade Paperback

“Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives,” is a quote from my review of White Tombs, the book that introduced Detective John Santana.  The Black Minute, the second Santana book, was even more exciting than the first book.  Now author Christopher Valen has brought Detective John Santana back in Bad Weeds Never Die.  “Bad weeds never die,” is an old Colombian saying and turns out to be an excellent title for this book.

John Santana was born in Colombia.  He had avenged his Mother’s death and he was forced to flee leaving behind his younger sister Natalia.  Santana hopes someday to locate her.  He knows that his sister could be dead but his dreams and his senses tell him that she is still alive.

Santana’s current case is the death of Teresa Blackwood.  Teresa’s vehicle is found in a parking lot. The car is full of blood and some dirt and an orchid are on the floorboard of the car. Although the vehicle was empty, the police felt that someone had died in that car and that the body had been moved.  When Santana and his partner Kacie Hawkins call on Jonathan  Blackwood, Teresa’s father, they discover that Teresa has a twin sister, Maria.  Blackwood tells the detectives that although the twins are identical their personalities are very different. Teresa is head of an adoption agency.  Maria is a part time musician and mystery writer with a history of some drug problems.  The twins were adopted by the Blackwood’s when they were six months old. The twins were adopted in Colombia.

As Santana delves deeper into the case, he finds suspects at every turn.  Teresa lived with Steven Larson, a man who was cheating on her.  Blackwood’s family attorney was having an affair with the other daughter, Maria.  To make things even more tedious in the investigation Rita Gamboni, Santana’s boss, admitted that she had dated Jonathan Blackwood.

When the case becomes more complicated Santana decides that he has no choice but to travel to Colombia and investigate the agency that was working with Teresa’s adoption agency in the states.  No one wants Santana to make this trip since he has enemies in Colombia that would like to see him dead.

Santana feels that in order to solve his current case as well as face his demons and hopefully find his sister he must make the trip.  The trip does prove to be a dangerous move and readers will be shocked at the facts that Santana discovers in Colombia.

The case is finally solved but there are no end of surprises and no way to predict the final outcome.  An excellent book that will keep the reader on edge until the last page.  It is not necessary to read the first two books in the series to enjoy the current book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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The Good, The Bad and The Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, LLC, November 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

At the request of Jaz LeMieux, private investigator Sid Chance agrees to help Djuan Burden, who is accused of murder.   Djuan’s grandmother is a long time friend of Jaz’s live-in housekeeper, Marie Wallace.  Djuan has only been out of jail for about six months and now he is back in jail on a murder charge.   His grandmother is convinced that he is innocent and Jaz wants to do everything she can to help a friend of Marie’s.

Jaz is an ex-cop and wealthy business owner but enjoys being a sidekick on Sid’s investigations.  When the two visit Djuan’s grandmother, they discover that Djuan went to a small medical equipment store in Nashville’s Green Hills section. The purpose of his visit was to complain about charges on his grandmother’s Medicare account.  Djuan’s grandmother, Rachel Ransom, had not paid a lot of attention to the many notices she received from Medicare but when Djuan saw that she had been charged for items such as a power wheelchair he decided to complain.  Rachel has never owned a wheel chair and has no need of one.    When Djuan went to the equipment store to complain, he found a dead man behind the desk.  Frightened that he would be accused of murder because of his prison history, he ran.  A witness spotted Djuan leaving the scene of the crime and the police immediately charged him with murder. A crooked cop who had no qualms about planting evidence didn’t help Djuan’s case one bit.

Besides trying to assist Sid in the murder investigation Jaz was also dealing with a problem of her own. Jaz’ company has been accused of racial discrimination.  There was no basis for the accusation, but the fact that it had been made brought about a lot of bad publicity for Jaz and her company.

Before Sid can prove that Djuan did not commit murder, Jaz finds that she is in trouble with the police.  As the two work together to clear both Djuan and the false accusations against Jaz, it becomes obvious to Sid that there is a professional hit man in town and it would appear the hit man has decided that Sid will be his next victim.

This is a great addition to the Sid Chance series.  The problem of Medicare fraud needs to be addressed because so many older people like Djuan’s mother don’t take time to analyze all the information they receive from Medicare so phony charges many times are paid and go unnoticed.

Chester Campbell’s books always make good reads but the Sid Chance series is special.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Murder In the 11th House
Mitchell Scott Lewis
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-950-2
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

David Lowell is not your run of the mill detective.  David is an astrological detective and is very good at his job.  David has studied astrology and has become such an expert that he has used his knowledge of to buy and sell in the stock market and is now a wealthy man.

When Lowell is asked to use his skills to prove the innocence of Johnny Colbert, a woman accused of murdering Farrah Winston, a Judge in the Debit Claims Court in Lower Manhattan, Lowell’s first inclination is to decline.  The fact that Johnny Colbert is represented by Melinda Lowell, David Lowell’s daughter, is a convincing enough fact to make him take the case.

Johnny proves to be loud-mouthed and a rather rough person on the exterior but further investigation proves that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.  When Johnny is attacked in the jail Melinda talks her father into posting bail and letting Johnny stay in his townhouse.  Lowell is not too pleased with this arrangement but tends to do most anything his daughter asks.

Lowell is helped in the investigation by his assistant Sarah as well as Mort, a talented computer hacker.   Lowell’s bodyguard is always right around the corner when Lowell needs him.

It seems that Judge Winston had big plans for her future and, as Lowell finds out, that certain people did not want her plans to become a reality.

This first book in the Starlight Detective Agency series is a good one and shows that astrology can be used in many ways.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Danger Sector
Jenifer LeClair
Conquill Press, July 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001709
Trade Paperback

The last place you would expect to find a Minneapolis Police Detective on leave is working aboard a sailing ship but that is exactly what Brie Beaumont is doing.  The Maine Wind is a working ship owned by Captain John DeLuc.   Brie and John are very attracted to each other but Brie is still uncertain what the future holds for her and is unwilling to make a commitment to John on a personal level or to the ship as a permanent job.

Brie left the police department after her partner was killed and she felt she needed some distance from police work but when the ship makes a stop on Sentinel Island to help John’s friend repair an old lighthouse Brie is immediately caught up in a mystery surrounding the lighthouse and the small island.

Amanda Whitcombe is an artist, a prominent member of the Sentinel Island community and a good friend of Ben, the owner of the lighthouse.  Amanda has disappeared and when Brie finds her cottage unlocked she investigates and some clues lead Brie to believe that Amanda did not leave voluntarily.

Ben inherited the lighthouse when the previous owner died after an accident at the lighthouse.  The previous owner of the lighthouse was also a good friend of Amanda’s.  When John and Brie accidentally discover an old journal hidden in the lighthouse, belonging to the previous owner, the two decide there are mysterious happenings on the island that might bring danger to Ben as well as Brie, John and the crew of The Maine Wind.

Danger Sector is a good mystery.  The descriptions of the scenery around Sentinel Island and the food served by the cook on The Maine Wind makes the reader want to experience a trip by sailing ship although life aboard the ship is anything but easy.

This is the second book in The Windjammer Mystery series.  Rigged for Murder is the first in the series and both are recommended.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.