Book Review: A Stone’s Throw by James W. Ziskin

A Stone’s Throw
An Ellie Stone Mystery #6
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June  2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-419-9
Trade Paperback

A Stone’s Throw strikes me, for some reason, as more indicative of the 1940s or 50s than of the 60s. Lordy, Lordy, didn’t people just smoke, then? Or at least the characters in this book do. But that’s only a small, amusing detail in a book with a heroine as downright cool as Ellie Stone.

A Jewish “girl reporter” –yes, I’m reminded of Lois Lane–who is determined to make it in a man’s world, Ellie is Johnny-on-the-spot when a fire destroys a rundown barn on an abandoned property. The property used to be the center of a horsebreeding operation, until a long ago fire put an end to it. Owned by the wealthy, and politically important Shaw family, the barn is deemed to be no particular loss until Ellie walks through and discovers two bodies, both burned beyond recognition, in the ashes. Who are they? Ellie is determined to find out.

Even then the sheriff isn’t terribly concerned, and it isn’t until Ellie starts investigating that secrets are revealed which will involve many in the horse racing community of Saratoga Springs, New York. Owners, trainers, jockeys, and bookmakers all have something to hide, and it will take Ellie and a cadre of quirky friends to discover the truth.

The writing is good, the dialogue snappy, the setting appropriate. Most of all, the subject of horse racing, which is dear to my heart, a hoot to visit. I’m worried about Ellie, though. Her lovelife is a bust and I’m afraid she may have a drinking problem, although a full bottle of Dewars proves a godsend. A fun read.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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Book Review: Four Furlongs by Carol Wright Crigger—and a Giveaway!

four-furlongsFour Furlongs
A China Bohannon Novel #4
Carol Wright Crigger
Five Star, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3215-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Smart and sassy bookkeeper China Bohannon is a modern 1890s career woman who’d rather sleuth than type. China is in charge of the Doyle & Howe Detective Agency office on the day a fourteen-year-old girl shows up seeking the detectives’ help in a case of what she’s calling murder. Neva Sue O’Dell’s jockey brother has been killed during a race, the horse he was riding — the dead-on Derby favorite — lamed. Neva claims her mother and grandfather are involved, having been paid a lot of money to rig the race. Who paid them? Neva doesn’t know, but she wants China to find out and somehow bring those who harmed her brother to justice.

The Wild, Wild West was still a little in evidence in 1890’s Washington State and young women such as China Bohannon were supposed to be prim, proper and running a man’s household. That is most decidedly not the life she chose for herself once she decided to leave an untenable situation and working in her uncle Montgomery Howe’s private investigation firm is almost perfect. That “almost” would disappear if she could just convince her bosses that she really is capable of much more than bookkeeping. Fortunately, both her bosses are occasionally willing to let her try her hand at things so China and her beloved terrier, Nimble, are with Gratton Doyle one day at the racetrack looking for a con man (much more fun than sitting at her newfangled typewriting machine).

When they come upon a loud, angry confrontation involving their quarry, China lands literally in the middle of the fray and foils the miscreant’s escape. Unfortunately for our heroine, the times and society are not forgiving of women showing up in certain situations such as a police station in the company of a petty criminal but China refuses to bow to convention, as we might expect she would, and soon proves her worth to the firm that should have her name on the door.

Alas, China is stuck back at her desk the next day but she can hardly be blamed for taking on her own case when 14-year-old Neva O’Dell comes in looking for someone to find out why her jockey brother was killed. Neva has some harsh suspicions and it’s not long before she and China are embroiled in a lot more danger than they might have anticipated. Shockingly, when all seems to be resolved, the good ol’ boy network threatens to get in the way of justice until China is confronted by a wicked twist that just might end very badly for her.

The bibliographic information available on various retail sites as well as modifications in how the author’s name is shown make it a little difficult to read this series chronologically but there’s a very handy hint—all the titles involve a number:

One Foot on the Edge by C.K. Crigger
Two Feet Below by C. K. Crigger
Three Seconds to Thunder by C.K. Crigger
Four Furlongs by Carol Wright Crigger

The fifth book is tentatively titled Five Days, Five Dead and, while I don’t know when it will be released, I’m looking forward to it eagerly. China Bohannon is one of my very favorite historical sleuths and Ms. Crigger writes with a clear love of the western frontier leavened with a lot of quiet humor and a real knowledge of the period. I’ve read one of the earlier books but I’m driven now to get the others before the next one arrives.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’d love to send somebody my
very gently used advance reading
copy of Four Furlongs. Leave a
comment below and I’ll draw the
winning name on Tuesday evening,
September 20th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Dick Francis’s Refusal by Felix Francis

Dick Francis's RefusalDick Francis’s Refusal
Felix Francis
Putnam, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-399-16081-3
Hardcover

It’s been six years since investigator Sid Halley retired, tired of the beatings, pressure and danger. Since then, he has lived a quiet life with his wife and young daughter, earning a living as an investor, trading money instruments and shares. He promised himself and his wife that he would not return to his former profession, but events proved the opposite when the chairman of the racing authority begged him to look into a series of questionable races.

Following a familiar Francis formula, circumstances arise which force Sid to reverse his adamant refusal to undertake such an investigation. The day after his meeting, the chairman is found dead, a possible suicide, but Sid believes really murder. Then a telephone call from a man with a Belfast Irish accent menacingly demands that Sid write a report claiming the races were not suspicious. Thus, the stage is set for the expected scrutiny, danger to Sid, his family and associates, and confrontation with the culprits.

The formula, which has been successful for about four dozen books by the Francises, pere et fils, works like a charm once again. Felix had now written four novels as a co-author with Dick, and this is the third one on his own. Looking forward with bated breath for the fourth.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2014.

Ted Feit’s Book Review Roundup

Burn
Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-61456-0
Hardcover

It is likely that fans of the Anna Pigeon series might be put off by several aspects of this novel.  To begin with, it takes place in the urban setting of New Orleans rather than the accustomed [for this series] wide open spaces of a national park.  Then there is the topic: not only child abuse, but child sex and white slavery.  Also there is much, if not excessive, violence (which does not mean that there has not been some in previous entries).

With that said, we can turn our attention to Burn.  It is an intriguing work, albeit somewhat heavy-handed.  Anna is on leave to recover from some sort of mental breakdown, visiting a friend in the Big Easy.  Instead she becomes involved in what appears to be a voodoo curse as well as assisting a stranger in recovering her daughters, apparently kidnapped to be imprisoned in a sex emporium.

This reader found the novel slow to read and bogged down in a lot of unnecessary detail.  The plot – – child sex – – certainly is worthy of an important look, and the book does achieve that aim.  Somewhat confusing to this reader were the various descriptions of the “character” changes in the distraught mother, a professional actress, as she takes on each role as the situation arises.  On the whole, however, it is an interesting read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Track of Sand
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-14-311793-3
Trade Paperback

Strange dreams and perfect intuition and logic are the keys to solving a mystery in this Inspector Montalbano novel.  It seems that even when he is asleep he can proceed with an investigation with dispatch.

He awakens one day and looks out of his beach house to see a bludgeoned horse lying in the sand.  When his men arrive after his call to investigate, the horse has disappeared.  In short order, Rachele, an equestrian champion rider, and Saverio Lo Duca, one of the richest men in Sicily, each report a missing horse.  Which one was the horse the inspector sighted?

In consultation with Fazio, a colleague, Montalbano learns of a clandestine horse racing scheme operated by the mafia.  Meanwhile, several burglary attempts take place at the inspector’s house, as well as an arson attempt.  What, if any, is the connection to the investigation?  With his customary unorthodox methodology, the inspector proceeds to unravel all the possibilities.

With humor and charm, the author writes a procedural of a different kind:  one which is full of good food, good-looking women and lots of fun.  Eat, drink and read hearty.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She Felt No Pain
Lou Allin
RendezVous Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-926607-07-8
Trade Paperback

RCMP Corporal Holly Martin, newly transferred to Vancouver Island, faces adjustment to her new command, along with encountering her own past along the way.  The reader is treated to all kinds of descriptions of the island in all its glory.

Almost incidentally, a mystery unfolds when an apparently homeless man is found dead of what looks like a drug overdose.  An autopsy shows a deadly combination of heroin and a potent synthetic opiate, a deadly combination. Holly soon discovers something the man had hidden near the site of his death, and she struggles to find its meaning. At the same time, Holly is encouraged by her elderly aunt to investigate the disappearance of her mother many years before.

Slowly, Holly begins to look into the background of the homeless man, uncovering his relationship with a sister and aunt still living on the island.  Consequently, Holly is able to begin piecing together the background story and investigate the possibility of murder.  The author concentrates on developing the story against the raw beauty of
nature and environment, which not only provide a truly forceful setting for the plot, but also a powerful conclusion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Evidence of Murder
Lisa Black
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-154450-7
Mass Market Paperback

Persistence is a virtue, and Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist in the M.E.’s office exhibits plenty of that in this novel in which she still has not recovered from the death of her fiancé.  A young woman has been found frozen to death on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland and there are almost no clues as to the cause of death.  She left behind a husband of three weeks and a young baby.

Theresa smells a rat and she can’t let go of the case.  She learns that the baby has received a $1.5 million inheritance from its grandparents and Theresa suspects that the baby’s life is in danger because of the money.  But unless she can prove murder, and she can’t seem to find any evidence, there might be another death in the near future.

This reader found the book slow reading, bogged down in minutiae and over-detailed descriptions, especially of forensics procedures.  But for this criticism, it is an interesting and well-drawn plot, with an exciting but rather implausible conclusion.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

Ted Feit's Book Review Roundup

Burn
Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-61456-0
Hardcover

It is likely that fans of the Anna Pigeon series might be put off by several aspects of this novel.  To begin with, it takes place in the urban setting of New Orleans rather than the accustomed [for this series] wide open spaces of a national park.  Then there is the topic: not only child abuse, but child sex and white slavery.  Also there is much, if not excessive, violence (which does not mean that there has not been some in previous entries).

With that said, we can turn our attention to Burn.  It is an intriguing work, albeit somewhat heavy-handed.  Anna is on leave to recover from some sort of mental breakdown, visiting a friend in the Big Easy.  Instead she becomes involved in what appears to be a voodoo curse as well as assisting a stranger in recovering her daughters, apparently kidnapped to be imprisoned in a sex emporium.

This reader found the novel slow to read and bogged down in a lot of unnecessary detail.  The plot – – child sex – – certainly is worthy of an important look, and the book does achieve that aim.  Somewhat confusing to this reader were the various descriptions of the “character” changes in the distraught mother, a professional actress, as she takes on each role as the situation arises.  On the whole, however, it is an interesting read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Track of Sand
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-14-311793-3
Trade Paperback

Strange dreams and perfect intuition and logic are the keys to solving a mystery in this Inspector Montalbano novel.  It seems that even when he is asleep he can proceed with an investigation with dispatch.

He awakens one day and looks out of his beach house to see a bludgeoned horse lying in the sand.  When his men arrive after his call to investigate, the horse has disappeared.  In short order, Rachele, an equestrian champion rider, and Saverio Lo Duca, one of the richest men in Sicily, each report a missing horse.  Which one was the horse the inspector sighted?

In consultation with Fazio, a colleague, Montalbano learns of a clandestine horse racing scheme operated by the mafia.  Meanwhile, several burglary attempts take place at the inspector’s house, as well as an arson attempt.  What, if any, is the connection to the investigation?  With his customary unorthodox methodology, the inspector proceeds to unravel all the possibilities.

With humor and charm, the author writes a procedural of a different kind:  one which is full of good food, good-looking women and lots of fun.  Eat, drink and read hearty.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She Felt No Pain
Lou Allin
RendezVous Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-926607-07-8
Trade Paperback

RCMP Corporal Holly Martin, newly transferred to Vancouver Island, faces adjustment to her new command, along with encountering her own past along the way.  The reader is treated to all kinds of descriptions of the island in all its glory.

Almost incidentally, a mystery unfolds when an apparently homeless man is found dead of what looks like a drug overdose.  An autopsy shows a deadly combination of heroin and a potent synthetic opiate, a deadly combination. Holly soon discovers something the man had hidden near the site of his death, and she struggles to find its meaning. At the same time, Holly is encouraged by her elderly aunt to investigate the disappearance of her mother many years before.

Slowly, Holly begins to look into the background of the homeless man, uncovering his relationship with a sister and aunt still living on the island.  Consequently, Holly is able to begin piecing together the background story and investigate the possibility of murder.  The author concentrates on developing the story against the raw beauty of
nature and environment, which not only provide a truly forceful setting for the plot, but also a powerful conclusion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Evidence of Murder
Lisa Black
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-154450-7
Mass Market Paperback

Persistence is a virtue, and Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist in the M.E.’s office exhibits plenty of that in this novel in which she still has not recovered from the death of her fiancé.  A young woman has been found frozen to death on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland and there are almost no clues as to the cause of death.  She left behind a husband of three weeks and a young baby.

Theresa smells a rat and she can’t let go of the case.  She learns that the baby has received a $1.5 million inheritance from its grandparents and Theresa suspects that the baby’s life is in danger because of the money.  But unless she can prove murder, and she can’t seem to find any evidence, there might be another death in the near future.

This reader found the book slow reading, bogged down in minutiae and over-detailed descriptions, especially of forensics procedures.  But for this criticism, it is an interesting and well-drawn plot, with an exciting but rather implausible conclusion.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

Ted Feit Triple Threat Book Reviews

Crossfire
Dick Francis and Felix Francis
Putnam, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-399-15681-6
Hardcover

This is the fourth work completed by Dick Francis and his son, and it certainly lives up the standards the late author set in a long and distinguished career until his death last February.  As did the more than 40 novels Dick Francis wrote, it takes as its milieu the Britishhorse-racing scene.

Captain Tom Forsyth, who left his mother’s home (and horse-training stables) at the age of 17 to join the army, returns after losing his foot to an IED in Afghanistan, only to find that his mother is in some kind of trouble.  She is being blackmailed to the tune of 2,000 pounds a week and is also being forced to make sure that her horses lose important races.  It falls to Tom to sort out the culprits, solve his mother’s business problems, and find his way into the future despite his physical condition.

Crossfire is a tale with the trademark Francis touch, carefully constructed, poignantly written and sensitive, especially with regard to observations of the trials and difficulties of being a soldier (demonstrated throughout by references to Tom’s past posts as well as the skills he learned as applied to his present endeavors), and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Queen of Patpong
Timothy Hallinan
William Morrow, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-167226-2
Hardcover

While its predecessors in this delightful series set in Thailand focused on all the trouble in which Poke Rafferty could find himself, this novel is exclusively the property of his wife, Rose.  As readers of the previous entries have learned, Rose was a bar girl (i.e., dancer and prostitute) before meeting and marrying Poke. And as most know, that is a dangerous profession.

While the domestic side of the novel includes Poke’s participation in a school production of “The Tempest,” in which his adopted daughter, Miaow, stars as Ariel, the dangerous aspect of the plot arises from Rose’s past.  This gives the author the opportunity to accomplish two objectives.  First, of course, is to show the miserable lives and inherent dangers of the life of a bar girl.  Second is to force Poke to really face Rose’s past and come to grips with its meanness and horrors.

The recounting of Rose’s life is poignant and sensitive, and the various characters in her life are skillfully drawn. Descriptions of Patpong Street and Bangkok and the strip joints and bars are graphic. The suspense builds and builds.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dog Tags
David Rosenfelt
Grand Central Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-446-55152-6
Hardcover

This legal-thriller-cum-amusing-background series, featuring the talented but not so enthusiastic defense attorney Andy Carpenter, once again demonstrates his love of canines.  The plot starts off with Andy representing a German shepherd, Milo, being held in the dog pound under police guard, with Andy seeking a bail hearing.  It seems that the dog is owned by Billy Zimmerman, an ex-cop who lost his leg while serving in Iraq and is now accused of murder.  In fact, Andy gets to represent both master and dog before it’s all over.

As the story develops, in order to survive after his return from Iraq and not being able to get his old job back as a Paterson, NJ, detective, Billy had trained the dog to jump up and snatch valuables which he could then convert to raise funds to survive.  One night, Billy and Milo observe someone handing over an envelope to another person.  Milo snatches it and runs away, later burying it.  Meanwhile, the man who handed over the envelope is shot and killed.  Billy, who had served under the man in Iraq, is accused of his murder.

Andy is begged initially to free the dog from the pound, and as that case develops he takes on Billy’s as well. Complication upon complication then compound the plot, with all of the usual characters in the series, plus the dog, playing vital roles in what has become the trademark characteristic of an Andy Carpenter trial: a hopeless
case to somehow salvage, and often a national catastrophe to prevent. The novels are always written with humor and a light touch, and this entry is no exception.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.