Book Review: Don’t Eat Me by Colin Cotterill—and a Giveaway!

Don’t Eat Me
A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery #13
Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-940-1
Hardcover

Talented author Colin Cotterill has done it again. He’s put his quirky characters into the most devastating of circumstances, and managed to make this reader laugh her head off. Dr. Siri Paiboun and his friend, Comrade Civilai, have smuggled a movie camera into Laos with the intention of writing and filming an epic history of the nation. Since the year is somewhere south of 1980, the recent history is particularly harrowing and the communists, of course, have a strict, one might even say stifling, set of rules about what the film can include. The two, along with Madam Daeng, Siri’s wife, and their friend, the newly promoted chief inspector, Phosy, who is perhaps the only honest policeman in the country, will have a time sneaking the film through inspection. Complications include subject, stars, location, and most importantly, someone who knows how to turn on the camera.

A farce, for sure, except our heroes are dealing with the serious matter of murder and horrifically appalling and cruel animal trafficking. You’d be surprised what an important role an inoperable camera can play.

From the opening few pages where Siri and Civilai are smuggling the camera across the Mekhong River from Thailand, to the final courtroom scene, I promise you’ll be enthralled. Cotterill’s imagination knows no bounds and if the plot in this one seems farcical at first, it has a monstrous situation at the core that is treated very seriously indeed. Unforgettable characters, a plot to draw you in . . . what more could anyone want? This one is highly recommended.

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

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To enter the drawing for a print
advance reading copy of

Don’t Eat Me by Colin Cotterill,
leave a comment below. The winning
name
will be drawn on Friday evening,

October 12th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

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Book Review: Blood and Wisdom by Verlin Darrow

Blood and Wisdom
Verlin Darrow
The Wild Rose Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-5092-2086-1
Trade Paperback

Aria Piper runs a New Age Spiritual Center near Santa Cruz, California. Karl Gatlin is a private investigator but has training as a counselor. The two are connected because they were both interns at the same center, though Karl decided he was much more cut out for a career as a PI than counseling people through their personal troubles. However, when Aria begins receiving threats and a beheaded body turns up at Aria’s center, she turns to Karl to investigate. That is the basic set up for the book, however, if readers are expecting a straight forward PI book, they are in for a surprise or two as this is a book that never quite settles on what sort of a book it wants to be. It has a little bit of something for just about everyone, but I was left wondering if there was enough of any one thing to satisfy anyone.

The number one strength of the book is the character development. What an interesting cast of characters Darrow has given readers! First we have a main character who is a PI with psychotherapy training, a second main character who is running a spiritual center which might or might not be a cult, some sort of flaky “enlightened” folks, some seriously bad dudes and lastly my favorite, Larry the dog who has so many human traits it is sometimes hard to remember he is a dog.

The second strength is the off beat humor in the book. This is really not my favorite type of book (think Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey), but I do appreciate their craft and Darrow has the skills to carry this type of humor off.

I would like the author to firm up what genre he is writing though. Suspense, thriller, PI novel, or something completely different. Also, as fascinating as the odd set of characters were, sometimes their idiosyncrasies became a distraction from the plot.

Blood and Wisdom is the debut book for author Verlin Darrow. While I did have some issues with the book, there is definite potential for him as an author. It will be interesting to see what the next book brings.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, August 2018.

Book Review: Scot Free by Catriona McPherson—and a Giveaway!

Scot Free
A Last Ditch Mystery #1
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5386-7
Trade Paperback

Having read several of the author’s psychological suspense novel in the past, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Scot Free being billed as similar to the early Stephanie Plum books. While I think that the reviewers who made that comparison were a bit overstating their case, Scot Free is both a huge departure from McPherson’s previous books and frankly pretty darned funny.

Lexy Campbell left her native Scotland for the sunny climate of California following what she thought was going to be the love of her life. She set up her marriage counseling business and was living the American Dream California style. That is until suddenly she wasn’t. Her life long soulmate turned out to be a divorce waiting to happen, her business failed and she was broke preparing to return to Scotland.  But as often happens, the flukes of happenstance intervened and sent Lexy’s life in an entirely different direction.

Before leaving California, Lexy was determined to clear her last client charged with killing her husband with of all things, a fireworks rocket. It was at that moment that I knew this was going to turn out to be a bizarre book to read.

While Lexy works on Mrs. Bomarro’s case, she needs a place to stay. A CHEAP place to stay. And so she checks into the Last Ditch Motel which introduces Lexi to an entirely different side of California.  At this point things get more than a bit weird. I felt that the author was trying too hard to make the characters off beat, unique  individuals but for me she tried too hard and instead ended up with some characters that were more caricatures than actual people. The action got a bit too outrageous for me, and at times I was a bit confused with what was going on.

I feel the series has potential and will find its audience, but I would hope with the next book she would tone down the over the top people a bit and focus more on developing the plot.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, August 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Scot Free by Catriona McPherson
,
leave a comment below.

The winning name will be drawn
Friday evening, September 14th. This
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Criminal Misdeeds by Randee Green

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Title: Criminal Misdeeds
Series: A Carrie Shatner Mystery #1
Author: Randee Green
Publisher: Coffeetown Press
Publication Date: July 1, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Police Procedural

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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Criminal Misdeeds
A Carrie Shatner Mystery #1
Randee Green
Coffeetown Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-709-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

As far back as the Shatners can be traced, they have been breaking the law and running from it. It’s a family tradition. Now Carrie Shatner is a detective and crime-scene technician with the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in Eastern Texas. Over the years, she has tried to distance herself from her family’s criminal activities. But that is easier said than done.

The Shatner family is celebrating New Year’s Eve at the Wyatt County Fairgrounds in their usual style: illegal fireworks, homemade moonshine, and a near brawl. After shutting down the party, Carrie does a final sweep of the fairgrounds and finds a dead body in a dumpster.

Good news: the dead man is not a Shatner. Bad news: the Shatners are now suspects in a homicide investigation. Soon the fairgrounds are overrun with law enforcement, including Sergeant Jerrod Hardy, a Texas Ranger. The victim is Kyle Vance, Carrie’s ex-boyfriend and a member of the Palmer family, who have been feuding with the Shatners since the Civil War.

Despite serious misgivings, Hardy allows Carrie to help him investigate. He knows she physically couldn’t have beaten Vance to death, but he wonders if she is covering for a family member.

There’s something about backcountry Texas crime fiction that grabs me by the throat and won’t let go but I don’t really know what it is. Some of my affection is because it’s almost always rural and it’s Southern; granted “Southern” is not the same in Texas as it is in Virginia or Alabama but Texas still falls into the category. Then there’s the Wild West romantic aspect that is always there in the background so, all in all, I’m a patsy for Texas law enforcement 😉

Carrie is a pure delight, in her profession and also as part of a riproaring criminal family and, while I know it’s wrong of her to protect them I also understand it and can totally empathize with her. I also couldn’t help laughing at this eccentric, kinda weird family that Carrie has to cope with, all the while loving them just because they are family. She sort of escaped their clutches but not really.

When murder occurs at a Shatner clan party, Carrie’s colleagues don’t really trust her to get involved, hardly a surprise, but the arrival of Texas Ranger Jerrod Hardy changes everything, especially when he grudgingly lets her help out. It’s a wonder he does, given that the dead man is Carrie’s ex and a member of the Palmer clan that’s the Shatners’ mortal enemies.

I really did have fun with this book and, although I thought the actual mystery was a little lightweight, it’s the journey to get to the answers that really matters. Carrie and Hardy could very well grow into one of my favorite law enforcement couples/partners so, Ms. Green, please hurry up with the next book!

An Excerpt from Criminal Misdeeds

CHAPTER ONE

I come from a long line of criminals.

Moonshiners, rumrunners, and drug dealers. Horse thieves and carjackers. Bank robbers, burglars, pickpockets, and con artists. And then there has been the occasional killer. You name it, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, somewhere along the line a member of my family has committed it.

As far back as the Shatner family could be traced – from southern England to the mountains of western North Carolina, and now to the Piney Woods of East Texas – we had been breaking the law. And running from it, too.

It was a family tradition.

You see, the Shatners have never swum in the baby pool of life. We’ve always been out in the deep end, and we jumped in headfirst.

As for me, every day I fight my genetic predisposition to break the law. Some days I’ve been more successful than others. You see, I can’t break the law when I’m the one who is supposed to be upholding it.

My name is Carrie Shatner, and for the last three-and-a-half years I have worked as a detective and crime scene technician for the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in East Texas. That would put my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University to good use except there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of serious crime in Wyatt County. I mainly sat behind my desk all day, twiddling my thumbs, playing Sudoku, and keeping up with my various social media accounts.

While my official job was to process crime scenes and deal with all parts of criminal investigations, my unofficial job was to cover up my family’s illegal activities and keep them out of jail. I’d be the first to admit that what I have been doing wasn’t ethical. It was probably also criminal. I tried not to think about that too much. To be honest, I tried not to think about any of it too much. Most days I felt like quitting my job. Family obligation prevented that.

I’m not saying that all of the Shatners have been hardened criminals. Sure, most of the older ones were. But at least some of the younger ones shied away from the family business and seemed to be sticking to the straight and narrow. And they were the reason why I do what I do. Yes, I clean up the crimes of the guilty. But I do it to protect the innocent.

These days, the laws my various family members break have been fairly minor ones. Okay, some were still kind of major. But it was nothing compared to what we used to engage in. I mean, I’m pretty sure we were no longer involved in contract killing or organized crime.

What I did know was that my great-uncles had a moonshine still out in the woods and a marijuana crop concealed in a bunch of old Cold War bomb shelters. Every time I caught one of my family members selling the homebrew or the pot, they would promise me it was the last time. I didn’t believe them. I didn’t arrest them either, because I knew it wouldn’t stop them. It would also infuriate the rest of the family. And, while tempting, that wasn’t a risk I was quite willing to take. At least not yet.

Occasionally, one of the younger Shatners would steal a car or deface some public property or get busted for underage drinking. The older Shatners were always getting nabbed for public indecency and public intoxication. Some of them were also heavily involved in insurance scams. And then there had been the occasional assault. But we hadn’t killed anyone – accidently or on purpose – in years. Or, if someone had, I didn’t know about it.

When you got down to it, the majority of the bad things that the Shatners have done were just plain dumb. And, as far as I knew, being stupid wasn’t illegal. We would have been in serious trouble otherwise.

I don’t want you to go into this thinking that all of the Shatners were bad people. Most of them have just been a little misguided.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

Until I found the body.

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About the Author

Randee Green’s passion for reading began in grade school with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, as well as a master’s and an MFA in Creative Writing. When not writing, she’s usually reading, indulging in her passion for Texas country music, traveling, or hanging out with her favorite feline friend, Mr. Snookums G. Cat.

Catch Up With Randee Green On: randeegreen.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: I Laughed When I Wrote It by Alan Zoldan

I Laughed When I Wrote It
518 Of My Funniest Tweets
Alan Zoldan
SynergEbooks, April 2018
ISBN: 978-0-744-32379-5
Trade Paperback

If ever there was a more important time to read this book by Alan Zoldan, I don’t know, nor can I imagine, when it was/could be!

I can only speak for myself of course, but if I ever needed the laughs that this book provides, it is now!  At a time when reading the morning newspapers, or watching the news on tv, was more depressing than it is now, I can’t imagine when that time was!  Mr. Zoldan has, in providing us with “518 of [his] Funniest Tweets,” given us just the break from today’s reality that we [although again I can only speak for myself] need desperately!  The author wrote the book after 7 years and 895 tweets, and his selection is excellent!

I guess the only way I can back this up, and illustrate the author’s sense of humor, is to give you a few examples. The sections are headed Laughing at Myself, Cultural Quips, Random Observation, One Liners, and Rated “R” for Raunchy, which starts off with a line from Woody Allen:  “Don’t knock masturbation.  It’s sex with someone you love.”  Some of the other things included in this section:  “My wife and I were happy for 22 years – and then we met;”  “I really don’t believe in meaningless sex.  I mean, at the very least, it means that you’ve had sex;” “Just once I’d like to relapse at a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting;” …Protected sex is way too expensive.  Not everyone can afford a bodyguard you know;” . . .  “I never got into Twitter for the fame, money,or sex – which, as things are turning out, is just as well.”   Among the one-liners:  “After all is said and done, there is usually much more said than done . . . The results of my friend’s IQ test were negative . . . My wife keeps complaining I never listen to her . . . or something like that . . . If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong . . . Change is inevitable – – except from a vending machine .. . The last thing I want to do is hurt you.  But it’s still on my list . . . I think someone stopped the payment on my reality check . . .  Is there another word for synonym?”  I’ll stop the quotes now, because I’m sure you’ve already decided to go out and buy the book – good thinking!

As per the notes that the publisher has included at the end of the book, headed “About the Author,” the latter “believes that this is the book America needs at this time.”  Truer words were never written!  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Baby’s First Felony by John Straley

Baby’s First Felony
A Cecil Younger Investigation #7
John Straley
Soho Crime, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-878-7
Hardcover

Baby’s First Felony brings back Cecil Younger and the wonderful setting of Sitka, Alaska.  Before even starting the book, I would strongly urge readers to turn to the end and read through the A Guide to Avoiding a Life in Crime. The rules as outlined are referenced frequently, so you might want to keep a book mark there as well.

Cecil is called to the jail to arrange bail for a client who asks that he go pick up a box containing things that will prove her innocence which she left with friends. Two things about this cause Cecil angst. First, the box contains money. Lots of money. And secondly the place she left the box is the house where a friend of Cecil’s daughter’s friend is now living and a place that his daughter Blossom has run off to when her mother gets on her nerves. But that is just the beginning of Cecil’s problems. There are drugs, a kidnapping and a murder to contend with causing Cecil to break nearly every one of his rules as outlined in the book.

Along with the criminal plot is an interesting side story involving the use of humor as therapy for autism leading the book to be packed with jokes as told by Todd, the sort of adopted son of Cecil. Some of these are really pretty funny. There is a very brief note at the end of the book lending credence to this as a real therapy. This also brings in the very real issue of who has a right to post someone’s comments on line.

It has been a very long time since the last of the Cecil Younger book was published so it was especially fun to catch up with Cecil and life in Sitka, Alaska.  Perhaps an odd benefit of the long delay in bringing Cecil back to print is that it gives readers new to the series a chance to jump in as Baby’s First Felony does not rely on past plots and Straley does an excellent job of giving readers what little back story is necessary. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more Cecil very soon.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, July 2018.

Book Review: Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark

Fiction Can Be Murder
A Mystery Writer’s Mystery #1
Becky Clark
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5332-4
Trade Paperback

Mystery writer Charlemagne Russo is an up and coming, best selling author, who is having a bit of trouble with her agent, Melinda Walter. According to the agent, Charlee’s royalties are falling off, and no one seems to know why. Angry words pass between them. Then Melinda is murdered and the method used is the exact way Charlee’s latest fictional victim dies. Who is the easiest potential murder suspect for the police to glom onto? Why, Charlee, of course.

Afraid she’s going to be hauled in on a murder charge at any moment, Charlee frantically begins investigating on her own. Her interests center on her critique group, all of whom have read the manuscript and may have a reason to dislike Melinda, who is well known for her harsh rejections.

Now, in order to avoid any spoilers, I’m going to say Charlee is one of those TSTL heroines. The surprise at the end when the guilty person is unveiled is a good one, even if getting there was sometimes a bit torturous. And I’m afraid Charlee’s love interest just didn’t turn me on. Awkward!

That said, the writing is good, and the story is paced well, although Charlee’s investigative questions and the answers received became a bit repetitious. And since the story takes place in a Denver winter, I think Fiction Can Be Murder would make a good book for a hot weather beach read.

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