Book Review: When Krishna Calls by Susan Oleksiw and Forensics by Val McDermid

when-krishna-callsWhen Krishna Calls
An Anita Ray Mystery #4
Susan Oleksiw
Five Star, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3225-4

Indian American photographer Anita Ray lives at her Auntie Meena’s tourist hotel in South India. She is preparing for a one woman show at a prestigious gallery and her aunt is pleased that she is not involved in solving other people’s problems, for a change. When a young woman abandons her daughter inside the Hotel Delite and then flees, Anita recognizes the child as the daughter of an employee, Nisha. Soon the police come searching for Nisha, whom they want as the suspect in the stabbing death of her husband, Panju. Panju was angry about the local farmers losing their land to people who want to exploit the land, and he made enemies. Anita discovers that Panju owed debts to the unscrupulous moneylender from the family’s village.

When Anita goes to take some more photographs for her show, she sets up her camera for a shot and discovers a piece of paper wrapped around the batteries and someone else’s memory card inside. She doesn’t recognize the photos on the card, but someone is sending her a plea for help. Anita is drawn into the search for Nisha and wants to exonerate the hotel’s employee, while navigating the world of moneylenders and debts of honor.

The author does a wonderful job of capturing the rhythm of the speech and weaves references to food, clothing and customs throughout the story. The juxtaposition of the traditional India and the influence of new technology (cell phones are essential to the plot) make for a delightful journey. Readers who enjoy the mysteries of Tarquin Hall and Michael Stanley may like the Anita Ray series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2016.


What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA, and More Tell Us About Crime
Val McDermid
Grove Press, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8021-2515-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  The dead talk – – to the right listener.  They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them.  Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces.  Forensics goes behind the scenes with some of these top-level professionals and their groundbreaking research, drawing on Val McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

Along the way, McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one’s time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer, and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide.  It’s a journey from war zones to fire scenes and autopsy suits and brings McDermid into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness, as she traces the history of forensics from its earlier beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.

Ms. McDermid starts the book with facts dating from eighteenth-century scientific discoveries, when the term “forensic, meaning a form of legal evidence – science, was born,” to the present time.  The first case, in the opening chapter, describes dates back to 2005, going on to the opening of the first crime investigation lab in 1910 in France, the founder of which wrote a landmark 7-volume textbook on which he called “criminalistics,” and coined the phrase “every contact leaves a trace.”  The second chapter, “Fire Scene Investigation,” goes back to September of 1666, then to a case in County Durham in 1844, one in Derbyshire in 1981, and on from there, covering each milestone reached.  The ensuing chapters discuss at length other aspects of forensics, i.e., entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood spatter and DNA, anthropology, facial reconstruction, digital forensics, forensic psychology, as well as the all-important courtrooms where all the evidence is presented, to the ends that justice is, irrevocably, done.

Not a dry recitation by any means, the author has made it very real and intense by recounting the names of victims and the circumstances of many of the cases cited.  The book makes for fascinating reading, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2016.

Book Review: The Wrath of Shiva by Susan Oleksiw

The Wrath of ShivaThe Wrath of Shiva
An Anita Ray Mystery
Susan Oleksiw
Five Star, July 2012
ISBN 978-1-4328-2591-1

What does a cousin gone missing on her way from the airport, a maidservant who keeps falling into trances, and a grandmother whose sacred antiques are disappearing have in common? For one thing, they have Anita Ray, half Indian-half American, who not only suffers from overwhelming curiosity, but an innate sense of  honesty.

Set in Kerala, South India, this mystery plays out in a gentle manner. No murders haunt one, although a maidservant does get bopped over the head. The story is all about family, from Anita, to her elderly grandmother, her Aunt Meena, to the missing cousin Surya. Oh, yes, and greed, which seems to prevail in society the world over.

While the mystery in this story may not be strong, the people are, and the exotic setting gives the western reader a taste of both old and new India. Fascinating stuff in a well-told novel.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

The Savage FortressThe Savage Fortress
Sarwat Chadda
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2012


It’s not easy being 13.  Ash (Ashoka Mistry), a chubby boy of Indian descent living in England, knows this very well.  He is teased because of his weight, his lunch money is stolen; he feels constantly taunted.   Actually, this is the easy part.  Ash believes that his summer visit with an aunt and uncle in India, accompanied only by his 10 year old sister, Lucky, holds promise.  He is mistaken.

The Savage Fortress introduces middle-grade readers to some of the most fascinating Hindu gods and goddesses.  This quick-paced tale features the ultimate bad guy.  Lord Alexander Savage, despite having learned the magic he’s used to live for thousands of years, wants more.  He wants immortality.  His determination to obtain his desire puts him on a quest to find the tomb of Ravana, the demon king.   Savage is more than willing to become the demon king’s slave, in exchange for this small favour.  He is very close now, nothing would dare intervene.  He will not be stopped.

It takes only a short while in India for Ash to understand that things are not what they seem.  His uncle’s boss, Lord Savage, seems odd beyond eccentric…… a chilling, creepy kind of way.  Savage’s staff is worse.  They seem to stare at Ash and Lucky with eyes of reptiles, birds or furry jungle predators.  Due to the exponentially increasing weirdness, Ash tends to stay as far away from Savage as humanly possible.  Not a great plan.

Ash takes a tumble that will change him forever………..errrr, at least in this life-time.  Accidentally uncovering the one thing Savage needs to proceed, Ash instantly has the weight of the world on his shoulders.  As he begins to recall past existences, he begins to see things more clearly.

The unlikely associates that Ash befriends as he embarks on this journey add a dash of spice to an already hot story.  The internal and external struggles that Ash must face bring in a bittersweet undertone.  This is absolutely one of the best books, particularly for the genre, that I have ever read.  I would have devoured this book when I was in junior high.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2012.