Book Review: Murder in the Dog Days by P.M. Carlson—and a Giveaway!

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Title: Murder in the Dog Days
Series: Maggie Ryan Series #6
Author: P.M. Carlson
Publisher: The Mystery Company/
Crum Creek Press

Publication Date: May 15, 2014
Genres: Mystery

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Smashwords
Amazon // Indiebound

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Murder in the Dog Days
Maggie Ryan #6
P.M. Carlson
The Mystery Company/Crum Creek Press, May 2014
ISBN 978-1-932325-37-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

On a sweltering Virginia day in 1975, reporter Olivia Kerr, her husband Jerry Ryan, his very pregnant sister Maggie and her family decide to have a beach picnic. Olivia invites her colleague Dale Colby and his family to join them. At the last minute, Dale decides to stay home to pursue an important story. But when the beach-goers return, they find Dale lifeless in a pool of blood inside his locked office.

Police detective Holly Schreiner leads the investigation, battling Maggie—and demons of her own.

A funny thing happened (to me) on the way to my reading this book. Originally published in January 1991 (but copyrighted in 1990), Murder in the Dog Days came into existence a scant 15 or so years after its setting in 1975 and would not have been considered historical in nature. Returned Vietnam vets were to be seen everywhere, PTSD was in evidence but didn’t really have a name quite yet in the public lexicon, overuse/abuse of prescribed medications was probably not especially common yet but, at the least, very well hidden, and people were still split on the validity of our having been at war in a tiny country so far away. In 1990 or 1991, we didn’t yet have any real perspective on those times but it was beginning to become clearer and any reader’s personal experience and/or knowledge would have affected how he or she felt about this story.

Today, enough years have passed to consider the setting of Ms. Carlson’s novel to be historical or very close to it. As so often happens, our sensibilities about that period have softened somewhat and, although we now feel strongly that vets need the respect and assistance they so valiantly earn, we also have largely put the war itself into the past, shunted aside, I suppose, by the conflicts that have arisen since then. I bring up all this because the violence and repercussions of that particular war affected me in very different ways then and now and thus affects my reaction to certain people and storylines. I also confess that I had a less enlightened attitude towards some social issues then than I do now.

Anyway, getting to the actual mystery, this one is a keeper. There’s nothing I like more than a locked room puzzle and the author crafts her story with finesse and nicely developed plot points and characterizations, especially Maggie, Detective Holly Schreiner and Josie, the young daughter of the murdered man, Dale. A reporter who’s driven, Dale has been digging into a particular story with political implications but there are also other reasons someone might have had for killing him. The immediate question, though, is how since his study door was bolted and there seemed to be no way the killer could have gotten out. That one piece of the puzzle kept me going hither and yon until a most surprising denouement. My introduction to Maggie Ryan was a great success and I’ll be looking for the other books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

An Excerpt from Murder in the Dog Days

“I don’t understand!” Donna Colby cried out. Her self-control cracked. She reached toward Holly in appeal, tears starting. “It was bolted! How could anyone—even if Dale let them in, they couldn’t bolt it again after they—”

“Yes, Mrs. Colby.” Holly broke in, firm and reassuring, to deflect the outburst. “We’ll check into it. You can depend on it.”

‘Thank you,” said Donna with a little choking sound.

“Now, what did you do when you realized the door was bolted?”

“Well, he usually takes a nap. I thought maybe he was asleep.” Donna Colby was trying to revert to her numbed monotone again, but a tremor underlay her words. “Then Maggie went to look in the window and came running back in and said hurry up, we had to get the door open. So she did, and—” She stopped. The next part was the unspeakable, Holly knew. Donna Colby turned her face back to the pink flower on the back of the sofa, tracing the outline with a forefinger. “All that blood,” she murmured. “I just don’t… Why?”

“I know, Mrs. Colby.” Holly tried to keep her voice soothing in the face of the incomprehensible. A husband and father lay twisted in the den. Why? Tell me why. And the others, so many others. A flash of reds at the back of her eyes. A blue-green stench. A tiny whispered beat, ten, eleven. Twelve. No more. Hey, cut the bullshit, Schreiner. Just get the details. Ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die. Holly flipped to a new page, keeping her voice colorless. “What did you do when you got the door open?”

“We all ran in—I don’t remember, it was so—I couldn’t—the blood. Maggie went to him. Sent Olivia to call an ambulance. Told me to keep the kids out, take them to the kitchen.”

Holly noted it down. This Maggie sounded like a real take-charge type. “Okay. And then what?”

“I don’t remember much. She made me leave, take care of the kids.”

“What was she doing?”

“I don’t know. There was so much…” The word escaped Donna and she stared at Holly in mute terror before finding it again, with an almost pitiful triumph. “Confusion. The men came back. Maggie will tell you,” she added hopefully, trying to be helpful. All her life, probably, being nice had kept her out of trouble. But now she’d hit the big trouble, and Holly knew that no weapons, even niceness, could help now.

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Excerpt from Murder in the Dog Days by P.M. Carlson. Copyright © 2017 by P.M. Carlson. Reproduced with permission from P.M. Carlson. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

P.M. Carlson taught psychology and statistics at Cornell University before deciding that mystery writing was more fun. She has published twelve mystery novels and over a dozen short stories. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Macavity Award, and twice for Anthony Awards. Two short stories were finalists for Agatha Awards. She edited the Mystery Writers Annual for Mystery Writers of America for several years, and served as president of Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With Our Author:

Website // Twitter // Smashwords // Goodreads

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Follow the tour:

09/01 Interview @ BooksChatter
09/01 Review @ Rockin Book Reviews
09/02 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
09/03 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
09/04 Review @ Cabin Goddess
09/05 Interview/Showcase @ CMash Reads
09/06 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
09/07 Review @ Reviews From The Heart
09/11 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
09/12 Interview @ Mythical Books
09/13 Showcase @ Suspense Magazine
09/15 Review @ Just Reviews
09/18 Review @ Buried Under Books – GIVEAWAY
09/19 Showcase @ Teresa Trent Author Blog
10/05 Review @ Cheryls Book Nook

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Murder Is Academic, 2nd in the
series,
leave a comment below. The
winning
name will be drawn Thursday
evening,
September 21st, and the book
will be
sent out after the tour ends.

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Book Review: One By One by Sarah Cain

One By One
A Danny Ryan Mystery #2
Sarah Cain
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
978-1-68331-087-7
Hardcover

Danny Ryan, a Pulitizer prize winning journalist, is approached by a former high school classmate asking him to look into the strangely similar deaths of several others in their senior class. They all had received odd-ball texts spouting biblical verses and threats that seem to be a warning of some sort, Greg Moss tells Danny. Whatever, they all wound up dead. Now Greg is getting the texts, too, and so, very soon after starting his investigation, does Danny. He eventually realizes all the victims were guests at a drunken, drug-ridden end-of-school party. What happened there? Danny doesn’t know and the people who could tell him are either dead or soon will be.

With the help of a newspaper reporter, the smart and beautiful Alex Burton, Danny determines to get to the bottom of things before there’s another victim. Too late, because Greg dies. Is Danny next? Or will it be Alex, who isn’t a member of the class, but who is maybe too close to Danny.

All tied up in crooked land deals, grasping politicians and crooked cops, as well as at least one deranged former classmate, this is a well-plotted, hold-your-breath story of revenge and twisted motives that will keep you guessing.

The writing, as you would expect, is excellent. We’re given a diversified cast of characters, from which you’re sure to find someone to hate as well as a few to root for.

This is the second book of the Danny Ryan series, and I’m looking forward to the third.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: The Candidate by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart and The Cuban Connection by M.L. Malcolm

The Candidate
A Newsmakers Novel #2
Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart
Thomas Nelson, October 2016
ISBN:978-0-7180-3768-0
Hardcover

This is a finely crafted, taut modern thriller. It takes readers inside the current explosion of news and comment electronic channel, of blogging, punditry, false panic, alternative facts and similar fact and fiction. The multiple levels of conspiracy are interesting and reflect the background of the author. In a general sense, the pace is relentless and largely compelling, if a little predictable at times.

Protagonist Erica Sparks, under almost constant pressure to improve her standing, in spite of the fact she’s at the top of the ratings list, seeks interviews with presidential candidates. The assignment takes her all over the country, where she encounters bombs, murder and suicide by gun, and a cabal of nasty characters aimed at the ultimate power grab. To explain more would reveal too much.

The author has devised a cast of intriguing characters, some beset with the kind of domestic problems many readers will recognize. The story is well-grounded in modern realities for the professional working mother. Still, therein lies the principal difficulty of the narrative. Every so often, Erica Sparks succumbs to the stupid bug. For a top reporter and anchor she misses several obvious clues that would have revealed the identity of her adversaries or at least warned her of impending danger.

Even with these lapses, the book, well-described, carefully plotted, should raise the alarms in any reader who is aware of today’s society’s conflicting pressures, and the inimical forces of evil arrayed against us, regardless of constant protestations to the contrary.

The novel is intense, relentless and compelling. In spite of our awareness of the very contemporary setting and potential realities, it is, in the end, a novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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The Cuban Connection
M.L. Malcolm
A Good Read Publishing, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9815726-3-5
Trade Paperback

An intriguing well-written examination of the realities that have existed in the mysterious island nation of Cuba since the revolution. The novel—and it is an exceptionally carefully researched novel—is set in the early years of the 1960s. The story is narrated by an intrepid reporter named Katherine O’Connor. She’s an experienced reporter working on general assignments for the Reuters news agency out of London.

Her first intimation of major change coming to her life is when she is recalled to the New York office of the agency. She’s still not a bylined reporter. That’s the next career step up and she’s getting desperate to make the grade. Unfortunately, her fortunes at Reuters seem to be on a downward track until she wangles a freelance assignment to Cuba.

Cuba is a dangerous place for honest reporters as the Castro regime tightens censorship and moves to total control of the country. With help from clandestine intelligence resources, O’Connor goes to Cuba and headlong into a series of adventures while falling for a man who may be a Soviet spy.

Anyone who wants a good spy story and to join some devilishly clever characters on a series of nicely conceived adventures strongly rooted in the realities of the time, will enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Reservations by Gwen Florio

Reservations
A Lola Wicks Mystery #4
Gwen Florio
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5042-2
Trade Paperback

Journalist Lola Wicks is finally on a honeymoon/vacation with her husband Charlie Laurendeau and their daughter. It will be her first meeting with Charlie’s brother and his wife, who are big wheels on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Charlie and his brother Edgar are Blackfoot; Lola is white, which provides a lot of tension.

No welcome awaits them in Arizona. There’s been a bombing outside a large coal mine on the reservation, and an elderly Navajo man killed. Tribal members are protesting the taking and exploitation of the their land. Their water is poisoned, and alcoholism runs rampant. Edgar and his wife, Naomi, a high-powered tribal lawyer, are busy trying to sort out the murder.

But Lola’s journalist tendencies come to the fore, as do Charlie’s, as he’s the top cop on the Blackfoot Reservation. Trouble between them looms, raising an ugly racist head. As rivals, they investigate the bombings and murder, and death lays in wait.

Ms. Florio’s depiction of the waterless heat in desert country is very real. I enjoyed the care the family had for Bub, their three-legged dog. I believe there are previous books and I want to know what happened to the pooch. The little girls in the story, who in less able hands might be overlooked, are also amazingly well-done characters.

All in all, an enjoyable story with a realistic, if sad premise. It might just turn a reader into an Indian Rights activist.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Blue Madonna by James R. Benn and The Fixer by Joseph Finder

blue-madonnaBlue Madonna
A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery #11
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61695-642-4
Hardcover

Billy Boyle has received all kinds of assignments in his capacity as a special investigator on Eisenhower’s staff. But few, if any, match the bizarre task before him in the Blue Madonna.  To begin with, he is arrested, tried on trumped up charges and stripped of his Captaincy and sentenced to time in the stockade for black market activities.  (This, of course, a subterfuge to provide a cover story as part of an investigation.)  Then he is sent behind enemy lines to rescue a downed airman who is needed to testify against a black market gang.

No sooner does Billy arrive in occupied France than he finds himself investigating two murders of airmen being hidden in a chateau.  And he even participates in partisan operations, blowing up railroad tracks and bridges.

The Billy Boyle series takes him through various phases of World War II.  This novel takes place as Allied troops sail for Normandy on D-Day, giving the author the opportunity to describe conditions in Occupied France, how the partisans operated, and what was done to return downed airmen through clandestine networks.  The Blue Madonna, a valuable piece of art, is an example of how many Jews and others attempted to prevent the Nazis from stealing their possessions by hiding them in such places as the chateau, which also secreted parachuted Allied fliers.

As were the first 10 books in the series, Blue Madonna is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2016.

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the-fixerThe Fixer
Joseph Finder
Putnam, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-4514-7257-3
Mass Market Paperback

What would you do if by some off-chance you broke into a wall in your home and discovered $3.7 million in cash?  That is the good luck that befalls Rick Hoffman, erstwhile unemployed journalist.  And then the bad luck follows.  Rick begins to wonder where the money came from.  He can’t ask his father, whose house it was, because the latter was left speechless and partially paralyzed by a stroke about two decades before.  Rick was once an investigative journalist, and uses these talents to find answers.

He soon discovers that his attorney father was a fixer, paying off various persons to ward off claims against powerful Boston figures.   And for his efforts he is beaten severely, almost killing him, as was his father before him, to stop Rick from pursuing his investigation.  But he perseveres.

The story moves ahead in a straightforward manner, with each step along the way uncovering additional information, until Rick can prove where the money came from and why.  But more importantly, as Rick explains, he continues because he wants to know how the story ends.  And so will you.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2016.

Book Review: The Ultimatum by Dick Wolf

the-ultimatumThe Ultimatum
A Jeremy Fisk Novel #3
Dick Wolf
William Morrow, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-0622-8686-4
Mass Market Paperback

Merritt Verlyn, loosely patterned on WikiLeak personage Julian Assange, is arrested and held in jail pending trial.  Then a series of sniper attacks begins, with the continued threat of one person being killed each day until Verlyn is released from prison.  Detective Jeremy Fisk takes the lead in an effort to stop the killer who has brought the City of New York to a standstill.  Meanwhile a Mexican cartel has placed a contract on the NYPD intelligence detective, adding to his woes.

Thus begins an exciting chase with plenty of action.  Originally, Verlyn, who possessed thousands of classified and sensitive documents, released a few to Chay Maryland, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, including Fisk’s unlisted home address, exposing him and others to vast dangers, setting up a conflict for the need of secrecy vs. Second Amendment rights.  The question of how this will be resolved is another interesting development.

The conclusion is far-out, more suited to a technocratic motion picture, perhaps, but makes for more and more thrilling descriptions, a specialty of the author, the writer, producer and creator of the TV series “Law & Order”.  Part of a series, the novel is a page-turning stunner, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2016.

Book Review: The American Girl by Kate Horsley

The American GirlThe American Girl
Kate Horsley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243851-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

From a bright new talent comes a riveting psychological thriller about an American exchange student in France involved in a suspicious accident, and the journalist determined to break the story and uncover the dark secrets a small town is hiding.

On a quiet summer morning, seventeen-year-old American exchange student Quinn Perkins stumbles out of the woods near the small French town of St. Roch. Barefoot, bloodied, and unable to say what has happened to her, Quinn’s appearance creates quite a stir, especially since the Blavettes–the French family with whom she’s been staying–have mysteriously disappeared. Now the media, and everyone in the idyllic village, are wondering if the American girl had anything to do with her host family’s disappearance.

Though she is cynical about the media circus that suddenly forms around the girl, Boston journalist Molly Swift cannot deny she is also drawn to the mystery and travels to St. Roch. She is prepared to do anything to learn the truth, including lying so she can get close to Quinn. But when a shocking discovery turns the town against Quinn and she is arrested for the murders of the Blavette family, she finds an unlikely ally in Molly.

As a trial by media ensues, Molly must unravel the disturbing secrets of the town’s past in an effort to clear Quinn’s name, but even she is forced to admit that the American Girl makes a very compelling murder suspect. Is Quinn truly innocent and as much a victim as the Blavettes–or is she a cunning, diabolical killer intent on getting away with murder…?

Told from the alternating perspectives of Molly, as she’s drawn inexorably closer to the truth, and Quinn’s blog entries tracing the events that led to her accident, The American Girl is a deliciously creepy, contemporary, twisting mystery leading to a shocking conclusion.

My early reaction to The American Girl was that it reminded me of Amanda Knox, the American who was convicted (later overturned) of murdering her roommate in France, but I don’t mean that it was a rehash. There were just familiar elements—American girl in France accused of killing the French family she was staying with and the ensuing sensational trial—and, in fact, the author has said that this book was partially inspired by that true crime that took up an awful lot of news space.

Moving on from those similarities, I found the opening chapters filled with tension and a lot of questions and speculation on my part. Quinn doesn’t know what happened to her or to the family and her amnesia adds to the suspense.Then, once suspicion is focused on her, we begin to learn, in small doses, some very creepy goings-on and the dark tone and moodiness of the story drew me in.

I had some niggling doubts, though, particularly about the nearly incompetent police work that can only be explained somewhat by the small town locale but what really bothered me was that I just didn’t care for any of these people, including the missing family. Even the journalist, Molly, who ostensibly wants to get to the truth and help Quinn, clearly has her own agenda….but, then, so does Quinn and, as a result, neither are people I’d like to hang out with.

Bottomline, while I have reservations about the characters and some other aspects of the story, there’s no doubt it’s an intriguing if predictable tale and what really happened is very dark, creepy indeed. I never had the urge to quit reading so Ms. Horsley obviously did something right and that makes me think I’m going to want to see more from her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // HarperCollins

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About the Author

Kate HorsleyKate Horsley’s first novel, The Monster’s Wife, was shortlisted for the Scottish First Book of the Year Award. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Best British Crime Stories. She coedits Crimeculture, a site dedicated to crime fiction and film offering articles, reviews, and interviews with writers.

Find out more about Kate at her website, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Google+.

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