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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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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Book Review: Black Lies, Red Blood by Kjell Eriksson

Black Lies, Red BloodBlack Lies, Red Blood
Ann Lindell Mysteries #5
Kjell Eriksson
Minotaur Books, May 2015
ISBN : 978-1-250-04263-7
Trade Paperback

Ann Lindell has been portrayed in prior entries in this series as an unhappy person but an excellent detective.  In this novel she starts off on cloud nine, having hooked up with Anders Brant in a short but highly satisfactory love affair, only to be disappointed when he takes off on a trip.  And soon she learns that he might be involved in a murder inquiry; no one knows how to contact him and he doesn’t respond to e-mails.

Meanwhile, Ann becomes obsessed with a different murder, that of a 16-year-old girl, while the rest of the department is involved with the slaying of a homeless man, which in turn is followed by additional killings.  And Brant, somehow, has some involvement with all three investigations.  Ann keeps mum about knowing Brant and the pressure mounts on her, not only to solve her own case, but somehow to get in contact with her sometime lover and discover the facts about him and his connection with the murders.

This is not an easy novel to read; it is slow reading, and one has to plod through it with all of its complications and permutations, much less the unsatisfactory descriptions of Ann’s assorted sex life and other sexual references, many of which appear to be gratuitous. Despite these comments, the author has once again written an excellent crime story, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2016.

Book Review: Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty—and a Giveaway!

Rain DogsRain Dogs
A Detective Sean Duffy Novel #5
Adrian McKinty
Seventh Street Books, March 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63388-130-3
Trade Paperback

Detective Sean Duffy of the RUC is back. In this dour, gritty novel of late Twentieth Century Northern Ireland, frustrations run high. A visiting British journalist, Lilly Bigelow, has apparently gone for the high jump off the castle keep at an ancient fortress near Carrick in Northern Ireland. It is your classic locked room mystery.

The place was locked up tight and all visitors gone. Only one man, the 60+ aged caretaker is on premises and his inspections revealed no other living human. Yet early on a frosty morning said caretaker discovers the suicided body of the young woman.

Ready to close the case as a legitimate suicide, Duffy and his team learn the coroner is adamant that she was killed-murdered-the night before. It becomes clear that the caretaker didn’t murder the woman so who did, why, and how did the murderer get in and out of the place, called Carrickfergus Castle? The fascinating solutions to these questions and attempts to arrest the perpetrator form the central plot of this firmly constructed novel. And there is no sagging in the middle.

The pace of the story is neither plodding nor racing about. There is time for several textural and atmospheric contemplations. It is the talent of the author showing in that these occasional asides enhance and enrich the novel and provide readers with a deeper sense of the principals. Well—researched, Rain Dogs is a witty, dark and thoughtful experience. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 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.

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by Adrian McKinty, just leave
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Book Review: Eyeshine by Cy Wyss —and a Giveaway!

EyeshineEyeshine
Murder in Stoker Hills
Cy Wyss
Nighttime Dog Press, November 2015
ISBN 978-0996546522
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

PJ Taylor is a reporter with a difference: she turns into a cat from sundown to sunup every night. In this first adventure, follow PJ as she chases thieves, drug dealers, and even a murderer. Can PJ solve the mysterious drowning death of cantankerous old coot Chip Greene? Or will a local special needs boy end up taking the blame? Be prepared for twists and turns along the way as PJ applies all her feline senses to this diabolical situation.

Something struck me almost right away when I started reading Eyeshine, something important (at least to my mind) and that was its sense of normalcy. Think about it—most cozies involving cats practically drip with cuteness and shapeshifter stories involving domestic cats (the big guys are totally different) fall into the same pit of syrup. Now, you might think I don’t like such things based on the above comments but that’s not really true. I do like them, quite a lot, but they just can’t help being cute and there comes a point when I’ve had all the cute I can take so I go looking for the most gruesome serial killer book I can find.

The difference here is that from the opening paragraphs I felt like PJ’s transformation into kittyhood every night is very matter of fact. There’s no woowoo about it and nothing magical is going on other than the actual transformations; PJ simply accepts her condition and makes the most of it in her career as a journalist. The only person who knows about her shifting is her FBI agent brother, Robert, and he decided almost right off the bat that it just isn’t so because it can’t be so. I love Robert because he cares so much about his sister but, being a very logical person, he’s found a way to live with the thing that doesn’t exist wink wink.

Anyway, I found this everyday situation so refreshing and it set the tone for a mystery that’s pretty lightweight but has characters that are drawn so well I could see myself having coffee dates with them. PJ is a cool young woman who has a bit of money but chooses to live among what others might consider the hoi polloi. She’s figured a way to turn herself into a feline reporter and has come up with ingenious ways to keep her secret from her good friends like cat rescuer/librarian/gossip Clara Goodwind and Vicky Donnerweise who’s a deputy and wife of the sheriff. These two women are delightful sidekicks and they alone could have sold me on the book.

When PJ, in cat form, witnesses two people fall into a rain-swollen creek one night and one later turns up dead, her reporter instincts kick in but so does her urge to get to the truth, especially since she can’t tell everything she saw because, after all, she’s trained everyone to think she doesn’t go out at night because of a fear of the dark. Her main ally in her sleuthing is her dog, Mutt, a loveable if not overly smart Saint Bernard mix, and it’s a lot of fun to watch these two go about their business.

I could go on but I won’t because I don’t want to tell too much. Suffice it to say there’s lots of gentle humor (no slapstick), a decent if uninspiring mystery and loads of characters I want in my life. It’s also very nicely written with too few production or grammatical errors to mention, something that means a lot to me. I really hope Ms. Wyss will be bringing us many more adventures with PJ and company. Eyeshine will be going on my list of favorite books read in 2016.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

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An Excerpt from Eyeshine

People called Brooke Annabeth Taylor “PJ,” which stood not for pajamas but for Peeping Jane. She’d been a photographer and reporter for as long as the town could remember—at least since grade school—and her reportage was known for the most candid and impossible photos, like Peter Parker’s but from nearer the ground. Her job was made more difficult by her moniker because once people found out what it was, they shied away and wouldn’t tell her the secrets that are a reporter’s stock-in-trade. As she got older, it got harder and harder to convince anyone to give her a story. Now, at thirty, she was no longer “kitten cute” and able to wile her way easily into subjects’ confidence. Still, she managed to find a way.

With her penetrating amber eyes and easy smile, people found her disarming. She loved her relationship as a freelance reporter with the town’s paper, and all the vagaries that life entails, such as being a night owl and an absolute bulldog for the truth. If she could have chosen her own moniker, it would have likely combined these: Owl Dog. It was particularly inappropriate, however, because she turned not into a bird or canine every night, but into a cat.

She had been a black tabby from sundown to sunup since shortly after puberty. She often wondered why other people didn’t morph into alternate beings for the dark hours, but was admonished very early on by a loving mother to never, never, ever speak a word of it to anyone. PJ liked to think that was because her mother had a similar power and had suffered, but it could have been due solely to the woman’s intelligence and sense of practicality.

PJ’s father had died when she was ten. The man was a scientist, an absent-minded chemist, and PJ was of two minds about his awareness. On the one hand, his cleverness meant surely he wouldn’t have been fooled by a mere wife, no matter how adept at deception; on the other hand, his absentmindedness meant sometimes he forgot to wear shoes. So it wasn’t a stretch to think he might have no inkling about the bizarreness of his wife or daughter.

At sixteen, with PJ in limbo between childhood and womanhood, her mother suffered a tragic and debilitating stroke that took her life within months. PJ then moved in with her much older brother and his family. By then, she had become as adept as her mother at hiding her talent, in spite of the fact her brother was an FBI agent by that time, at twenty-nine, and extraordinarily difficult to deceive. It helped that after he witnessed firsthand the transformation from girl to cat, he immediately went into a long-lasting shock that consisted of utter denial. Instead of considering how her unique power could assist him in his life of crime fighting, he grounded her for a month and kept her largely confined to her room, especially after sundown.

PJ forgave Robert for locking her up, only because of her natural optimism and sense of personal grandeur. Honestly, grudges were beneath her, as were most things mere mono-modal humans did. She focused on her schoolwork and got all A’s that semester. Much later she discovered her brother had to take a polygraph test every year he was employed with the all-knowing government agency. PJ realized Robert had so thoroughly put the image of his sister becoming a black tabby cat out of his mind that he had convinced himself it wasn’t even a hallucination—it simply hadn’t existed at all. There’s no need to lie if you’re a true believer, and that was the most effective path for a forced deceiver. So PJ kept her secret, and Robert kept his job.

Fourteen years later, PJ was irrevocably known as Peeping Jane and Robert had traveled the country and come back in his forties to set up a one-man field office in Mayhap, Indiana. One day, PJ was out with her best friends Clara Goodwind and Vicky Donnerweise at the Mayhap Spring Festival when the sun dipped low on the horizon, threatening to bring the stars closer and the day to an end.

“PJ, why do you always leave just when things are getting interesting?” Clara said.

She was a buxom woman with big hazel eyes and bright red hair. Her wardrobe favored items with cats in evidence or implied by pithy sayings, such as “Meow Happens,” which her pink tube top currently sported. The woman was Taft County’s prime cat rescuer, with a warren of dedicated chicken-wire pens covering her backyard and a full-time feeding schedule. When she wasn’t volunteering at the county’s humane shelter, she was ensconced in a network of gossips centered at the Mayhap Memorial Library. Clara was an assistant librarian but party to all the good stories the town could provide. PJ found her an invaluable source. If it happened, or was going to happen, Clara knew about it and would talk.

Vicky stood with arms akimbo and watched PJ inhale an elephant ear. She was a striking woman with hair even blacker than PJ’s and blue eyes where PJ’s were yellow. Vicky was tall and muscular, like a man, but lither and hourglass-shaped inside the bulky kit she wore for law enforcement. She was one of Taft County’s deputies, second in their force only to Sheriff Curtis Denning, whom she happened to be married to.

“Land’s sake, PJ, how do you eat like that? You know I’m active all day, but I can’t eat three of those things without being ten pounds fatter tomorrow. Do you just stay up all night on the treadmill or what?”

A loud cry of enjoyment crescendoed from the fairway before PJ could answer, which was just as well since her mouth was filled with fried dough and she wouldn’t have gotten more than a grunt or two out. She didn’t have the heart to enlighten her friend. Every night, indeed, she ran the treadmill of being feline. She wandered miles in the summertime, searched every nook and cranny of the county, chased rodents and vermin, and napped only fitfully and with one eye open under the shifting moon.

She popped the last of the ear into her mouth and said, “It’s genetics. Some people are luckier than others.”

Vicky and Clara groaned.

Clara adjusted her pink-rimmed glasses and slurped her sno-cone. “At least I managed to keep myself to just one Devil Dog. And sno-cones have no calories after noon—everyone knows that.” Clara was constantly watching her figure, which didn’t seem to keep her from growing more buxom by the year. At the rate she was going, she would be a round octogenarian with a radiant smile in fifty years. PJ thought things could be worse.

“So you two coming two weeks from today or what?” Vicky said.

She was having a cookout, a common occurrence in the warmer months, and the Taylors and Goodwinds were regular fixtures. Everyone knew the cookouts were as much a bid to stuff the people of Taft County with reasons why the Denning clan should hold on to the sheriff-hood for the indefinite future, but everyone came anyway. Vicky’s ribs were legendary, and Curtis’s beer was as tasty and free flowing as anyone’s ever was. Today was Saturday, and two weeks from today was going to be the first big Donnerweise-Denning BBQ of the season.

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” PJ said. “At least until sunset.”

Vicky rolled her eyes. “Because you turn into a pumpkin at sunset, right? We’ll never get to see nighttime you. Isn’t Doc Fred helping you with that?”

Doctor Fred Norton was Mayhap’s most celebrated, and only, psychiatrist. Apparently he was a third cousin twice removed to the iconic Oprah Winfrey and had once listened to her problems with aplomb, inspiring her to go on and listen eternally to others. He was given a brief mention in a book of hers, which was now out-of-print. For Mayhap, that was all it took to secure one’s place in the annals of town history. He even had a special shelf in the library to display his pamphlets on the pluses of positive putation, despite the brochures containing more than their fair share of buzz non-words.

PJ’s cover story for disappearing every evening, no matter the weather or event, was a rare and debilitating overreaction to darkness. Everyone thought she ran home to sit in a bright room under full-spectrum lights so she could make it through the dark hours with her psyche intact, her odd and entrenched phobia notwithstanding. Doc Fred made a perfect corroborator. His acute sense of professional delicacy meant he could never confirm nor deny PJ’s hints that he was treating her without success for her illness. Perhaps he had spent the last decades sketching her case study, which would no doubt be picked up by the professional societies should it ever come to a positive conclusion.

“Sorry,” PJ said to Vicky, “I’m not going to talk about it.”

“Oh, right. Shrink’s privilege and all that.”

“Well, get going,” Clara said. “I don’t want to have to carry around any pumpkins your size after dark, if you turn into one.”

“Alrighty. Toodles, people.”

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About the Author

Cy WyssI live and write in the Indianapolis area. After earning a PhD in Computer Science in 2002 and teaching and researching for seven years, I’ve returned to the childhood dream of becoming an author. I better do it now because I won’t get a third life.

Behind me, I have a ton of academic experience and have written about twenty extremely boring papers on query languages and such, for example this one in the ACM Transactions on Databases. (That’s a mouthful.)

Now, I write in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres and sometimes science fiction. I know for some people databases would be the more beloved of the options, but for me, I finally realized that my heart wasn’t in it. So I took up a second life, as a self-published fiction author.

Online, I do the Writer Cy cartoon series about the (mis)adventures of researching, writing, and self-publishing in today’s shifting climate. I also love to design and create my own covers using GIMP.

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