Book Review: Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

Down the River Unto the Sea
Walter Mosley
Mulholland Books, February 2018
ISBN: 978-0-316-50964-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Joe King Oliver was one of the NYPD’s finest investigators until, dispatched to arrest a well-heeled car thief, he was framed for assault by his enemies within the force, a charge that landed him at Rikers.  A decade later, King is a private detective, running his agency with the help of his teenage daughter.  Broken by the brutality he suffered and committed in equal measure behind bars, King leads a solitary life, his work and his daughter the only lights.   When King receives a letter from a woman who admits she was paid to frame him years ago, he decides to take his own case: finding out who on the force wanted him disposed of – – and why.  As King embarks on his quest for the justice he was denied, he agrees to help a radical black journalist accused of killing two on-duty officers who had been abusing their badges to traffic in drugs and prostitutes in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.  The two cases intertwine across the years, exposing a pattern of corruption and brutality wielded against the black men, women and children whose lives the law destroyed. To solve them, King must outrun dirty cops, outsmart craven lawyers, and above all protect his daughter from the underworld in which he works.  All the while, two lives hang in the balance: King’s client’s and his own.

 

Our protagonist’s memories of his early/earlier years are mostly painful:  “the apartment building where I lived with my mother, brother, and sister after our father was sentenced and before I was old enough to run away.”  More recently, the memories are of his days incarcerated in Rikers:  “I’d been at Rikers for only thirtynine hours and already four convicts had attacked me. There was a white adhesive bandage holding together the open flesh on my right cheek.” He thinks:  “Just a few days and I’d switched allegiances from cop to criminal.  I thought that was the worst thing . . . but I was wrong . . . It’s a terrible fall when you find yourself grateful to be put in segregation.”  When he is, unexpectedly, released after about 3 months, he is allowed to shower and shave and “I saw my face for the first time in months in the polished steel mirror next to the small shower where I cleaned up.  Shaving revealed the vicious gaping scar down the right of my face.  They didn’t always offer stitches at Rikers.”

That experience colors everything that follows in this fascinating and, at times, horrifying novel from Walter Mosley, whose writing is always riveting.  At this point in his life, the brightest and most beloved thing in Joe’s life is his 17-year-old daughter, Aja-Denise, who is equally devoted to him.  Her mother, now Joe’s ex-wife, has remarried, but Joe is closer to Aja than ever; she helps him run his detective agency, where he is determined to find out who framed him.  His daughter’s latest endeavor is to attend “a special school in this Bronx church where good science students teach at-risk kids how scientists do experiments.”  Obviously, Joe couldn’t be more proud of her.

The author’s descriptions of his supporting players are always wonderful and fully descriptive, including Joe’s elderly grandmother and her boyfriend of the day, a man worth eight hundred seventy-nine billion dollars, described as a gun enthusiast and a pacifist too.  His investigation brings him to a meeting with a man who “weighed well north of four hundred pounds.  He could have willed his face to be sewn into a basketball after he died; it was that large and round,” and describes himself as “a man who didn’t even trust his own clients, a man who had experienced betrayal on almost every level.”  When his “visage was still too cop-like,” he undertakes some small superficial changes till “the transformation was now complete.  Rather than a Cro-Magnon cop I was a Neanderthal nerd.”  I will leave it to the reader to discover all the other joys of Mr. Mosley’s writing for him/herself.  The book is everything one has learned to expect from this author, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2018.

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Book Review: Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

Heart of Stone
An Ellie Stone Mystery #4
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63388-183-9
Trade Paperback

Ellie Stone is in the Adirondacks visiting her aunt for the month of August. She is lounging on the dock while her aunt swims (nude) when the sheriff comes  and after hassling her aunt for nude swimming asks Ellie to come with him to photograph a death scene. He needs her to do this because Ellie has an expensive camera and the sheriff has no camera at all. She goes. There is a high cliff that dare devils use to dive from into the lake below. It is not the wisest sport as there is rocky ledge that juts out which divers have to miss. From the looks of things, these two did not miss the shale shelf. Ellie notices some oddities at the scene such as the way the two are dressed and the station wagon parked so close to the edge of the cliff. When the state police become involved they find even more odd things. While one of the victims is a stranger to the area, the other is a young man staying at the music camp. It seems more than a little odd that these two would be stunt diving together.

Ellie is in a good position to investigate which as a newspaper reporter she is inclined to do. Ellie has spent time in the area most of her life and knows many of the people who are staying at the nearby arts camp. She also has an uncanny ability to snoop out the truth.

This is the fourth Ellie Stone book and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I like the mystery presented in Heart of Stone a great deal. I also enjoyed Ellie on vacation, away from her job. On the other hand, the author has a tendency to be overly wordy. In the previous books, I found that this added to the atmosphere of the book. It gave the books a feel of more substance. It seemed to me that  in this book he ramped up the wordage even more. More than once I wanted to shout, “just get on with it!”  The overuse of language was just annoying.

In spite of the language, it is still Ellie Stone who is a most likable protagonist. I would recommend the book and hope that Ziskin can curb the need to use more words when fewer will suffice.

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

Book Review: After the Fire by Henning Mankell

After the Fire
Henning Mankell
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Vintage Books, October 31, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-5254-3508-2
Trade Paperback

Henning Mankell, who died in 2015, capped a distinguished career with this follow-up to Italian Shoes, in which Frederik Welin, a disgraced surgeon, was the principal character, as he is in After the Fire.  In  each novel, Welin looks deeply into his present as a lone resident on an island in the Swedish archipelago, living in his boyhood home built by his grandfather, as well as dredging up past memories.

The major difference between the two novels, however, is in the later book, his house burns down, apparently by arson (of which he is suspected) while he is asleep and narrowly escapes death.  Previously, Welin was content to live quietly, taking a daily dip in the sea, even if he had to cut a hole in the ice with an axe to do so.  Following the destruction of his home, things change.  When a female journalist visits to write a story about the event, it awakens sexual hope in the 70-year-old retired doctor, but to develop into only a close friendship.  At the same time,  his somewhat strained relationship with his daughter changes for the better.

In other words, the consequences of the house being reduced to ashes forces Welin to approach life differently, accepting life (and death) as it is, rather than as was his attitude toward it in the past.  His introspection leads him to develop a more practical approach to his relationships.

Mankell has here written a superlatively insightful look into a man’s mind.  While, perhaps, better known for his Kurt Wallender mysteries, Mankell has here added another well-written and -thought-out novel to a long list of other books he penned.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2017.

Book Review: Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork

Disappeared
Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-94447-2
Hardcover

Existence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico requires a combination of courage, vigilance and restraint.  The typical work-day commute equals exposure to potential harassment and harm.  Truly dangerous, totally unavoidable.  Students don’t have the luxury of focusing on academics or sports.  Families need financial support.

Emiliano attends his high school classes and participates on his soccer team, but he focuses on family and ‘his’ Jiparis.  Intelligent, innovative and driven, Emiliano creates a small business of collecting hand-made folk art from his pseudo-Mexican-Boy Scouts, which he sells to small shops. The Jiparis’ families receive the bulk of proceeds, of course, but Emiliano’s cut helps at home and his business has been noticed.

A journalist with El Sol, Emiliano’s sister writes a weekly column about the city’s missing girls.  Sara had shared her own story of loss, writing of the day her best friend was kidnapped.  Friends and family members of other missing girls responded to her article, and Sara was assigned a weekly column.  After reporting progress, Sara was stunned when she was ordered to drop the investigation and the article.

Emiliano becomes acquainted with several of the city’s successful businessmen and his views seem to shift.  Hard work is nothing without the willingness to get “a little dirty”.  A person can only truly move up, in this world, when illegal activity is going down.  Clearly, everyone is doing it; but it takes Emiliano time to realize how closely it is all connected.

Mr. Stork deftly displays the complexities of life in Mexico, even as he highlights the hope, strength, determination and compassion in the people that call it home.  Disappeared is a fictional story about Mexico’s missing girls, but the fact is, hundreds of Mexican women do disappear in this border city every year.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

Book Review: Cast Iron by Peter May

Cast Iron
An Enzo Macleod Investigation #6
Peter May
Quercus, October 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4161-0
Hardcover

This is the sixth and final book in the Enzo Files series, and it is a worthy addition indeed.

From the publisher:  In 1989, a killer dumped the body of twenty-year-old Lucie Martin into a picturesque lake in the west of France.  Fourteen years later, during a summer heat wave, a drought exposed her remains – – bleached bones amid the scorching mud and slime.  No one was ever convicted of her murder.  But now, forensic expert Enzo Macleod is reviewing this stone-cold case – – the toughest of the seven he has been challenged to solve.  But when Enzo finds a flaw in the original evidence surrounding Lucie’s murder, he opens a Pandora’s Box that not only raises old ghosts but also endangers his entire family.  The challenge was from a Parisian journalist, Roger Raffin, who told Enzo that his skills would be insufficient to solve these very cold cases, including that of his [Raffin’s] wife.   Candor makes me admit that all of the nearly interchangeable relationships in the novel at times confused this reader, what with the various characters’ relationships with each other, both parental and marital.

Time frames range from the time of Lucie’s murder in 1989 in the book’s Prologue to the discovery of the bones of the victim in the summer of 2003 on the 1st page of Chapter 1,  to the concluding chapter in the Spring of 2012, with p.o.v. initially being that of Enzo but soon nearly alternating with that of Sophie, Enzo’s daughter, and Bertrand, her lover.  The question of the identity of Lucie’s murderer, as well as that of Pierre Lambert, a significant character in the tale, is not resolved until very nearly the end of the novel, as well as “the enigma that is Regis Blanc,” thought initially to have killed many (all?) of the many victims enumerated here. Macleod explores the possibility that Lucie was murdered by a man she met while doing social work with recently released felons, on one of whom Enzo focuses: But Enzo has so much personal baggage to wrap up – – the vindictive ex-wife, the uncertain paternities, the infidelities, his new girlfriend – – enough to negatively influence his investigation.  The frequently [and wonderfully] poetic writing, combined with the suspense wrought by the author, makes this a highly recommended read.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2017.

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.