Book Review: Red Tide by Jeff Lindsay

Red TideRed Tide
A Billy Knight Thriller #2
Jeff Lindsay
Diversion Publishing, October 2015
ISBN 978-1626817210
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Billy Knight wants to ride out Key West’s slow-season with the occasional charter and the frequent beer. But when he discovers a dead body floating in the gulf, Billy gets drawn into a deadly plot of dark magic and profound evil. Along with his spiritually-attuned terrier of a friend, Nicky, and Anna, a resilient and mysterious survivor of her own horrors, Billy sets out to right the wrongs the police won’t, putting himself in mortal peril on the high seas.

The mood is somber in the opening pages of Red Tide as Billy’s charter boat business is down in a slow economy, his girlfriend is drifting away from what seems to be a moribund relationship and he spends his afternoons in the morose company of a bunch of diehard barsitters. Things get worse when Billy picks a fight in the bar, landing himself and said girlfriend, Nancy, in the Key West jail. In the drunk tank, Billy meets a rich kid named Rick Pearl who will show up in Billy’s life later but he’s probably seen the last of Nancy.

So begins the second in the Billy Knight series following Tropical Depression which was first published more than 20 years ago and re-issued this past August. Red Tide itself is new and may or may not lead to more stories featuring Billy, a retired cop relocated from Los Angeles to Key West, a world away from his past.

While the plot is done quite well, it’s the characters that really appealed to me, and not just Billy who’s kind of a romantic at heart and a man who’d rather leave the detecting life behind but can’t help himself. I also have become very fond of his annoying friend, Nicky, who is as hyper as they come, no more than five feet tall, and determined to rescue Billy from his own unhappiness.

In this entry, Billy finds himself involved with the Haitian refugee problem and a touch of voodoo but it’s a woman named Anna who gives him reason to investigate when the police have no interest in the dead body he and his wacky pal, Nicky, found in the Gulf. Following leads in Miami, Billy soon learns that human trafficking has come too close to home and he’s soon in pursuit of a mysterious ship on the high seas.

Lindsay’s Dexter series has had its fans—in droves—as well as its detractors—also in droves. After all, not everyone has a taste for serial killers and those books are rather gruesome at times. Readers who’ve avoided Dexter should give Billy a try as these books are much more in the private investigator vein (but a bit on the dark side) and Billy himself is a likeable guy with a dry sense of humor that lightens the mood now and then. In fact, this is a story that nicely blends a typical thriller with adventure, some humor and an interesting mystery. I’m a Dexter fan but I’ve also come to like Billy and I do hope Mr. Lindsay will give us more.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

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An Excerpt from Red Tide

Miami has this problem with its boaters. Some of them are still sane, rational, careful people—perhaps as many as three or four out of every ten thousand of them. The rest act like they escaped from the asylum, drank a bottle of vodka, snorted an ounce of coke, ate 25 or 30 downers and decided to go for a spin. Homicidal, sociopathic maniacs, wildly out of control, with not a clue that other people are actually alive, and interested in keeping it that way. To them, other boats are targets. They get in the boat knowing only two speeds: fast and blast-off.

I mentioned a few of these things to the boats that tried to kill me. I don’t think they could hear me over the engine roar. One of the boats had four giant outboard motors clamped on the back; 250 horsepower each, all going at full throttle no more than six inches from Sligo. If I had put the boom out I would have beheaded the boat’s driver. He might not have noticed.

“To get a driver’s license,” I said to Nicky through gritted teeth, “you have to be sixteen, take a test, and demonstrate minimal skill behind the wheel.”

Nicky was busy fumbling on a bright orange life jacket, fingers trembling, and swearing under his breath.

“To drive a boat—which is just as fast, bigger, and in conditions just as crowded and usually more hazardous—you have to be able to start the motor. That’s all. Just start the motor. There’s something wrong with this picture, Nicky.”

“There is, mate,” he said. “We’re in it. Can you get us out of here?”

My luck was working overtime. We had four more close scrapes—one with a huge Italian-built motor yacht that was 100 feet long, cruising down the center of the channel at a stately thirty knots, but I got us out of the channel alive and undamaged. When I cleared the last two markers and turned into the wind I told Nicky, “Okay. Raise the sails.”

He stared at me for a moment. “Sure. Of course. How?”

It turned out Nicky had never been on a sailboat before. So he held the tiller while I went forward to the mast and ran the sails up. Then I jumped back into the cockpit and killed the engine.

“Home, James,” said Nicky, popping two beers and handing me one. “It’s been a bitch of a morning.”

I took the beer and pointed our bow south.

It was a near-perfect day, with a steady, easy wind coming from the east. We sailed south at a gentle five knots, staring at the scenery. Cape Florida looked strange, embarrassed to be naked. All its trees had been stripped away by the hurricane. Farther south, the stacks of Turkey Point Nuclear Reactor stuck up into the air, visible for miles. It was a wonderful landmark for all the boaters. Just steer thataway, Ray Bob, over there towards all them glowing fishes.

• • •

The weather held. We made it down through the Keys in easy stages, staying the first two nights in small marinas along the way, rising at dawn for a lazy breakfast in the cockpit, then casting off and getting the sails up as quickly as possible. Part of the pure joy of the trip was in the sound of the wind and the lack of any kind of machine noise. We’d agreed to do without the engine whenever we could.

That turned out to be most of the time. Nicky took to sailing quickly and without effort. We fell into the rhythm of the wind and the waves so easily, so naturally, that it was like we had been doing this forever, and would keep doing it until one day we were too old and dry and simply blew gently over the rail, wafted away on a wave.

The third night we could have made it in to Key West. But we would have been docking in the dark, and working a little harder than we wanted to. So we pulled in to a small marina with plenty of time left before sunset.

Nicky used the time doing what he called rustling up grub. I don’t know if that’s how they say it in Australia, or if he heard it in some old John Wayne movie. From what he’d told me about Australia, there’s not much difference.

I sat in the cockpit with a beer, stretched out under the blue Bimini top, and waited for Nicky to get back. I had a lot to think about, so I tried not to. But my thoughts were pretty well centered on Nancy.

It was over. It wasn’t over. I should do something. I should let it take its course. It wasn’t too late. It had been too late for months. Eeny meeny miny mo.

Luckily, Nicky came back before I went completely insane. He was clutching a bag of groceries and two more six packs of beer.

“Ahoy the poop,” he shouted. “How ’bout a hand, mate?”

I got him safely aboard and he went below to the little kitchen. It sounded like he was trying to put a hole in the hull with an old stop sign while singing comic opera, so I stayed in the cockpit, watching the sun sink and thinking my thoughts.

There is something very special about sunset in a marina. All the people in their boats have done something today. They have risked something and achieved something, and it gives them all a pleasant smugness that makes them very good company at happy hour. A few hours later the people off the big sports fishermen will be loud obnoxious drunks and the couples in their small cruising sailboats will be snarling at them self-righteously from their Birkenstocks, but at sunset they are all brothers and sisters and there are very few places in the world better for watching the sun go down than from the deck of a boat tied safely in a marina after a day on the water.

I sipped a beer. I felt good, too, although my mind kept circling back to Nancy, and every time it did my mood lurched downwards. But it’s hard to feel bad on a sailboat. That’s one reason people still sail.

Anyway, tomorrow we would be home. I could worry about it then.

Early the next morning we were working our way towards Key West, about two miles off shore on the ocean side. We had decided on the ocean side because of the mild weather. With the prevailing wind from the east, we would have a better sail on the outside, instead of in the calmer waters of the Gulf on the inside of the Keys.

And because the weather was so mild, we went out a little further than usual. Nicky was curious about the Gulf Stream, which runs close to the Keys. I put us onto its edge, and by early afternoon we were only a few miles out of Key West.

Nicky had dragged up his black plastic box and, surprise, pulled out a large handgun.

Like a lot of other foreigners who settle in the USA, Nicky had become a gun nut. He was not dangerous, or no more dangerous than he was at the dinner table. In fact he had become an expert shot and a fast draw. The fast draw part had seemed important to him out of all proportion to how much it really mattered. I put it down to the horrors of growing up a runt in Australia.

Somehow Nicky managed to rationalize his new love for guns with his philosophy of All-Things-Are-One brotherhood. “Simple, mate,” he’d said with a wink, “I’m working out a past life karmic burden.”

“Horseshit.”

“All right then, I just like the bloody things. How’s that?”

Nicky had a new gun. He wanted to fire off a few clips and get the feel of it. Since we were out in the Stream and the nearest boat was almost invisible on the horizon, I didn’t see any reason why not. So Nicky shoved in a clip and got ready to fire his lovely new toy.

It was a nine millimeter Sig Sauer, an elegant and expensive weapon that Nicky needed about as much as he needed a Sharp’s buffalo rifle, but he had it and so far he hadn’t blown off his foot with it. I was hoping he would stay lucky.

“Ahoy, mate,” called Nicky, pointing the gun off to the south, “thar she blows.”

I turned to follow his point. A bleach bottle was sailing slowly out into the Gulf Stream.

“Come on,” Nicky urged, “pedal to the metal, mate.”

I tightened the main sheet and turned the boat slightly to give him a clear shot and Nicky opened up. He fired rapidly and well. The bleach bottle leaped into the air and he plugged it twice more before it came down again. He sent it flying across the water until the clip was empty and the bottle, full of holes, started to settle under.

I chased down the bottle and hooked it out with a boathook before it sank from sight. There’s enough crap in the ocean. Nicky was already shoving in a fresh clip.

“Onward, my man,” he told me, slamming home the clip and letting out a high, raucous, “Eeee-HAH!” as he opened a new beer. We were moving out further than we should have, maybe, out into the Gulf Stream. It’s easy to know when you’re there. You see a very abrupt color change, which is just what it sounds like: the water suddenly changes from a gunmetal green to a luminous blue. The edge where the change happens is as hard and startling as a knife-edge.

“Ahoy, matey,” Nicky called again, pointing out beyond the color change, and I headed out into the Gulf Stream for the new target. “Coconut!” Nicky called with excitement as we got closer. It was his favorite target. He loved the way they exploded when he hit them dead on.

I made the turn, adjusting the sheet line and again presenting our broadside, and swiveled my head to watch.

Nicky was already squinting. His hand wavered over the black nylon holster clipped to his belt. He let his muscles go slack and ready. I stared at the coconut. From fifty yards it suddenly looked wrong. The color was almost right, a greyish brown, and the dull texture seemed to fit, but—

“Hang on, Nicky,” I said, “Just a second—”

But the first two shots were already smacking away, splitting the sudden quiet.

I shoved the tiller hard over and brought us into the wind. The boat lurched and made Nicky miss his second shot. He looked at me with an expression of annoyance. I nodded at his target. He had hit the coconut dead center with the first shot. It should have leapt out of the water in a spectacular explosion. It hadn’t. The impact of the shot pushed it slowly, sluggishly through the water and we could both see it clearly now.

It wasn’t a coconut. Not at all. It was a human head.

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About the Author

Jeff LindsayJeff Lindsay is the award-winning author of the seven New York Times bestselling Dexter novels upon which the international hit TV show Dexter is based. His books appear in more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies around the world. Jeff is a graduate of Middlebury College, Celebration Mime Clown School, and has a double MFA from Carnegie Mellon. Although a full-time writer now, he has worked as an actor, comic, director, MC, DJ, singer, songwriter, composer, musician, story analyst, script doctor, and screenwriter.

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Book Review: Murder with Ganache by Lucy Burdette

Murder with GanacheMurder With Ganache 
A Key West Food Critic Mystery, Book 4       
Lucy Burdette
Obsidian, February 2014
ISBN: 978-0-451-46589-4
Mass Market Paperback

Haley Snow is the multi-tasking, scooter-ing food critic for a Key West periodical called Key Zest. Besides her job, checking out restaurant fare on the island at the foot of the nation, she dodges killers, manages to avoid calamity among her divorced parents, and tries to manage her best friend’s impending wedding.

In addition to all that she has to ride herd on her own potentially emotional entanglements with her boss at the magazine while dodging a vengeful investor. Readers get a good look at one of the most idiosyncratic communities in the nation, and, in this book, a clutch of almost dysfunctional relatives.

Haley and her mother are good friends, but when Haley’s best buddy decides to get married on a Key West beach, trouble, in the form of a teen-aged half-brother, and somewhat estranged relations who show up for the wedding inevitably follows. Then the kid disappears. Domestic crises run the gamut from mild disengagement to full-throated meddling and accusations of various malfeasances. It’s all a bit much. Meanwhile, cats mutilate a batch of cupcakes destined for the wedding reception.

It all gets sorted out in the end, but the plot wanders a bit too much for my taste, there are too many trying relatives and every so often some less than vital facts get distorted. I have always enjoyed Burdette’s writing and plotting, but I had a persistent feeling that this one was rushed into print lacking a bit of the author’s usual meticulous attention to detail.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: A Well-Respected Dead Man by Tricia Allen and Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

A Well-Respected Dead ManA Well-Respected Dead Man      
Tricia Allen
Five Star, August 2003
ISBN 0786254416
Hardcover

Former prosecutor, David Weather, member of a prominent Dallas family, is living in hard times. Suspected corruption in his family has lead to his dismissal from the prosecutor’s office. Now, long time family friend and area gambling ruler, Willie Peabody, is dead, murdered, and David is a prime suspect.

The story, replete with unusual twists and turns and a truly clever resolution, is set against a real-life Texas disaster. In 1947, a ship docked at the Texas City seaport catches fire. Inadequate fire-fighting resources fail to stop the fire and when the freighter Grandcamp explodes, the real disaster is instant and widespread. From all over Texas, help and the curious flood to the seacoast. Meanwhile, as the line goes, back at the ranch….

Author Tricia Allen, in her second novel, has fashioned a real ripsnorter, populated with incredible, bizarre and wonderful creatures, not the least of which is Weather’s family. Grudges, feuding criminals, missing bank robbery money and Texas-style politics are judiciously blended by the author to make this a clever, enthralling novel. As big as all of Texas and twice as complex, where dead thugs are almost as revered as politicians.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Bad MonkeyBad Monkey
Carl Hiaasen
Alfred A. Knopf, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-27259-1
Hardcover

Here we have a crime novel from an established writer who demonstrates a tendency to aim well-considered darts at various and sundry established elements of our society, such as Medicare. In most cases, the author’s aim appears to be true, but he’s using a scatter-gun approach. Sometimes less is more. The novel has a simple plot at its core. A scammer who has taken the federal government for millions of dollars through a fairly elegant illegal operation in south Florida hangs it up when the Feds inquire begin to close in. His method of avoiding arrest is bizarre to say the least.

Meanwhile a reasonably competent Key West detective named Andrew Yancy, now demoted to restaurant inspector, formerly of the Miami Police Department, is tasked by the local sheriff to dispose of a human arm, brought up by a fishing boat off the keys. Seems like a simple task, right? Unfortunately for various law enforcement agencies in South Florida and the Bahama Islands, Yancy thinks there’s something fishy about the arm. And in spite of the distraction of a plethora of pulchritudinous, sexually available women, throwing themselves at Yancy’s feet he soldiers on, determined to bring a murderer to justice and get back his detective’s shield.

Hiaasen is a wonderful writer. He generates a rolling thunder of forward movement and then chucks a nasty wrench into the works that sends the story off in a seemingly totally different direction. He is clever and inventive. Yes, of course there are crimes, including murders and there are many strange and sometimes wonderful characters, effectively used—mostly—by the author to illuminate his concerns about the social milieu which he observes in often minute detail. Reading this book put me off restaurant meals for at least a week.

Yes, there is a monkey. A pet Capuchin, ill-trained, ill-mannered  and possessed of the worst temper and too many anti-social “skills.” The novel is by turns sweet, acidulous, slow, nasty, dark, hilarious, and confusing. Sometimes the pacing and cleverness are enough to take your breath away. Bad Monkey is essential Hiaasen.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Topped Chef by Lucy Burdette

Topped ChefTopped Chef
A Key West Food Critic Mystery
Lucy Burdette
Obsidian/Penguin Group, May 2013
ISBN: 9780451239709
Mass Market Paperback

Murder and felonious maneuverings behind the scenes of a cable TV cooking show, set on one of the more exotic Florida Islands, plus some tasty recipes, and what more could you want for a delightful summer read?

Lucy Burdette, the veteran crime novelist she is, has produced another tasty offering. Even the often tongue-in-cheek epigrams feed the fun. Haley Snow, budding food critic has a job with a struggling Key West magazine called Key Zest. Reviewing restaurant meals is never an easy assignment and in Key West where local opinions on almost anything can run fast and hot, restaurant reports can be easy targets. Haley’s boss signs her up to be a judge on a nascent reality TV cooking show. The program, called “Topped Chef”, has the potential to make the featured chef a wealthy star, so tension is high.

Then murder intervenes when one of the judges is found dead in rather bizarre circumstances. Reluctantly, although she is a bit of a nosy gossip, Haley probes the circumstances of the murder while still trying to maintain some semblance of neutrality as the judging progresses and the program is videotaped. Haley Snow is not cast in the mold of a Sam Spade, she doesn’t own a gun and has to rely on her wits most times. She gets around town on a motor scooter. The novel is peopled with gender-shifting, cross-dressing, homeless and even some tourists of questionable attitudes. They all add to the fun and the pulsing rhythms of the tourist mecca that is Key West.

Consider the title of the novel which can be read in at least three ways, possibly more. The title is either a clue to the solution or a flaming red herring. Readers will have to decide. Then go on to consider the names of some of the characters, Turtle, Sam Rizzoli, Randy, Peter, and so on. The novel is clean, smoothly written, from the capable hands of an excellent writer. As an added bonus there are several tasty recipes in the back of the book. Well done, I say, well done.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan, How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner, and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Livia J. Washburn

The Fear Artist
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2012
ISBN No. 978-1616951122
Hardcover

Poke Rafferty’s wife, Rose, has taken their daughter Miaow out of town to visit Rose’s mother.  Poke is left to his own devices and decides to paint the apartment while they are gone. But Poke has a lot of hoops to jump through before he gets the apartment painted.  As he exits the paint store a large man runs into him and lands on top of him. As Poke struggles to get up he sees that the man has been shot.  Before he dies the man whispers three words to Poke.  The words have no meaning to Poke but he soon realizes that other people are very concerned about what the man whispered.  They suspect that Poke has information about something, but he is clueless.

Thai secret agents interrogate Poke, but he has nothing to tell. He is released only to find that his apartment has been ransacked.  Next thing he knows he is accused of murdering the man from the street.  Poke goes into hiding and is determined to discover the identity of the man and the meaning of the whispered message.  This time as Poke searches for answers he has to go it alone.  Fearing for his wife and daughter, he orders them to stay away from Bangkok until he can find a way to dig out of the hole he finds himself in.

Tragic things that happened in the past all come to light as Poke finally goes after the person responsible for not only the death of the man in the street but for many more tragedies. The final confrontation makes for an exciting and terrifying conclusion.

I love the Bangkok series and find it very difficult to pick a favorite.  The characters are strong and the reader will either love them or hate them.  Even though I’ve just finished The Fear Artist, I can’t wait for the next addition to the series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2012.

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How To Party With A Killer Vampire
(A Party Planning Mystery)

Penny Warner
Obsidian, October 2011
ISBN No. 978-0451235015
Mass Market Paperback

Where is the best place to hold a film wrap party for producer Lucas Cruz?  The film is a vampire parody and party planner Presley Parker manages to wheel, deal, and line up a cemetery for the party.  Not everyone would be brave enough to throw a party in a cemetery but Presley thinks it is the ideal location.

The day before the party is to take place Presley runs into a group of young people practicing the art of Parkour.  Parkour includes vaulting, running, jumping and climbing around obstacles and a cemetery offers plenty of obstacles.

Presley warns the group that they are trespassing but this does not seem to bother them at all.  The next morning the body of one of the participants in Parkour is found in the cemetery.  This does not bode well for Presley’s party.  Presley begins her own investigation and soon has plenty of suspects but before she narrows the suspects down more violence occurs.

Presley has a strong and persistent character that drives her to jump into situations that she should leave to the police but she does tend to get to the bottom of the story in her determined manner.  Following the clues, she makes some wrong turns but eventually winds up with the correct answer but not without putting herself in danger.

The characters in the book are fun and make for a fast read.  Each chapter begins with a tip on how to host your own Vampire party.  The book also offers a sneak peek at the next Party Planning Mystery.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, December 2011.

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For Whom the Funeral Bell Tolls
Livia J. Washburn
CreateSpace, February 2012
ISBN No. 978-1470050306
Also available as an ebook in multiple formats

A trip to Key West and a stay at the Brandenton Beach Resort is the latest on Delilah Dickinson Literary Tours.  Fans of Ernest Hemingway were all looking forward to an adventurous vacation but no one, not even Delilah Dickinson, had any idea just how adventurous this trip would turn out to be.

The participants on the tour were a diversified group and some had something more than Hemingway on their mind.  Luke, Delilah’s son-in-law and assistant, comes along on the tour and does his best to help Delilah keep everyone under control.

Walter Harvick who is on the tour alone feels that he knows more about Hemingway than the author knew about himself and does not hesitate to let everyone know that he is an expert.  He even goes so far as to start a fight in “Sloppy Joe’s”, a bar with the same name as the bar that Hemingway was known to frequent.

Delilah found the owner of Brandenton Beach Resort to be an attractive single man and was dividing her time between keeping the tour guests to the schedule, flirting with the new man in her life and keeping Walter out of trouble.

The juggling act was working out pretty well until Doris Horton and Julia Dunn, two widows on the tour, happened to find a body on the beach as they took an early morning stroll.   It would appear that the victim had committed suicide.  The police investigation put a halt to the activities of the tour group but not to Delilah and her curiosity about the death and whether or not it was really a suicide or murder.

Washburn writes an interesting story with some good information about the Key West area.  The characters are interesting and the ending is a surprise.  Readers are sure to enjoy Livia Washburn’s travel agent series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2012.