Book Review: Mercy’s Chase by Jess Lourey

Mercy’s Chase
A Salem’s Cipher Novel #2
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5755-1
Hardcover

I became a fan of Jess Lourey’s series last year when I was privileged to review Salem’s Cipher. Salem Wiley, half-Persian, half-Irish, agoraphobic genius whose special talent is cracking ciphers and codes so difficult even the most sophisticated computer programs can’t do it, is now working for the FBI. She’s also perfecting a special computer program of her own, one that plays an important role in this story.

Posted to England, Salem’s first fieldwork comes when tasked with investigating a mysterious, and very old, miniature copy of Stonehenge an Irish farmer lady has found. What is it’s meaning? Is it something to do with the Order, a group of men with an unlimited desire for wealth and power? Or does it concern the women whom since ancient times have had to hide their own wealth and intellectual property from these men?

In the previous novel, Salem became a sort of guardian to a young girl, Mercy, when the girl’s brother was murdered helping Salem. She cares deeply for the child, and when Mercy is kidnapped and threatened with death, Salem is pitted against some of the worst the Order has to offer in a quest to discover the origins of Stonehenge..

The story will keep you guessing. Who can be trusted and who cannot is another cipher Salem must solve, and the answers may come as a surprise. Meanwhile, Salem grows in both her intellectual strength and her psyche as she fights her own fears to save Mercy. Recommended.

Action-packed, great writing taut with suspense, an appealing main character to root for–who could ask for anything more?

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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Book Review: Baby’s First Felony by John Straley

Baby’s First Felony
A Cecil Younger Investigation #7
John Straley
Soho Crime, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-878-7
Hardcover

Baby’s First Felony brings back Cecil Younger and the wonderful setting of Sitka, Alaska.  Before even starting the book, I would strongly urge readers to turn to the end and read through the A Guide to Avoiding a Life in Crime. The rules as outlined are referenced frequently, so you might want to keep a book mark there as well.

Cecil is called to the jail to arrange bail for a client who asks that he go pick up a box containing things that will prove her innocence which she left with friends. Two things about this cause Cecil angst. First, the box contains money. Lots of money. And secondly the place she left the box is the house where a friend of Cecil’s daughter’s friend is now living and a place that his daughter Blossom has run off to when her mother gets on her nerves. But that is just the beginning of Cecil’s problems. There are drugs, a kidnapping and a murder to contend with causing Cecil to break nearly every one of his rules as outlined in the book.

Along with the criminal plot is an interesting side story involving the use of humor as therapy for autism leading the book to be packed with jokes as told by Todd, the sort of adopted son of Cecil. Some of these are really pretty funny. There is a very brief note at the end of the book lending credence to this as a real therapy. This also brings in the very real issue of who has a right to post someone’s comments on line.

It has been a very long time since the last of the Cecil Younger book was published so it was especially fun to catch up with Cecil and life in Sitka, Alaska.  Perhaps an odd benefit of the long delay in bringing Cecil back to print is that it gives readers new to the series a chance to jump in as Baby’s First Felony does not rely on past plots and Straley does an excellent job of giving readers what little back story is necessary. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more Cecil very soon.

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

Book Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-06-243185-1
Trade Paperback

This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Dark, moving, at times excruciating, the pain author Burley evokes from his characters is a palpable presence through the entire novel. One wonders how many readers have ever been faced with the community disdain and rejection based, not on race, but on more common attributes. And a reader wonders what the response might have been.

In Cottonwood, California, multiple unexpected deaths are occurring. The family of Michael and Kate McCray are beginning to feel isolation as it grows, the odd looks, the loss of friendly interactions, the murmurs behind their backs. McCray is a valued teacher at the local high school. He and Kate have two sons, Danny and Sean. Danny, the youngest, is the focus of the growing community concern. He doesn’t speak. At all.

Kate is becoming ill and the doctors are worried but non-committal. The novel moves smoothly back and forth in time which can at times confuse a reader, but the technique works extremely well to heighten the tension and overall feeling of dread.

One evening, Michael drives the boys to a nearby convenience store and with a startling suddenness the tension rises. The boys are kidnapped. The rest of the story concerns the police attempts to find the boys and rescue them, Kate’s accelerating deterioration, and the rising suspicions from the community.

Ultimately, of course, there are resolutions, nearly all of which are unforeseen and startling in their placement and evolution. Enthralling, mesmerizing and surprising, a dark, moving thought-provoking experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2018.
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: Murder on the Left Bank by Cara Black

Murder on the Left Bank
An Aimée Leduc Investigation #18
Cara Black
Soho Crime, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-927-2
Hardcover

When a dying man shows up in Eric’s offices asking for help to right wrongs of the past by delivering a ledger to authorities, against his better judgment Eric agrees to help. Really his task is pretty simple. He would have his nephew deliver the ledger to the designated person and that would be the extent of his involvement. But from the beginning things go wrong. The nephew was on his way to meet his girlfriend so instead of making the delivery, he hid the ledger and went to meet his girlfriend.  They were attacked and the nephew was killed. The room was tossed, but the ledger wasn’t found,  Now Eric wants his nephew’s murders found and the notebook delivered.

Aimée Leduc has more than enough to keep her busy between raising her daughter as a single parent and running her private investigation business. After her father’s death, Aimée pledged to stick to cyber crimes and security problems, but when Eric Besson shows up in her office seeking help locating a missing ledger which may contain information that would implicate her now deceased father she is drawn into another dangerous case.

Aimée tracks down the surviving girlfriend and numerous other people who might have insight as to the ledger’s location. Before long, she realizes she is being followed putting everyone she speaks to in danger. It was when it became clear that her own daughter was now fair game to those seeking the ledger that Aimée agrees to have her daughter’s father and Aimée’s estranged mother whisk her daughter away for safety.

There is a high body count in the book but in the end, things work out and Aimée finds out a little bit more about her father’s life in the police.

This was one of my favorite books in the series so far.

Aimée Leduc returns in Murder on the Left Bank, the eighteenth book in the series.  Readers who have followed Aimée from the beginning must be pleased with how the series has evolved over the years keeping the stories fresh. For readers who have never sampled the series, Murder on the Left Bank is a fine place to start. There is a back story, but readers are given enough to not feel left behind.  Either way, enjoy!

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

Book Review: Judgment of Murder by C.S. Challinor

Judgment of Murder
A Rex Graves Mystery #8
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5009-5
Trade paperback

For a mystery, this British entry into the field is so low key that I think even I might have a more exciting life. Scottish barrister Rex Graves’ old mentor, Lord Murgatroyd–also known as Judge Murder, has passed away. Phoebe, his daughter, thinks he may have been murdered, although the evidence is flimsy. An unlocked window? A not very valuable stamp album gone missing? None of it seems very convincing, but Rex travels from Edinburgh to Canterbury upon her invitation to see what he makes of the situation.

Not much, as it turns out. But he makes a few phone calls when he gets back to Edinburgh, and oddly enough, is put in danger by a man the judge had put in prison, but who has been released.

Meanwhile, a schoolgirl from the area has been kidnapped and is feared dead. It happened not far from the judge’s house, and is a subplot that runs through the story. Actually, it’s the most interesting part, as the characters in this story did not intrigue me, nor were they particularly sympathetic. The most interesting is Rex’s pal Alistair, who also has the most action. Turns out the judge’s daughter is a tippler and a would-be man eater, not that that sort of thing works on a man like Rex.

The dialogue seemed mundane to me, and old-fashioned in the extreme for people who carry mobile phones and drive a Jaguar, but it does get the job done. In the climax, all the ends are tied, the plot holes explained, and everyone gets their due.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Price of Vengeance by James R. Scarantino

The Price of Vengeance
A Denise Aragon Novel #3
James R. Scarantino
Midnight Ink, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5067-5
Trade Paperback

In this third book in the Denise Aragon series, the tough-as-nails Santa Fe police detective runs up against an unscrupulous United States Senator Sam Baca Valles. His family is being held hostage by Peter Cervantes, a contractor who blames the senator for the death of his two sons, by supporting political schemes.  Cervantes believes Valles is one of those people who make decisions other people pay for while he lives a comfortable life at a safe distance. Aragon had dinner with Cervantes and was overheard saying “take him out,” regarding the senator. She meant that Valles should be ousted in the next election, but that comment brought her to the attention of the FBI. The federal agents believe she is withholding information about Cervantes, and she is considered an accomplice to the kidnapping.

Aragon’s dislike of the senator goes back twenty years.  She knew Valles and his wife Patricia in college—Valles raped her friend who died shortly thereafter in a suspicious hiking accident. She has always blamed him for her death.

Valles, an opportunist who never misses a chance to make himself look good, has gathered a team around him to manipulate the kidnapping to fashion himself as a hero. He plans to rush to the house in an effort to save his family, only to be turned back. He considers having an FBI agent shoot him to add veracity to his effort, while leaving his wife and two sons to the kidnapper.

While Aragon is on another case, hunting for the killer of a Boy Scout, she discovers a meth lab, and she is seriously hurt while arresting the killers—she has no feeling in her legs. When she discovers that the FBI considers her a suspect in the Valles case, she starts her own investigation from her hospital bed.

The Santa Fe setting of this series is spectacular and is the perfect backdrop for the tough detective. Readers who enjoy a main character with nerves of steel and hidden depths, like J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas or Ann Cleeve’s Vera Stanhope, should meet up with Denise Aragon.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.

Book Review: The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Traitor’s Game
The Traitor’s Game, Book One
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-04537-6
Hardcover

Abruptly abandoning her beloved Lava Fields, based solely on a demand from her paternal parental unit, is aggravating. The fact that it’s been three years and no reason was given for the reunion, is infuriating. When Kestra’s security carriage is attacked on the journey home, she flips from frustrated to fiercely furious, forgetting all about fear.

Certainly, the people of Antora have a healthy respect for that anger. After all, her father is second in command to Lord Endrick. Those who actually know the scrappy, skilled teen are more realistically wary of her wrath. The band of rebels, however, has too much at stake and too pat a plan to be thwarted.

Kestra is kidnapped. Her guard and governess held as collateral.

One captor poses as her lady-in-waiting, the other her driver and Kestra is taken into Highwyn and tasked with finding the Olden Blade to overthrow evil Lord Endrick. No one actually knows that the magic dagger exists. If it does, and she is able to locate it; then she will have to determine how much, if any, of the legend is true. This seemingly insurmountable problem pales when Kestra realizes the reason for her return.

She is to be wed. Groom selected, arrangements made, the ceremony…stupidly soon. She has no say in the matter.

With several sticky situations to solve, and only a small window of time, the story flies faster than Lord Endrick’s condors. Along the way, secrets are revealed. Kestra begins to believe that she fell in love with the idea of her country, without ever knowing the realities of her world. Burdened by new knowledge, the difference between enemies and innocents becomes blurry, but she must choose someone to trust.

Kestra may be one of my favorite characters of all time. She is courageous, bold beyond belief and also positively petulant, with a tendency for tantrums. The perfect protagonist for this adventurous, action-packed fantasy. Mixed with a bit of magic, a completely captivating saga is created; a stellar start to a tempting trilogy (I’m guessing, here).

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.