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.

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Book Reviews: Ruff-Housed by Susan J. Kroupa and KIDNAP.org by Peg Herring

Ruff-Housed
A Doodlebugged Mystery #5
Susan J. Kroupa
Laurel Fork Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-9985700-0-6
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Sit. Stay. Be Polite with Strangers. What could be easier? That’s what Doodle thinks when Molly signs him up to take the Canine Good Citizen Test at the annual DogDays Fair. Compared to the certifications he has to pass for his job as a bed-bug sniffer dog for the “boss,” Molly’s father, this should be simple. But the test turns out to be no walk (or sit) in the park. Did he miss the memo about the explosions? And the stolen pets? While Molly and her friends investigate, another dog disappears, with repercussions that threaten the bonds of an entire family. Throw in a bullying neighbor and a chase across a squirrel-infested park near the White House, and Doodle begins to wonder if he and Molly have bitten off more than they can chew.

This mystery series is a bit of a hybrid. Aimed at children with its young sleuth, it can also appeal to adult readers who enjoy a decent puzzle, a curious and intelligent tween and a delightful dog. That dog, Doodle, actually narrates the story so it’s all from a doggy point of view, an approach that will remind fans of the Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn although this is more mildmannered, not as rambunctious.

Doodle works with Molly’s dad as a bedbug sniffer but, this time, Molly has entered him in a Good Citizen trial which should be a piece of cake for this smart dog. Besides his bedbug sniffing prowess, advancing through the Canine Good Citizen system could certify him as a therapy dog for rest homes which would be a really nice thing to do. Unfortunately, there’s an explosion of sorts at the test and that naturally gets everyone all riled up. Before it’s all said and done, Molly and Doodle, along with her friend, Grady, and his dog, Snippet, will get involved in all sorts of adventures including dognapping, lonely children, fanatic animal activists—you name it—and it’s all told by the funny and loveable Doodle. Anyone looking for an entertaining, fluffy (no pun intended) read will like Ruff-Housed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

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KIDNAP.org
Peg Herring
Peg Herring, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-944502-07-2
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Robin Parsons is in the middle of a very bad day when a neighbor calls to ask for her help. The socially inept Carter “accidentally” kidnapped a county official, and he doesn’t know what to do with the guy who is, Carter admits, “pretty mad” about it.

The man is a crook who cheated Carter’s dying mother, and when she hears the story, Robin is furious. What can she do to right the wrong and at the same time keep Carter out of prison? A plan comes to mind—a way to make the man admit he’s sleazy and agree to make amends. It’s weird, but it’s also satisfying.

So begins a secret quest for justice, paybacks for little guys who’ve been cheated, lied to, pushed around, and otherwise bamboozled by those with power and arrogance—those who say to their victims, “Life isn’t fair. Deal with it.”

Robin deals—in a (sort of) non-violent, proactive process they call KIDNAP.org.

Along the way she picks up a following, but it’s definitely not a gang of superheroes. Odd to the point of weirdness, the KIDNAP.org crew bonds as they take on the bullies of the world and work to right the wrongs done to them and others.

Though Robin’s “gang” is always just a step ahead of disaster, she can’t quit. And if she’s only a half-step ahead of the private investigator determined to track her down, a half-step will have to do.

Most of us have experienced those times when we’re at the mercy of others whether they be bureaucrats, petty bosses, officious academics, you name it. What those people inflict upon our sensibilities is 100% exacerbated by the annoyance and frustration of not being able to fight back so wouldn’t it be great if you could fight back or, better yet, get someone else to do it for you?

This is where Robin Parsons steps in, mainly because she wants to help a friend (keep him out of jail) and also get a little revenge for him; KIDNAP.org is born and, before too long, Robin picks up a few helpers, a “crew” if you will and there’s no shortage of cases for them to take on. It’s just a little tough to stay out of trouble but, my goodness, the results of their activities can be most satisfying.

We’re a group of citizens that has had it with crooks like you.

Too bad Robin and her cohorts are themselves committing crimes (not very proficiently) and, by the way, there’s a P.I. hot on Robin’s trail.

Peg Herring has a plethora of books and I have yet to find one I didn’t like, especially because, in some of them, she has an irreverent sense of humor but she can take a deeper look at the vicissitudes of life and has a sure hand at crafting a mystery. Now, technically, KIDNAP.org is a caper (think “Oceans 11”) rather than a mystery but it’s crime fiction nevertheless and I love the premise, sort of like the TV show “Leverage”. Yes, I admit it, I’ve had my moments when I might have hired KIDNAP.org myself 😉 Since I’ll probably never do such a thing, I’ll have to content myself with waiting for Ms. Herring‘s next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

Book Review: Fortune’s Fool by Albert A. Bell, Jr.

Fortune’s Fool
A Sixth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger
Albert A. Bell, Jr.
Perseverance Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-56474-587-3
Trade Paperback

In this mystery set in the first century AD, Pliny the Younger stumbles upon a mystery in his own villa at Lake Comum, at the foot of the Alps, in Italy.

Pliny has a long term relationship with his slave, Aurora. His wife suspects that there is something between them and demands that he marry Aurora off. He chooses a slave, Felix, who is older and served the same role in covering up a relationship between Pliny’s uncle and a slave, the union produced a son. Felix was castrated by a former master at age 16, a fact which is not known throughout the household. But Pliny neglects to inform Aurora until just before the wedding, and she is not pleased.

His wife Livia, was married before. Her first husband drowned in the lake, but his body was never found. Livia is displeased with the size of the rooms in this villa, so Pliny sets about to have a work crew demolish one of the walls, to add on two rooms. While the workers are breaking down the wall, they discover a skeleton. Who was this person and how did he or she die?

This is the sixth book in the series, and will fascinate mystery lovers with curiosity about the Roman Empire. The combination of history and culture is irresistible, and don’t let a lack of knowledge about the ancients deter you.  There is a glossary of terms in the back; also a cast of characters, both historical and fictional characters.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

Book Reviews: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker and The Eyes of Pharaoh by Chris Eboch

Emma in the Night
Wendy Walker
St. Martin’s Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-14143-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

When two sisters vanish one night, Cass watches the aftermath on TV, the interviews with her mother who, somehow, makes it all about herself. It has always been about Judy Martin and her need to be the center of attention is at the core of the emotional distance between the sisters. Given that distance, why were they both gone?

FBI forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters and Special Agent Leo Strauss worked the case when the girls disappeared three years ago and they’re drawn back in now that Cass has returned out of the blue. She has a strange tale to tell and there are inconsistencies but, of course, the big question is where is Emma? Were the two girls together all those years or not? The answers that begin to trickle in are increasingly disturbing and you can’t help wondering what has really brought Cass back to her family.

Creepy, that’s the paramount feeling I had while reading this and the author’s evocation of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder brought to mind such infamous people as Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her kids in the car so she’d be unencumbered in her pursuit of a man. This disorder doesn’t get a lot of serious attention but perhaps it should. Nicely done, Ms. Walker!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Eyes of Pharaoh
Chris Eboch
Spellbound River Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-945017-27-8
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

The Eyes of Pharaoh, 1177 BC: During the reign of Pharaoh Ramses the Third, Seshta, a 13-year-old dancer in the Temple of Hathor, dreams of becoming a famous entertainer. Horus, the brother of her heart, is content as a toymaker’s apprentice. Reya, at 16, has joined Egypt’s army with hopes of becoming a hero. Despite their different paths, nothing can break the bonds of their friendship. Yet when Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt?

Then Reya disappears. Seshta and Horus set out to find him–and discover a darker plot than they ever imagined. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

I’ve had a love affair with ancient Egypt for so long I can’t remember how or when it started. When I had a chance to spend a week there in 1989, I found the modern country just as fascinating and wonderful and I’m sorry I’ll probably never get back there, also sorry for the political troubles that plague those wonderful people. Anyway, I’m always delighted to read any fiction or nonfiction about Egypt, especially set in ancient times and The Eyes of Pharaoh hit just the right spot with me.

Most of the mysteries I’ve seen set in this civilization are adult, which is great, but it usually means the characters are officials or slaves or high society, not so much the general population. These teens are a good cross-section, if you will, with a temple dancer, a soldier and a servant’s son, and I think that really added to my enjoyment because they’re not yet mature enough to be leery of risk and adventure and they’re comfortable with day-to-day life among the common people. One of the trio has gone missing and the other two are determined to find him. ‘Nuff said.

Because I love Egypt and its history so much, I wholeheartedly approve of anything that might entice young readers to fall under its spell and this book would be an excellent introduction. And, for those of you who aren’t so young anymore, you should give this a shot for rousing exploits and a darned good mystery 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: The Child by Fiona Barton

The Child
Fiona Barton
Berkley, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-99048-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

Just mention a dead baby and the pathos sets in, doesn’t it? Regardless of what might have happened to that infant, you know it was sad in one way or another and, in this case, it’s really bad because this poor little child had lain in its small grave for so many years.

Many people from the past and present are affected by this discovery, as you might imagine, but there are four women in particular who get our attention. At times, the baby was front and center but, at other times, the story focused much more on the individual women and Kate, the journalist, is the catalyst that brings out more than one truth. What begins as a story that shocks the senses in the beginning soon proves itself to be full of innuendoes and accusations, heartbreak and, eventually, healing.

Ms. Barton has crafted a tale that has been told before in some ways, both fictionally and in real life, but it’s the twists and coincidences that grabbed my attention, even though I was pretty sure of the direction this was taking. At the end, I felt a sense of sorrow at what one human can do to another but also hope for mending and new beginnings.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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Purchase Links:

         

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About the Author

credit Jenny Lewis

It was the allure of a hidden story that propelled Fiona Barton to her long-time career in news. A journalist and British Press Awards “Reporter of the Year,” she has worked at the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, and brings that experience to bear in her novels.

In THE CHILD she details how Kate’s lengthy investigation into Building Site Baby’s death represents a perilous breach of the newsroom’s new culture of 24/7 online news. Says Barton: “The danger for Kate is that she risks becoming one of the dinosaurs—sidelined because she is unable and unwilling to be part of the revolution. And I feel for her.”

Though THE CHILD delivers an evocative look at the changing face of journalism, and a delicious plot twist, it is the characters’ haunting and rich emotional lives that set Barton apart and confirm her stature as a crime novelist of the first order.

              

 

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“Tense, tantalizing, and ultimately very satisfying …
definitely one of the year’s must-reads.”—
Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Fiona Barton has outdone herself with The Child. An engrossing,
irresistible story about the coming to light of a long-buried
secret and an absolutely fabulous read—I loved it!”—Shari Lapena,
New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door

“Startling twists—and a stunning, emotionally satisfying
conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Book Review: Echoes of Terror by Maris Soule

Echoes of Terror
Maris Soule
Five Star, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4328-3281-0
Hardcover

Skagway, Alaska, is a small northern community with a small police force. In spite of the tour ships that visit, bringing many short-time visitors, and an active tourist industry, major crimes are not part of their usual operation. The Chief of Police is recovering in the hospital from a procedure. A senior officer with a day off is not responding to radio calls and an oddly emotional woman stands at the intake desk announcing abrasively that her step-daughter, also just off a cruise liner, is missing. The lone woman law officer on the force, Katherine Ward, is assigned to take care of the woman.

It turns out the girl is the daughter of an extremely wealthy businessman, now in China. The case quickly becomes a kidnapping for ransom and then yet another young girl goes missing. Katherine Ward, an experienced police officer, is beset by conflicting pressures and the odd feeling that there are parallels here to an earlier case, one directly involving Ward. Readers will quickly realize that this is far more complicated than it seems, and with Officer Ward leading the way, we’re drawn into a brutal murder thriller.

The characters are well-delineated and the plot moves forcefully through the book to its conclusion. Along the way there are several surprises which add dimension and heft to the story line. Echoes of Terror is a worthwhile, interesting novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 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.

Book Review: Dig Two Graves by Kim Powers

Dig Two Graves
Kim Powers
Tyrus Books, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-4405-9192-1
Trade Paperback

Skip Holt’s world as she knew it ended the day her mother died in a car crash [always bringing to her mind a poem she had had to learn in school by Robert Frost].  There is much erudition here, as Skip’s father makes his living “by teaching about the past, the very long ago past.  The Classics, Greece, Rome, Latin.”   Indeed, the novel begins with a quote from Confucius:  “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  And revenge is what this book is all about.  “The classics were all about it – – getting revenge, declaring enemies, going to war.”

From the publisher:  In his 20’s, Ethan Holt won the Decathlon at the Olympics and was jokingly nicknamed “Hercules;” now, in his late 30’s, he’s returned to his ivy-covered alma mater to teach, and to raise his young daughter Skip as a single father.  After a hushed-up scandal over his Olympics win and the death of his wife in a car accident five years ago, Ethan wants nothing more than to forget his past. Skip is not only the light of Ethan’s life – – she is his life. Then, Skip is kidnapped.  A series of bizarre ransom demands start coming in that stretch Ethan’s athletic prowess to its limits, and he realizes with growing horror that they are modern versions of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, demanded in tricky, rhyming clues by someone who seems to have followed every step of Ethan’s career.  To solve the mystery and get his daughter back, Ethan teams up with a force-of-nature female detective, Aretha Mizell, who carries some secrets of her own.  As Ethan races from Labor to Labor, we enter the mysterious abandoned schoolhouse where Skip is being held captive, and we begin to hear the fantastic and strangely heartbreaking story of the kidnapper and his link to Ethan’s past. The clues begin to point not only to Ethan’s athletic career, but to his childhood, and to a family history as troubled and bizarre as those of any
of the legendary, mythic character he teaches.

The novel opens on a late Fall day in New England, the day Ethan turns 39 and receives tenure at the college where he teaches, and where Skip, now 13, has planned a party for him.  Suddenly things take a decidedly ugly [well, uglier] turn, one as to which the reader has been given a hint, with a glimpse of a stalker, “the man with a plan,” and things escalate beyond anything the reader might expect.  The writing is riveting, with one shocking turn at Chapter 31, and the identity of the kidnapper not known until Chapter 55, with the book ending on a somewhat enigmatic note 50 pages later.  A page-turner of a book, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.