Book Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Song of the Lion
A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel #2
Anne Hillerman
Harper, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-062-39190-2
Hardcover

Anne Hillerman continues to demonstrate she is a solid author in her own right, albeit using the characters developed by her late father, Tony, in the series featuring Jim Chee, Bernadette Manuelito and Joe Leaphorn.  And by expanding Bernie’s role, she has added her own stamp on the series, which began in 1970, and in which this is her third novel.

The action begins when a bomb explodes, destroying a BMW belonging to a local hero who is mediating a hearing on a proposed resort on Navajo land adjacent to the Grand Canyon.  A young man is killed while sitting in the car.  The owner is playing in an alumni-student basketball game, and Jim Chee is assigned to be his bodyguard, driving him to the hearing and watching over him.  The plot develops in unexpected ways and as it unfolds, Bernie gets to play a deeper role than that of a bystander.  She takes over uncovering the real reason for the explosion, enlisting the assistance of Leaphorn, who still suffers from a bullet wound in his brain, but recalls an earlier incident, which helps Bernie resolve the case.

Common to the series are the descriptions of the arid Navajo country, the rituals, myths and customs of the people so well-done by Tony Hillerman and now continued on an equal footing by his daughter.  Her plotting is similarly on a par with the series’ founder.  And by introducing an environmental issue in the plot, she has brought the series up to date, while maintaining the integrity of the basic story and its characters.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

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.

Book Review: Easy Innocence by Libby Fischer Hellmann

easy-innocenceEasy Innocence
A Georgia Davis Novel of Suspense #1
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrated by Beth Richmond
The Red Herrings Press, May 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook
Also available in print and ebook editions

From the author—

When pretty, smart Sara Long is found bludgeoned to death, it’s easy to blame the man with the bat. But Georgia Davis – former cop and newly-minted PI – is hired to look into the incident at the behest of the accused’s sister, and what she finds hints at a much different, much darker answer. It seems the privileged, preppy schoolgirls on Chicago’s North Shore have learned just how much their innocence is worth to hot-under-the-collar businessmen. But while these girls can pay for Prada price tags, they don’t realize that their new business venture may end up costing them more than they can afford.

I’ve been a fan of Libby Fischer Hellmann for a long time but, although the print version of this book first came out in 2008, I had never read it or the following three books in the series. That wasn’t because I didn’t want to read it but I had focused on the author’s other works with the idea of getting to this “one of these days”. That day finally came when Ms. Hellmann offered a chance to listen to a re-do of the audiobook; I love audiobooks so I leaped at the opportunity.

From the standpoint of the story, the initial investigation into the teen’s murder eventually develops into three seemingly separate storylines but whether they are related is something Georgia will have to determine. In fact, she isn’t aware that one of these threads exists or, perhaps more accurately, she doesn’t understand all the parts; this is one of those instances when the reader knows more than the protagonist does but, deviously, Ms. Hellmann sees to it that we don’t know what we don’t know. Very nicely…and wickedly…done, Ms. Hellmann 😉

Georgia is a very likeable woman and an intelligent P.I. with a leg up from her police background. She doesn’t have a lot of people in her life but those who surround her are good people who care what happens to her. There’s nothing sleazy about Georgia and she approaches her tasks with a sense of honor and a desire to cause as little harm as possible.  That’s important because a lot of people could be very hurt by the results of her investigation, beginning with the ring of teenaged hookers and their oblivious families, not to mention their own airheaded ignorance of the dark side of their business venture. When Georgia learns of a possible fraudulent land development scheme, tying it to the prostitution ring ramps up the danger level to new highs including attempts on her own life.

In the first third or so of the book, I thought things dragged a little and the narrator’s performance added to that feeling because of her somewhat deliberate and slow pace. In fact, at one point, I turned up the speed on my iPod just to see what it would sound like and, although Ms. Richmond sounded quite a lot like she inhaled helium, I could still understand her clearly. That indicates to me that her pace really was a little too slow BUT….

….everything changed once certain things started happening and Ms. Richmond grabbed and held my attention. Certainly a lot of that is because Ms. Hellmann‘s story began to come to life but it’s also because Ms. Richmond really is quite a good narrator, especially with her varying voices. When all is said and done, I’m now wanting to continue with the series and with Beth Richmond‘s narration.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

Book Review: Murder Most Fowl by Edith Maxwell

murder-most-fowlMurder Most Fowl
A Local Foods Mystery #4
Edith Maxwell
Kensington Books, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0025-4

It’s spring in Westbury, Massachusetts. Organic farmer Cam Flaherty is busy tilling and planting and raising baby chicks when her neighbor, Wayne Laitinen is found dead. It soon develops that he’s been murdered. The question is why. He’s always seemed a pleasant hardworking man, generous with good advice for his fellow farmers. Could it be a wealthy neighbor wanted to buy some of his land to pasture her daughter’s horse, and Wayne said no, he didn’t want to sell? Or was it the group of animal rights activists who vandalized his farm? Or even his wife because money (the lack thereof) problems have derailed their marriage?

Cam, who is a concerned neighbor, discovers a vital piece of evidence, which she promptly⏤and correctly⏤turns over to the police. Helpful to her police detective boyfriend, but it will take Cam, who in the final denouement ends up shot and wounded, plus the whole department to bring the murderer to light.

I liked the premise of this story. I liked Cam and her boyfriend Pete Pappas. They seemed to work well together without getting in each other’s way. Rare, as quite often the larger part of tension in a cozy seems to be between the main character and her policeman boyfriend.

The writing is competent, the plotting tight and fast moving. The animals in the story serve a purpose besides just being there. The book is an enjoyable read with which to while away an evening.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: The Silence of the Llamas by Anne Canadeo

The Silence of the LlamasThe Silence of the Llamas
A Black Sheep Knitting Mystery
Anne Canadeo
Gallery Books, January 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-4479-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Llama Drama!

Ellie and Ben Krueger arrived in Plum Harbor eager to live out their dream—tending a herd of gentle, friendly llamas for fun and profit, on a farm just beyond the village. Their grand opening fiber festival kicks off on a bright note but abruptly ends in malicious mayhem. Knitting shop owner Maggie Messina and her friends soon learn that this is not the first time a vicious visitor has called.

The Kruegers suspect that Justin Ridley, their eccentric neighbor, is the troublemaker. A misfit and loner, he’s known to roam the woods all night, though no one knows for sure what he’s hunting. Then there’s Angelica Rossi—the lovely owner of a rival fiber farm—who’s been as busy as a spider, spinning spiteful lies about the Kruegers’ yarns. Or, are the naïve newcomers merely caught in the tangle of Plum Harbor politics, and an intense land protection debate?

Suddenly, vandalism turns to murder—and the Kruegers’ dream descends into a nightmare. The Black Sheep knitters must pull the threads together and uncover this crafty menace . . . before more lives—and more llamas— are lost.

First, a warning for those readers who can’t abide any harm done to animals—there is some of that in this book. The attacks on the animals are not overdone and they mean something in the story, i.e., they’re not gratuitous, but they exist.

On the whole, this is a good mystery but there are aspects to the construction that I think detract from the story. For a traditional, semi-cozy mystery, the murder is much too long in coming, a bit more than half way in, and then it’s approximately two thirds in before the ladies of the knitting club start snooping. In other words, this is a s-l-o-w story.

Speaking of snooping, Maggie Messina, owner of the Black Sheep Knitting Shop, is theoretically the leader of the club and thus the sleuths but she has remarkably little to do with the investigation. In fact, these ladies really don’t do much detecting at all when compared to their counterparts in other craft-related mysteries.

My final negative comment is that, in the electronic ARC I read, there were numerous instances of multiple POVs in the same paragraph. That’s one of the cardinal construction sins for me but I don’t know if this was a typical error found in ARCs or even just one of those glitches found in ebooks sometimes. It’s entirely possible that the finished products, electronic and print, are done correctly. (I will say that I don’t remember any overload of other grammatical or spelling mistakes and I appreciate that.)

The end result is a book that I found lacking in several ways but there are some positive points. The mystery itself is engaging and many of the characters are quite likeable. I also enjoyed learning a little about llamas and alpacas and creating yarn and knitting afficionados will be glad of the craft tips they’ll find. This is the fifth in the series—I haven’t read the earlier books but they’ve been well-regarded by many and I think I’ll just call this one a bit of a stumble.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.