A Passel of Teeny Reviews Part 1

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Colin Goodwin
2QT Limited, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-910077-60-3
Trade Paperback

This book had me chuckling quite a bit with its premise—blackmailing an English village’s cricket club to either win  a trophy or lose its playing ground. Along with this audacious crime, we have village ladies who truly appreciate the hired ringer’s skills and a shady real estate development plan. It’s all great fun even with sabotage and perhaps a little murder.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Cat in an Alphabet Endgame
The Midnight Louie Mysteries #28
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-943175-05-5
Trade Paperback

I confess, I put off reading this as long as I possibly could, so long I’m really embarrassed but I just did NOT want to see the end of this series I love so much. I didn’t want to know who Temple would marry, didn’t want all the little loose ends tied up in neat bows. Midnight Louie is the alpha and omega of feline sleuths and I adore his hardboiled, attitudinous self and, even knowing he was going to continue in different adventures sometime in the future, letting go was so very hard. But…I eventually had to give in and, of course, I enjoyed this book as much as all the others. Temple is distracted by thoughts of saying yes to one guy or the other, the mob has reared its ugly head, there are hints of terrorism and Louie and his Cat Pack are on the case(s). When it’s all said and done, Louie leaves us—and multitudes of Las Vegas felines—with a rousing speech and an offer of appetizers. Ah, Louie, Temple and the rest, I’m going to miss you (until you show up again).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Memory
Sharon Ervin
The Wild Rose Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5092-1290-3
Trade Paperback

Mistaken identity takes on a whole new meaning when a woman is killed and everyone thinks it’s Memory Smith. She hasn’t been run over but somebody certainly has thrown a punch at her and Assistant DA Mac McCann wants to know what’s going on with his former classmate. Did someone really mean to kill her? Memory is an odd woman but Mac is drawn to her and the mystery surrounding her supposed death. As you might expect in romantic suspense, an emotional attachment between the two of them soon takes on a life of its own but Memory may not survive long enough to see what might develop with Mac.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Crepe Factor
A Scrapbooking Mystery #14
Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-26670-0
Hardcover

Ms. Childs and Ms. Moran continue their collaboration in a charming mystery featuring the death by fork of a food critic (stick a fork in me, I’m done, anyone?) practically right in front of Carmela and Ava, sleuthing duo extraordinaire. Carmela’s previous relationship with the #1 suspect makes sticking her nose in a little dicey and her current boyfriend, police detective Edgar Babcock really wants her to stay out of his investigation but she and Ava can’t resist. A nifty whodunnit and characters that feel like old friends, not to mention a few recipes and scrapbooking tips round out this entertaining entry in the series. I always enjoy these two, especially the slightly loony Ava, and for a few hours while I’m reading one of these books, I can’t help wishing I had the patience and dedication to get into scrapbooking…but the urge passes until the next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Locket
On Dark Shores #0
J.A. Clement
Weasel Green Press, December 2016
Ebook

Every child gets excited and exceedingly nosy when Yuletide approaches and the seven-year-old Nereia is no exception. Her father has brought her a special surprise, her Godmother, stopping off for a visit before returning to her diplomatic duties in the midst of war and a beautiful silver locket marks Nereia’s first time taking part in the Yule ceremony. This is a sweet story, very short, and a prequel to Ms. Clement‘s On Dark Shores fantasy series. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew anything about the series and I don’t understand the description’s reference to “there is mystery in the air…” but I spent a pleasant few minutes with this small family.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Book Reviews: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg and Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey

GangsterlandGangsterland
Tod Goldberg
Counterpoint Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-578-3
Trade Paperback

The idea of juxtaposing the mafia, a hit man, and a Reform Jewish temple in Las Vegas forms the basis for this outrageous but satisfying novel.  It is filled with a variety of characters and a plot that carries the theme with aplomb.  While the concept may appear to be beyond the realms of reality, the author carries it out with grace and humor.

It all begins in Chicago, where Sal Cupertine is an extraordinary hit man for the mob, efficient, careful and never caught.  Until one day he is assigned to meet with some purported drug sellers who turn out to be FBI agents and, for the first time, his face becomes known, so he has to kill them for self-preservation but has to flee the Windy City hidden in a refrigerated truck.  Sal ends up in Las Vegas, undergoes facial surgery and, because he has a retentive memory, is turned into Rabbi David Cohen, part of a new racket.

While many of the Talmudic and Biblical references, which colorfully emit from David’s (Sal’s) lips throughout the novel, may be questionable, they set the tone for the incredible plot.  If there is one drawback to the novel it is the final passages which to this reader did not ring true, although, supposedly, are intended to provide a morality to this mafia story.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2015.

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Shark Skin SuiteShark Skin Suite
Serge Storms #18
Tim Dorsey
William Morrow, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-224001-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  “Bottom feeders beware: The Sunshine State’s favorite psychotic killer and lovable Floridaphile, Serge Storms, has found a new calling, legal eagle, and he’s going to make a killing as a crusading attorney – – and star as a dashing lawyer on the big screen – – in this madcap escapade . . . When it comes to swimming with the sharks, there is no bigger kahuna than Serge Storms.  Binging on a marathon of legal movies set in Florida, Serge finds his vocation:  the law.  Never mind law school or that degree; Serge becomes a freelance fixer – – wildcat paralegal and pilgrim to the hallowed places where legal classics of the big screen such as Body Heat, Cool Hand Luke, and Absence of Malice were filmed practically in his own backyard.”

I found it nearly impossible to summarize the plot of this book; suffice it to say that I began and ended the book with a silly smile on my face, which was the default display for much of everything in between.  As stated above, much of the novel is an homage to those classic films; to say that Serge is a movie buff is a huge understatement.  In addition, the author captures the feel of the Florida streets in, e.g., downtown Miami:  “The foot traffic was determined in the midday heat.  Folded newspapers, briefcases, take-out bags with Cuban sandwiches.  A teenager sprinted up the middle of the street with a fistful of wristwatches.  A whiskered man on the corner of Flagler had been screaming and kicking his own bicycle for five minutes.  A shopowner chasing the shoplifting teen was hit by an ambulance.  One of the folded newspapers told of a mysterious eyeball the size of a cantaloupe that had washed upon the beach.  Everything was normal.  Pedestrians continued chatting on cell phones.”

The author’s writing style is certainly unique, and the resulting work is recommended.  Just what I needed after a fairly steady recent diet of dark, death- and danger-filled books.  (Although I should perhaps add that there are a couple of dead bodies before the book comes to a close.)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit by Carole Nelson Douglas.

Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit 2Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit
A Midnight Louie Mystery #27
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing,
ISBN 978-1-943175-02-4
Trade Paperback

From the author—

In Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit, feline PI Midnight Louie’s roommate, powerhouse PR freelancer Temple Barr, discovers a strip club opening in a nearby empty building threatens her elderly landlady’s wedding chapel business. Electra Lark’s troubles go supernova with a murder charge for a death that echoes a bizarre slaying decades earlier. While Temple’s fiance, Matt Devine, ex-priest radio shrink, plays detective with a rough crowd getting rougher, her ex, magician-counterterrorist Max Kinsella, dodges IRA remnants in Ireland, where psychotic stalker Kathleen O’Connor claims she’s found his cousin, presumed dead from a pub bombing years earlier. All the investigators’ pasts draw them into shocking revelations of present peril. Temple and Louie must solve why a forgotten fifties night club, Zoot Suit Choo-Choo, is again a nexus of death and greed.

He’s short, he’s debonair, he’s a savvy man about town and private eye. He’s the inimitable Midnight Louie, CEO of Midnight Investigations and the only roommate he thinks Miss Temple Barr, amateur detective and red-headed PR maven, needs in their Las Vegas condo. Unfortunately, Temple’s main squeeze, Matt Devine, doesn’t see things the same way.

I’m a fan of series although I’ve become very lax about keeping up with even my favorites just because there are so many good books to be read. Some series, in my opinion, become kind of tired when they go on too long so I tend to skip an entry or two and then pick it up again; the break usually works and I find the series entertaining again. Very few keep my undivided attention and Midnight Louie is one of those few. I’m one title out of sequence—haven’t read Cat in a Yellow Spotlight yet—but that’s OK because time moves glacially from one book to the next and it’ll be easy for me to pick that one up. In the meantime, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit as I knew I would. The thing about really good series is that you can trust the author and her characters to not let you down.

This go round, it’s Electra, Temple’s landlady, who’s in trouble when her ex-husband gets killed and she had a really good motive to do him in. Meanwhile, Temple’s former boyfriend, Max, is busy avoiding killers in Ireland, not to mention fending off his crazy stalker, Kathleen, and Matt is contemplating a career move while doing a little undercover work of his own. While the humans are thus engaged, Louie and his unacknowledged daughter, Louise, are intent on finding out why someone broke into the condo and scared the heck out of the sleeping Temple (who was, of course, rescued by her wrathful kitty). He’s also wondering why the snooty bookstore cat, Ingram, has once again come into his life, much to his dismay.

I love dogs and all sorts of other animals but my heart belongs to the feline tribe and a visit with Louie and his colleagues on the mean streets of Las Vegas is like indulging in comfort food. Better yet is comfort food and Louie 😉 I’m of two minds about the next book in the series, Cat in an Alphabet Endgame, because I want another Louie adventure but it will be the last in the series. The wonderful Ms. Douglas isn’t leaving her fans in the lurch, though—she’s promised that Louie will have a new set of adventures and I can hardly wait!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

Book Reviews: The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway and Unfed by Kirsty McKay

The Magician's DaughterThe Magician’s Daughter
A Valentine Hill Mystery
Judith Janeway
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0338-1
Hardcover

It is rare for a reviewer of crime fiction to encounter a truly fresh protagonist with a unique voice. Reviewers are reluctant to say so because we haven’t read everything, but I’m sticking my neck out here to suggest Valentine Hill, a busking, itinerant street magician with heady aspirations, is that character. She’s blunt, honest to a fault, scrappy, young and aggressive when necessary. She’s in Las Vegas as the tale begins, in the middle of a nine-year search for her mother. Not out of love, but because of some vital missing information in her life. Valentine wants a social security number and she wants to know her birthdate, her father’s name and where she was born. Her mother, Elizabeth is a grifter, highly adaptable, a consummate but amoral actress who used and abused her daughter, Valentine, in prior scams.

Valentine has learned from those experiences and become an honest magician, struggling through life. She learns her mother is probably in San Francisco. Her plans to go there are upset by her companion who steals her stash and disappears. When Valentine tracks her mother to an apartment in Pacific Heights, her world dissolves into mayhem, murder, multiple law enforcement operations and several characters who are not what they seem.

The novel is relentless, positing solution after explanation that dissolve almost as rapidly as they are presented, leaving the reader guessing as much as does poor Valentine. But then, even as the danger escalates, things begin to sort themselves and some really bad guys get conned out of their shorts. A fast, coherent, fully enjoyable novel featuring a young, vibrant protagonist. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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UnfedUnfed
Kirsty McKay
Chicken House, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-53672-1
Hardcover

Beginning with our main character waking from a coma to devastating news; totally unrelated to the current crisis: roaming diseased humans (whose behaviors suspiciously mimic those of the Late-Night-Movie Zombies); I certainly did not think, “Wow, this is going to be a fun read!”. Intriguing, fast-paced, action-adventure: sure; fun, no.

I was so very, very wrong. I find myself still ridiculously impressed and pleased that Ms. McKay presented Bobby’s story in such a fashion. This sequel to Undead is consuming. Comprised of small, deliberate mysteries, complete with obscure, baffling clues; this reader’s mind never strayed.

The display of dynamics within the small group of teens, forced together, just to have a glimmer of hope against the Zombie-like crowd is spot-on. Underlying currents: wariness, jealously, admiration, fear and sadness, swirl around the characters, twisting, enveloping and confusing. Churning emotions decrease focus, increase discord, frustration and distrust.

With the action-adventure aspect of physical battles between teens and Zoms, the mystery of where Bobby’s best friend, Smitty, is hiding (assuming he is still alive); never-minding the why of Bobby’s mom abandoning her; comatose, alone in a strange hospital, and pants-less; to run off and hide Smitty; it is so easy to be drawn in and invested in the tale. With the shocking revelation that The Enemy is quite likely made up of both Good Guys and Bad Guys, it becomes nearly impossible to stop reading.

These attributes are almost secondary to Ms. McKay’s charming and delightful writing style. As if the author feels immediate remorse for scaring (or grossing out) her audience, in comes the comic relief, effortlessly. A perfect fit, the humor enriches the entire book, keeping the tone from dropping to down-right dismal. Unexpected joy came from Bobby’s predicament of being pants-less, thus flashing her pals as she fights for her life, or making hilarious and embarrassing suctioning noises as naked thighs stick to a desk-top on which Bobby perches. Chastising herself harshly when Smitty-themed fantasies sneak into her mind; coupled with her comfortable and correct use of “dorky” endeared me to Bobby.

Although I started this trilogy right in the middle, I simply must know how Bobby’s story ends. I am already looking forward to Ms. McKay’s next book.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.

Book Reviews: Propinquity by John Macgregor, The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan, and Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce

PropinquityPropinquity
John Macgregor
John Macgregor, June 2013
ISBN 9781301702114
Ebook
A 2013 release of a 1986 original

One of the definitions of the title is a nearness in time. This highly imaginative novel deals with both the twentieth century and the thirteenth. It would appear at first blush there isn’t much. Propinquity. The novel begins in Australia and it ends there. In between, the uncertain narrator touches down in England and Haiti. Moreover, the principal character in the novel is Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I, King of England. She appears to have been a student and perhaps a dispenser of gnosis. Gnosis comes from the Greek for internal secret knowledge which, if properly recognized, leads to an exalted and serene existence.

When the novel begins, Clive Lean is a young student in school in Australia. With friends he muses over the meanings of life and the roles of religions. Once his life develops and he becomes wealthy he journeys to England and through a chance encounter with a randy student of the medieval, is able to explore the crypts of Westminster abbey and to make a surprising discovery. Here, in an unmarked coffin, lies the body of a queen of England. Perhaps.

Why here? Why now? And what messages lie in the ancient documents discovered with the remarkably well-preserved queen, a queen whom, so far as is stated by the chroniclers, never set foot on fair England’s shores. Those questions will only be answered by readers of the novel. I hasten to point out this is not a history text, nor is it a mystery in the conventional sense. Yes, crimes are committed, crimes that result in an international outcry and a multi-continent chase. All of this activity is related with considerable wit and erudition and a propinquity that will satisfy most readers.

The dialogue is often crisp and sometimes meandering, occasionally thrilling. The many characters in this morality play are clearly and humanely drawn. Unlike many novels in the genre, a good many questions raised during the narrative are never answered and that, ultimately, is, I suppose, the point. At least, one of the points. Because, finally, frustrating though it may be, I suspect that each thoughtful, careful reader will finish the novel with a sigh, a smile and a nod of recognition.

The novel was originally released in 1986 by a publisher who promptly went out of business. Thus, this is, in one sense at least, its original release, since the book had almost no circulation at that time.

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

 

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The Fame ThiefThe Fame Thief
A Junior Bender Mystery #3
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2013
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5280-8
Hardcover

Junior Bender, the protagonist in this, the third in this series, has a franchise, according to the eminence grise of Hollywood, the powerful Irwin Dressler, the 93-year-old mob boss. Junior prides himself as a burglar’s burglar, and has found himself much in demand by criminals as their own private investigator. And that’s why Dressler has two of his goons snatch Junior off the street and bring him to his home. He asks Junior to find out who was responsible for ruining a minor actress’ career over 60 years earlier.

This gives the author an opportunity to describe the Hollywood scene of the 1950’s, together with the glamour of Las Vegas and the prevalence of mafia bigwigs and run-of-the mill hoodlums. It is a mystery why a minor starlet became so important to the mob that she had a single starring role: testifying at the Estes Kefauver crime hearings.

I did not find Junior quite as amusing this time around as he was in the first two novels in the series, Crashed and Little Elvises, but Mr. Hallinan makes up for it in the dialogue delivered by Dressler, a Jew who was sent west by the Chicago mob to develop Hollywood and Los Angeles, as well as Las Vegas, for it. This book has quite a plot, and Junior has a tough road to hoe to solve the mystery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.

 

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Cold SpellCold Spell
Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown and Company, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-24359-9
Hardcover

There is something about Ms. Pearce’s writing that calls to me like a siren from the sea. Her words leap from the pages to wrap me in comfort. Picking up one of her books feels like wrapping chilly hands around a steaming mug of cocoa. The anticipation must be savored for a moment, before diving into the bliss. Cold Spell, her most recent novel, is no exception.

This enchanting interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” captivated this reader immediately. Brimming with exceptional characters exhibiting quirks, wit, sweetness, determination, talent and compassion; this seemingly simple tale of one girl persistently pursuing her soul-mate becomes a book that cannot be put down.

At the tender age of 17, Ginny has known and loved Kia for a decade. With just a twist, a typical romance is transformed. You see, Kia loves her right back. Where does a story go when it starts with an uncomplicated, true and shared love? Well, in this case, on an epic adventure including Fenris, gypsies (Travellers), a compassionate and ultra-cool couple and the sinister, selfish Snow Queen, Mora.

When the Snow Queen chooses Kia for own court, she has no clue how far Ginny is willing to go to prevent this. Even during her time as a human, Mora has never known real love; therefore, she simply can’t fathom what one person may do to save a cherished soul from a life-time of suffering, servitude and pain. Until faced with it; The Snow Queen never anticipated that a girl would be willing to kill her own soul-mate as the last resort to free him.

This alone would make a fabulous book, but true to form, Ms. Pearce gives us so much more. Ginny’s chase after Kia and his captor is enriched with colorful characters, unique life-styles with funky traditions, and surprising common bonds. As Ginny meets new people, this reader enjoyed subtle reminders that translate to real-life such as; things are not always as they seem, trust your gut-feelings; sometimes, good people appear to be doing “bad” things and, on occasion, the proverbial “bad-guy” is a hurt, frustrated and confused being with no one to turn to.

Although the story and characters are fictional; emotions, concerns and certain dilemmas aren’t really that far from reality. It is to that end, I think, that Ms. Pearce’s books bring me happiness and satisfaction. Not only are they tremendously entertaining, but they help me remember that the story-book wrap-up I tend to carry in my head is not always the best ending.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.

 

Book Review: Cat in an Alien X-Ray by Carole Nelson Douglas—and a Giveaway!

Cat in an Alien X-RayCat in an Alien X-Ray
A Midnight Louie Mystery
Carole Nelson Douglas
Forge, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-2748-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Cat in an Alien X-Ray takes the Las Vegas gang on a science-fictional roller-coaster ride, as Midnight Louie, feline PI, and company encounter UFO enthusiasts, conspiracy nuts who are too bizarre even for tin foil hat therapy. An Area 51 attraction on the Strip threatens to bring more than starry-eyed enthusiasts to town. Once again it is up to that furballed PI Midnight Louie to keep his crew in line and save them from the attack of the creatures from the beyond…or common criminals that prey on the innocent.

Visiting with Midnight Louie, Temple Barr and all their colleagues is always—ALWAYS—a treat and Cat in an Alien X-Ray is certainly no exception. After so many books (this is #25!), this series has cemented itself in my affections and has become, over the years, one of my favorite comfort reads. I don’t expect that to be true with all mystery readers; after all, some can’t handle cats who think and act in a human-like manner even if they don’t speak to us. Still, a hardboiled detective who harks back to the likes of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe is nothing but fun when said detective is a feline, especially when he tells his side of the story. In Louie’s own words—

Being short, dark, and handsome…really short…gets me overlooked and underestimated, which is what the savvy operative wants anyway. I am your perfect undercover guy. I also like to hunker down under the covers with my little doll. So would some other guys, but they do not have my lush hirsute advantages.

Public relations expert Temple Barr has met some crazy people in her time in Las Vegas but, in a city full of aggressive and flashy dream peddlers, Silas T. Farnum stands out in a crowd. That tip of the nomenclative hat to P. T. Barnum tells you a lot about who this little gnome of a man might be but Temple finds that he’s also sort of irresistible so she signs on to promote his UFO attraction. Unfortunately, the building site soon becomes a crime scene and the very subject of UFOs brings out the, er, nutjobs.  Meanwhile, Temple is also doing a juggling act with her former and current love interests and a serial killer with intent to do harm to them all may be back in town.

Midnight Louie, of course, is on the case from day one, even before Temple agrees to rep Farnum’s project, and his long experience with snooping and sniffing out the facts stands him in good stead. The Strip and the off-Strip are Louie’s territory and no one knows the city like he does but his efforts at getting answers are hampered somewhat by the continual intrusions of his so-called off-spring (plausible deniability!), Midnight Louise. Louise, who wants to follow in Pops’ footsteps, is on her own case but the two are intertwined so Louie reluctantly engages Louise and the two set out to solve the crime(s) with a little help from some temporary agents (the Cat Pack) and a few feathered friends.

One thing I especially like about this series is that time moves glacially. As a result, only two years plus have gone by since we first met Temple and Louie and, although that means they’re finding bodies and other criminal goings-on seemingly every month or so (shades of Cabot Cove!), that is perfectly okay with me. Sometimes, I want my sleuths to age along with me but there are also times when I’ll give up that nod to reality because it means I can hang on to my beloved characters as long as the author can keep writing their stories. I look forward to sharing many more adventures with this Las Vegas crew, furry and otherwise.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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Two lucky readers will each win a hardcover copy of Cat in an Alien X-Ray

by Carole Nelson Douglas and you have two chances to enter the
drawing. For the first entry, go back and leave a comment on Carole’s

August 2nd guest post. For a second entry, leave a comment here on today’s
review. The winning names will be chosen at random on the  evening of Tuesday,
August 13th. This drawing is open to residents of the US, UK and Canada.

Book Reviews: The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg, The Burning Lake by Brent Ghelfi, Buried Prey by John Sandford, and A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

The Preacher
Camilla Lackberg
Translated by Steven T. Murray
Pegasus Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60598-173-4
Hardcover

This Swedish author has written seven novels, of which this is the second to be published in the United States.  The first, The Ice Princess, was widely accepted as on a par with the best of the recent Scandinavian noir novels.  As with that debut book, this novel also is set in the small fishing village of  Fjallbacka and is a police procedural that seems to drag until the miracle of science, rather than good old-fashioned footwork, brings it to a conclusion.

The plot is relatively simple:  A body is discovered, with the remains of two skeletons over 24 years old underneath.  It’s up to the local police, led by detective Patrik Hedstrom, to conduct the investigation.  Customarily, they usually look into bicycle thefts. Then two more women go missing, increasing the pressure.  Attention centers on one family, the offspring of a man known to all as the Preacher:  misfits, religious fanatics and criminals.

The length of the novel seems overly long, and probably could have used some judicious editing.  And the translation does not seem to be up to the level of The Ice Princess.  Nevertheless, the story is clever, and the plot twists, which in a sense were somewhat obvious, keep the reader moving ahead.  Despite these misgivings, the book is an enjoyable read, and one hopes for US editions of the author’s other five novels. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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The Burning Lake
Brent Ghelfi
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-925-0
Hardcover

Unlike the previous three novels in the Volk series, this story is a little different.  It brings Volk into a sort of international plot involving the United States, France and Russia seeking to circumvent and hide the errors and dangers in atomic plants and spent fuel.  What brings Russian agent Alexei Volkovoy into the picture is the murder of a sometime girlfriend, a talented and courageous journalist, known professionally as Kato, who had uncovered two stories: one involving a wide area of radioactive contamination in Russia and an attempt to ship spent fuel from America to that location.

When Volk learns of Kato’s death, he remembers a notebook she had given him for safekeeping.  Upon reading her notes, Volk embarks on a trail to finish her work, and along the way, avenge her death by finding and killing her murderers.  The journey takes him to the radioactive village of Merlino and the burning lake, the dumping ground of spent fuel from a nearby facility, and then to Las Vegas and Mexico.

The author’s ability to capture contemporary Russia and its politicians, such as Putin, is impressive, as is his ability to cram into few pages the depths and insights of the subject of the dangers of atomic waste.  Written with tight prose, this fourth Volk novel is, perhaps, the most interesting and satisfying of the series, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.


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Buried Prey
John Sanford
Putnam, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15738-7
Hardcover

Discovery of the bodies of two young girls, murdered 25 years earlier, sets the stage for a look at the popular protagonist, Lucas Davenport, both as a rookie patrolman and later as the seasoned investigator of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension a quarter of a century later. Soon after joining the Minneapolis police department, Lucas worked with the Intelligence Division on a couple of murder investigations, especially the case of the two young Jones Girls.

He became so involved in the work that he solved one of them, and came close to discovering the identity of the culprit in the girls’ slaying.  The facts continued to haunt him and 25 years later, when the bodies are found during the excavation at a construction site, he pursues finding the killer with an obsession, using all his training and intelligence (and a lot of luck) in the chase.

The depth of the plot and taut writing give the reader incentive to keep turning pages.  The dialogue is sharp and the pace well-measured. Character development is extremely effective.  Another welcome addition to the series, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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A Drop of the Hard Stuff
Lawrence Block
Mulholland Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-12733-2
Hardcover

The Alcoholics Anonymous program is designed to provide sustenance and guidance to those seeking to remain sober.  Its 12-Step program is meant to provide them with a moral roadmap to atone for past abuse, mistakes and sins.  In this early-days Matthew Scudder novel, it instead leads to a series of murders.

An alcoholic himself, Matthews enters AA in an effort to stay away from alcohol, which had basically ruined his life.  Soon he meets Jack Ellery, another AA member with whom he grew up in The Bronx.  While Matthew became a cop, Jack went the other way, living a life of crime. Now he is trying to take the seventh and eighth steps of the Program by making amends.  The effort gets him murdered, shot in the head and mouth, presumably by someone who is afraid Jack’s endeavors would expose the killer for an act done in the past.  Jack’s sponsor retains Matthew to look into some of the people Jack went to in his attempts to make amends, if only to eliminate the innocent.

The novel is a look into not only a murder investigation, but other things as well: Matthew’s development as a sober person; love; loss; nostalgia; and most importantly, human relationships.  Written with a fine eye for dialog and penetrating insight into the characters, the book is an excellent example of why the Matthew Scudder series is so highly regarded, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.