Book Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey @sujatamassey @soho_press

The Satapur Moonstone
A mystery of 1920s India
A Perveen Mistry Novel, Book 2
Sujata Massey
Soho Crime, May 2019
ISBN 978-1-61695-909-8
Hardcover

Lawyer Perveen Mistry, Esquire, an employee of the British Raj, has been sent from Bombay to the princely state of Satapur to settle a dispute over the education of the ruling family’s children. The male succession line has been interrupted by the deaths of both the maharaja and his eldest heir and now the dowager maharani, (grandmother) and the younger maharani (the mother) can’t agree. But just how intense is their disagreement? This is what Perveen, India’s only female lawyer, must discover. She is the only one who can negotiate as the two maharanis live in purdah.

When Perveen arrives, she finds turmoil and even fear as the dowager maharani has assumed all power. But is she also a murderess? From the oddities surrounding the young maharaja’s death, supposedly killed by a tiger, Perveen’s suspicion grows. As she guards the young crown prince’s life, she’s on the edge of death herself as someone makes repeated attempts on her life and on the young prince’s.

The rather slow pacing in the beginning will fool you into thinking there’s no action, but as the pomp and ceremony of the state unfolds, you’ll find something different. Jealousies large and small, the wielding of power, the strictness of the caste system become intense. The character of the countryside is fascinating, as is the political aspect of the British Raj. Then there is the matter of women’s place in this closed world, and Perveen’s growing response to the white British agent Colin Sandringham. As events wind down to an exciting conclusion, you’re sure to be riveted.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Eggs on Ice by Laura Childs @BerkleyMystery

Eggs on Ice
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #8
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-425-28172-7
Hardcover

Eggs on Ice is the eighth in Laura Childs’ Cackleberry Club Mysteries so for those of you who are fans of this series the characters will be familiar.  For those of you who are new to the series I think you’ll catch up quickly.  The main character is Suzanne Dietz, one of the co-owners of the Cackleberry Club and an amateur investigator.  As the story begins, Suzanne and one of her co-owners, Toni, are helping with costumes, sets, and lighting for their neighbors who are rehearsing for a production of “A Christmas Carol”.  The rehearsal comes to an abrupt halt when lawyer Allan Sharp who is playing Scrooge is murdered by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Suzanne chases the Ghost but stops when he, she, or it turns on her and threatens her with a knife.

The investigation is complicated by the fact that no one liked Allan except his law partner, but the investigation quickly focuses in on Amber, a woman who worked for Allan for a short while but quit when he sexually harassed her.  Amber and Suzanne have a mutual friend and that friend suggested Amber ask Suzanne for help.  However, it soon becomes clear that Amber has a motive for killing Allan but so do several others and narrowing the suspect field is more difficult than Suzanne anticipated.  Enlisting Toni’s help, Suzanne begins her own investigation much to the annoyance of the Sheriff and the fears of her fiancé, a doctor at the local hospital.

Eggs on Ice is a cozy mystery with well-drawn characters and a couple of nice twists.  It’s set during the holiday season and the cold and snow might be just what you need when our sweltering August/early September heat and humidity return.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

Book Review: A Thousand Cuts by Thomas Mogford

A Thousand Cuts
A Spike Sanguinetti Novel #5

Thomas Mogford
Bloomsbury Books, July 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6328-6845-9
Hardcover

Thomas Mogford has written a stunning, wrenching thriller. It is true that the passage of time can heal many wounds, but not all. Here is an emotionally fraught tale stretching from the turgid dark time of international intrigue and sabotage during World War II to the modern century of courts, lawyers, social interactions in a stratified and somewhat isolated society. The setting of the story, the rocky peninsula limited by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, called Gibraltar, is an unusual and interesting place.

The protagonist is lawyer Spike Sanguinetti, dealing on the home front with an aging unsettled father, an adoptive son and a pregnant fiancée, Jessica, who is a member of the Gibraltar constabulary. The cast of characters is long and varied and the story actually begins in the dockyard of the Royal Navy, during the early years of World War II. An explosion kills two Navy ship workers and severely injures a third man, Esteban Reyes. Reyes is arrested as a saboteur and eventually executed.

Time passes, and the modern story develops when Spike is called on to defend a violent man, known throughout the small Gibraltar community for attacking the dying husband of a prominent doctor. Why does this happen? What is the connection between these three individuals? That mystery, that puzzle is the heart of this moving tale. As more and more is revealed, obscure and unknown connections are bared to the cold light of day. Moral issues of war and law are raised and bent in many directions.

Questions of motive, love and professional development are raised and twisted about with the relationships of the characters. The novel is packed with emotion and second-guessing and issues and Spike Sanguinetti is confronted with several decisions that affect his personal as well as his professional life.

It is a lot to deal with and the author is careful to construct a structure that retains necessary logic and fully explains itself to the reader, yet leaves one with personal questions. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 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: The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the WardrobeThe Body in the Wardrobe
A Faith Fairchild Mystery #23
Katherine Hall Page
William Morrow, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243950-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Minster’s wife, caterer, and part-time sleuth Faith Fairchild pairs up with Sophie Maxwell, last seen in Body in the Birches and now a newlywed living in historic Savannah, Georgia, where Sophie crosses paths with murder.

Attorney Sophie Maxwell has come to Savannah to be with her new husband, Will. But nothing throws cold water on a hot relationship faster than a dead body. Worse for Sophie, no one believes the body she knows she saw is real, Will is spending an awful lot of time in Atlanta on a case he claims is urgent, and she’s been tasked with house hunting for them with his former sweetheart, who Sophie can’t help but suspect wishes Sophie would return to her Yankee roots!

Fortunately, Sophie has a good friend in Faith Fairchild. With teenage Amy being bullied by mean girls and husband Tom contemplating a major life change that will affect all the Fairchilds, Faith is eager for distraction in the form of some sleuthing. In between discussions of newlywed agita, surprising Savannah customs and, of course, fabulous low country food, Faith and Sophie will pair up to unmask a killer!

In a departure from other books in the series, Faith Fairchild was not the primary protagonist in the most recent book, The Body in the Birches nor is she in The Body in the Wardrobe; rather, the storyline follows Faith’s friend, Sophie Maxwell, as she marries and moves to her new husband’s home in Savannah. It’s Sophie who’s confronted with disappearing bodies, family secrets, a hostile stepsister-in-law and a new husband who seems to be a bit too close to an old girlfriend, all while learning to live in and love a city radically different from her native Long Island. While all that’s going on, Faith is dealing with family issues including her husband, Tom’s, interest in possibly leaving Aleford for a new parish and her teen daughter, Amy’s, unhappiness in a new school. Her connection to all that’s going on in Savannah is limited to phone calls with Sophie until the last pages.

Savannah, a city I’ve visited several times, is itself a character with all its history, architecture, ghosts and unique culture. Ms. Page brings this quintessential Southern town to vivid life and makes me want to go back as soon as I can.

Truthfully, there are multiple threads in the story, some of which turn out to be mysteries while others are focused on family and town issues in both Savannah and Aleford. Sophie’s husband, Will, is a private investigator working on a case in Atlanta so he’s in and out as Sophie navigates her adopted town and family but he still manages to make enormous mistakes with his new wife and is remarkably uncommunicative. It’s a good thing he’s usually quite likeable but I still had moments of thinking Sophie should make a run for it. She sticks it out, though, even when no one believes she saw a dead man tumble out of her wardrobe and she excuses a lot of Will’s shortcomings. . .until he vanishes and that’s when Faith comes to the rescue.

In a few short hours, the women solve the immediate problem which leads to a denouement that’s little short of implausible and pretty much totally unexpected. In short, this is not the greatest crime story but Ms. Page’s series is so charming overall that a lot can be forgiven and I’ll think of this as a pleasant entry featuring a young woman I’ve come to like very much. I’m looking forward to seeing whether future books will concentrate on Faith again or periodically focus on Sophie.

Note: one thing plucked my last nerve more than once. The word “y’all” is the subject of an ongoing argument as to whether it’s always intended to be second person plural or can sometimes be addressed to a single person, the latter usage being almost entirely in areas not part of the South. I’ve been a Southerner all my life and cannot imagine a native of Savannah addressing one person with this word as happens several times in this story.

Second Note: the foods described are so mouthwatering they can make you feel weak with hunger.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

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About the Author

Katherine Hall PageKatherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-two previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic, she has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the Macavity Award. She lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and Deer Isle, Maine, with her husband.

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Book Review: A Matter of Trust by Lis Wiehl with April Henry

A Matter of TrustA Matter of Trust
A Mia Quinn Mystery #1
Lis Wiehl with April Henry
Thomas Nelson, March 2013
ISBN 978-1-59554-903-7

Hardcover

Recent widow Mia Quinn is on the phone with her friend and fellow prosecuting attorney Colleen Miller when Colleen is shot. Horrified, Mia hands the phone to her teenaged son, Gabe, telling him to listen in case Colleen is able to identify her killer, even as her life’s blood bubbles away. Mia herself rushes to her friend’s aid, but she is too late.

The DA assigns the murder case to Mia, where she will be assisted by detective Charlie Carlson, a man she doesn’t completely trust. Soon the pair are working together on more than the investigation into Colleen’s death. A case of bullying has ended a boy’s life in suicide and Mia is determined to make the bullies accountable. A bond begins to form between the two, until Charlie makes a confession that undermines Mia’s trust.

Meanwhile, Mia’s husband’s death has left her and her two children in severe financial straits. Her son is fourteen, just the age to go off the rails without sufficient supervision and attention. He’s also resentful of having to watch his little sister, who has night terrors.

A lot of the story is given over to Mia just trying to keep her and her children’s life together. A teaching colleague seems thrown into the plot just to provide a romantic issue. Charlie is given a few too many flaws for his role in the story, and I fear I got a bit impatient with Mia’s ineptitude concerning anything other than her job. The writing is good, the plot intricate, the action moves right along, and I loved how Gabe came through at the end.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

Book Review: Killer, Come Hither by Louis Begley

Killer, Come HitherKiller, Come Hither
Louis Begley
Nan Talese/Doubleday, April 2015
ISBN:  978-0-385-53914-2
Hardcover

The protagonist of Louis Begley’s newest novel is Jack Dana, a former Marine Corps Infantry officer who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan before being badly wounded and returning home.  He is now, seven years later, a bestselling writer, with two books behind him and a third in its early stages.  He is a self-described warrior, as were his father and grandfather before him.  Having attended Oxford and Yale and invited to join the Society of Fellows at Harvard, there also following in his forebears’ footsteps.  The latter was a graduate of Harvard College and had been awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star; his grandfather the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

Now his only remaining relative is his father’s brother, Harry [now Jack’s surrogate father], a prominent New York attorney, who himself had graduated with honors from Harvard College and Harvard Law and was a leading partner at a prominent New York law firm.  Shockingly, en route home after a long over-due vacation in Brazil, Jack discovers that his beloved uncle is dead, having been found hanging in his Sag Harbor home in the exclusive east end of Long Island.

Jack becomes convinced that his uncle had not committed suicide, especially after he is told that Harry’s secretary was also dead, after an apparent accident that had put her in the path of an oncoming subway train, one day after Harry’s body was discovered.  He believes that both deaths had to be connected to the law firm and its largest client, a Texas oilman and right-wing multi-billionaire and activist whose political beliefs had him “somewhere to the right of the John Birch Society and Attila the Hun.”  Aided by Scott Prentice, his closest friend since their days at school, and Kerry Black, recently made partner at the firm and Jack’s lover, he pursues his own investigation.  Soon, faced with the near impossibility of finding the man who he believes caused his uncle’s death, the meaning of the title becomes clear:  Jack decides he must make the man come to him.

It was a bit disconcerting to me that, as the novel is written in the first person, nowhere in the book do quotation marks appear, and it was initially off-putting, to have to realize in the middle of a paragraph that what appears on the page is not exposition, but a conversation between two people.  But I hasten to add that when the plot, and the suspense, kicks up a notch or three, about mid-way through the novel, I didn’t even notice that, I was so busy turning pages.  A thoroughly enjoyable read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2015.

Book Reviews: Allure of Deceit by Susan Froetschel and Risking Elizabeth by Walter McCloskey

Allure of DeceitAllure of Deceit 
Susan Froetschel
Seventh Street Books, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61614-017-5
Trade Paperback

Murder, fraud and greed on a grand scale, clashes of culture and intriguing misunderstandings litter the well-trodden ground in this novel. The strong and vibrant writing helps draw the reader in to a world long hidden from western understanding. And even with the recent deluge of news focused on the wars in Iraq Afghanistan, and Pakistan, western knowledge is rooted as much in lack of understanding of Muslim and tribal mores. Dissecting the motives and the perpetrators of these crimes and the application of justices is extremely problematical.

All of that requires a carefully constructed, well-written narrative with characters that speak to us even through the veil of poorly understood history and culture. And here it is. Add the setting, that mysterious –to Western sensibilities—culture of the Middle East, and one has the makings of an enthralling novel. And here it is!

The writing is superb, the tension almost unrelenting and the incisive eye of this author is everywhere available. This is a fine novel and deserves every rave it will acquire.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Risking ElizabethRisking Elizabeth
Walter McCloskey
Berkley, August 1998
ISBN: 978-0-425-16413-6
Mass Market Paperback

This is the author’s debut novel. It takes the reader to enthralling places inside New Orleans society. One is dazzled by the convoluted slick politeness on the surface, even when one is aware of the chicanery and double-dealing that takes place at the same time on other levels. None of the activity chronicled by McCloskey is unknown to the wheelers and dealers in other cities around the world, but because New Orleans is the setting, there seems to be a special aura about this novel which enhances the plot and the characters.

Harry Preston is a successful widowed lawyer with an old-line prestigious firm. New Orleans is the city where he grew up and where legions of his relatives live and work. And play. So Preston brings his young son back to the bosom of his family. But Harry Preston discovers that he knows less about the convoluted undercurrents of the city and its power brokers than he imagined. How little he really knows he really begins to discover when he meets beautiful, willful, socially suspect, Elizabeth Bennett.

Set during Mardi Gras, Preston finds himself falling into a complicated swamp infested with some of the worst and some of the best of New Orleans residents. Big money, big oil, big power and murder are skillfully revealed. The pace is swift, the characters ambiguous and complex, and the atmosphere moody, damp and dark, even in the hot Southern sun. Well-written and very entertaining, rife with tension, Risking Elizabeth carries the reader carefully and completely to its inevitable conclusion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2014.
www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.