Book Review: The Hidden Key by David E. Grogan

The Hidden Key
A Steve Stilwell Thriller #3
David E. Grogan
Camel Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-60381-580-2
Trade Paperback

Having never read David E. Grogan’s previous books, when I finished this one, I read reviews of Sapphire Pavilion and The Siegel Dispositions.  Having done so I discovered I am definitely in a minority when it comes to Grogan’s books.  Praise for those previous stories abounds but I just could not get on board (no pun intended).  I found both the story and the writing not even close to believable including his use of verbs that just did not match the emotions being communicated.

The Hidden Key begins with two men breaking into the home of a former Navy Seabee looking for an artifact, a clay tablet stolen from Iraq, that he advertised for sale on the internet.  Unbelievable violence ensues when the Seabee denies any knowledge of the artifact.  This is just the beginning of the body count.

About a week later Steve Stilwell, a lawyer in Virginia and a retired Navy JAG officer, meets a prospective client for dinner in London, having been contacted by the man and asked to join him in London as soon as possible.  The prospective client wants to hire Stilwell to probate his estate in the US.  As they are discussing the matter, two armed men enter the restaurant and the client ends up dead.  Stilwell later discovers that the client has wills in the US, India, and Italy but his job involves only the one in the US.  However, in addition to his will, the client has  left specific instructions as to how cash he left in a safe deposit box was to be distributed and where he was to be buried, specifying that his wife in India might not agree to either but he wanted his wishes honored.

Of course, the man’s wife needed to be informed of these instructions so Stilwell’s law partner, Casey, a former Army helicopter pilot, is dispatched to India to meet with her.  Despite a warm welcome from the woman, Casey ends up being attacked after their meeting.  Meanwhile, Stilwell has gone to Italy to meet with his client’s mistress where, perhaps you guessed it, more violence and murders ensue.  Meanwhile, the artifact that started this whole venture has been found, then lost, then found again.  It turns out that the artifact is a map to the Garden of Eden.  And, oh yes, the FBI, New Scotland Yard, and the Italian Carabinieri (because of a heist of the Shroud of Turin) are also involved.

Because I found this book beyond fantastical, I cannot recommend it but if you liked Grogan’s previous books you will probably like this one too.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, April 2020.

Book Review: Cheater’s Game by Paul Levine @Jake_Lassiter

Cheater’s Game
A Jake Lassiter Thriller #14
Paul Levine
Herald Square Publishing, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-7342510-0-5
Trade Paperback

The latest in Levine’s Jake Lassiter Thriller series finds Jake in what can only be called a “ripped from the headlines” situation.  Jake’s beloved nephew Kip whom Jake raised, has been working with a brilliant millionaire who has set up a program to help the children of rich parents get into universities that they would not otherwise qualify for under any circumstances.  Is this beginning to sound familiar?  Yes, the story is much like, though not the same as, the current scandal playing out in the federal district court in my hometown of Boston.

Kip, not unlike many other 20-year-old young people, believes he not only has come up with an infallible scheme that fits very well with that of his new mentor but that it’s not illegal and, in any case, his mentor will never give him up, as Jake did not give up his mentor when the FBI came calling.  Alas, it isn’t so.  When the FBI then approached Kip’s mentor and presented an offer he couldn’t refuse, he threw Kip under the bus.  So, now facing numerous federal crimes and the possibility of spending decades in prison, to whom does he turn?  Why to his uncle Jake, of course!  Now, Jake is a long-time criminal defense lawyer and a very good one.  But he is also a former football player who suffered many head injuries and has bouts of memory loss for which he is being treated with an experimental protocol by his fiancée, a neurologist.  That said there is a serious question about whether, as good as Jake is – or was – as a lawyer, is he up to defending Kip against the government’s 37 claims of racketeering, mail fraud, and money laundering, all supported by his mentor’s testimony against him?

The trial is as dramatic as anyone could possibly want.  I don’t know what the rest of the series is like, but I highly recommend this book and if the others are as good, you’re in for several very good reads.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, April 2020.

Book Review: The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan @HankPRyan @ForgeReads

The Murder List
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Forge Books, August 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-19721-4
Hardcover

Launching on August 20th is Hank Phillippi Ryan’s latest novel, The Murder List.  It is exciting, well-plotted, character driven, and eminently readable.  I would have said it is a terrific beach read if CNN didn’t beat me to it, choosing it as an “Ultimate Beach Read”!  That said – and with due respect to CNN – The Murder List is so much more than that.  The story revolves around Rachel North, a law student who has scored a summer internship in the office of a well-known and powerful Assistant District Attorney (“ADA”).  One problem, though, Rachel’s husband, Jack Kirkland, a brilliant criminal defense attorney is opposed to her taking the job because he and the ADA have history and do not like each other.  However, Rachel and Jack have a plan to be partners defending people charged with murder after Rachel finishes law school and gains the qualifications she needs to be put on the murder list (that is, attorneys qualified to handle murder cases).  So, Rachel is unwilling to pass up the opportunity to see how murder cases are handled from the prosecution side.  Arriving on her first day, she meets her fellow interns and her boss, ADA Martha Gardiner.

In the first hour, Gardiner takes her to the scene of a murder where Rachel is left outside to babysit the suspect’s nephew, leaving her with the feeling that her boss doesn’t really think much of her.  But after a court appearance the next day Gardiner invites Rachel to lunch.  From then on, their working relationship grows to the point where the ADA invites Rachel to work on a murder case she is personally handling.  For Rachel, this is a great opportunity because if she and Jack follow their plan, Rachel will need to be on the murder list, as Jack already is.  And, of course, Rachel who is not even out of law school, is nowhere near qualified to get on that list.  But the experience she will gain assisting the ADA will give her budding career a big boost.

While Rachel works on the murder case, her fellow interns are working on other matters which, according to them, are not at all as interesting as her case.  But, as Rachel’s work progresses, the evidence in her murder case is mounting against someone close to her which is making her anxious and frightened.  Forbidden to talk with anyone but Gardiner about the case, Rachel is unsure what to do but, as ordered, keeps all case-related information to herself.

As mentioned above, The Murder List is an exciting read with its unexpected twists and turns.  My only complaint is that I lost sleep over it – I didn’t finish it until 3:00 a.m. but I just couldn’t put it down.  Don’t miss this!

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

Book Review: Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young

Abuse of Discretion
Dre Thomas Series #3
Pamela Samuels Young
Goldman House Publishing, 2017
ISBN 978-1-530-52897-4
Trade Paperback

Here we have a suspenseful, current novel of crime and punishment that is not only engaging, exciting and enthralling, but takes a hard, insightful and sensitive look at our modern society and its attitudes and laws relating to juveniles and sex.

Because the sub-plot is so well developed, this novel is really two for one. The second plot involves the fraught relationship between an incarcerated pimp and sex trafficker and the criminally connected uncle of a kidnapped girl. Dre, the uncle, is able through his underworld connections, to thwart threats to his girl friend and others in his family which adds a level of tension to the novel.

The core of this interesting story centers around a bright fourteen-year-old named Graylin. He’s attending a private school and is found to have a single nude picture of a female classmate on his phone. He may have been set up and the novel in increasingly tension-filled chapters, traces the politically-influenced and rigidly inept laws relating to society’s attempts to deal with sex crimes such as sexting.

Graylin’s case is defended by two of the most interesting characters in the novel. Angela is a top defense attorney, companion to Graylin’s uncle Dre in a somewhat tense relationship, who is not used to working with children accused of crime. She seconds a juvenile specialist and after some early rough going, the two women bond into a formidable team. Although the final outcomes of the novel are somewhat expected, the paths to resolution are filled with disturbing and interesting barriers.

The locations, supporting characters and pace of the novel are all very well done and the ultimate resolutions are satisfying. Each chapter is labeled with the name of the character whose point of view is dominant in that chapter, allowing the author’s keen powers of observation free rein, to excellent effect.

For many reasons, I commend this fine novel to readers of crime fiction and to those likewise interested in the current state of our social affair.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 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: After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

After Anna
Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-09965-5
Hardcover

Lisa Scottoline is the author of more than a dozen legal thrillers featuring a firm of women lawyers in Philadelphia and nearly as many stand-alone novels of domestic suspense. She has also published several volumes of humorous essays.

Scottoline’s legal background is on full display in her latest contemporary domestic thriller, After Anna. Maggie Ippolitti is ecstatic when she unexpectedly has the opportunity to re-connect with the daughter she lost years ago after she was diagnosed with post-partum psychosis. Happy in her second marriage, to widower Dr. Noah Alderman, and satisfied in mothering his son, she is still quick to invite Anna to live with them, even though she knows little about the nearly grown teenager.

Anna’s presence rapidly causes tension in the house that Maggie overlooks in order to keep Anna with her. Not the least of the issues is the fact that Anna is set to inherit several million dollars in just a few months from the estate of her father, Maggie’s first husband. Both Noah and Maggie think 18 is far too young to become a millionaire. When Anna is murdered less than a month after she moves in with the family, Noah is accused of the crime and stands trial in a blaze of relentless publicity.

A new piece of information near the end of the trial presents a completely different view of and motive for the teenager’s death, which Maggie follows to its unexpected conclusion.

The story is laid out in short vignettes that move back and forth in time, from the point Maggie first hears from Anna through the trial. Many of them take place in the courtroom where events leading up to the murder are revealed as the prosecutor and the defending attorney cross-examine witnesses. While this format in the skilled hands of Scottoline ratchets the suspense to an almost unbearable level, the frequent and abrupt transitions in time and place and voice are not always easy to follow.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, March 2018.

Book Reviews: Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum and Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

Infamy
A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller #28
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-4767-9321-4
Mass Market Paperback

This novel is not up to the usual standards of the author.  Usually, the first half of the book recounts a situation which sets the stage for the other half, which, ordinarily, few do better than Mr. Tanenbaum: a dramatic courtroom scene.  So it is with Infamy.  Unfortunately, however otherwise well-written the novel is, the courtroom scene is flat and perfunctory.

The novel opens with an intelligence raid by a secret U.S. Army unit in Syria which was supposed to capture at least one suspect.  Instead, they find the suspect had shot and murdered other important enemy subjects and obtained important documents which point to a conspiracy to evade sanctions on ISIS and Iraqi oil.  Butch Karp, the New York DA and protagonist of the series, enters the plot when a U.S. Army Colonel is shot and killed in Central Park, and slowly a conspiracy begins to unfold.

There are all sorts of subplots and side issues which add little to the tale, except to make it more complicated than it really is.  This reader was clearly disappointed, especially when the author decided to vent his own political views, sometimes crudely or bluntly chastising those holding conservative views.  It’s too bad, because basically Infamy began with a solid idea, but lost its way along the way from front cover to back cover.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet
A Jesse Stone Novel #16
Reed Farrel Coleman
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7144-4
Hardcover

This is the fourth Jesse Stone novel Reed Farrel Coleman has written in the series begun by the late Robert B. Parker.  And he has kept the faith.  Moreover, he has done something the master never did.  He brings in Spenser to play a minor role in solving the mystery which begins with the death of an old woman, a member of the founding family of Paradise, and the ransacking of her home.

Jesse, still reeling from the death of his beloved Diana in his presence, is slowly drinking himself into oblivion.  But that doesn’t stop him from performing his duty as Police Chief, despite the hindrance of the Mayor and her hatchet woman.  The plot basically revolves around the recovery of a supposedly long lost tape made by a now has-been rock star in time for his 70th birthday party.

Coleman performs up to the standards of the late master, while offering a clever plot of his own, written in a slightly different style (few can duplicate the pithy sentences of a Parker novel).  He gives us a deeper insight into Jesse’s personality and presumably shows the force of his iron will.  Well at least let’s hope so.  Presumably we’ll find out in the next volume in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

Book Review: Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks

Weave a Murderous Web
Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks
Melange Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-68046-252-4
Trade Paperback

Jane Larson, a high powered litigator with Adams & Ridge, a big New York law firm, takes on a domestic case as a favor to a friend. The friend is a legal assistant at the firm, Francine, who has a friend with a troublesome divorce. Gail is model-beautiful but seems more interested in extracting cash from her lawyer husband than the welfare of her daughter. There is a suitcase full of cash that Larry Hawkins, the ex-husband, is hiding from her, and she wants Jane to find it.

After attending a Young Lawyers dinner, Jane is shot and wounded by Larry . Although this attempt on her life failed, will someone try again? Carmen Ruiz, a cable news reporter, is investigating a story about another local attorney who was believed to die of a drug overdose. Carmen, who knew that the dead attorney had dealings with Larry, thinks he was killed.  A tip from Carmen leads to the discovery of a safe deposit box with cash and two insurance policies. But Gail claims that the there’s still that suitcase out there, and she is desperate for the cash.

Unfortunately, the author telegraphed the killer early on, in a bit of back story that was out of place. It was difficult to find something sympathetic about any of the characters in this tale of lies, drugs, and murder.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.