Book Reviews: That Left Turn at Albuquerque by Scott Phillips and Where Privacy Dies by Priscilla Paton @soho_press @priscilla_paton @CoffeetownPress

That Left Turn at Albuquerque
Scott Phillips
Soho Crime, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-64129-109-5
Hardcover

The author has assembled here an engaging and substantial cast of characters. That he is able to keep track of their criminal activities and their attitudes toward their fellow humans, as well as their active lives is quite impressive.

Most of the characters engage in illegal and scurrilous acts without apparent concern for the morality or humanity of their lives. Or for the impact their actions have on others, often innocent others. That most of their criminality is directed at other criminals may be seen by many readers as a mitigating factor. A significant number of the characters are imbued with some level of humor and see their fellow humans as actually funny at times.

Central to the story is down and out attorney, Douglas Rigby. His small, now solo practice is falling to pieces and he engages in several illegal enterprises in his attempts to stave off bankruptcy and total ruin.

Readers will be treated to bare-knuckle humor, tongue in cheek satire, up-tempo action, murder, mayhem, and a good deal of action. A somewhat peculiar, jaundiced look at society, propels the book from start to finish.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Where Privacy Dies
A Twin Cities Mystery #1
Priscilla Paton
Coffeetown Press, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-665-6
Trade Paperback

From the striking cover to the final resolution of murky death and the corruption by power and money of numerous characters, this rich and at times difficult novel will attract, enthrall and sometimes irk readers. Central to the story is the gradual growth of understanding and appreciation of two detectives in a Twin Cities law enforcement force titled G-Met. It’s an intriguing amalgam of special cops whose franchise covers multiple jurisdictions in the metropolitan region of East Central Minnesota. It’s an authorial creation with much interesting and intriguing potential.

Lead detective is tall lanky Erik Jansson, divorced father of a young son. He is not a typical cop one frequently finds in this genre. He’s paired with a new hire from a small city in southern Minnesota, Deb Metzger, a six-foot plus lesbian, who could competently handle the physical requirements of a corporate bodyguard. The two are not instantly simpatico and thereby inhabit a running source of minor conflict and mutual support which adds a fine level of benign conflict to the novel.

Although the title of the novel is a quickly understood clue to an important dimension of the mystery, this story turns on the deviousness and sometimes nasty inclinations of human beings who have enjoyed a high degree of success without the leavening factor of ethics and moral suasion. The narrative is tight, solid and delves neatly into ego, intrusion of technology, moral failure and the entanglement of those who would ignore their childhood schooling. A multiplicity of characters, crisp dialogue and an absence of unnecessary description adds to the richness of the novel. The novel competently reveals a fresh voice and a thoughtful look into the modern world of computer crime and our almost universal entanglement therein. I recommend this fine novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Trafficked! by Thomas A. Burns, Jr. @3Mdetective

Trafficked!
A Natalie McMasters Mystery #3
Thomas A. Burns
Tekrighter LLC,  April 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-44718-6
Trade Paperback

Natalie McMasters is a private investigator trainee and the narrator of this emotional, terror-steeped and frank novel of love, loss, desperation, enslavement and retribution. She’s good at surveillance, patient, calm and alert. She hasn’t had much training or experience in developing projects that consider all possible events and outcomes, so she travels on grit and instinct.

She’s married, to a young Latino lady who is in the states illegally and thus has no standing with ICE. When ICE comes looking, Lupe runs, leaving a distraught Natalie to wonder about the future. Natalie’s decision, after very little consideration, is to go looking for Lupe. The trail leads to New York where Natalie becomes tangled with city law enforcement, a gaggle of street people, a detective from her hometown, and finally, an evil band of Albanian sex traffickers.

This explicitly written novel starts slowly and ramps up to a frenetic pace almost immediately as Natalie and her detective friend wander through some of the seamier sections of New York and encounter interesting characters on both sides of the law. Scenes are well developed and often gripping in substance. The author captures a good sense of the scenes and characters in the city and on the Albanian’s ship, in a very adult and explicit fashion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: State University of Murder by Lev Raphael and Cattle Kate by Jana Bommersbach @LevRaphael @PPPress

State University of Murder
A Nick Hoffman Mystery #9
Lev Raphael
Perseverance Press, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-56474-609-2
Trade Paperback

Satirical, amusing, sometimes funny, scalpel sharp and relentless, this Nick Hoffman murder story will engage most academics, offend a few and, in the bargain, offers up a classic who-dunnit. Raphael’s writing, as always, is incisive, often cutting and mostly to the point.

The author provides an extensive context of the lives of the two principal characters, Professor of Literature, Nicholas Hoffmann, a semi-professional investigator and his marriage and life partner, Stefan, also a professor at the State University of Michigan (SUM) and a highly thought-of successful crime novelist.

Their department has recently been renamed English and Creative Writing, in the apparently usual manner, by Trustees of the University with little or no faculty consultation. This gives the author opportunity to swing wider his cleaver of criticism, aimed at all members of the academic community, top to bottom. A new chair has also been named, a flamboyant, self-centered, egotistical man of letters from France. He endears himself immediately to all full-time and adjunct faculty by making a series of unilateral decisions without consultation, thus raising to untold levels the ire of the department. Hoffman deplores the new office spaces as well.

The author carefully introduces us to many department members and sets the stage for murder, pointing to faculty jealousies and resentments which abound on this campus. The story moves along at a reasonable pace, with many side trips to drinks, dinner, a dog and social activities. All of it is precisely and clearly written with many quips and even sarcastic references to the world at large.

The story is well-placed in the world of today and reflects accurately the author’s world view and that of a more compressed academic community. The mystery is solved, the murderer arrested and the academics return to their emotionally fraught tasks of educating eager young people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2019.
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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Cattle Kate
Jana Bommersbach
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0302-2
Hardcover

Award-winning journalist and author, Bommersbach brings to this moving thoughtful novel, years of careful research, good writing and yes, a jaundiced eye. Those attributes are particularly important for this project because the author is directly confronting long-standing scurrilous myth about the subject of the novel, a woman named Ella Watson, and about the mythology of the settlement of the west.

Every child alive in America today as well as previous generations grew up on stories of the men who settled the western plains of North America in the years following the Civil War. There were strong mountain men, trappers, taciturn cowboys, sodbusters and cattlemen. Mostly missing from the narrative are the stories of the strong women who proved up on land grants, herded cattle and made homes for the men in their lives.

This is the story of once such strong woman, secretly married, who owned land in Wyoming Territory and was murdered, along with her husband on a July day in 1889. The couple was murdered by several landowners who claimed, along with help from local newspapers, that she was a pimp and a prostitute and a cattle rustler. Her attackers simply wanted her land and water rights.

The author meticulously tells the story of Ella Watson from her early life in Canada and Kansas to her death. Bommersbach’s canvas is broad and richly colored with the times, the trials and the triumphs of so many women on the frontier. The characters are clever and vividly portrayed. The pace at times slows to a thoughtful meander, but never loses focus. Here is a novel of the true old west to be read, savored and read again.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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: Beneath the Surface by Rebecca Langham @rlangham85 @ninestarpress @AnAudiobookworm

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Title: Beneath the Surface
Series: Outsider Project #1
Author: Rebecca Langham
Narrator: Kate Roth
Publication Date: March 18, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Beneath the Surface
Outsider Project #1
Rebecca Langham
Narrated by Kate Roth
NineStar Press, March 2019
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

When a change in collective conscious sends the Outsiders, a group of aliens, to the shadows below the city, humans reason that the demonetization of their peers is simply more “humane”. There’s no question nor doubt. Just acceptance.

Lydia had embraced that sense of “truth” for as long as she can remember. The daughter of a powerful governor, she has been able to live her life with more comforts than most. Comforts can be suffocating, though, and when the opportunity to teach Outsider children in their private, “humane” community becomes available, she takes it.

What she finds beneath the city is far from the truth she had grown to know. There she meets Alessia, an Outsider with the knowledge and will to shake the foundation of all those who walk above ground. The two find a new and unexpected connection despite a complete disconnect from the technological world. Or perhaps in spite of it.

Still, it takes a lot more than an immutable connection to change the world. Lydia, Alessia, and a small group of Outsiders must navigate a system of corruption, falsehoods, and twists none of them ever saw coming, all while holding on to the hope to come out alive in the end. But it’s a risk worth taking and a future worth fighting for.

Days after reading Beneath the Surface, I’m still unsure of just what I think about it and it keeps popping back into my mind. That’s not a normal state of events for me but it must be a good thing that I’m still cogitating over this book, right?

The premise is a good one, that humans have won the war with the aliens and have subjugated the survivors, and it’s refreshing to see aliens that are so close in appearance to humans and so subject to many of our behaviors. I missed having any  of the initial conflict between the two because that would have brought a lot of frenetic action to the page and, in fact, the story suffered, for me, by being sort of staid. I also could have done with less attention to the romantic entanglements—I always think there’s too much of that—but the characters did appeal to me a good deal.

Perhaps my indecision about this book lies in the feeling that there are too many threads to follow, too many soapbox issues. Did the author really intend that? I don’t truly know but there’s no doubt that this felt like an allegory for our current conditions in the US (and in a few other countries but most noticeably here) what with our government’s treatment of immigrants and the rise of racism, corruption, terrorism, broken promises and all the other ill will going on here.

Narrator Kate Roth does a nice job other than having some difficulty with male voices and her use of varying accents helped bring it all to life. I’ll gladly listen to more from her.

So, bottomline, Beneath the Surface has a lot to offer but there are facets that prevented me from liking it 100%. I’m hoping for—and expecting—some more booklove with the next installment  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

About the Author

Rebecca Langham lives in the Blue Mountains (Australia) with her partner, children, and a menagerie of pets. She has been a foster carer for over ten years.

A Xenite, a Whovian and all-round general nerd, Rebecca is a lover of science fiction, comic books, and caffeine.  When she isn’t teaching History to high schoolers or wrangling children, Rebecca enjoys playing broomball and reading.

Connect with Rebecca:

Website // Twitter // Facebook

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About the Narrator

A global voice, Kate brings her broad experience and expertise into the studio and into her voice over delivery. With her unique blend of accents, a project can only “shine” with the versatility and distinct sound of her voice

Australian, British and North American accents are within Kate’s range.

Adaptive in style and tone, depending on your needs, Kate can deliver a wide range of voices. From conversational to authoritative; fun to serious; sophisticated to knowledgeable and beyond.

Connect with Kate:

Website // Twitter // Facebook

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Anything Could Happen
Will Walton
Scholastic Press, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70954-5
Hardcover

It’s not every book that can convincingly cast a character with such seemingly unrelated skills. A closet dance fiend who can also (albeit a bit dubiously) aid in delivering a calf. Tretch keeps these truths hidden, right along with another fact he hasn’t figured out how to share.

He appreciates the perks of life in a tiny town while acknowledging the total lack of privacy. Also absent, is the population to properly support a funky, refurbished theatre. So, no matter how cool the 1976 King Kong movie is, Matt and his dads will probably be moving to a city soon. The time to come clean is now. Or never.

And it’s here that I could tell you Anything Could Happen is about absolutely true friendship, the strength and support of family and crushing on the wrong kid. Accurate, yet incomplete. To me, it simply shows how sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness.

Tretch is wise beyond his years, in a unique—not unrealistic—way. His uncanny ability to set his own feelings aside to focus on a friend isn’t instinctive, making it all the more admirable. He is incredibly aware of others’ feelings and hasn’t shared particular pieces of himself solely for the purpose of protecting his friends and family.

“…the insults that somehow fly right past me, but I fear would peg each of them smack in the gut.”

Secrets don’t stay hidden forever and often, they are spilled at once. How they come out matters as much as addressing the information, once it’s laid bare. A lot of pressure for an adolescent and while Tretch may not initially handle it smoothly, once he allows himself to be honest, his sincerity is unquestionable.

This was fun, without being frivolous and is appropriate for the Middle-Grade reader, but (I think) appealing to all.

Oh, and now I know who Ellie Goulding is.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2018.

Book Review: My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace

My Whole Truth
Mischa Thrace
Flux, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-024-8
Trade Paperback

I’ve struggled with this review for a few weeks, because I was stunned. Speechless. Now, I accept the fact that I will never find and assemble accurate words to aptly address my deep desire for everyone to read this book. But, I can’t keep not telling you about My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace. So…

Starting this story is a bit like having a bucket of ice-cold water dumped over your head. From out of nowhere. That steal-your-breath, shocking feeling, fused with white-hot anger, stayed with me. Quite frankly, still simmers. Perhaps, because this Realistic Fiction plot is so current, it is almost creepy.

The scenario certainly sets me off, but there’s a brilliant balance with the sincere and effortless strength and support that Seelie receives from her friends. And because they are adolescents, situations can only stay serious for so long. Even from her hospital bed, merely moments after being attacked, Seelie stays true to teens everywhere by easily ignoring simple ‘stay still and quiet’ instructions. And she calls her friends, not a parent. Although, she is not wrong there.

If everyone had a best bud like Lyssa, there would be no more bullying. The ultimate antihero, I couldn’t help but cheer a little bit whenever she stepped out of line. From the minute she arrived in the emergency room, all the way to the end of the tortuous trial, Lyssa stuck by Seelie’s side.

Whereas, Seelie’s mother stayed busy with her restaurant, as usual. Since she wasn’t in the hayloft at the time, Mom couldn’t be expected to actually know what happened anyway. She does recall that Seelie has always been rude to Shane, while seemingly everyone else in the entire town adores the judge’s son. And maternal ambivalence is only the tip of the iceberg.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2018.

Book Reviews: See Also Proof by Larry D. Sweazy and Operation Stop Hate by Jessie Chandler

See Also Proof
A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery #3
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63388-279-9
Trade Paperback

Marjorie Tremaine, a freelance indexer living just outside Dickinson, North Dakota in 1965 is still mourning the untimely death of her husband. Their dog, Shep offers only limited comfort. The local Ladies Aide visits regularly, in spite of harsh winter weather on this northern prairie, but Marjorie is still struggling with her life and latest assignment.

The unsettling news that a local teen girl has gone missing comes as almost welcome relief to Marjorie. Here’s a local puzzle to help solve. Working with the new county sheriff, out looking for the missing girl in front of a looming snowstorm, she stumbles on a body. The dead man was well-liked and well-known throughout the county. Thus the author sets up wide possibilities for whom the killer might be. And the murder of this young man on the heels of the girl gone missing adds to the possibilities.

The author is adept at setting up complex situations that capture readers’ attention. His characters feel authentic to the locale and the time. Two elements come to dominate this novel and affect the actions of nearly all the characters most of the time. Weather is the most dominant and in this novel snowstorms of blizzard proportions are looming, a part of the immediacy, or just leaving the scene.

The other element is Marjorie’s old Studebaker truck. It’s a typical farm truck of the era, too much abused with heavy work assignments, too little maintenance owing to lack of funds and always in need of a boost from the block heater. Never completely put off, this reader felt at times he was more intimately involved with the troublesome Studebaker than the main plot. Nevertheless, the truck plays an important role in the success of the story, protecting Marjorie at crucial times.

The author uses the character of the residents, of the land itself, and of the unique relationships between all of them in this engrossing well-written story of a terrible and an uplifting time in the life of North Dakota.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 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.

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Operation Stop Hate
The Operation Series Book One
Jessie Chandler
Train Wreck Xpress, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63304-803-4
Trade Paperback

A rousing adventure into the way federal, state and local law enforcement agencies study and take action to protect the nation against religious and political hate groups and their attacks on our people, especially LGBTQ folks. The novel follows the actions of Special Agent Cailin McKenna, a valued if occasionally erratic, member of a national force dubbed National Protection and Investigation Unit.

NPIU is called in when two shootings occur at two Minneapolis schools. Several law enforcement agencies participate in attempting to pin down connections when it becomes possible that the shootings are linked. McKenna is upended when she discovers one of the shooters may be a boy she thought she rescued from the streets.

McKenna’s life is further complicated by unwanted oppressive attention from her former lover, Elisa, an obsessive-compulsive ad exec who seems to be losing her grip on reality. McKenna, faced with opposing forces on the job and in her love life, has a tough time navigating the investigation. All of these conditions are presented in an interesting matrix of events and emotions.

There are a large number of really good characters in this book, consistently and interestingly presented. They move through McKenna’s orbit and fulfill important roles.

The novel moves apace and if there are a bit too many words devoted to the high emotions of McKenna’s love life, the entire story is presented in a tasteful way that never loses sight of the primary and most serious plot, revealing the motivations and political efforts of hate groups in our society. I recommend this novel for its current social connections and excellent readability.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 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.