Book Review: Keiretsu by Richard Brawer

KeiretsuKeiretsu
Richard Brawer
L&L Dreamspell, December 2012
ISBN 978-1-60318-480-9
Trade Paperback

It’s a soap opera that crosses borders. A family struggle with revenge, decades’ old injustices, corruption, politics, and tradition. From Japan to San Francisco this book explores two cultures and how they cope with the modern world. It’s a wily chess match played on an international scale. The Ewings have nothing on the Nagoyas.

Toshio Nagoya wants to be the next Shogun ruler of Japan. He wants to exact revenge upon America for their treatment of Japan not only during the war, but when they were invaded more than 150 years before by people who would subvert Japans traditions. Gathering a group of like-minded businessmen, he’ll strike back both financially and politically.

Toshio’s cousin, John Nagoya, feels similarly against America. With the help of his son in-law, he’s going to affect politics and skirt the law. To do that he must defeat a powerful Senator who intends to strengthen laws restricting foreign influence on American politics.

John’s son, Roger, suspects all is not smooth in the businesses he sees his father helping to buy. However, he may have to contend with Ogato Nagoya, the power hungry son of Toshio.

There’s everything in this novel-history, sex, murder, politics, corruption. It’s a story for today. It shows the good and bad sides of both Japanese and American cultures. Brawer has done his homework to come up with a fine piece of dramatic writing.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: Shear Murder by Nancy J. Cohen, Dying for a Dance by Cindy Sample, and No Rest for the Wicked by Elizabeth C. Main

Shear MurderShear Murder
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, February 2012
ISBN 978-1-4328-2554-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Weddings always make Marla Shore shed a tear of joy, and she’s elated to attend her friend Jill’s reception. Marla’s own nuptials are weeks away, and she’s busy following her frenetic to-do list. Her plans go awry when she discovers Jill’s matron of honor dead under the cake table, a knife embedded in her chest. Lots of folks aren’t sorry to see Torrie go, especially since the bride’s sister knew their deepest secrets. But when suspicion falls upon Jill, Marla wonders if her dear friend is truly innocent. She’d better untangle the snarl of suspects and iron out the clues before the killer highlights her as the next victim.

Weddings are much on hairdresser Marla’s mind these days, her own ceremony in a few weeks and the one coming up shortly that will unite her friend, Jill, with her husband-to-be—but will it unite Jill with her fractious sister, Torrie? Apparently not, as Marla discovers when she finds Torrie dead and it looks like it’s up to Marla to save her friend from being pegged as a murderer. Of course, she has to fit this in with her own pre-wedding tasks and running her salon. At times, the bad guys are a relief from the simmering hostilities between her and Dalton’s mothers but then someone tries to burn down her shop, a clear sign that she may be getting to close to the killer.

Marla Shore has been one of my favorite amateur sleuths for years and her escapades in Shear Murder are as entertaining as ever. Marla is a little different from your average amateur in a couple of ways. First, the woman is smart and she figures things out with a judicious amount of snooping rather than accidentally tripping over clues as so many do. The other thing that sets her apart is that the man in her life respects her intelligence and, even though he’s a police detective  and that sort usually disdains the efforts of such sleuths (and often rightfully so), Dalton actually encourages Marla. How refreshing!

Nancy J. Cohen is an author I always look for and I do hope #11 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries series will be coming soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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Dying for a DanceDying for a Dance
Cindy Sample
L&L Dreamspell, 2011
ISBN 978-1-60318-427-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It takes two to tango-but only one to murder.

Lead-footed single mom, Laurel McKay, agrees to learn a foxtrot routine for her best friend’s wedding. After she trips her instructor, crashes into a pair of dancers and breaks the heel of her new shoes, she thinks her evening can’t possibly get any worse. Then she stumbles over another dancer. A dead one. With her broken stiletto heel stuffed in his mouth.

The action moves from the California Gold Country to Lake Tahoe as Laurel searches for the killer amid the sequins and flying feathers of a ballroom competition. Can she samba her way into the heart of the handsome detective who has once again entered her life? Or will dancing and detecting prove to be a lethal combination?

One, two, three, four. Too many suspects on this dance floor.
Five, six, seven, eight. Find the murderer before it’s too late.

I love traditional mysteries. I love them even more when they’re funny and Dying for a Dance is a very funny mystery. Laurel reminds me of a boss I used to have who was also a very good friend. Marilyn, like Laurel, was an attractive woman who usually had her act together and had a good man in her life (still does). She was one of those women it would be easy to hate because she seemed to have it all, you know the type? And then she would pull off a ridiculously silly and inept move, frequently involving her feet. One time, we were walking across an icy parking lot and she was suddenly not there—she had literally slid under a car. Another time, we were at a business dinner and she excused herself for a few minutes. On the way back across a tile floor, her feet went up in the air (she was wearing these shoes called Candies that were notorious accidents waiting to happen) and, the next thing we knew, she was flat on her back with her skirt over her face. All in view of our clients, of course.

So when I read Cindy Sample‘s stories about Laurel, I have a clear picture of her in my mind and I’m laughing before I even start. Fortunately, the author does not let me down. In this case, I can relate to this essentially clumsy woman having to stumble her way around a dance floor or face the wrath of Bridezilla and Laurel is clearly relieved, in a way, when she gets involved in a murder investigation. What better excuse could she have to avoid the dance floor?

Going along with Laurel as she annoys her detective boyfriend and a bunch of potential murder suspects, copes with her mother’s boyfriend who once suspected Laurel of murder, fends off amorous Russians and learns more than she wants to know about competitive dancing is pure fun and I really hope the third book is coming soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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No Rest for the WickedNo Rest for the Wicked
Elizabeth C. Main
Five Star, 2011
ISBN 978-1-4328-2504-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Jane Serrano, 43-year-old widow and founder of the Murder of the Month Book Club, just wants life to return to normal at Thornton’s Books in Juniper, Oregon. Ten months after being dubbed the “Bookstore Heroine” for unexpectedly bringing a killer to justice, her life hasn’t settled down at all. Though Jane at first found the attention flattering, now she’s had enough and wants to explore the intriguing possibilities of a romantic relationship with local attorney Nick Constantine.

However, the other charter members of the book club relish the ride on the celebrity bandwagon. Business at Thornton’s Books is booming and the club’s been swamped with entreaties to join–no surprise, given the widespread publicity the group received. Between the fan mail and the tourists stopping by, they’ve barely had time to read mysteries for their regular meetings. Jane attempts to keep the unwieldy group grounded in reality, but it’s tough going.

Following the discovery of a new corpse in the sagebrush, book club member Alix Boudreau finds the finger of the law pointed straight at her. The murdered man, Hunter Blackburn, was a skilled con artist . . . and Alix’s ex-husband. Alix had both motive and opportunity to kill Blackburn. Her friends set about finding the real killer, using the  goodhearted ineptitude they first demonstrated in Murder of the Month. Jane tosses aside her hope of tranquility and sets to work. Solving the earlier crime was righteous fun. This time it’s deadly serious.

When Jane’s friend Alix gets involved in  murder, the mystery devotees of the Murder of the Month book club quite naturally expect her to solve it because, after all, she did it once before, didn’t she? Jane can’t seem to convince them otherwise but then her hackles are raised by the lazy sheriff who jumps to a conclusion she’s sure is wrong and who won’t even consider other possibilities. Obviously, Jane will have to find the killer before Alix is sent up the river.

Ms. Main has a nice touch with crafting a puzzle and I have to confess to being distracted, as intended, by the red herrings here and there. I was also distracted, in a very good way, by the chuckles that ensued whenever the book club members were on the scene, especially when they take a road trip, but it was also clear that these folks cared a lot about each other and they made smalltown life seem very appealing. And can I please have some of Minnie’s weaponry cookies?

I really want to spend some more time with Jane, Minnie and the rest of the gang—including the loveable Wendell, dog extraordinaire— so I hope Ms. Main is going to give us a third book sooner rather than later.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

Book Reviews: Thorns on Roses by Randy Rawls, Nightwatcher by Wendy Corsi Staub, Fatal Induction by Bernadette Pajer, and A Dead Red Heart by R.P. Dahlke

Thorns On Roses
Randy Rawls
L&L Dreamspell, 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-60318-375-8
Trade Paperback

Currently Tom Jeffries is a private investigator.   Jeffries is an ex-Special Forces operative and an ex-Dallas police officer.   Jeffries is also on retainer with an elite Florida law firm. Jeffries has a habit of leaving his business card in various places.  He has a note on the back “If I can help, call me.” and he signs the card.  The police found a body of a girl and Jeffries is contacted to identify the body.  Jeffries is called because one of his business cards is clutched in the hand of the victim.  While at the morgue Jeffries states that he can’t identify the body and does not reveal that he knows the identity of the victim.

Jeffries’ best friend Charlie Rogers has been in contact with him regarding the disappearance of his stepdaughter, 17-year old Mary Lou Smithson.  Now Jeffries must make a call to Charlie to tell him the girl’s body is at the morgue.    Several weeks ago, Jeffries had given Lonnie, Mary Lou’s Mother, some of his cards.  Lonnie was concerned about her daughter, Mary Lou, who had taken a part time job at a supermarket chain.  Since Mary Lou had been working, she had been breaking rules and Lonnie could not seem to halt the rebellion and then she disappeared.

One clue on the body is a tattoo of a rose.  The tattoo is a connection to a gang operating in the area.  Jeffries vows to seek revenge for Mary Lou and so begins an exciting chase but the police do not appreciate his involvement in the case.  The law firm that Jeffries works for is afraid his vendetta will create bad publicity for the firm.  Abby Archer, an attorney, is assigned the job of watching over Jeffries and reporting back to the firm.  The relationship between the two is interesting to say the least.

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The characters are good, the story is excellent and there is never a dull moment.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2012.

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Nightwatcher
Wendy Corsi Staub
Harper, August 2012
ISBN No. 978-0062070289
Mass Market Paperback

Terrifying in more than one way, this novel holds the interest of the reader from the very beginning and just does not let go.  The book begins the night before the terrorist strike on New York on September 11, 2001.

Allison Taylor lives in Manhattan and loves it.   Allison is a style editor at 7th Avenue Magazine. Kristina Haines lives in the apartment above Allison’s and the two are neighbors.  Kristina is an aspiring Broadway actress.  The two visit in the laundry room from time to time and have exchanged keys to their apartments with each other in case of emergency.

Jerry Thompson is the maintenance man in the apartment building.  Kristina tells Allison that Jerry is creeping her out.  She says he is always watching her.  Allison assures Kristina that Jerry is harmless.  Jerry is a little slow but Allison feels that he would not hurt anyone.

Suddenly terrorists strike New York. The city is in a shambles.  All members of the police departments and the fire departments are called to the scene.  Many are trying to find friends and family of their own as well as looking for survivors.  Allison is forced to walk most of the way home from a late party.

Allison hasn’t seen Kristina since the tragedy and thinks perhaps she went to stay with a friend but when she goes to Kristina’s apartment to check she finds that Kristina has been brutally murdered.  Detective Rocko  Manzillo is in charge of the investigation.  He explains to Allison that although the department is short-handed the police will be at the apartment for quite some time investigating the murder.  Allison tells Detective Manzillo about Kristina’s fear of Jerry but Allison doesn’t even know his last name or where to find him.

This novel gives people who did not live in New York a better view of the city after the tragedy.  The murder investigation goes on in spite of Detective Manzillo being short-handed and working almost around the clock.  I am ready to read the next Wendy Corsi Staub novel called Sleepwalker.  There is an excerpt from the next book at the end of Nightwatcher.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2012.

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Fatal Induction
Bernadette Pajer
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2012
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-614-3
Trade Paperback
Also available in hardcover

Mystery, science, gypsies, and the assassination of President McKinley all play major roles in this novel.  Benjamin Bradshaw is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and is currently involved in an electrical competition.  The contest winner’s telephonic system will deliver music from the Seattle Grand theatre to homes throughout the city.  The reader can only imagine what this would mean to people sitting at home and able to hear music from the theater.

Bradshaw is sidetracked a bit when he finds a gypsy peddler cart abandoned behind his home.  The cart advertises “Ralph’s Redeeming Restorative, the Romany Remedy that Really Works”.  The inside of the cart revealed a little girl’s doll.  Bradshaw brings the doll in the house where he lives with his housekeeper, Mrs. Prouty, and his son Jason who is in the third grade.  Mrs. Prouty is indignant because the horse attached to the wagon has been busy in her garden.  Bradshaw is upset because he feels that the missing little girl may have witnessed a murder.

The city is in shock over the death of President McKinley.  The police department, many of whom are corrupt, could care less about a missing gypsy and the little girl who owns the doll.  Bradshaw decides that he is going to locate the child and goes to great lengths to search for her putting himself in danger.  At last he devises a scheme that will set a trap that he hopes will catch the killer.

This is the second book in the Professor Bradshaw series.  It is not necessary to read A Spark of Death, the first book in order to enjoy Fatal Induction.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2012.

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A Dead Red Heart
R. P. Dahlke
Dead Bear Publishing, 2011
ISBN No. 9781463582814
Trade Paperback

Lalla Bains is an ex-model and Aero Ag pilot and a wonderful character that I am looking forward to getting to know better. After giving up her modeling career as well as giving up a couple of husbands, Lalla is back in Modesto, California.

Lalla’s father is in bad health and so is his crop dusting business.  Crop dusting does not sound like a very complicated business but I soon found out that it is a very complicated business particularly when someone is sabotaging your company.

Sheriff Caleb Stone is the main man in Lalla’s life but when Billy Wayne Dobson, a man who is self-medicating his post-traumatic stress disorder, begins to stalk Lalla, she decides to take matters into her own hands rather than allow Caleb to handle the problem.  Caleb is talking restraining order and Lalla just can’t bring herself to allow the restraining order to be issued.  Billy Wayne is shy and easily startled and Lalla feels that she is better equipped to deal with Billy Wayne.

Mr. Kim’s Chinese restaurant is where Lalla locates Billy Wayne who appears to be in a drunken stupor.  When Lalla tries to wake Billy up he rolls over and she sees the blood stains spreading across his shirt.  Billy Wayne manages to give Lalla a cryptic message just before he dies.

The author introduces the reader to a number of characters that make this book a great read.   Rather than trust Sheriff Stone and his staff to find the murderer Lalla begins her own investigation into Billy Wayne’s death as well the problems behind her father’s crop dusting business and generally gets herself in a ton of trouble.

If Lalla pulls into your town in her vintage cherry red Cadillac, get ready for a lot of excitement.  This is the second book in the series but it is not necessary to read the books in order.  I look forward to reading more books by R. P. Dahlke.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2012.

Book Review: Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices edited by Terrie Farley Moran

Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices
Edited by Terrie Farley Moran
L&L Dreamspell, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60318-423-6
Trade Paperback

What’s better than pizza? How about murder. And nobody does murder better than New Yorkers. In this anthology, 22 authors who live in and around New York present short tales of crime. Stroll down littered streets, converse with inhabitants from all walks of life. Take a few trips into the heart of the city, pick up and examine some unique slices of life…or rather death.

In “Tear Down,” an elderly woman fears retribution will come if her old house is demolished and secrets are revealed. A mother in “The Doorman Building, a Greenwich Village apartment, receives visits from two of her son’s college friends and one of them is murdered. A Russian stripper is recruited by the U.S. government to take down some bad guys in “The Brighton Beach Mermaid.” A rookie tracks down a killer in Catherine Maorsi’s “Justice for All.” “Only People Kill People” has an interesting main character…a gun. A gambling man discovers just how “Out of Luck” he is when he thinks good fortune is headed his way.

There are many other tales of murder and misdeeds in this book. From the ferry to the Village and from Queens to Alphabet City. I liked the classical and timeless stories, plus a few fresh and unique tales. The stories range from present day settings to life from decades ago. Most are quick bites but each is delicious. Sometimes I run into anthologies where I’d rather skip a few stories. Not this one. This one gives a heaping portion of New York and when I finished, I didn’t feel gorged, just pleasantly satisfied.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Review: Playing the Hand She's Dealt by David Fingerman

Playing The Hand She’s Dealt
David Fingerman
L&L Dreamspell, September 2011
ISBN 9781603183352
Trade Paperback

What’s the common denominator of a one-eyed Rottweiler, a blonde wig, Texas Hold ‘Em, and a man who’s attracted to his married half sister? They’re all part of David Fingerman’s latest Louise Miller thriller. Add in a determined investigator, a caring girlfriend, and a sadistic killer, and Playing The Hand She’s Dealt is a mystery I wanted to read in one sitting.

Walter Farkos is murdered and places the body in the newly purchased house of former Minneapolis police officer Louise Miller. Then the killer sets fire to Miller’s neighbor’s house and murders another neighbor. Who is trying to destroy Miller? One of the partners in Farkos’ investment firm? Walter’s son? Wife? Daughter or son in-law? Also why would this person be trying to frame Louise who has enough problems of her own dealing with moving into new house with her girlfriend, a gambling addiction, and pressure to return to the police force?

With quick action and likeable characters, Fingerman touches upon the addiction of gambling and some of the pressures suffered. This story has some tight writing and portrays several characters as prospective suspects. I knew when a major revelation was made I still had some surprises left. This one satisfied my need for a satisfying mystery and interested enough to keep an eye out for the next Louise Miller adventure.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Review: Damned If You Don’t by Anita Page

Damned If You Don’t
Anita Page
L&L Dreamspell, January 2012
ISBN 978-1-60318-381-9
Trade Paperback

Hannah Fox can’t quite separate herself from her upbringing. Raised in communes across the country, she’s settled for good in a small town in the Catskill mountains, using old skills learned at her parent’s knee as an activist for community good. As her marriage falls apart, she makes time to volunteer at a battered woman help-line, which is what draws her into a murder mystery involving a young friend, as well a student from the summer school writing class she’s teaching. Who could foresee that solving the murder might not protect her from becoming the next victim?

Hannah is an appealing, almost middle-aged, heroine with a lot on her plate, what with a husband from whom she’s drawn apart and a police detective as a guilty attraction. The cast of fully realized characters in Damned if You Don’t runs the gamut of good and bad, just like you’d meet anywhere. Determining which is which is what puzzles Hannah. Politics in the small town, complete with nepotism and inter-relations rings true. The mystery is a good one, well plotted and paced, with surprising twists. Page is a writer to watch.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Damned If You Don't by Anita Page

Damned If You Don’t
Anita Page
L&L Dreamspell, January 2012
ISBN 978-1-60318-381-9
Trade Paperback

Hannah Fox can’t quite separate herself from her upbringing. Raised in communes across the country, she’s settled for good in a small town in the Catskill mountains, using old skills learned at her parent’s knee as an activist for community good. As her marriage falls apart, she makes time to volunteer at a battered woman help-line, which is what draws her into a murder mystery involving a young friend, as well a student from the summer school writing class she’s teaching. Who could foresee that solving the murder might not protect her from becoming the next victim?

Hannah is an appealing, almost middle-aged, heroine with a lot on her plate, what with a husband from whom she’s drawn apart and a police detective as a guilty attraction. The cast of fully realized characters in Damned if You Don’t runs the gamut of good and bad, just like you’d meet anywhere. Determining which is which is what puzzles Hannah. Politics in the small town, complete with nepotism and inter-relations rings true. The mystery is a good one, well plotted and paced, with surprising twists. Page is a writer to watch.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.