Room for Doubt
A Carol Childs Mystery #4
Nancy Cole Silverman
Henery Press, July 2017
From the publisher—
When radio reporter Carol Childs is called to a crime scene in the Hollywood Hills at five thirty in the morning, she’s convinced it must be a publicity stunt to promote a new movie. That is, until she sees the body hanging from the center of the Hollywood sign. The police are quick to rule it a suicide, but something doesn’t add up for Carol. Particularly after a mysterious caller named Mustang Sally confesses to the murder on the air and threatens to kill again.
With the help of an incorrigible PI, her best friend, and a kooky psychic, Carol is drawn into the world of contract killers and women scorned. As she races to find the real killer, she finds herself faced with a decision that will challenge everything she thought she knew.
Journalists of one sort or another are always good mystery protagonists, aren’t they? Naturally nosy, they’re in a profession that gives them a modicum of justification to be in the middle of an investigation and they almost always have access to resources the typical cozy sleuth doesn’t have. They also have a built-in platform, assuming some editor or producer doesn’t put the kibosh on things. Carol Childs is just such an amateur sleuth.
When Carol’s boss sends her to the scene of a death by hanging, it’s more to simply report rather than a true investigation but she can’t help thinking the police detective jumped to the wrong conclusion when he calls it a suicide. She doesn’t have any real evidence, just a gut feeling, but a local private investigator, Gerhardt Chasen (Chase), soon convinces her there might be a whole lot more to this story.
Along with her investigating what turns out to be quite a controversial set of killings, Carol has a personal side that’s an equally important part of the story and I enjoyed my first adventure with her. She’s one of those people with a kind of glamorous job but a pretty run-of-the-mill home life, warts and all, and I found myself quite comfortable with her. In fact, she reminded me a little of myself at her age for some reason although I didn’t have a psychic hanging around or, for that matter, a PI hooked on lollipops.
Without giving anything away, I should warn readers that this particular mystery doesn’t end the way you might expect but you’ll have to make your own decision about whether the ending is satisfactory. It was for me, even though it wasn’t exactly right, and I appreciate the author’s willingness to go a ways out on a limb. We crime fiction readers don’t see this sort of thing every day 😉
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.
An Easy Rawlins Mystery #14
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, May 2017
From the publisher: Easy Rawlins has started a new detective agency with two trusted partners and has a diamond ring in his pocket for his longtime girlfriend Bonnie Shay. Finally, Easy’s life seems to be heading towards something that looks like normalcy, but, inevitably, a case gets in the way. Easy’s friend Mouse calls in a favor—he wants Easy to meet with Rufus Tyler, an aging convict whom everyone calls Charcoal Joe. Joe’s friend’s son, Seymour, has been charged with the murder of two white men. Joe is convinced the young man is innocent and wants Easy to prove it no matter what the cost. But seeing as how Seymour was found standing over the dead bodies, and considering the racially charged nature of the crime, that will surely prove to be a tall order.
One of his two partners, Tinsford “Whisper” Natly, is described as “a Negro from St. Louis who could find anyone, anywhere, given the time and resources. Easy describes himself as a “poor black man from the deep South . . . lucky not to be dead and buried, much less a living, breathing independent businessman.” Their receptionist, Niska Redman: “Butter-skinned, biracial, and quite beautiful . . . twenty-four and filled with dreams of a world in which all humans were happy and well fed.” Easy says of himself “I had two great kids, a perfect island woman that I would soon propose to, a profession I was good at, friends that I liked, and access to powers that most people in Los Angeles (white and black) didn’t even know existed.”
Easy’s friend Mouse is a welcome presence in these pages. Forty-seven, he still has never worked “an honest job” and is accused by Etta as having been an outlaw since he was five, which he cannot deny. When Mouse asks Easy to help him out with Charcoal Joe, he cannot refuse. Fearless Jones (who Easy calls “the black Prince Charming”) also plays a big role in the tale.
Another wonderful entry in this series, and another one which is highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2017.
Past Reason Hated
An Inspector Banks Novel #5
William Morrow, March 2016
From the publisher: Chief Inspector Alan Banks knows that secrets can prove fatal, and secrets were the driving force behind Caroline Hartley’s life . . . and death. She was brutally stabbed in her own home three days prior to Christmas. Leaving her past behind for a forbidden love affair, she mystified more than a few. And now she is dead. In this season of giving and forgiving, Banks is eager to absolve the innocent of their sins. But that must wait until the dark circle of his investigation finally closes . . . and when a killer makes the next move.
Since she was the only member of the CID on duty that night, newly promoted Detective Constable Susan Gay, on only her second day on the job at the CID at Eastvale Regional Headquarters, finds the challenge quite exciting. A call had come in from a neighbor of the dead woman, who had gone rushing into the street screaming. As the tale proceeds, there are references to the current public image of the force, tarnished by race riots, sex scandals and accusations of high-level corruption. As the investigation unfolds, there are quite a number of suspects among the various friends, family and colleagues of the dead woman, which after a while made it a little difficult to differentiate among them. Banks’ erudition in matters of classical music comes in very handy, as a piece of music, playing on an old-fashioned phonograph at the murder scene, becomes a disturbing clue that he feels is very significant as his investigation continues. And then they realize that the dead woman was in a lesbian relationship.
Banks, now 39 years old, had only been promoted to Detective Superintendent only a few weeks ago, is still “learning the ropes,” and is always a fascinating protagonist who has come to trust his instincts, as has the reader.
Susan has also been tasked with looking into a series of vandalisms that have taken place in the area, and the author switches p.o.v. from Banks to that of Susan from time to time, making for some very interesting reading. But that’s something we have come to expect from Mr. Robinson; this book is as beautifully written as his numerous prior novels. This is the fifth of what is now 22 entries in the series. Although I must admit that I found it a slow read in the early going as the case plods along, the pace soon picks up. I must add that the many wonderfully descriptive sections of the wintry weather that prevails and its effects on driving and walking had me going to my closet for a warm sweater!
The book concludes with an excerpt from the next book in the series to follow this one, When the Music’s Over, and I have no doubt that that entry, as is this one, will be highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2017.
Fields Where They Lay
A Junior Bender Mystery #6
Soho Crime, October 2016
Junior Bender, burglar extraordinaire and sometime detective to the underworld, serves as the narrator of this unusual Christmas tale. He is roped in to investigate, on behalf of a Russian mobster and owner of a dying shopping mall in Los Angeles, why there has been a spiking increase in shoplifting in recent months a few days before Christmas Day. Junior, who hates the Xmas atmosphere, is immersed in the Holiday cheer of shopping, Santas, and piped-in popular songs, much to his chagrin.
While undertaking his task, he becomes involved in a few side ventures, including looking into the death of one of the shopkeepers, witnessing the death of another, and discovering the real problems at the mall, typical of similar establishments fading away all over the nation as shoppers turn to other outlets. Another involves his burgeoning friendship with one of the two Santas on the premises, helping him to recover a favorite item apparently stolen from his home. One side benefit, however: he is able to get his own holiday shopping done despite his procrastination.
This novel probably is the most cerebral in the six-book Junior Bender series, with long passages on the business of shopping malls, their dying days, observations on the Holidays, people in general, and his own life and loves. In fact, he faces a crisis with his own lover and her reticence to divulge anything of her past. On the whole, Junior solves a unique problem in his typical fashion, with ingenuity.
This is an excellent series, and one that continues to be recommended.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.
Mike Tavis #4
Baron R. Birtcher
Permanent Press, May 2015
The fourth entry on the Mike Travis series is just as good as the earlier books, and that is high praise indeed. The novel begins with the protagonist looking back at incidents that began eleven years prior, and an intricate and fascinating tale it is. It starts in Macau in 1994, with an act of violence whose repercussions are felt in different far-flung parts of the world and do not, initially, involve Mike in any way.
Mike, 6’2” and a retired LAPD homicide detective, since leaving LA has been living in Hawaii, where he runs a chartering service for private scuba and luxury cruises out of Kona, on his 72’ sailing yacht, the Kehau, after running a similar operation off the Southern California coast. Mike is the son of a very wealthy man, which he tries to forget, mostly with success, nor make others aware of it. When his brother, heavily involved in the family business, calls from LA and tells Mike that his “indiscretions” have come back to haunt him in a big – and very public – – way, Mike makes immediate arrangements to return to LA to help him out (making his relationship with his significant other, Lani, even more problematical).
Along the way the author reflects on the history of both South Central LA in late April 1992, during the time of the riots, when he was still on the police force, as well as descriptions of the natural beauty of Hawaii, about which he says, e.g., “Twilight is my favorite time of day to walk the Kona waterfront. The flickering lights of the village begin to cycle on, piercing the encroaching darkness, the heat of the day leeching from the concrete and up through the soles of your sandals while cool wind drifts in off the water.” He pays tribute to LA as well, describing the sunrise as presenting a sky that is “a purple so deep that it appeared to bruise the sky.” At the same time, he also says “Every time I come back to this town, it slithers back inside me. I had never intended to be a cynic, never imagined I would feel such contempt, and especially had never wanted to lose hope. I wanted to believe in greater things, like grace, like justice, like integrity; I wanted to believe in heroes or a higher purpose.”
The narrative is interspersed from time to time with the events set into motion in Macau over a decade ago.
Mike’s efforts on behalf of his brother as a “reluctant pi” have repercussions that place both him and his brother in jeopardy, as well as Mike’s former partner on the LAPD, Hans Yamaguchi, who assists him in his efforts, which have unexpected and serious consequences. In addition to this story line, this is a tale of sexual slavery and human trafficking, not for the faint of heart I might add, with fairly frequent violence (happily, for the most part not graphic.) It is a gripping story, beautifully written, and highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.
A Junior Bender Mystery #5
Soho Crime, April 2016
A large, sprawling text. By turns, funny, intriguing, self-indulgent, long, meandering, plot-centric but character driven. The story is clever and overloaded with odd, interesting and often out-of control characters. As such, the book provides an interesting if skewed insider look at Hollywood and some of its more popular if lesser-known residents. First we have the principal driving force. Here, readers have a choice between Ronnie Bigelow, sexy, enigmatic, passionate, she of mysterious logically criminal past, and Junior Bender, a burglar of some reputation in Los Angeles. Junior is usually a contract thief, targeting homes and businesses for specific objects at the request of other criminals.
Fine. The project becomes dangerous almost from the start when a meticulously timed foray dumps Junior into a tag team aimed at deleting him with the aid of baseball bats. Junior escapes with the help of the aforementioned Bigelow, ivy covered walls and a crotchety neighbor. But the adventure isn’t over. A rollicking car chase involving one aging Toyota (Bender’s) against a fleet of modern high-powered vehicles (the bad guy) rolls over the Hollywood hills, endangering, at least momentarily, a high percentage of local and possibly innocent citizens.
Suffice it to say, everything works out in the end after a number of additional violent confrontations, some intense interpersonal connection and a lot of words, sarcastic, funny and largely enjoyable.
Title: The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse
Author: Daphne Lamb
Publisher: Booktrope Publishing
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, New Adult
The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse
Booktrope Editions, August 2015
From the publisher—
Welcome to the Apocalypse. Your forecast includes acid rain, roving gangs and misplaced priorities, in this comedic take on the end of the world as we know it, from debut author Daphne Lamb. As a self-entitled, self-involved, and ill equipped millennial, Verdell probably wouldn’t have ranked very high on the list of those most likely to survive the end of the world, but here she is anyway. Add in travelling with her work addicted boss, her boyfriend who she has “meh” feelings for, and a handful of others who had no businesses surviving as long as they have, and things aren’t exactly going as planned. But despite threats of cannibalism, infected water supplies, and possibly even mutants, Verdell is willing to put in as little effort as she can get away with to survive.
The word “apocalypse” generally denotes horrible travail, the end of the world as we know it, loss of civilization, deaths in the millions, maybe even a zombie horde. That’s the kind of apocalyptic book I sincerely love and, quite obviously, so does Daphne Lamb…except her end of the world tale takes a decided turn to the left and upside down and we readers are taken on a wild and crazy ride. You might say this is “The Three Stooges Meet The Apocalypse” and I cackled my way right through to the finis.
Ms. Lamb has filled her story with every hilarious, satirical trope and cliché she could come up with and I loved every minute of it. Sure, there are some very serious scenes, as there must be, but then we have:
“We’re getting grilled cheese?” I asked. “What if I’m lactose-intolerant?”
when there’s been no steady supply of food. Then there’s this:
She pulled a small bottle of nail polish out of her skirt pocket. “Did you hear about my makeup party I’m having next week?”
I shook my head. “Now where on earth would you be having that?”
“Originally, it was going to be at my home, but now it looks like it’ll be in the break room,” she said. “Unless they get all this,” she motioned to the carnage lying on the freeway below us, “cleaned up. I’ll keep you posted, though.”
The central character, Verdell, isn’t the brightest person in the world nor the bravest by a long shot but she’s head and shoulders above some of her companions. Sort-of-boyfriend, Bruce, is determined to further his acting career now that he can actually meet an occasional entertainment celebrity and her boss, Robert, is oblivious to the new realities around him and finds solace in the pages of his tattered copy of Secrets to Risk Management. Meanwhile, Debra is tottering around on her platform heels and obsessing over the lack of healthy food choices. Verdell herself continually makes promises to God if He’ll just get her out of the crisis of the moment.
Plot? Nah, not really, but that’s quite all right with me. I still relish the serious sorts of post-apocalyptic stories but The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse was a most welcome diversion from the darkest side of doom 😉
“We’re all dead!” Jake screamed. “We’re all going to die!”
I frantically looked around. “What was all that talk about staying calm—“
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.
About the Author
Daphne Lamb was raised in the wilds of Colorado and now resides in a very different wilderness known as Los Angeles. She is a comedian and award winning writer who has worked in television, film and video games. In her spare time, she enjoys collecting comic books, discussing awesomely bad movies and thinks about what it would be like to own a cat.
She loves connecting to fans and readers, so feel free to connect!
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