Book Review: Robicheaux by James Lee Burke

Robicheaux
Dave Robicheaux #21
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-7684-5
Hardcover

Detective Dave Robicheaux returns from his last adventure in Montana to the sheriff’s department in Iberia, Louisiana, an area about which James Lee Burke writes poetically in the long tradition of southern writers like Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren.  Robicheaux is a haunted person, suffering from the loss of his wife, Molly, who was killed in an auto accident, nightmares from his time in Vietnam, and alcoholism.  In fact, he goes off the wagon (a devotee of Alcoholics Anonymous) and wonders if he could have murdered the victim, the person who caused his beloved wife’s death, while drunk, even as he conducted the investigation into the incident.

The novel is filled with all sorts of nefarious characters, ranging from outright gangsters to a Huey Long type who glibly mesmerizes the populace and plays a prominent role in events by representing how wealth and imagery can lead to undermining American traditions.  And, of course, Clete Purcel, Dave’s closest friend, is front and center in the story, as is his daughter, Alafair, who writes a screenplay for a movie based on a Civil War event.

The piercing prose and the sweep of the tale, combined with the extraordinary characters, are incomparable.

It is interesting to note that while Mr. Burke writes about the South with such feeling, he lives in Montana.  I guess distance makes for perspective.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

Book Review: Into the Hurricane by Neil Connelly

Into the Hurricane
Neil Connelly
Arthur A. Levine Books, June 2017
ISBN: 978-0-545-85381-1
Hardcover

Take a boy who’s tormented by the ghost of his dead sister and have him encounter a sad and angry girl on a mission. Add a monster hurricane and mix well. Garnish with a group of religious fanatics, an abandoned lighthouse, a derelict floating casino and a gutsy, but slightly insane war veteran and you have all the ingredients for a really intriguing and twisty story. It’s part romance, part self-discovery and a lot of white knuckle survival—minute by minute at times.

Max (short for Maxine) was already in a world of pain after her mother abandoned her and her dad. When he met someone new in a recovery program and married her, that sense of abandonment increased. Max dealt with it by shutting down and by the time she learned her father was dying from cancer, it was too late to make most amends. She reacted by stealing her father’s ashes and heading for Shackles Island, Louisiana. She and her dad stopped there years ago during a quest to find her mom. She believes he wanted his ashes spread there, but she’s stolen them just as much to thwart her stepmother’s plan to have him buried in a new family plot.

Eli knows there’s a terrible storm bearing down on the island, but he can’t, or won’t evacuate because he believes he needs to atone for his sister’s death seven years ago when she fell from the top of the lighthouse. When he arrives there, not long before the storm hits at full strength, he’s confronted by Max. Their interaction is cut short when the Odenkirk gang shows up, slashing the tires on his motorcycle and stealing her Jeep which has her father’s ashes in it.

What follows is scary high adventure, mixing Eli’s sister’s ghost and why she torments him, with their efforts to retrieve the ashes, get off the island, save a little girl and ultimately avoid getting killed by the storm.

Readers will be treated to a fast paced, slightly supernatural tale that’s intriguing and has an abundance of action. I particularly like how both Eli and Max come to grips with what really motivated them to act as they did in the face of a horrific storm. It’s a really good story for teens liking high adventure with a dash of romance and an ending that allows them to write their own ‘what happens next’.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

Book Review: Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison and Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck

Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall
A Honeychurch Hall Mystery #4
Hannah Dennison
Minotaur Books, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-06549-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When the only copy of Ravished, Iris Stanford’s new manuscript, never arrives at her London publisher’s office, her daughter Kat investigates the tiny local village post office, where it appears the package never left the building. Iris is on tenterhooks―not only is her novel gone with the wind, but she’s deathly afraid that Muriel Jarvis, the postmistress and notorious busybody, will expose her secret identity as the bestselling romance writer Krystalle Storm. Meanwhile, Muriel has her own problems with the sudden death of her husband Fred, which has left her heavily in debt. In the spine-tingling climax, both past and present collide as Kat fights for her life and those she holds most dear, dancing once again with the dark forces lurking behind the grandeur of Honeychurch Hall.

I think I’ve found my new one-of-my-favorites British cozy/traditional series (although I’m apparently the last in my local book club circle of cozy readers to get around to trying it). I’m not bothered by reading out of order and, while I expect my purist friends would disagree with me, I really think this is a good starter. The author does a nice job of dropping in those little tidbits you need to understand prior activities and her characterizations of the people are as full as I could ask them to be. These people are just downright funny and a little bit crazy.

However, murder has been done and somebody has to pay attention. Since Kat is one of the very few levelheaded folks around, the task naturally falls to her. There’s a local copper (named Cropper), of course, but he’s overrun by Lord Rupert as well as Kat and her mum, Iris, when it comes to looking into the death of the centuries-old skeleton found in a sewer line trench. It’s all curiously coincidental considering the upcoming English Civil War re-enactment and, before long, Kat finds herself in the midst of a plethora of mysteries including Iris’ missing manuscript, a suspiciously behaving man in possession (momentarily) of a vastly expensive doll, a prison escapee, and, oh, another body.

There’s a good deal of silliness here—how can there not be with such wacky villagers—but I truly loved this book. Kat’s a great sleuth, although there are no easy denouements, and she has mastered the art of dealing with all these people. I can just imagine driving through the countryside and coming across this lovely little place. What fun!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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

Bad Boy Boogie
A Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller
Thomas Pluck
Down & Out Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-943402-59-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Jay Desmarteaux steps out of from prison after serving twenty-five years for murdering a vicious school bully, he tries to follow his convict mentor’s advice: the best revenge is living well.

But questions gnaw at his gut: Where have his folks disappeared to? Why do old friends want him gone? And who wants him dead?

Teaming with his high school sweetheart turned legal Valkyrie, a hulking body shop bodybuilder, and a razor-wielding gentleman’s club house mother, Jay will unravel a tangle of deception all the way back to the bayous where he was born. With an iron-fisted police chief on his tail and a ruthless mob captain at his throat, he’ll need his wits, his fists, and his father’s trusty Vietnam war hatchet to hack his way through a toxic jungle of New Jersey corruption that makes the gator-filled swamps of home feel like the shallow end of the kiddie pool.

This is one of those times when you can’t help sympathizing with the bad guy; after all, he’s served his time so why is he now facing these unexpected troubles? And since law enforcement isn’t interested in helping him find answers, how is he going to? Clearly, he’ll have to form what current slang would call a posse and what a group of misfits these are!

To understand Jay, we’re taken back to his unhappy childhood that, even so, had times of normalcy—young love and friendships as well as conflicts with bullies—and we learn what caused the teenaged Jay to commit the ultimate act of violence. Perhaps the “friends” that didn’t support him then are the ones that want him out of town now, except for the mayor who has his own reasons. A bright point, maybe, is the connection he makes with high school sweetheart Ramona but Jay is driven by a need to settle things in New Jersey before he heads to Louisiana, the place he really wants to be.

Jay is a complex man and the author truly brings him to life, this ex-con with a hard outer shell that’s slightly penetrated by the life he finds on the outside after 25 years on the inside. There’s a considerable amount of graphic violence, including sexual, here but it’s understandable although this man’s sense of justice is often very different from yours and mine. This is a book that could have resided in the old black & white, hardboiled days just as well as today and I suspect I’ll remember Jay and his story for a long, long time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Reviews: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley, Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff, and The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAs Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
A Flavia de Luce Novel #7
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-345-53993-9
Hardcover
Random House Audio, January 2015
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book
Read by Jayne Entwistle

From the publisher—

Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.

There are just a handful of series that I never miss these days and this is one of them, largely because I so adore the protagonist but also because I can always depend on the author to offer a truly good book. In the case of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, I was slightly less enthused but certainly not enough to say I didn’t like it.

My discontent stems from the setting of this particular entry. Much of Flavia’s charm comes from her interactions with her family, her father’s “man”, their home, Buckshaw, and their village, Bishop’s Lacey. This time, though, Flavia has been sent to Canada to attend her mother’s boarding school and, to me, it just seemed awkward to have her suddenly isolated from all she has known in her short life. Having said that, Mr. Bradley soon develops some pretty good reasons for Flavia to be in this particular school and, of course, she becomes involved in a death investigation in her quite inimitable way.

As much as I missed those familiar characters, there are certainly some at Miss Bodycote’s that appealed to me in various ways, especially Collingwood, and it doesn’t hurt that a body appears on the scene quite fortuitously, a most welcome distraction for the homesick Flavia.

No matter her circumstances, Flavia cannot be repressed and my only true concern is that I have to wait till September for her next adventure, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d.

Note: I both read the book and listened to the audio edition and, as always, Jayne Entwistle brings Flavia to life and continues to wow me as a wonderful narrator and voice of this charming young girl.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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

Huntress MoonHuntress Moon
The Huntress/FBI Thrillers #1
Alexandra Sokoloff
Read by R.C. Bray
Alexandra Sokoloff, May 2014
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of accidents and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states… while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year-old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and he must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

It would be easy to say that if you’ve read one FBI crime novel, you’ve read them all but authors manage to keep finding ways to make their own stories just a little bit different, enough to catch a reader’s attention. In Huntress Moon, I was drawn in by the notion of a female serial killer. In real life, such a person is rare and that’s what makes the idea so interesting, at least for me.

Special Agent Roarke is an appealing protagonist in a number of ways, not least of which are his intelligence and his dogged determination to track down this elusive young woman. What’s surprising is how fascinating she is, especially since we don’t even know her name. Clearly, she has an agenda and she hunts her victims as much as Roarke hunts her; with each new killing, she becomes more real, as it were, perhaps just a little more understandable. It becomes difficult to see her as entirely evil when she meets a young father and his son and, yet, she is a bloodthirsty killer. How she came to be the way she is and Roarke’s pursuit of her are what make this such a fine story.

R.C. Bray is a new narrator to me and, at first, I wasn’t completely on board with him largely because his voices seemed not very distinctive. As the novel wore on, his performance became more satisfying and he has won awards so it was my problem, not his. He is the narrator of the second and third books in the trilogy and I’m looking forward to spending time with him again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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

The Sound and the Furry AudioThe Sound and the Furry
A Chet and Bernie Mystery #6
Spencer Quinn
Read by Jim Frangione
Recorded Books, September 2013
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

When Chet and Bernie happen upon a prison work crew that includes Frenchie Boutette, an old criminal pal they sent up the river, getting a new case is the last thing they expect. But Frenchie, who comes from an old Louisiana family full of black sheep, needs help finding his one law-abiding relative, his brother Ralph, a reclusive inventor who has gone missing with his houseboat. Though he’s tempted to take another job (with a big payday) in Alaska, Bernie decides to set course for the bayous of Louisiana, a trip that will introduce Chet to a world of sights, smells, and tastes that are like nothing he’s ever encountered. Out in bayou country, Chet and Bernie meet the no-good Boutette family and their ancient enemies, the maybe-even-worse Robideaus, and at first it seems as if Ralph’s disappearance is connected to a dispute over a load of stolen shrimp. But when Chet uncovers a buried clue, the investigation heads in a dangerous new direction involving the oil business and an impending environmental catastrophe. The more Chet and Bernie discover about Ralph, the more treacherous the job becomes, and soon they’re fighting not only Big Oil, but also shadowy black ops figures, a violent biker gang from back home, and Iko- a legendary bayou gator with a seemingly insatiable appetite. Meanwhile, deep under the Gulf, the pressure just keeps building.

Ah, it’s always so good to be back in the world of Chet and Bernie, two of my all-time favorite detectives, and following them to the bayous of Louisiana was a special treat. If ever a pair were out of their element, this is it and, to make matters worse, they fall right into the middle of a longstanding feud between two less-than-nice families.

What seems at first to be a rather simple case of thievery soon turns out to be much deeper and the missing Ralph, perhaps the only non-criminal in this unruly and menacing bunch, is still missing. Chet and Bernie learn that there’s much more than stolen shrimp going on and these two may be dealing with their most sinister case yet.

As narrator, Chet is a delight as he always is and there were many moments when I found myself grinning out loud, so to speak. I can’t help it, Chet is a terrific storyteller and his ruminations on life are hilarious 😉

There’s definitely a difference between this book and the earlier titles in the series and I think it has to do with atmosphere. Having lived in Louisiana for several years long ago, I can attest to a certain darkness, for lack of a better word, that comes from the insularity of the bayous, a kind of hostility and distrust towards the rest of the world that can lead to an uneasiness not found elsewhere. In contrast, Chet and Bernie’s usual terrain is open, perhaps deceptively so, and one can’t help feeling a little less threatened so these two are definitely in a different world when they go to the bayous.

Speaking of narrators, I always enjoy Jim Frangione as the voice of Chet and The Sound and the Furry is no exception. A good reader can make all the difference and Mr. Frangione really does the job well. He and Spencer Quinn (and the delightful Chet) are a team that can’t be beat.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Beware the WildBeware the Wild
Natalie C. Parker
HarperTeen, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-06-224152-8
Hardcover

Swamps make stellar settings for the spookiest of stories. “The meanest swamp in Louisiana” however, disdainfully dismisses “spooky”. This arrogant, angry bog is far more frightening than the orneriest of angry alligators. A petulant presence, tinged with wicked lurks within.

Following an epic sibling squabble, Sass’s revered brother, Phin, belligerently explodes from the sanctity of their backyard into the eagerly awaiting quagmire. She dreads the worst. Not “the worst” as it relates to the average, hazardous marsh. It isn’t images of the one person she loves unconditionally, who loves her right back: sinking into quicksand, being bitten by a venomous snake, hopelessly lost, slowly succumbing to the elements that plague her.

Whispered legends. Volumes of collected Swamp Stories. Knowing looks exchanged over children’s heads. The unimaginable horror that is never actually addressed, always alluded to. These fears fill her mind and freak her out. As if insulted by her tame, unimaginative worries, the glade grabs Sass by her chin, jerks her head up and shoves the unspeakable, tortuous cruelty into her stunned face.

Ms. Parker explodes into the Young Adult literary world, boldly and courageously with an authority that won’t be denied. I’m a little bit in love with her and I’m pretty sure she had me in mind with the shout out to my beloved Phish and the perfect use of a term that needs to come back: spaz attack.

Amid a tale that unapologetically reaches out and with a quick tug, pulls the reader into the sticky, steamy swamp; enters dark-skinned Abigail, the “girl who prefers girls” in a very small town. This diversity is not gratuitous nor is it the point of the story. Rather, Ms. Parker’s natural inclination to include characters of differing ethnicities and sexual orientation seems simply indicative of her norm; yet feels utterly refreshing.

Superbly depicted southern stereotypes lend a feel of authenticity while the dynamics among the characters enrich this brilliantly written, compelling, creepy and captivating story. Absolutely, all-the-way awesome, Beware the Wild is a book that I look forward to re-reading and sharing with my bookish pals both Young and Not-So-Young Adults.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2015.

Book Reviews: Defriended by Ruth Baron and Purgatory Key by Darrell James

DefriendedDefriended
Ruth Baron
Point Horror, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-42357-1
Trade Paperback

Meeting new people is hard.  Today’s world of Facebook, blogs and YouTube makes it easier, but new challenges are presented.  There is a lack of certainty with an online relationship.  Common questions arise.  Is the person I’m talking to really this cool?  Is the person being honest?  Is this a ghost?  Okay, the last one, maybe not so common.

Jason’s love of indie rock, The Mountain Goats in particular, was not something he expected to share with a high-school girl.  When he discovered Lacey’s profile on-line, he felt compelled to contact her.  They both had the same quote from Mountain Goats’ Fault Lines on their homepage.

Eventually, Lacey responds to Jason and the two grow close quickly.  After months of chatting, e-mailing and Instant-Messaging, Jason was ready for a face-to-face meeting.  He was surprised and disappointed with Lacey’s evasive responses.  He turns to Google where he is stunned to find Lacey’s obituary.  She was killed in an accident months before she first contacted him.  Although shattered, Jason resolves to find out who he has been talking to, and why.

Thus begins a wonderful potpourri of mystery, ghost-story, cruel-hoax, with a little bit of forbidden love.   Not only did this completely captivate this reader, it kept me guessing and second-guessing.  Ms. Baron does an amazing job in introducing the characters with just enough information to make the reader say “hmmm”.  While this book may be intended for Middle Grade readers; it is, quite simply, a fabulous, classic mystery that any reader would enjoy.  I will be on the look-out for more from Ruth Baron.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2013.

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

Purgatory KeyPurgatory Key
A Del Shannon Novel
Darrell James
Midnight Ink, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-7387-2371-6
Trade Paperback

From the mountains of Arizona to the bayous of Louisiana, Darrel James gives another suspense filled novel featuring Del Shannon. This time around she’s up against kidnappers and her own personal demons because, this time, it connects with her past. And when a former lover enters the picture…well, you knows sparks are going to sizzle.

Investigator Del Shannon is assigned to find two kidnapped teenagers. In Tuscon, Shannon makes contact with one of the kidnappers and negotiates a money drop. However, the drop goes bad and Shannon has scant leads. ATF Agent Frank Falconet is assigned to trace a major league felon presumed to be dead. The man’s brother’s image was picked up on surveillance in Tuscon. When Shannon and Falconet meet up, they realize their two cases are connected and it’s off to the bayous of Louisiana. While they also try to sort out their previous romantic relationship, the teenagers must contend with killers and tiger…and the possibility of treasure nearby.

I’ve read a previous Shannon novel and wasn’t disappointed. James delivers a well written novel and though some of the scenes are predictable, there is an excellent balance between character substance and action. This is another fine addition to the series with the stage set for more to come.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, July 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child and Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Cold Vengeance
(Special Agent Pendergast)
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing, August 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-446-55498-5
Hardcover

Pendergast has discovered that Helen, his wife, was murdered and now he seeks revenge.  Judson Esterhazy, Helen’s brother, is equally determined that Pendergast be stopped from investigating Helen’s death and if the only way to stop Pendergast is to arrange for him to die then that is what must be done.

Judson thinks that he has managed to put an end to his brother-in-law’s inquiries but he is wrong.  Pendergast is still alive and more determined than ever to find out the whole story behind the death of his beloved wife.

Pendergast’s search into the past is a journey that moves from Scotland to New York and on to Louisiana.  Old secrets are uncovered and the story is like a jigsaw puzzle with such odd shaped pieces that it is hard to determine how it will ever come together.  Pendergast is shocked to find that Helen may have played a large part in her own death.

This book involves many of the characters from previous Pendergast novels and brings back a young woman who first became involved with Pendergast in the book Still Life With Crows. She was my favorite character from that book and she is just as daring in Cold Vengeance.

Cold Vengeance is an exciting book and one I’m very glad I read but the puzzle isn’t finished.  Pendergast’s fans will have to wait for the next book to know the entire story.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.

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

Started Early, Took My Dog
Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown and Company, March 2011
ISBN No. 978-0316066730
Hardcover

Reading Started Early, Took My Dog is a little like working a giant, complicated jigsaw puzzle.  There is a neglected dog who finds a home and a neglected child who finds a new mother.

Jackson Brodie, private investigator, is on a mission to find the biological parents of his client, Hope Masters, who was adopted and moved with her new parents to New Zealand when she was a child.    Brodie picks up a dog named The Ambassador when he catches the dog’s owner mistreating the dog.  Jackson saves the dog and The Ambassador travels with Brodie as Brodie works to discover what happened in Hope’s past and how her adoption came about.

Matilda Squires, whose nickname is Tilly, plays the mother of Collier, the star of a popular TV series.  Tilly is in the early stages of dementia and is about to be killed off on the TV show.  Just where Tilly fits into the puzzle is a little difficult to figure out but Tilly is a likeable character.

Tracy Waterhouse is a retired police detective who was one of the first on the scene in a murder that happened in 1975.  The story jumps from the present time to 1975 and back again. Tracy has been haunted for years by the death of the prostitute and the fact that the prostitute’s child had been in the apartment with the dead mother for weeks.  When the present day Tracy sees an opportunity to save another child she jumps on it even though buying a child is against the law.

Linda Pollister is a social worker who fits into the present day as well as the period in 1975.  She plays a small but important part in solving the puzzle.

When all the puzzle pieces come together, the truth of what happened back in 1975 when a prostitute is found murdered is revealed, and the book ends with a satisfying and surprising conclusion.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2011.