Book Review: The Pyramid of Mud by Andrea Camilleri

The Pyramid of Mud
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery #22
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin, January 2018
ISBN: 978-0-143-12808-3
Trade Paperback

The discovery of the body of the chief accountant of a construction company in a sewer pipe on the development site is all the clue Inspector Montalbano needs to wonder what it’s all about, in this, the 22nd novel in this wonderfully understated series. Was the murder the result of his wife’s affair with her lover and being shot when catching them in the act?  Or a smokescreen created by a corrupt group of contractors?

This is but one of several questions to which the Inspector needs an answer before he can solve the murder.  And at the same time discover the goings-on in the area of construction and public works contracts.

As is usual in the series, the author exhibits many subtle touches, making the Inspector more human.  Beside his love of food, Montalbano shows signs of aging.  Is his hearing and sight going?  And he reminds himself, if that’s the case, it’s time to retire.  And his long distance love life with Livia.  In this novel she exhibits an illness or, perhaps, lethargy, until she gets a dog as a pet that keeps her hopping and bouncing back, giving rise to the old minor arguments with the Inspector on the telephone, which he enjoys, recognizing it as a symptom of recovery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2018.

Book Reviews: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg and Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey

GangsterlandGangsterland
Tod Goldberg
Counterpoint Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-578-3
Trade Paperback

The idea of juxtaposing the mafia, a hit man, and a Reform Jewish temple in Las Vegas forms the basis for this outrageous but satisfying novel.  It is filled with a variety of characters and a plot that carries the theme with aplomb.  While the concept may appear to be beyond the realms of reality, the author carries it out with grace and humor.

It all begins in Chicago, where Sal Cupertine is an extraordinary hit man for the mob, efficient, careful and never caught.  Until one day he is assigned to meet with some purported drug sellers who turn out to be FBI agents and, for the first time, his face becomes known, so he has to kill them for self-preservation but has to flee the Windy City hidden in a refrigerated truck.  Sal ends up in Las Vegas, undergoes facial surgery and, because he has a retentive memory, is turned into Rabbi David Cohen, part of a new racket.

While many of the Talmudic and Biblical references, which colorfully emit from David’s (Sal’s) lips throughout the novel, may be questionable, they set the tone for the incredible plot.  If there is one drawback to the novel it is the final passages which to this reader did not ring true, although, supposedly, are intended to provide a morality to this mafia story.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2015.

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Shark Skin SuiteShark Skin Suite
Serge Storms #18
Tim Dorsey
William Morrow, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-224001-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  “Bottom feeders beware: The Sunshine State’s favorite psychotic killer and lovable Floridaphile, Serge Storms, has found a new calling, legal eagle, and he’s going to make a killing as a crusading attorney – – and star as a dashing lawyer on the big screen – – in this madcap escapade . . . When it comes to swimming with the sharks, there is no bigger kahuna than Serge Storms.  Binging on a marathon of legal movies set in Florida, Serge finds his vocation:  the law.  Never mind law school or that degree; Serge becomes a freelance fixer – – wildcat paralegal and pilgrim to the hallowed places where legal classics of the big screen such as Body Heat, Cool Hand Luke, and Absence of Malice were filmed practically in his own backyard.”

I found it nearly impossible to summarize the plot of this book; suffice it to say that I began and ended the book with a silly smile on my face, which was the default display for much of everything in between.  As stated above, much of the novel is an homage to those classic films; to say that Serge is a movie buff is a huge understatement.  In addition, the author captures the feel of the Florida streets in, e.g., downtown Miami:  “The foot traffic was determined in the midday heat.  Folded newspapers, briefcases, take-out bags with Cuban sandwiches.  A teenager sprinted up the middle of the street with a fistful of wristwatches.  A whiskered man on the corner of Flagler had been screaming and kicking his own bicycle for five minutes.  A shopowner chasing the shoplifting teen was hit by an ambulance.  One of the folded newspapers told of a mysterious eyeball the size of a cantaloupe that had washed upon the beach.  Everything was normal.  Pedestrians continued chatting on cell phones.”

The author’s writing style is certainly unique, and the resulting work is recommended.  Just what I needed after a fairly steady recent diet of dark, death- and danger-filled books.  (Although I should perhaps add that there are a couple of dead bodies before the book comes to a close.)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: Cry Wolf by Michael Gregorio

Cry WolfCry Wolf      
A Sebastiano Cangio Thriller #1
Michael Gregorio
Severn House Publishers, Ltd., April 2015
ISBN: 978-1-78010-617-5
Ebook
Also available in hardcover and trade paperback

Wolf as symbol. Wolf as metaphor. Wolves in Umbria, a relatively unpopulated region of Italy, as motivating presence. In this wide-ranging novel of Mafia and murder, the author challenges readers to maintain attention and patience as he directs us through years in the life of a young man from Calabria in the south of Italy, to his abrupt decampment to England, to his return to Italy and a new life as a park ranger in Umbria. It’s a lot to take in but those who stick with it will be richly rewarded.

The man, Sebastiano Cangio, is obsessed with wolves. They are the subject of his Phd. thesis at a local university. But a murder on the beach, execution style, changes all that. He hides, unhappily, in London. But then an opportunity to return to Italy and become a Park Ranger in Umbria, with his beloved wolves, occurs.

Unfortunately, new commercial development after earthquakes in Umbria is bringing crime of the worst sort, a rising Mafia cell. There are many players in this churning story, some who fall in and out of the narrative so readers must pay attention. Most are interesting and even unusual. The plot is vastly complicated and enthralling at the same time. This author is a very good writer and while the plot seems to move ponderously for a time, once all the important characters are in place, things get hot exceedingly fast. Yet there are no missteps and the last third of the novel is as fast and intense as any fan of thrillers could ask.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2015.
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: Shooting for the Stars by R.G. Belsky

Shooting for the StarsShooting for the Stars
A Gil Malloy Novel #2
R.G. Belsky
Atria, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-4767-6236-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Some thirty years ago, movie star Laura Marlowe was shot to death by a crazed fan in New York City, who then killed himself. The police ruled it a murder-suicide, the case was closed, and the beloved starlet faded away into history. But when New York Daily News reporter Gil Malloy re-investigates Marlowe’s death, long-buried secrets emerge and he begins to uncover the trail of a new serial killer. And more people are dying. Now, before he can solve the current crimes, Gil must find out what really happened to Laura Marlowe all those years ago.

There’s something that really appeals to me about investigative journalists, maybe because I admire their unwavering drive to find the truth. That liking for nosy reporters  😉 carries over to the fictional types and I was glad to discover that Gil Malloy can be added to the roster of those I like to follow.

Gil is an interesting guy, really into what some would call snooping but what I call having a true enthusiasm for following one lead after another until the facts add up. He also has a burning desire to hold onto his job at a time when print journalism is fading away and more and more emphasis is being put on TV and online venues and their natural inclination towards short clips of news. It doesn’t help his outlook when he’s assigned to do a promotional piece on a hotshot TV reporter who’s about to break a big story regarding a movie star who was murdered by a fan years earlier.

When Gil meets Abbie Kincaid, though, he’s in for more than one surprise, including the revelations that she’s been dating a Mafia boss’s son and she’s packing. He’s even more blown away when she tells him what her big exclusive is all about but the real shock is still to come.

Shooting for the Stars is a quick read and the pacing is nearly ideal. Mr. Belsky is sure-handed in his characterizations and plot development and I’m just sorry I haven’t encountered his work before now. Many good things have been said about Gil’s first adventure, The Kennedy Connection, and I’m looking forward to picking that up while I wait for the next one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

 

Book Review: Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Havana LostHavana Lost
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, August 2013
ISBN: 978-1-938733-38-3
Trade Paperback

Author Libby Hellmann, with a number of Chicagoland detective mysteries to her credit, has moved in a new direction. This novel continues that move, beginning with the excellent Set The Night on Fire,  continuing with A Bitter Veil, and now this novel. Here we have a love story set against the turbulent and dangerous background of the Cuban Revolution. The story of two lovers from wildly different circumstances form the catalyst that drives this story.

Hellmann’s skills as a writer have continued to improve and her talent is most obvious when she deals with the principal characters, Luis the revolutionary, follower of Fidel Castro and his inamorata, Francesca Pacelli. She’s the teen-aged daughter of Tony, the American manager of a luxury casino and night-club. Pacelli is a confidant of Meyer Lansky, among others in the nightlife enterprises of Havana in the late 1950’s. Hellmann has created a vibrant, colorful Cuba of the 1950’s on the brink of a revolution as Castro’s oppressive and revolutionary force move to take over the island nation.

The evolution of Francesca Pacelli from a headstrong hormonal teenager in exotic Cuba to a steely, self-assured Chicago matron, head of a far-flung business enterprise, is fascinating and very well handled. One can argue that the Angola device (you’ll have to read the novel for explanation) carries the principals far afield and is something of a distraction. Never mind. The central story is compelling and what gives this novel its fire and its depth of feeling, is the character movement. Consistent, logical, rising out of circumstances, Luis Perez and Frankie Pacelli set in motion both life-affirming and tragic, nearly inevitable violent confrontations set against the wider forces of the times.

The scope and sweep of this novel is spectacular, beginning in the 1950s and terminating in today’s difficult circumstances, from Cuba to Africa to Chicago. But over and over, Hellmann effectively brings the focus down to the individuals important to this narrative. Truly, a novel to be savored.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James

Dead Man's GripDead Man’s Grip
Peter James
Minotaur Books, September 2012
ISBN 978-0-312-64321-8
Trade Paperback

Set in Brighton, England, the story begins with a horrific traffic accident. A bicycle rider is killed, run down by a work-release convict who isn’t where he’s supposed to be. The bicyclist’s body is thrown under a truck driven by a man with too many hours on the clock, and the whole collision is barely avoided by a woman who drank too much the night before. Quite straight forward, or so one would think. But the victim is the son of New York Mafia royalty, and his mother is pissed. A hitman is hired to provide the most gruesome deaths he can devise for the people involved in the death of her son and she wants video of every death. After the first two hits–the two men–the police catch on and the woman, Carly Chase is provided protection. But she has a son, too.

This is a tense, exciting novel that will keep you turning the pages and burning the midnight oil. Even at 400+ pages, there is very little down time. Everything moves forward quickly, with one caveat. If I have a complaint–or caveat–it is that there are so many characters I had a hard time keeping track of them all. Each was named and each was painstakingly described, which to my mind slowed things down a tiny bit, especially for characters with minor bit parts who frequently never turned up again. But if, like I ended up doing, you skip over these parts, I think you’re going to be enthralled.

Police procedure, the author informs us in his “acknowledgments,” has been vetted by real life Sussex and Brighton police, so we can be assured details are accurate.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Lucky Bastard by S.G. Browne—And A Pair Of Winners!

Lucky Bastard
S. G. Browne
Gallery Books, April 2012
ISBN 9781451657197
Hardcover

If I may use an oft said line: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you? For Nick Monday, chances are, luck just isn’t with him on this particular day. In this fascinating book by S. G. Browne, you’ll learn about grades of luck, charms, and how bad luck, bad decisions, and actions can follow you for a long time.

Nick Monday, San Francisco private detective, is also a luck poacher. He has the ability to take other people’s luck, process it, and sell it. Unfortunately this day is not to be a lucky one for him. First he gets hired by a woman claiming to be the mayor’s daughter to retrieve her father’s luck. Then he is bullied by two federal agents to give a Mafia boss some bad luck. Then the Mafia King wants Nick under his employment. Oh, and let’s not forget about another enigmatic scooter riding woman with whom Nick would very much like to get acquainted. However, Nick soon discovers luck is a fickle thing and finds out his past has a way of catching up with him.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lucky Bastard. The humor was marvelous. The characters were just over-the-top enough to spur delightful mental images. The fast pace, the intricate plot, and the little factoids thrown in for good measure made me wish for more. I so hope Browne brings us another Nick Monday adventure soon.


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

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Congratulations to CharlieF, winner of A Valley to Die For,and to Jane Rafal,

winner of A Fair to Die For, both courtesy of the author, Radine Trees Nehring!