Teeny Reviews: Rattus New Yorkus by Hunter Shea and Burglars & Blintzes by Morgan C. Talbot

Rattus New Yorkus
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #2
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Underground/Kensington, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0794-0
Ebook

TONIGHT’S DINNER SPECIAL: US

They were either some kind of rat council of elders, or the rodent world’s version of a repugnant Moe, Larry, and Curly.

Benny and Chris—divorcing but still working together—are exterminators but even they are overwhelmed by what they’re seeing in the rat population, ever since they distributed a new kind of poison a few weeks earlier. Suddenly, the horrible creatures are much bigger and way more aggressive. Worse, they seem to be reproducing like crazy and working together, planning, strategizing.

And then they disappear but we know they haven’t really disappeared.

I’d yet to meet a man more intimidating than five-foot Sister Veronica.

I confess, I love creepy horror stories that are full of black humor and this one has it in spades. One liners abound and I just couldn’t resist chuckling even while I was reading about nasty rats:

I never said I wasn’t a world-class dumb-ass.

I’m beginning to think that Hunter Shea is a master of high camp as well as “normal” horror and Rattus New Yorkus was every bit as entertaining as the first of the One Size Eats All series. The third story, The Devil’s Fingers, will be released in October but, in the meantime, I’m happy to say there are plenty of older books to romp through and a new novel, Creature, coming in September.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

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Burglars & Blintzes
Moorehaven Mysteries Book 2
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-948051-14-9
Trade Paperback

When treasure is discovered on a construction site in Seacrest, Oregon, word spreads fast and treasure hunters soon descend on the beach town followed by a marine salvage company. Unfortunately, the treasure came with a dead body and it turns out to be a long-missing man who Pippa’s uncle Hilt knew well.

Pippa Winterbourne loves her B&B, Moorehaven, and all the work that goes with it but she still has time to pull her friends and guests (mystery authors) together to find out what’s going on when accidents begin to happen and old secrets come to light. She’s also a bit distracted when her boyfriend, Lake, is hired as a boat pilot by the salvage company and one of the crew takes a special interest in Lake.

Any mystery reader will be intrigued by the collection of mystery authors who are staying at Moorehaven and the townspeople are equally as interesting and vividly drawn. To add a little drama, Lake’s ex-wife, Mallory, is the police chief and she and Pippa have a strained relationship at best. Needless to say, Mallory would just as soon Pippa stayed out of the investigation but Pippa can’t help herself.

That investigation is two-fold with the old case of the dead man and his pocket full of Spanish doubloons and a present-day murder so Pippa and her cohorts are kept busy. I have to say I didn’t figure it out till near the end, the best kind of mystery, and I enjoyed the investigation a lot. I’ll look forward to the third entry in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

Book Review: Killer, Come Hither by Louis Begley

Killer, Come HitherKiller, Come Hither
Louis Begley
Nan Talese/Doubleday, April 2015
ISBN:  978-0-385-53914-2
Hardcover

The protagonist of Louis Begley’s newest novel is Jack Dana, a former Marine Corps Infantry officer who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan before being badly wounded and returning home.  He is now, seven years later, a bestselling writer, with two books behind him and a third in its early stages.  He is a self-described warrior, as were his father and grandfather before him.  Having attended Oxford and Yale and invited to join the Society of Fellows at Harvard, there also following in his forebears’ footsteps.  The latter was a graduate of Harvard College and had been awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star; his grandfather the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

Now his only remaining relative is his father’s brother, Harry [now Jack’s surrogate father], a prominent New York attorney, who himself had graduated with honors from Harvard College and Harvard Law and was a leading partner at a prominent New York law firm.  Shockingly, en route home after a long over-due vacation in Brazil, Jack discovers that his beloved uncle is dead, having been found hanging in his Sag Harbor home in the exclusive east end of Long Island.

Jack becomes convinced that his uncle had not committed suicide, especially after he is told that Harry’s secretary was also dead, after an apparent accident that had put her in the path of an oncoming subway train, one day after Harry’s body was discovered.  He believes that both deaths had to be connected to the law firm and its largest client, a Texas oilman and right-wing multi-billionaire and activist whose political beliefs had him “somewhere to the right of the John Birch Society and Attila the Hun.”  Aided by Scott Prentice, his closest friend since their days at school, and Kerry Black, recently made partner at the firm and Jack’s lover, he pursues his own investigation.  Soon, faced with the near impossibility of finding the man who he believes caused his uncle’s death, the meaning of the title becomes clear:  Jack decides he must make the man come to him.

It was a bit disconcerting to me that, as the novel is written in the first person, nowhere in the book do quotation marks appear, and it was initially off-putting, to have to realize in the middle of a paragraph that what appears on the page is not exposition, but a conversation between two people.  But I hasten to add that when the plot, and the suspense, kicks up a notch or three, about mid-way through the novel, I didn’t even notice that, I was so busy turning pages.  A thoroughly enjoyable read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2015.

Book Reviews: Heir Today by J.J. & Bette Golden Lamb and A Nearly Perfect Copy by Allison Amend

Heir TodayHeir Today
J.J. & Bette Golden Lamb
Five Star Mysteries, August 2005
ISBN: 978-1-59414-356-4
Hardcover

Paige Alper, free-lance writer and her husband, Max, receive a letter from a tracer firm in New York. For a hefty fee, the letter says, the heir tracers will locate a dead relative’s assets and hand over some money. The dead relative is, of course, a black sheep, the most fascinating member of her family and a world-wandering sailor whom she doesn’t see much of. Nor does her sister who turns out to be a ten-carat bitch and even more interesting, even though she has only a minor role in the story.

Paige’s sister Sheryl, is a grasping, quick-buck hausfrau who wants to immediately sign away her rights and get whatever small amount of cash is available. Paige, more astute, more suspicious and less in need of quick cash, declines to sign. She and her husband, crusading free-lance journalist Max, set out to find Uncle Jock’s money. Family conflict and some fine spats between sisters is one result.

What Max and Paige don’t realize is that an evil Chinese organization with world-wide interests and tentacles has also been stalking Uncle Jock. That’s because Jock, incautious sailor that he was, had for years been collecting damaging evidence against the Hong Kong based crime syndicate. Jock was on a personal vendetta.

If this all sounds a little like that old comic strip “Terry and the Pirates,” it’s not surprising. Nevertheless, Paige and Max are fun characters to follow, and even if their dialogue is sometimes right out of the forties, it’s clear they have a solid relationship and are very supportive of each other. Couple conflict is not really in their makeup.

That’s a good thing because their search takes them from the Far East up and down the California Coast, and to New York, among other places. They are attacked in any number of ingenious ways and it’s a wonder they make it through even a single day with the power of the huge, malevolent, Asian gang arrayed against them. They do survive to fight another day and it really is a lot of fun following this breathless pair on foot, on motorbike and by car, train and plane to a final solution. The book sports an intriguing cover and an awkward title. I confess to not generally liking punning titles.

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

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A Nearly Perfect CopyA Nearly Perfect Copy
Allison Amend
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday,
ISBN 978-0-385-53669-1
Hardcover

This is an amazing, enthralling novel. The characters of the two primary protagonists are so carefully and even lovingly developed, that one can reach the final pages and experience an unsettling sense of loss. The novel is about loss, the loss of friendship and professional respect, of a cherished child, the loss of a treasured inheritance, and the loss of moral integrity.

The story, impeccably told, revolves around two people, both involved in the international art world. Elmira Howells works for her family’s Manhattan auction house. She holds a solid reputation as an expert in seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century drawings and prints. Her family house, Tinsleys, is a long-established powerhouse in international art auction activities.

In Paris, a displaced Spanish artist, Gabriel Connois is experiencing yet another disappointment in a promising career as a painter that is going nowhere fast. Ultimately decisions by each of these individuals, though they might never meet or even become aware of each other, will materially alter their lives forever.

Smoothly written with impeccable style, through the careful development of these two characters, we come to deeper understanding of family and motherhood, of tragedy and loss and how sometimes thoughtless and casual decisions can substantively bring one to the edge of legal and ethical ruin. The twisting slippery maze of connection, favors, and political maneuverings of the art world will be revelatory to many, and the perception that the true value of art is so problematical only adds to the depth of this novel.

This is not a novel in which authorities and experts pursue art criminals and blatant forgers. There are no shootouts or mysterious late-night rendezvous. The crimes that take place, the cloning, and the forgeries, are more subtle and harsh blame more difficult to assign. I was not prepared to feel sympathy for Elm Howells, in spite of her loss. She is not, in the end a very sympathetic character, nor is the flailing if talented artist, Gabriel Connois. Yet, in the end, when Elm finally encounters for the first time the artist Gabriel whose work helped bring about her downfall, she realizes that he could never understand—even if he knew—“that she was both the artist and the forger of her own life.”

Readers with the slightest interest in the art world or in family tragedy will find this novel fascinating.

A copy of the work was supplied at no cost.

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

Book Reviews: Scared to Death by Wendy Corsi Staub, The Nomination by William G. Tapply and Agent X by Noah Boyd

Scared to Death
Wendy Corsi Staub
Avon, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-18950-7-4
Mass Market Paperback

The first murder in Wendy Corsi Staub’s newest thriller occurs on page 7, and the suspense hardly lets up from that point on.

Marin Quinn gave up her newborn son at the insistence of her husband, Garvey Quinn.  Elsa Cavalon adopted that same child, and is now on the brink of finalizing the adoption of a seven-year-old girl, Renny.  The horror that binds these two women is that Jeremy, the biological son of one and adoptive son of the other, was kidnapped while playing outside of his home fifteen years earlier; less than a year ago, Mike Fantoni, the detective the Cavalons hired after Jeremy was first kidnapped and who vowed not to rest until the boy had been found, tells them that Jeremy had been taken overseas to Mumbai, India, and murdered shortly afterwards.  Garvey Quinn, a man who had hoped to become the Governor of the State of New York, is now serving a prison term for having engineered that crime [among others].

But the nightmare of that loss seems to be repeating itself, as the new family of each of these women is threatened, and no part of their present lives seems to be outside the reach of a determined and very deranged mind.

The book alternates p.o.v. between the two women at its heart [as well as that of the killer, from time to time], as they variously run to the suburbs of Boston and an Upper West Side aerie in Manhattan.  But try as they might, they each find that there seems to be no safe haven.

A tale of vengeance with a stunning twist as the conclusion nears, Scared to Death is great escapist fare, one you’ll want to read with all the lights on.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2011.

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The Nomination
William G. Tapply
Skyhorse Publishing, February 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60239-990-7
Hardcover

The Nomination is a posthumously released novel by William Tapply, and a terrific one it is.

Thomas Larrigan is about to be nominated by the American President to fill the seat on the U. S. Supreme Court of an associate justice on the verge of retirement.  He, of course, needs to be vetted before the inevitable Senate confirmation hearings, and even before his nomination is publicly announced.  At first blush his bona fides appear to be impeccable:  A youthful-looking 59 years old, handsome despite his black eye patch, he was a Marine lieutenant, decorated Vietman vet, who had been awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart; he has a reputation as an “intrepid prosecutor, tough on criminals, elected twice as crime-busting District Attorney, once as state Attorney General, self-respected Federal District Court judge, loving family man.”  [It doesn’t hurt that he occasionally plays golf with the President.]

As the president is told, “Larrigan’s perfect.  Almost too good to be true.”  Of course, as the author points out, “if you looked close enough, you’d find a skeleton in every closet in America.  If you looked close enough, you wouldn’t find anybody who’d qualify for the Supreme Court.  Old dusty skeletons, long dead.  Skeletons can’t tell stories.”  Some of those skeletons are not quite dead, it soon appears.  In the process, several lives are linked in disparate ways, some characters confronting their past, others running from theirs, including events from the Vietnam era that had/have life-changing effects.  The author skillfully weaves these threads together, and when this reader thought she knew what was coming, unexpected plot developments proved me wrong.

Others caught in the web of the vetting process include Jessie Church, who had worked for 18 months as an undercover cop in Baltimore, now working as a private investigator; Simone Bonet, cult film goddess who has dropped out of sight; Mac Cassidy, celebrity ghostwriter recovering from the death a year earlier of his wife and now trying to raise their teenage daughter by himself; among others.  Each of these is a fully fleshed-out character brought to wonderful life in the hands of Mr. Tapply.  This is a beautifully written tale of love and loss, full of suspense but still managing to tug at the heart. Nearing the end of the book, I did something I had never done before: I had gripped the bottom corner of the page so tightly in my fingers that a small piece was ripped out.

I felt it might be appropriate to include here the following, contained in an epilogue to this novel, in part wrapping up the tale and spoken by Mac Cassidy, but which I suspect were also Mr. Tapply’s thoughts about his own writing process:  “Eight hundred words a day, through sleet and snow and flu-like symptoms.  That’s how books got written.  Not in great bursts of inspiration.  You wrote a book one painful sentence at a time.  Eight hundred words a day, which was a lot of sentences, whether it took an hour or ten hours.”  It is our loss that this is the last book from this author we will have the pleasure of reading.  It is, obviously, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2011.

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Agent X
Noah Boyd
William Morrow, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-182698-6
Hardcover

Kate Bannon, the Assistant Director of the FBI who readers, and ex-FBI Agent Steve Vail first met in this author’s The Bricklayer, returns, in fact, in the first sentence on the first page of this, the second in the series.  And a most welcome return it is, of those protags and the series itself.  I am delighted to report that all the taut writing, suspense and wonderful characters of the initial book in the series are abundantly present in Agent X as well.

Vail, a maverick who can’t/won’t confirm to rules, was fired by the FBI five years previously.  He has since then been working at least nominally as a bricklayer [thus the title of the first book] and had met Kate in LA when they worked together on a case which had a successful conclusion, mostly due to his efforts.  [He was an ‘independent contractor’ of sorts in that instance for the FBI.]  They had dated for a while, until Kate broke it off.  Beyond the delightful banter, the two make for a terrific team as the FBI persuades Vail to head up their investigation into finding a number of agents to whom vital US secrets are just a commodity to be bartered.  As if that weren’t enough, Steve is asked by an agent who had been Vail’s partner several years back to assist with a case involving the disappearance of a female intelligence analyst.  As the tale unfolds, one thing becomes clear:  Very little is as it seems.

The Vail/Bannon relationship is an ambivalent one.  As is the Vail/FBI deal.  Bannon tells Vail:  “You have advanced degrees.  The director has offered you complete autonomy if you’ll come back to the Bureau, but instead you choose physical labor just so you won’t have to take orders. . . Not everyone who takes orders for a living is a mortal enemy of Steven Vail.”  The cleverly constructed sleuthing [which was a challenge at times for this reader, I must admit], and the occasional philosophical ruminations, make for a fascinating read.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2011.