Book Review: Beyond the Pale by Clare O’Donohue

Beyond the Pale
A World of Spies #1
Clare O’Donohue
Midnight Ink, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5650-9
Trade Paperback

Hollis Larsson is a tenured university professor married to her college sweetheart.  She has a comfortable middle-class life in Michigan and she is bored senseless. Her husband Finn is an internationally recognized expert in European literature. He enjoys interacting with his students and watching baseball more than spending time with his wife, who keeps trying to reignite his interest in her. When a former friend from her brief fling with the CIA shows up and asks them to go to Ireland to buy a rare manuscript to save the life of a U.S. agent, it seems just the break from monotony she’s been looking for. Her husband is not interested but eventually agrees to the trip with the understanding that the task is a fast and simple one and they will be home again after a long weekend. Oh, and Holly owes him big time.

Once in Ireland, equipped with a large amount of cash, Holly and Finn approach the store to make the purchase, only to find their designated contact has disappeared. They retreat to regroup and quickly discover that they are being followed by competing CIA and Interpol agents who plan to take the manuscript as quickly as it can be acquired, followed by an unfortunate accident for Holly and Finn. Their search for the manuscript while eluding the agents who all claim the others are part of a criminal gang takes them across much of the country with wonderful descriptions of the scenery and history. The verbal sniping between Holly and Finn that opened the book vanishes as their teamwork kicks into gear to keep them both alive.

O’Donohue’s previous books include five mysteries in the Someday Quilts series. This title is the first of a new spy series that will take occasional agents Holly and Finn around the world.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, May 2018.

Book Reviews: Inspector Specter by E.J. Copperman and The Accident by Chris Pavone

Inspector SpecterInspector Specter
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #6
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26926-8
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the newest Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman. Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious eleven-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father. It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts. She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’  As the book begins, her paying guests number six (delightfully including Joe Guglielmelli and Bonnie Claeson, real-life former owners of the sorely-missed Black Orchid Books in Manhattan).

Allison is asked by Det. Lt. Anita McElone of the Harbor Haven Police Department to look into the death of Martin Ferry, McElone’s ex-partner in the Seaside Heights Police Dept., which those cops had labeled death caused by accidental discharge of his gun, but which she thinks is murder. Alison’s ability to conduct a proper investigation is hampered a bit by the fact that she has to baby-sit the eleventh-month-old son of her best friend, Jeannie, but with help from her ghostly assistants, she proceeds. There are disturbing hints that the detective may not have been completely honest.

Of her parents, Allison says “They have a great marriage, despite her being widowed.”  Of her father particularly:  “he almost never turns down a request I make (and never turns down a request Melissa makes; it’s like he was born to be a grandfather and, thanks to the miracle of ghost technology, is finally getting the chance to fulfill his true destiny.)”

The writing is wonderful, with the author’s s trademark laugh-out-loud wit and intelligence, well-plotted mystery and very well-drawn characters, alive or otherwise.

My preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.  His dedication to several brilliant comics of years past ends with the words “there aren’t enough funny people in the world,” a deficit which he certainly helps to overcome.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2014.

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The AccidentThe Accident
Chris Pavone
Broadway Books, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-385-34847-8
Trade Paperback

The Accident is, nominally, about a manuscript which bears that title, the author shown as “Anonymous.”  It is a memoir (perhaps), an expose or unauthorized biography (possibly), of an international media mogul (think Rupert Murdoch), with some little-known (or until now unknown) and potentially ruinous events in his past, most shockingly the one which gives the book its title, the person who wrote it identified only as “the author.”  But more importantly, the novel, written with a sly humor, provides an inside look at the publishing industry, in ever greater danger of extinction, that is as fascinating (in a schadenfreude kind of way) as that ostensible main story line. We are told the “the publishing business is a business, and books are published for an audience to buy from bookstores, who buy units from distributors who order cartons from publishers who acquire titles from literary agencies who sign up careers from authors, money changing hands at every transaction.”

The book opens with the surveillance of a woman, as yet unnamed, by a man watching a live video feed as she lies in bed, reading, typical of the espionage, literal and figurative, found here.

The manuscript, hand-delivered to the office of Isabel Reed, a powerful literary agent in New York, is full of shocking revelations implicating, e.g., various American presidents and CIA directors, and is, almost literally, dynamite, putting those few individuals who are privy to its contents in mortal danger. On the other hand, each of those individuals, initially at least, see in it their salvation. Written from their various points of view, the novel takes the reader from New York to Zurich, Copenhagen and Los Angeles, all of it taking place in a single day, and exposes the staggering machinations which routinely abound in the publishing industry. The reader is treated to brief excerpts from the manuscript, interspersed periodically, as it is read by the players in that select group.

With wonderfully well-drawn characters, this is a terrific read, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.