Book Reviews: Darker Than Any Shadow by Tina Whittle and Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison

Darker Than Any ShadowDarker Than Any Shadow
A Tai Randolph Mystery     
Tina Whittle
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2012
ISBN: 978-159058-546-7
Hardcover

The second entry in the author’s intriguing series featuring a gun shop owner and a corporate security officer is a winner. Heavily populated with interesting characters, the turbulent love affair between the protagonists informs and leavens what could otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill mystery. Indeed, the identity of the killer, while important to the story, was, to this reader, not as compelling as the characters, and the milieu.

The setting is Atlanta, Georgia, during the run-up to a major poetry slam competition. Some of the characters have known each other from childhood and others seem to have uncertain, even mysterious backgrounds. It’s hot in Atlanta, and gun shop owner Tai Randolph is mentoring her long-time friend, rising poet, Rico. There are teams of competing poets as well as individual efforts and a surplus of egos swirling around as participants prepare.  Then murder intrudes.

The relationship developing between our principal “investigator,” amateur tho she is, Tai Randolph and her lover, Trey Seaver, is much more than casually interesting to observe. Seaver is a former cop with a high level of crisis and SWAT training, excellent skills and more than a little rigidity as regards the rules of life and the law. The almost constant battles between the lovers as they try to accommodate each other is a fascinating piece of this very entertaining novel. I recommend it strongly.

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

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Eleven Pipers PipingEleven Pipers Piping
Father Christmas Series
C.C. Benison
Delacorte Press, October 2012
ISBN: 978-0-440-33984-7
Ebook
Also available in hardcover

When this book arrived pre-armed as a traditional British mystery, I was prepared for just that. Upon reflection I should not have been surprised at the depth of character development, the intricate plot with several surprising twists and turns, the careful and even loving development of understanding and human insight residing in the pages.

The writing draws one in almost instantly and never really lets go until the end. Yes, the book is long, yes there are many characters and yes, there is an important if sprawling back story that is vital to an understanding of the present-day machinations of the characters.

The Reverend Tom Christmas, widower, father and rather recently appointed Vicar of the hamlet of Thornford Regis, is still learning the ins and outs of the social and political life of the town and its inhabitants. Father Christmas is the focus of this novel, and the entire story devolves through his kindly if somewhat distorted lens. Father Christmas is dealing, you see, with the still unsolved murder of his wife a few years ago. This novel follows Twelve Drummers Drumming and will be followed soon by Ten Lords A-Leaping. Therein lies a clue as to what this novelist is all about, something worthy of a reader’s time and attention.

The author employs an interesting literary device. The novel begins with an elaborate and newsy letter from Father Christmas’s housekeeper to her mum, an interesting device used to impart vital information that is mostly outside of the ken of Father Christmas. Periodically Madrun Prowse writes these letters which help readers follow the action. The town hosts a musical aggregation called Thistle but Mostly Rose pipe band gathered, as the novel continues, to celebrate the birth of poet Robert Burns at a sumptuous dinner. At the dinner as the plot swiftly develops amid a rare snowstorm, and readers will meet nearly all of the forty-some characters in the book.

Eleven Pipers Piping is a warm, thoughtful if long, traditional English mystery in all the best possible ways. Well and nicely written, the narrative takes the reader by the arm and carries her comfortably through an enthralling and heartfelt story.

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

Book Reviews: King of the Dead by Joseph Nassise, The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab, and Dog in the Manger by Mike Resnick

King of the DeadKing of the Dead
The Jeremiah Hunt Chronicle

Joseph Nassise
Tor, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-7653-2719-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In a devil’s deal, Jeremiah Hunt sacrificed his human sight in exchange for the power to see the hidden world of ghosts and all of the darker spirits that prowl the streets. Hunt uncovered a world of murder and magic that took his daughter from him and nearly cost him his life, but that was only the beginning….

Now Hunt is on the run from the FBI, who have pegged him as a mass-murdering dark sorcerer. His flight from the law is diverted to New Orleans when his companion, a potent witch, has a horrific vioiledsion of the city under magical siege. When they arrive, they realize that the situation is more dire than they could have imagined: the world of the living faces a terrifying attack by forces from beyond the grave. King of the Dead, the second book in this groundbreaking series, promises more of Nassise’s electrifying writing that will enthrall readers looking for a supercharged, supernatural thrill.

 

One of the best combinations that has come about with the tremendous growth of crossgenre fiction is crimefighting supernatural beings. Early players—meaning in recent years because crossgenre is certainly not a new thing—such as Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher) and Rachel Morgan (Kim Harrison) whetted our appetites and many readers, including me, are always on the lookout for more, especially those that are a bit different.

And Jeremiah Hunt is decidedly different. We’ve had central characters who can wizard or witch their way through life, or chase down bad guys while in the form of werewolves and vampires and such, but how often do we come across a guy who can see ghosts and all the scary things in the dark and can do so BECAUSE he’s blind? To make it even more unique, Jeremiah actually wanted his blindness, unlike so many who gain their abilities through no desire to be able to do these things. Jeremiah and his cohorts, a witch and a berserker, ought to be kickbutt.

Unfortunately, they don’t quite do it for me and I’m not entirely sure why. Part of the problem is a bit too much infodumping in an effort to bring the reader up to speed in this second book. I appreciate the effort because knowing some background helps when you haven’t read the earlier books in a series (a frequent happenstance for reviewers) but it’s a little too heavyhanded in this case. I was also a little put off by the shifting points of view—generally, I like that but the shifts were sometimes too abrupt and I would lose my connection to the story while taking the time to figure out who’s speaking.

Having said that, the worldbuilding is very good and I like these characters, especially Jeremiah. I’ve heard excellent reports about the first book, Eyes to See, so I think this may be one of those rare occasions when I should have read the first book first. King of the Dead interests me a lot and I think I’ll enjoy it much more if I start at the beginning.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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The Girl in the WallThe Girl in the Wall
Daphne Benedis-Grab
Merit Press, December 2012
ISBN 978-1-4405-5270-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Ariel’s birthday weekend looks to be the event of the season, with a private concert by rock star Hudson Winters on the grounds of her family’s east coast estate, and all of Ariel’s elite prep school friends in attendance. The only person who’s dreading the party is Sera, Ariel’s former best friend, whose father is forcing her to go. Sera has been the school pariah since she betrayed Ariel, and she now avoids Ariel and their former friends. Thrown together, Ariel and Sera can agree on one thing: this could be one very long night.

They have no idea just how right they are.

Only moments after the concert begins and the lights go down, thugs open fire on parents and schoolmates alike, in a plot against Ariel’s father that quickly spins out of control. As the entire party is taken hostage, the girls are forced apart. Ariel escapes into the hidden tunnels in the family mansion, where she and Sera played as children. Only Sera, who forges an unlikely alliance with Hudson Winters, knows where her friend could be. As the industrial terrorist plot unravels and the death toll climbs, Ariel and Sera must recall the sisterhood that once sustained them as they try to save themselves and each other on the longest night of their lives.

One of the dreaded tropes of young adult fiction is femjep, female in jeopardy. This goes way back, to the days of “The Perils of Pauline” nearly a hundred years ago and earlier. At times, it seems as though many writers of young adult fiction can’t come up with a story without it, and that has led to a craving for those tales that feature girls with a brain, girls that can actually take care of themselves most of the time. It’s an even greater pleasure when an author is able to craft a story around a girl of, shall we say, substance, involved in a situation of jeopardy.

Ms. Benedis-Grab has accomplished this in spades with The Girl in the Wall and there are, in fact, two very capable girls, Sera and Ariel. The author makes good use of the hostage aspect and watching the girls cope with such deadly circumstances is knuckle-whitening. I literally raced from one chapter to the next and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way. Some of Ariel’s behavior raised my eyebrows and Sera is faced with an impossible choice but I really liked both of these teens and found them highly interesting.The action is intense and frightening and I loved getting to know both Sera and Ariel.

This is a pair of girls I’d like to have by my side in a dark alley.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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Dog in the MangerDog in the Manger
Mike Resnick
Seventh Street Books, November 2012
ISBN 9781616147105
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Hired to investigate the disappearance of a Westminster winner, Eli Paxton stumbles into a web of intrigue.

A dog is missing. Not just any dog. The number one Weimaraner in the country and current Westminster winner.

Down-on-his-luck private eye Eli Paxton is hired to find him. Not exactly an elite assignment, but better than nothing. Maybe it will help him pay his rent.

It turns out to be anything but a routine case. People start dying in mysterious ways, a cargo plane goes missing, and someone is taking shots at him. It makes no sense. Even a top show dog isn’t worth that much.

Now the hunt is on. Paxton needs to find this dog to save his own skin. The trail leads to Arizona, then Mexico, and finally back to his hometown of Cincinnati—Where he finds the startling solution.

 

Dog in the Manger is a reprint of a book first published in the mid-1990′s and I’m just so glad somebody decided to dust it off. I’ve been familiar with Mike Resnick‘s work for many years but it was his science fiction that I knew—I had no idea he’d ever written a mystery.

Eli Paxton seems like the typical down-on-his-luck private eye and, in many ways, he is but there’s more to him than that. Whether he wants to or not, Eli cares about his cases; they’re more than just a paycheck. When he first agrees to find out what happened to Baroness von Tannelwald, he almost sees it as having sunk as low as the low can go, a desperate move by a man having a little difficulty making his income stretch to cover his bills and allow the occasional good seat at a Reds game. It can’t be all that hard to find a dog, especially when her handler, Hubert Lantz, is willing to pay a tidy sum for Eli to track her down, right?

But wait, why has everybody who’s been connected to Baroness in the last few days  disappeared—or turned up dead?

Mr. Resnick may not have spent his authorial career writing mysteries but Dog in the Manger shows that he clearly knows how to do it. This book has nasty criminal stuff going on as well as a good deal of sly humor and a true puzzle and Eli is a guy I’d like to hang out with. Luckily, we’ll get to see Eli again when his second book, The Trojan Colt, comes out next June and I must say I’m delighted to know he’s in my future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

Ted Feit’s Book Review Roundup

Burn
Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-61456-0
Hardcover

It is likely that fans of the Anna Pigeon series might be put off by several aspects of this novel.  To begin with, it takes place in the urban setting of New Orleans rather than the accustomed [for this series] wide open spaces of a national park.  Then there is the topic: not only child abuse, but child sex and white slavery.  Also there is much, if not excessive, violence (which does not mean that there has not been some in previous entries).

With that said, we can turn our attention to Burn.  It is an intriguing work, albeit somewhat heavy-handed.  Anna is on leave to recover from some sort of mental breakdown, visiting a friend in the Big Easy.  Instead she becomes involved in what appears to be a voodoo curse as well as assisting a stranger in recovering her daughters, apparently kidnapped to be imprisoned in a sex emporium.

This reader found the novel slow to read and bogged down in a lot of unnecessary detail.  The plot – – child sex – – certainly is worthy of an important look, and the book does achieve that aim.  Somewhat confusing to this reader were the various descriptions of the “character” changes in the distraught mother, a professional actress, as she takes on each role as the situation arises.  On the whole, however, it is an interesting read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

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The Track of Sand
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-14-311793-3
Trade Paperback

Strange dreams and perfect intuition and logic are the keys to solving a mystery in this Inspector Montalbano novel.  It seems that even when he is asleep he can proceed with an investigation with dispatch.

He awakens one day and looks out of his beach house to see a bludgeoned horse lying in the sand.  When his men arrive after his call to investigate, the horse has disappeared.  In short order, Rachele, an equestrian champion rider, and Saverio Lo Duca, one of the richest men in Sicily, each report a missing horse.  Which one was the horse the inspector sighted?

In consultation with Fazio, a colleague, Montalbano learns of a clandestine horse racing scheme operated by the mafia.  Meanwhile, several burglary attempts take place at the inspector’s house, as well as an arson attempt.  What, if any, is the connection to the investigation?  With his customary unorthodox methodology, the inspector proceeds to unravel all the possibilities.

With humor and charm, the author writes a procedural of a different kind:  one which is full of good food, good-looking women and lots of fun.  Eat, drink and read hearty.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

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

She Felt No Pain
Lou Allin
RendezVous Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-926607-07-8
Trade Paperback

RCMP Corporal Holly Martin, newly transferred to Vancouver Island, faces adjustment to her new command, along with encountering her own past along the way.  The reader is treated to all kinds of descriptions of the island in all its glory.

Almost incidentally, a mystery unfolds when an apparently homeless man is found dead of what looks like a drug overdose.  An autopsy shows a deadly combination of heroin and a potent synthetic opiate, a deadly combination. Holly soon discovers something the man had hidden near the site of his death, and she struggles to find its meaning. At the same time, Holly is encouraged by her elderly aunt to investigate the disappearance of her mother many years before.

Slowly, Holly begins to look into the background of the homeless man, uncovering his relationship with a sister and aunt still living on the island.  Consequently, Holly is able to begin piecing together the background story and investigate the possibility of murder.  The author concentrates on developing the story against the raw beauty of
nature and environment, which not only provide a truly forceful setting for the plot, but also a powerful conclusion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

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

Evidence of Murder
Lisa Black
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-154450-7
Mass Market Paperback

Persistence is a virtue, and Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist in the M.E.’s office exhibits plenty of that in this novel in which she still has not recovered from the death of her fiancé.  A young woman has been found frozen to death on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland and there are almost no clues as to the cause of death.  She left behind a husband of three weeks and a young baby.

Theresa smells a rat and she can’t let go of the case.  She learns that the baby has received a $1.5 million inheritance from its grandparents and Theresa suspects that the baby’s life is in danger because of the money.  But unless she can prove murder, and she can’t seem to find any evidence, there might be another death in the near future.

This reader found the book slow reading, bogged down in minutiae and over-detailed descriptions, especially of forensics procedures.  But for this criticism, it is an interesting and well-drawn plot, with an exciting but rather implausible conclusion.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

Ted Feit's Book Review Roundup

Burn
Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-61456-0
Hardcover

It is likely that fans of the Anna Pigeon series might be put off by several aspects of this novel.  To begin with, it takes place in the urban setting of New Orleans rather than the accustomed [for this series] wide open spaces of a national park.  Then there is the topic: not only child abuse, but child sex and white slavery.  Also there is much, if not excessive, violence (which does not mean that there has not been some in previous entries).

With that said, we can turn our attention to Burn.  It is an intriguing work, albeit somewhat heavy-handed.  Anna is on leave to recover from some sort of mental breakdown, visiting a friend in the Big Easy.  Instead she becomes involved in what appears to be a voodoo curse as well as assisting a stranger in recovering her daughters, apparently kidnapped to be imprisoned in a sex emporium.

This reader found the novel slow to read and bogged down in a lot of unnecessary detail.  The plot – – child sex – – certainly is worthy of an important look, and the book does achieve that aim.  Somewhat confusing to this reader were the various descriptions of the “character” changes in the distraught mother, a professional actress, as she takes on each role as the situation arises.  On the whole, however, it is an interesting read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

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

The Track of Sand
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-14-311793-3
Trade Paperback

Strange dreams and perfect intuition and logic are the keys to solving a mystery in this Inspector Montalbano novel.  It seems that even when he is asleep he can proceed with an investigation with dispatch.

He awakens one day and looks out of his beach house to see a bludgeoned horse lying in the sand.  When his men arrive after his call to investigate, the horse has disappeared.  In short order, Rachele, an equestrian champion rider, and Saverio Lo Duca, one of the richest men in Sicily, each report a missing horse.  Which one was the horse the inspector sighted?

In consultation with Fazio, a colleague, Montalbano learns of a clandestine horse racing scheme operated by the mafia.  Meanwhile, several burglary attempts take place at the inspector’s house, as well as an arson attempt.  What, if any, is the connection to the investigation?  With his customary unorthodox methodology, the inspector proceeds to unravel all the possibilities.

With humor and charm, the author writes a procedural of a different kind:  one which is full of good food, good-looking women and lots of fun.  Eat, drink and read hearty.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

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

She Felt No Pain
Lou Allin
RendezVous Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-926607-07-8
Trade Paperback

RCMP Corporal Holly Martin, newly transferred to Vancouver Island, faces adjustment to her new command, along with encountering her own past along the way.  The reader is treated to all kinds of descriptions of the island in all its glory.

Almost incidentally, a mystery unfolds when an apparently homeless man is found dead of what looks like a drug overdose.  An autopsy shows a deadly combination of heroin and a potent synthetic opiate, a deadly combination. Holly soon discovers something the man had hidden near the site of his death, and she struggles to find its meaning. At the same time, Holly is encouraged by her elderly aunt to investigate the disappearance of her mother many years before.

Slowly, Holly begins to look into the background of the homeless man, uncovering his relationship with a sister and aunt still living on the island.  Consequently, Holly is able to begin piecing together the background story and investigate the possibility of murder.  The author concentrates on developing the story against the raw beauty of
nature and environment, which not only provide a truly forceful setting for the plot, but also a powerful conclusion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

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

Evidence of Murder
Lisa Black
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-154450-7
Mass Market Paperback

Persistence is a virtue, and Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist in the M.E.’s office exhibits plenty of that in this novel in which she still has not recovered from the death of her fiancé.  A young woman has been found frozen to death on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland and there are almost no clues as to the cause of death.  She left behind a husband of three weeks and a young baby.

Theresa smells a rat and she can’t let go of the case.  She learns that the baby has received a $1.5 million inheritance from its grandparents and Theresa suspects that the baby’s life is in danger because of the money.  But unless she can prove murder, and she can’t seem to find any evidence, there might be another death in the near future.

This reader found the book slow reading, bogged down in minutiae and over-detailed descriptions, especially of forensics procedures.  But for this criticism, it is an interesting and well-drawn plot, with an exciting but rather implausible conclusion.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2010.

Book Review: The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

The Scent of Rain and Lightning
Nancy Pickard
Ballantine Books, May 2010
ISBN 0345471016
Hardcover

When she was three years old, Jody Linder’s father, Hugh-Jay, was murdered and her mother disappeared. Hugh-Jay’s parents, Hugh and Annabelle Linder, along with their two remaining sons, Chase and Bobby as well as daughter Belle and her husband, Meryl raised Jody. As a prominent family in the small town of Rose, Kansas, the Linders owned a large ranch and employed troubled young men to assist in the work of running the ranch. For the most part, their attempts to rehabilitate these troubled youth are met with success. The exception is Billy Crosby. Billy has a wife and a son but can’t seem to stay out of trouble. He gets fired from the Linder ranch and indications point to him as the murderer.

With the name Linder, it’s easy to ensure that the guilty person is convicted and sentenced to prison, but after 23 years, Billy is released and returns to the small town of Rose. He’s carrying a giant chip on his shoulder, determined to make someone pay for the lost time in prison. Even more troubling is the scuttlebutt that the shoddy investigation and trial were conducted for the benefit of the Linders. It’s been said that Billy was too drunk that night to have killed Hugh-Jay.

The author easily and smoothly transitions back and forth from the past to the present. It’s during one of those transitions that the grown-up Jody meets up with the grown-up son, Collin Crosby, and learns that on the night of the murder, Collin stayed awake all night because he was afraid that Billy, a known wife beater, would harm Valentine, Collin’s mother. So if Billy didn’t kill Hugh-Jay, who did and what the heck happened to Jody’s mother, Laurie?

This is a great book that kept me reading until way past bedtime! The Scent of Rain and Lightning is definitely not the usual “whodunit”. I must admit I was blindsided by the twist and surprise conclusion ! If there is a negative aspect of this wonderful book, it’s the sex scenes which, in my opinion, add nothing to the story. Not only do I highly recommend this book, I look forward to reading more from this author.

Reviewed by Jean Tribull Harris, August 2010.

Book Review: Burn by Nevada Barr

Warning: This book deals with the sexual enslavement of children. While Barr does not indulge in graphic, prolonged descriptions, there are scenes near the end that leave little to the imagination. If the subject matter disturbs you, proceed with caution.

Burn
Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, August 2010
ISBN 9780312614560
Hardcover (ARC)

In a city she was not familiar with—at least not in any but a surface, tourist sense—it would be too easy to stumble into organized crime networks and get hurt or killed. When people thought of organized crime, it was the Mafia or the tongs or, in recent years, the banks, careless of whom they destroyed in their grasping for money. The big guys were scary, but the networks most regular people ran afoul of were the small-time franchises, pimps who “owned” prostitutes and prostitutes who “owned” street corners and drug dealers who “owned” territories. The criminal equivalent of mom-and-pop stores. Every city, and a lot of small towns, were riddled with them.

Burn, Nevada Barr’s sixteenth Anna Pigeon mystery, is something of a departure from previous installments. On leave of absence from the National Park Service, Anna is taking some much-needed R&R with a friend and fellow ranger in New Orleans, where she spends her days visiting popular tourist spots and her nights pondering her future and encroaching middle age. Intrigue didn’t get the message about Anna’s vacation, however. A strange encounter with a young man who turns out to be leasing an apartment from Anna’s friend, followed by the discovery of a dead pigeon wrapped in a rag marked with strange symbols, soon has Anna browsing neighborhood voodoo shops and visiting a Bourbon Street strip joint.

In Seattle, Clare Sullivan returns home from a midnight run to the neighborhood pharmacy to find her two daughters and pet dog missing. Shortly after the police arrive to investigate, Clare’s house explodes, killing a police officer and, to Clare’s horror and disbelief, her husband and daughters. The police immediately finger Clare as the prime suspect, but before they can make an arrest she goes into hiding, disguising her appearance and hopping a freight train out of town.

When Anna’s and Clare’s stories intersect, the real mystery begins to take shape. Did Clare’s girls really die in that explosion; if not, then where were they, and who took them? Just who is Jordan? What goes on in the “fancy house” Candy, a developmentally-disabled dancer at the strip club Anna visits, remembers from her childhood—a childhood that Anna is appalled to learn was only a couple of years ago?

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