Book Review: The Second Goodbye by Patricia Smiley

The Second Goodbye
A Pacific Homicide Novel #3
Patricia Smiley
Midnight Ink, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5236-5
Trade Paperback

The Second Goodbye by Patricia Smiley is the third book in her contemporary police procedural series, featuring Detective Davie Richards in the Pacific Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Davie’s lieutenant is determined to clear the backlog of cold cases and has all his staff working them when current crimes do not occupy their time. He’s given Davie a case that was closed out as a suicide but the original case detective thought something was off about it and the lieutenant thought so too. He wants Davie to review and investigate to find sufficient grounds to re-open it. She also is looking for the drive-by shooter of a gang member, whose hard-working conscientious family is still distraught by their son’s death.

Sara Montaine’s death was ruled a suicide because no one was around her when she was shot in a gun dealer’s store. Davie can’t seem to get a fix on who the victim was. Her stepson thought she was a gold-digger, the animal rescue she supported and a neighbor thought she was wonderful. That she appeared to live comfortably without a job before she married also raised a lot of questions.

Not surprisingly, no one in the gang member’s circle is willing to talk to Davie about the drive-by shooting but she continues to ask questions of anyone who was even peripherally known to the victim, leading to a painful and anonymous assault in the yard of one of the apartment houses where she was interviewing potential leads.

I liked the unusual plot, which unfolds at a steady pace to reveal surprises throughout with a credible motive and solution at the end. Mostly the police procedure seems accurate. Davie took a chance or two too many in this book, operating on her own when she should have taken a partner and thereby putting herself in jeopardy a little more than she needed to. Still, overall solid entertainment and worth any mystery reader’s attention.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, October 2018.

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Book Review: Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-4762-0
Hardcover

We all live in neighborhoods, some loud and raucous, some quiet and peaceful. In either case, we may know a good deal about those who live in those sheltering houses, and we may not. We might also be surprised to learn somethings good or not so good about our neighbors.

Neighborhoods are a collective façade behind which we often protect our privacy, letting others make assumptions without question until something upsets the even and normal fabric.

People have secrets and this is a novel of revelation, of history and secrets and the results of false assumptions. In some neighborhoods, or tiny towns, such as this one on the Scottish coast, the insertion of a new force, such as a stranger, can be benign or upsetting.

London librarian Jude comes on vacation with her husband to this tiny town of bookshops, fabric stores and teashops. It’s a quiet Scottish town and Jude discovers an odd bookstore nestled amongst other quirky shops. Lowland Glen Books turns out to be a treasure trove of used books. But the place is, to say the least, not well organized. But the store and its proprietor offer some quirky calm in the midst of Jude’s deteriorating life and marriage.

Weeks later, she needs a place to go to ground in a hurry and for unfathomable reasons, the town around Lowland Books rises in her memory and there she goes to hide. The mystery of her need to hide is one of the many mysteries so carefully unraveled as this story progresses. She needs shelter and a job wouldn’t be amiss, either. When the bookstore owner, possessor of his own secrets, offers her the job reorganizing the bookstore, and a roof over her head, the situation seems heaven-sent.

Naturally, in a small community like this, Jude discovers some people with secrets of their own and when a young pregnant woman, claiming a relationship with the bookstore owner, shows up, more yarn begins to unravel.

The revelations, the discoveries, intertwined with startling personality bends, are masterfully handled, retaining and enhancing wide-ranging literary comment, examination of some life styles and amazement as the sometimes slyly revealed truths come to the fore. Any reader who loves mystery, countervailing personal forces and a persistent, forward-moving narrative, will find this novel interesting and difficult to put  down.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2018.
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: Mercy’s Chase by Jess Lourey

Mercy’s Chase
A Salem’s Cipher Novel #2
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5755-1
Hardcover

I became a fan of Jess Lourey’s series last year when I was privileged to review Salem’s Cipher. Salem Wiley, half-Persian, half-Irish, agoraphobic genius whose special talent is cracking ciphers and codes so difficult even the most sophisticated computer programs can’t do it, is now working for the FBI. She’s also perfecting a special computer program of her own, one that plays an important role in this story.

Posted to England, Salem’s first fieldwork comes when tasked with investigating a mysterious, and very old, miniature copy of Stonehenge an Irish farmer lady has found. What is it’s meaning? Is it something to do with the Order, a group of men with an unlimited desire for wealth and power? Or does it concern the women whom since ancient times have had to hide their own wealth and intellectual property from these men?

In the previous novel, Salem became a sort of guardian to a young girl, Mercy, when the girl’s brother was murdered helping Salem. She cares deeply for the child, and when Mercy is kidnapped and threatened with death, Salem is pitted against some of the worst the Order has to offer in a quest to discover the origins of Stonehenge..

The story will keep you guessing. Who can be trusted and who cannot is another cipher Salem must solve, and the answers may come as a surprise. Meanwhile, Salem grows in both her intellectual strength and her psyche as she fights her own fears to save Mercy. Recommended.

Action-packed, great writing taut with suspense, an appealing main character to root for–who could ask for anything more?

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Picks and Chews by Linda O. Johnston

Pick and Chews
A Barkery and Biscuits Mystery #4
Linda O. Johnston
Midnight Ink, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5245-7
Trade Paperback

In Pick and Chews,Barkery and Biscuit owner Carrie Kennersly is busy planning a rescue animal adoption event, but when her boss at the aniaml clinic she also works at is accused of murdering his fellow veterinarian, Carrie again begins to investigate.

There are a few things that really stand out in this series. The author has really developed the community of Knobcone Heights. It is the idealistic community many readers would like to visit. And for the most part, the characters are well fleshed out so that readers feel like they are people. And of course, as one would expect from this author, there are many animals most of whom are adorable. The animal shelter was for the most part heartwarming as well. The series takes the issue of pet adoption very seriously, another plus.

However, there are some issues as well. Carrie and Dr. Reed Stone are apparently in a relationship of sorts, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. In fact,  aside from their obviously “intimate” relationship it often doesn’t seem like the two of them are much more than acquaintances. The author seems to do a better job with animal-human relationships than she does with human-human relationships.

Another issue I had with the book is the way Carrie was involved in the investigation. I understand that in cozy mysteries with amateur detectives the person investigating is not a police officer and is often a major thorn in the police’s side, but here is our Carrie going beyond subtly investigating facts. Instead, she is running around interrogating people and raising a lot of  unease. Subtle she is not.

Lastly, for me at least, the book had more dog and dog rescue in it than actual mystery. There were clues, though I found the actual murderer more than a bit of a surprise. Looking back, yes there was a point or two pointing in that direction, but it seemed more of a last minute “who shall I have be the murderer” than a plot plan.

However, if readers enjoy animals, believe in animal adoptions and want a easy way to spend an afternoon, Pick and Chews might be just the book.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, September 2018.

Book Review: The Negotiator by Brendan Dubois

The Negotiator
Brendan Dubois
Midnight Ink, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5401-7
Trade Paperback

The Negotiator by Brendan Dubois brings an interesting new anti-hero to our attention. The protagonist, who uses many names but we never learn any of them, has an uncanny gift of estimating the market value of anything, like a handful of stolen diamonds or a pallet of merchandise that fell off a truck. This useful ability has allowed him to earn a living in the shadows of the crime world, where he is the middleman between a potential buyer and the hopeful seller, the cost of his services being part of the final agreed-upon purchase price. While he himself has committed no crime, those he does business with have and, since he knows one murder more or less means nothing to them, he takes appropriate steps to protect himself. Among other rules he has instituted, he won’t wait long for either party to arrive at the appointed time and place, and he never goes to a private residence to arrange a transaction.

The promise of a very large commission makes The Negotiator break his rule when he’s asked to serve as the go-between for the sale of what appears to be an authentic Old Master oil painting. He and his bodyguard show up at a nice house in an established neighborhood instead of a public place, where they are greeted by an older couple with an offer of lemonade and cookies. Lulled into accepting the situation for what it appears to be, The Negotiator is completely off guard when the older man pulls a gun and kills the bodyguard. The Negotiator escapes, barely, and sets off to discover who the killers are, to understand the motive for the unexpected attack, and to obtain revenge. Like the opening scene of the eventual bloodbath, many of the characters are not who or what they seem to be and sorting them all out takes every bit of skill The Negotiator can summon.

The Negotiator is a fine, fast-moving story with plot twists aplenty, right up to the last page. This book is especially for anyone who misses the Parker saga by Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark or enjoys the Wilson series from Mike Knowles. While The Negotiator isn’t quite as cold-blooded as Wilson or Parker — he prefers to avoid guns — he can still toss an inconvenient character under the proverbial bus without a qualm. I am hoping for a sequel.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, September 2018.

Book Review: Tail of the Dragon by Connie di Marco—and a Giveaway!

Tail of the Dragon
A Zodiac Mystery #3
Connie di Marco
Midnight Ink, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5106-1
Trade Paperback

Murder in the office place! Imagine that. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

That said, when the body of a prominent, though not well-liked attorney is found with his throat cut, with so many wronged people to choose from, the motive is hard to find. Enter astrologer Julia Bonatti, drawn into the investigation by chance when she agrees to fill-in on her old job during the boss’s assistant’s vacation. She’ll try to discover the murderer at her boss’s instigation by checking her astrology charts, but contradictory information awaits her there.

Slowly, Julia discovers several death threats have been sent to various people at the firm, including the murdered man. Even finding the connection between the three is tough, and as Julia, with the cooperation of an intriguing PI her boss hires, comes closer to getting to the motive, another attorney in the firm is murdered. Worse, Julia’’s astrology charts indicate she may be next.

The motive may come as a surprise. So does the perpetrator. A surprise to Julia, too, which is a nice touch with so many possible killers out there. Shudders. Not a place I’d want to work.

If I have a complaint, it’s that I’m not interested in precise street names and addresses. I don’t even know if they’re real for the city of San Francisco, so to me they were something to skip over. Other reader’s opinions will, of course, vary. The book is well organized, well paced, and well written.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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To enter the drawing for a very
gently used print advance reading copy of
Tail of the Dragon by Connie di Marco,
leave a comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Sunday evening,
September 16th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Scot Free by Catriona McPherson—and a Giveaway!

Scot Free
A Last Ditch Mystery #1
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5386-7
Trade Paperback

Having read several of the author’s psychological suspense novel in the past, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Scot Free being billed as similar to the early Stephanie Plum books. While I think that the reviewers who made that comparison were a bit overstating their case, Scot Free is both a huge departure from McPherson’s previous books and frankly pretty darned funny.

Lexy Campbell left her native Scotland for the sunny climate of California following what she thought was going to be the love of her life. She set up her marriage counseling business and was living the American Dream California style. That is until suddenly she wasn’t. Her life long soulmate turned out to be a divorce waiting to happen, her business failed and she was broke preparing to return to Scotland.  But as often happens, the flukes of happenstance intervened and sent Lexy’s life in an entirely different direction.

Before leaving California, Lexy was determined to clear her last client charged with killing her husband with of all things, a fireworks rocket. It was at that moment that I knew this was going to turn out to be a bizarre book to read.

While Lexy works on Mrs. Bomarro’s case, she needs a place to stay. A CHEAP place to stay. And so she checks into the Last Ditch Motel which introduces Lexi to an entirely different side of California.  At this point things get more than a bit weird. I felt that the author was trying too hard to make the characters off beat, unique  individuals but for me she tried too hard and instead ended up with some characters that were more caricatures than actual people. The action got a bit too outrageous for me, and at times I was a bit confused with what was going on.

I feel the series has potential and will find its audience, but I would hope with the next book she would tone down the over the top people a bit and focus more on developing the plot.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, August 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Scot Free by Catriona McPherson
,
leave a comment below.

The winning name will be drawn
Friday evening, September 14th. This
Open to residents of the US and Canada.