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.

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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.

Book Review: Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark

Fiction Can Be Murder
A Mystery Writer’s Mystery #1
Becky Clark
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5332-4
Trade Paperback

Mystery writer Charlemagne Russo is an up and coming, best selling author, who is having a bit of trouble with her agent, Melinda Walter. According to the agent, Charlee’s royalties are falling off, and no one seems to know why. Angry words pass between them. Then Melinda is murdered and the method used is the exact way Charlee’s latest fictional victim dies. Who is the easiest potential murder suspect for the police to glom onto? Why, Charlee, of course.

Afraid she’s going to be hauled in on a murder charge at any moment, Charlee frantically begins investigating on her own. Her interests center on her critique group, all of whom have read the manuscript and may have a reason to dislike Melinda, who is well known for her harsh rejections.

Now, in order to avoid any spoilers, I’m going to say Charlee is one of those TSTL heroines. The surprise at the end when the guilty person is unveiled is a good one, even if getting there was sometimes a bit torturous. And I’m afraid Charlee’s love interest just didn’t turn me on. Awkward!

That said, the writing is good, and the story is paced well, although Charlee’s investigative questions and the answers received became a bit repetitious. And since the story takes place in a Denver winter, I think Fiction Can Be Murder would make a good book for a hot weather beach read.

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

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 Review: Treble at the Jam Fest by Leslie Budewitz

Treble at the Jam Fest
A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery #4
Leslie Budewitz
Midnight Ink, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5240-2
Trade Paperback

Jazz guitarist Gerry Martin, one of the headliners at the Jewel Bay, Montana, jazz festival, falls to his death from the rocks above the Jewel River. Local police call it an accident, that Martin slipped while out hiking, but Erin Murphy has her suspicions. Erin is manager of Murphy’s Mercantile, a general store in this food lovers’ town. There seems to be bad blood between Martin and Dave Barber, local musician who upstaged Martin in the concert on opening night. Newcomer Gabrielle Drake and her pushy stage mother also seem to have a problem with the headliner.

When Erin examines the crime scene, she notices a discarded coffee cup overlooked by the police, as well as the footprints left by the victim. Would Gerry Martin wear dress boots when setting out for a hike along rugged terrain? No, but he might if he was planning to meet someone.

Subplots and supporting characters surround Erin and her store—she hires a new salesperson, finally gets to meet her boyfriend’s best friend from childhood, and her mother has news of her own. Erin is more level -headed and believable than many of the protagonists in cozy mystery series, and Jewel Bay is a setting than carries the story along. Who wouldn’t like to visit a town with such a variety of restaurants, shops, and festivals, set in the natural beauty of Montana? Recipes are included, rhubarb fans will be especially pleased. This is the fourth book in the series, but it stands well on its own.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.

Book Review: Judgment of Murder by C.S. Challinor

Judgment of Murder
A Rex Graves Mystery #8
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5009-5
Trade paperback

For a mystery, this British entry into the field is so low key that I think even I might have a more exciting life. Scottish barrister Rex Graves’ old mentor, Lord Murgatroyd–also known as Judge Murder, has passed away. Phoebe, his daughter, thinks he may have been murdered, although the evidence is flimsy. An unlocked window? A not very valuable stamp album gone missing? None of it seems very convincing, but Rex travels from Edinburgh to Canterbury upon her invitation to see what he makes of the situation.

Not much, as it turns out. But he makes a few phone calls when he gets back to Edinburgh, and oddly enough, is put in danger by a man the judge had put in prison, but who has been released.

Meanwhile, a schoolgirl from the area has been kidnapped and is feared dead. It happened not far from the judge’s house, and is a subplot that runs through the story. Actually, it’s the most interesting part, as the characters in this story did not intrigue me, nor were they particularly sympathetic. The most interesting is Rex’s pal Alistair, who also has the most action. Turns out the judge’s daughter is a tippler and a would-be man eater, not that that sort of thing works on a man like Rex.

The dialogue seemed mundane to me, and old-fashioned in the extreme for people who carry mobile phones and drive a Jaguar, but it does get the job done. In the climax, all the ends are tied, the plot holes explained, and everyone gets their due.

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