Book Reviews: See Also Proof by Larry D. Sweazy and Operation Stop Hate by Jessie Chandler

See Also Proof
A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery #3
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63388-279-9
Trade Paperback

Marjorie Tremaine, a freelance indexer living just outside Dickinson, North Dakota in 1965 is still mourning the untimely death of her husband. Their dog, Shep offers only limited comfort. The local Ladies Aide visits regularly, in spite of harsh winter weather on this northern prairie, but Marjorie is still struggling with her life and latest assignment.

The unsettling news that a local teen girl has gone missing comes as almost welcome relief to Marjorie. Here’s a local puzzle to help solve. Working with the new county sheriff, out looking for the missing girl in front of a looming snowstorm, she stumbles on a body. The dead man was well-liked and well-known throughout the county. Thus the author sets up wide possibilities for whom the killer might be. And the murder of this young man on the heels of the girl gone missing adds to the possibilities.

The author is adept at setting up complex situations that capture readers’ attention. His characters feel authentic to the locale and the time. Two elements come to dominate this novel and affect the actions of nearly all the characters most of the time. Weather is the most dominant and in this novel snowstorms of blizzard proportions are looming, a part of the immediacy, or just leaving the scene.

The other element is Marjorie’s old Studebaker truck. It’s a typical farm truck of the era, too much abused with heavy work assignments, too little maintenance owing to lack of funds and always in need of a boost from the block heater. Never completely put off, this reader felt at times he was more intimately involved with the troublesome Studebaker than the main plot. Nevertheless, the truck plays an important role in the success of the story, protecting Marjorie at crucial times.

The author uses the character of the residents, of the land itself, and of the unique relationships between all of them in this engrossing well-written story of a terrible and an uplifting time in the life of North Dakota.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 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.

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Operation Stop Hate
The Operation Series Book One
Jessie Chandler
Train Wreck Xpress, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63304-803-4
Trade Paperback

A rousing adventure into the way federal, state and local law enforcement agencies study and take action to protect the nation against religious and political hate groups and their attacks on our people, especially LGBTQ folks. The novel follows the actions of Special Agent Cailin McKenna, a valued if occasionally erratic, member of a national force dubbed National Protection and Investigation Unit.

NPIU is called in when two shootings occur at two Minneapolis schools. Several law enforcement agencies participate in attempting to pin down connections when it becomes possible that the shootings are linked. McKenna is upended when she discovers one of the shooters may be a boy she thought she rescued from the streets.

McKenna’s life is further complicated by unwanted oppressive attention from her former lover, Elisa, an obsessive-compulsive ad exec who seems to be losing her grip on reality. McKenna, faced with opposing forces on the job and in her love life, has a tough time navigating the investigation. All of these conditions are presented in an interesting matrix of events and emotions.

There are a large number of really good characters in this book, consistently and interestingly presented. They move through McKenna’s orbit and fulfill important roles.

The novel moves apace and if there are a bit too many words devoted to the high emotions of McKenna’s love life, the entire story is presented in a tasteful way that never loses sight of the primary and most serious plot, revealing the motivations and political efforts of hate groups in our society. I recommend this novel for its current social connections and excellent readability.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 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.

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Book Review: The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens

The Deep Dark Descending
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-355-0
Trade Paperback

Minneapolis homicide detective Max Rupert never got past his wife’s Jenni’s death over four years ago—the verdict was that she was killed by a hit and run driver. But a former friend who is a defense attorney sent him a CD that contains a recording of two men discussing the murder of Jenni. Jenni stumbled upon something that she shouldn’t have, perhaps in her job as a hospital social worker, that leads to a contract being put out for her murder.

When Max learns that she was murdered, he is determined to hunt down the killers. With copies of evidence from police files that he is not supposed to have, he begins to follow a trail that he hopes will lead to the man who ordered his wife’s murder. He becomes obsessed with revenge. On a frozen lake near the Canadian border he comes face to face with his wife’s killer.

Readers who enjoy the intense, gripping mysteries of John Sandford and Steve Hamilton may want to add USA Today bestselling author Eskens to their “to read” list. The Deep Dark Descending is his fourth book.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2017.

Book Reviews: Carl Brookins: The Case of the Purloined Painting and The Case of the Yellow Diamond

The Case of the Purloined PaintingThe Case of the Purloined Painting
A Sean Sean Mystery #1
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-8783-9708-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  When an American Army unit arrived at the end of World War II, some soldiers appropriated items in what appeared to be an abandoned building.  A small painting by a mid-level Polish painter is used by an ex-GI to float a bank loan which results in the founding of a manufacturing firm in Minneapolis.  Now the painting and the ledger become the center of murderous attempts by the descendants of the veteran to conceal the painting’s journey.  World-wide efforts at repatriation of stolen art from World War II is a major ongoing effort and the story links to that effort as international operatives descend on the Twin Cities.  Enter private detective Sean Sean.  He is a short but effective operative who, unlike many PIs of the modern era, doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t shoot people unnecessarily, and has many friends among various local law enforcement agencies.

The title of this novel puts one in mind of the great Erle Stanley Gardner, most if not all of his Perry Masons novels bearing titles which begin “The Case of . . .” But this book borrows nothing from great writers of the past; it is entirely Mr. Brookins’ own.  And that is a good, no, a terrific, thing.  Not entirely surprising, since I’d read many of this author’s reviews, and his writing is simply great.

The publisher’s notes quoted above reference the protagonist’s short stature.  He is, in fact, just over five feet tall, to the six foot tall Catherine Mckerney, massage therapist with her own school, variously described as his lover, his apartment-mate, friend and sometime partner.  Sean has been an active private investigator for a couple of decades.  He describes himself as a “tracer of lost persons, collector of evidence of malfeasance, revealer of fraudsters and thieves. . . not only am I very good at my job,I’m also persistent.”  Three days after the discovery of a body in the Mississippi River, on which body was found a “faint series of numbers tattooed on one forearm,” indicating that the man had been in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII, Sean finds himself with two different new clients, each of whom relates a tale that his instincts soon tell him are related.  The first of these is a woman who tells him she witnessed the scene on the bridge which culminated in the body of a man being thrown to his death.  The second is a man who hires him to find a woman he’s been dating who seems to have disappeared.  This latter client soon neither returns calls nor shows up at Sean’s office.

The tale is one that touches upon art work and other stolen property taken during or just after the war in Europe, whose descendants are still searching for them, a search that is ongoing.

Mr. Brookins makes the reader very palpably feel the brutal weather of February in Minneapolis.  I loved the author paying homage to both Raymond Chandler, a wonderful mystery writer of days of yore, and the very current [and also wonderful] author named Michael Connelly, and acknowledges a beloved mystery novel discussion group named after Dorothy L. Sayers, appropriately named DorothyL.  I also loved his note, after an evening at a blues bar:  “Blues music is a label not given to precise definitions.  It bears some similarities to crime or mystery fiction in that regard.”  A sentiment with which I must agree.

Highly recommended.

Next up for this reader is Mr. BrookinsThe Case of the Yellow Diamond – I can’t wait!!

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2016.

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The Case of the Yellow DiamondThe Case of the Yellow Diamond
A Sean Sean Mystery #2
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-8783-9816-4
Trade Paperback

The title of this novel, as was the case with Mr. Brookins‘ last book, The Case of the Purloined Painting, puts one in mind of the great Erle Stanley Gardner, most if not all of his Perry Masons novels bearing titles which begin “The Case of . . .”   And this book, as was the last one, is also absolutely delightful, with the author’s trademark sly sense of humor much in evidence throughout.

This book deals, as did the last one, with events which took place in the waning days of WWII.  In this book, those events began in the Pacific Theater, and involve “thefts, smuggling, and the acquisition of wealth and influence through illegal means.”  The tale opens with the protagonist, Sean Sean, entering his office and finding a dead body lying on the floor.  He immediately calls his good friend, Minneapolis Police Detective Ricardo Simon. What follows is a flashback to Sean being hired a few weeks before by Josie and Tod Bartelme to assist in their efforts to locate the wreckage of a B-24 bomber that had taken Josie’s granduncle to his death near Yap Island, “a speck of coral in the Pacific Ocean.”  In the ensuing investigation, the dead man had been the principal suspect.

Members of both families and even Josie’s college buddies had offered their assistance, and financed their efforts as well.  Josie and Tod were planning to embark on a trip to the Pacific to continue their search for the wreckage, and hire Sean to assist in their efforts, notwithstanding that it had taken place nearly 70 years ago.

The protagonist, just over five feet tall, lives with the self-proclaimed love of his life, the six foot tall Catherine Mckerney, a successful massage therapist with her own school, with whom he shares her apartment in  Kenwood, Minnesota as well as his home and ranch in Roseville.  Sean has been an active private investigator for a couple of decades, the sign on his door reading “Sean Sean, Private Investigator, Ltd.”  He describes himself as a “tracer of lost persons, collector of evidence of malfeasance, revealer of fraudsters and thieves. . . not only am I very good at my job, I’m also persistent.”  Sean says of himself “Family dynamics were always convoluted and frequently hard to sort out, which was one reason I didn’t do divorces.  Give me a nice clean street robbery or random serial killer any time.”  In this instance, that is an understatement

The cast of characters is large, mostly consisting of family and friends of Sean’s clients [including one particularly oversexed and buxom female], some of whom try to dissuade him from continuing his investigation, even going so far as to bad-mouth him in the industry, putting them at the top of Sean’s list of suspects, which grows exponentially with incidents of murder, attempted murder, and vandalism taking place.

In his last book, the author paid homage to fellow mystery writer Michael Connelly; this time around the references are to Carl Hiaasen, Bill Crider, James Lee Burke, and Wilkie Collins. I love it!

As was the earlier book, this one as well is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2016.

Book Review: The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens—and a Giveaway!

the-heavens-may-fallThe Heavens May Fall
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-205-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Featuring three characters from the bestselling book-club favorite The Life We Bury, this novel explores a riveting murder case told from two opposing perspectives.

Detective Max Rupert and attorney Boady Sanden’s friendship is being pushed to the breaking point. Max is convinced that Jennavieve Pruitt was killed by her husband, Ben. Boady is equally convinced that Ben, his client, is innocent. As the case unfolds, the two are forced to confront their own personal demons.

Max is still struggling with the death of his wife four years earlier, and the Pruitt case stirs up old memories. Boady hasn’t taken on a defense case since the death of an innocent client, a man Boady believes he could have saved but didn’t. Now he is back in court, with student Lila Nash at his side, and he’s determined to redeem himself for having failed in the past.

Vividly told from two opposing perspectives, the truth about the stunning death of Jennavieve Pruitt remains a mystery until the very end.

Although I haven’t read the second book by Allen Eskens, I very much enjoyed the first one and have kept tabs on him, you might say, through reviews by some people whose opinions I respect. When the opportunity arose to read this third book, I jumped right on it and, let me just say, I don’t know why I haven’t kept up with him. Shame on me.

Although these books are not precisely what readers mean by a “series”, The Heavens May Fall features Max Rupert, homicide detective and older brother of Alexander Rupert, also a detective and the lead character of the second book, The Guise of Another; Max also appeared in the first book, The Life We Bury. In that particular book, he played a strong role but, again, wasn’t the lead. This third book is his opportunity and, my goodness, I do like this detective, warts and all.

Max has a lot on his plate, not least of which is that he’s still grieving for his wife, dead several years now. Coping with that heartache is a part of who Max has become but he’s usually able to compartmentalize it. His friendship with Boady Sanden could end up being another wrenching loss as the two men are on opposing sides in the trial of Ben Pruitt in the horrific murder of his wife but Boady has his own demons. This is his first defense case since he believes he failed an innocent man and the stress of this one and the strain between him and Max may prove to be his undoing.

What follows is gripping police work as well as the kind of defense preparation we’d all like to have in such a situation and, as normally happens, the two have critically different goals and outcomes.

A first-rate thriller, The Heavens May Fall is also a compelling story of two men and how their pasts influence the present and Eskens has a masterly way with words whether it be during an emotional scene or while on the hunt for a killer. Not every writer can do that as well as this one can and, to my mind, Eskens is one of the best writers around. His stories tug at my mind and my feelings but they also carry me away on a rising tide of tension and suspense; add to that, this story has a humdinger of a twist at the end. I will certainly not delay reading the next book when it comes out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

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Leave a comment below to enter
the
drawing for a trade paperback
copy of
The Heavens May Fall. The
winning name will be
drawn on
Thursday evening, October 20th.

Open to residents of the US.

Book Review: The Case of the Yellow Diamond by Carl Brookins—and a Giveaway!

The Case of the Yellow DiamondThe Case of the Yellow Diamond
A Sean Sean Mystery #5
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-87839-816-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A dead man on the floor of his office in Minneapolis won’t lead P.I. Sean Sean to journey to Yap Island to protect his new client. Bombs in lawyers’ cars only jostle him. This short investigator knows the value of research and asking questions in the right places. World War II, Asian diamonds and concrete in Des Moines combine to almost destroy a Minnesota family. In the end, Sean detects flaws in the plans and brings down a criminal enterprise.

Sean Sean has a way…with words, with the ladies and with investigations. He’s a man’s man even though he’s shorter than most and his height never slows him down. He’s the quintessential hardboiled private eye except this isn’t the 40’s and, at his core, he’s much too nice to be one of those guys. He’s the inimitable Sean Sean.

As he puts it, Sean’s latest case really began “many years earlier and a long way away”, having its roots in an obscure event on an even more obscure island in the Pacific, Yap Island. When Tod Bartelme hires Sean to find out who’s sabotaging his and his wife Josie’s next trip to search for her long-lost granduncle, shot down near Yap Island in 1944, he has no inkling that he’ll soon be looking into old allegations of smuggling and current-day suspicions of construction irregularities that point back to Josie’s own family. The big question, of course, is what all these tangents have to do with each other but, if anybody can ferret out the answers, it’s Sean, hopefully before he gets added to the growing pile of dead bodies.

Sean is an old-style P.I., one who eschews technological aids as much as he can and relies on his wit and natural nosiness as well as his snarky sort of charm. Catherine, Sean’s lovely, rich—and tall—girlfriend shows us the other side of this gent’s life and their relationship is as heartwarming as it comes, especially considering their differences. Loaded with humor and plenty of twists and turns, Sean Sean is my kind of hardboiled private eye, one I’ll look forward to seeing again and again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

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You have two chances to enter the
drawing for a signed paperback copy
of The Case of the Yellow Diamond
by Carl Brookins. Leave a comment
below and then again on Tuesday,
January 19th, after Carl’s guest post.
The winning name will be drawn on
the evening of Thursday, January 21st.
Open to residents of the US.

Book Reviews: The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens and License to Dill by Mary Ellen Hughes

The Guise of AnotherThe Guise of Another
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63388-076-4
Trade Paperback

Following the success of his debut novel, The Life We Bury, author Allen Eskens has produced another winner. Intelligently constructed and almost perfectly written, this dark, dangerous and fast-paced noir thriller will be an example to study for budding writers in the genre.

The story begins with an auto accident in which a man abruptly dies on a highway in Minneapolis. Award-winning detective Alexander Rupert, facing a potentially troubling appointment with a grand jury, suddenly discovers a possible way out of his dilemma. If he can solve the mystery of the deceased James Putnam, who appeared to have fallen to earth fully formed a mere three years before, he might escape serious censure.

His case takes him to New York, and entanglement with a company engaged in government contracted black ops. He returns to Minneapolis, carrying the seeds of an insidious conspiracy. The plot is up-to-date, the action is relentless and the characters are consistent in their language and actions. While the outcomes, different for different characters, may become fairly obvious, the author is clever and fresh in his resolutions. This is an excellent novel and will be welcomed by readers of black arts, conspiracy theories, and multiple merciless murder.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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License to DillLicense to Dill
A Pickled & Preserved Mystery #2
Mary Ellen Hughes
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-26246-7
Mass Market Paperback

Piper Lamb fled her job at a New York state tax office and opened a shop, “Piper’s Picklings,” in upstate Cloverdale. She sells pickles, spices, and canning equipment, has met Will Burchett—a tall, blond Christmas tree farmer—and life couldn’t be better.

The town is excited about the arrival of a semi-pro Italian soccer team, which will play a tournament against an all star team from Cloverdale. It turns out the coach of the Italian team was once an exchange student at the local high school, and all the high school girls had a crush on him. All the boys envied his position as a star on the soccer team.

All these years later, he’s still a flirt, and stirs up resentment among the women and their husbands. When the Italian’s body is found in a farmer’s dill field, everyone suspects a jealous man did the deed. Piper is shocked by the murder, and her shock grows when her ex-fiance, lawyer Scott Littleton, comes to town with a surprising announcement. For fans of foodie mysteries, like Laura Childs and Diane Mott Davidson. Of course, recipes are included.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2015.

Book Review: The Old Deep and Dark by Ellen Hart

The Old Deep and DarkThe Old Deep and Dark
A Jane Lawless Mystery #22
Ellen Hart
Minotaur Books, October 2014
ISBN: 978125004769
Hardcover

You know you are in the grasp of a master story-teller when the ground becomes unstable underfoot in the first four pages. Given her longevity and varied output in the crime fiction genre, it is not surprising. Nor is it unusual that you have to read the entire novel to learn the neat resolution of that first chapter.

By turns clever, thoughtful, gut-wrenching and uplifting, this novel is very contemporary in its themes. The author’s long-time protagonist, Jane Lawless, now a licensed private investigator in Minneapolis, in addition to carefully overseeing the operation of her restaurant, faces complications at every hand, some of which are reflected in her sexual orientation. Yes, there are more and deeper examinations of gay and lesbian themes in this than readers will have encountered in earlier Lawless adventures. However, as always, Hart is tasteful and circumspect in her writing.

Long-time buddy, the ever flamboyant Cordelia Thorn has purchased and is restoring an ancient, historic theater building in downtown Minneapolis. As is the case with many buildings that suffer several alterations, there are oddities in this building, as well as several tales relating to more turbulent and law-skirting times. Seeking to create yet another restoration of the old building leads Cordelia and Jane down dusty narrow stairways and through ancient locked doors.

What crimes lie beyond those doors relate in surprising ways to a current case of murder that involves Jane and her father, Criminal Defense Attorney, Raymond Lawless, together with the family of a nationally known Country-Western singer and his inner circle and family.

With prudent care and thoughtful reveals, Hart entices readers to keep reading and turning pages. Her ability to parcel out important facts, bit by bit, is of a high order. The entire story is brought together in a complete and eminently satisfactory manner after Jane and Cordelia sort out several mis-directions. A most enjoyable experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.