Book Reviews: No Time to Die by Kira Peikoff, Pickle in the Middle Murder by Jesse Chandler, and Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

No Time to DieNo Time to Die
Kira Peikoff
Pinnacle Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-0786034895
Mass Market Paperback

Why don’t people live forever? That’s a question people have been seeking an answer to since time began. If possible, don’t we have a responsibility to find a way to prevent old age just as we found a way to prevent polio? And smallpox. And the plague. What about cancer research? Look how many resources are dedicated to that.

But there is also a faction that says the planet is already overpopulated. That we—meaning humanity—can neither afford nor provide for so many people. They say nature needs to take its course. People need to live the life span allotted to them.

Up until now, that’s the reality and the unanswered question, until a genetic mutation in one small girl changes everything we know.

It isn’t only that Zoe Kincaid stopped physical growth at age fourteen. Mentally she’s remained the same child/woman she was then. Her physician wants to know why, as does Zoe, who is odd-man out in her college class. She just doesn’t seem to have much in common with other twenty-year-olds. Zoe’s best friend is her grandfather, who is in the twilight of his life.

But now Zoe has the opportunity to discover why she’s different from everyone else, and just maybe, something within her can help keep her grandfather from dying of old age.

There’s a whole underground area of research that delves into the problem of aging. Dr. Natalie Roy is using the facilities at the university where she teaches to look for the secret of longevity, right up until she gets fired for doing unsanctioned work.

Further underground is a secret society that provides the money and facilities for Natalie to continue her work. The mysterious Galileo works covertly to bring her into the fold.

And then there’s Les Mahler, head of a task force for the Justice Department’s Bioethics Committee. He’s got his own agenda, which includes wiping out anyone who steps outside his moral compass—if that’s what you want to call it.

These people are on a collision course in this thriller by Kira Peikoff. I think the science comes too easily, although for the purposes of the story everything seems plausible. The characters are engaging for the most part, with a villain to hate side-by-side with several to root for. Zoe’s relationship with her grandfather is especially endearing.

The action rolls along. Twists and turns abound. You’ll be kept guessing right up until the final moments on how it’s all going to resolve and you won’t be disappointed. If a science and medical plot with non-stop action is in your wheelhouse, this book is for you.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

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Pickle in the Middle MurderPickle in the Middle Murder
A Shay O’Hanlon Caper #3
Jessie Chandler
Midnight Ink, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-7387-2598-7
Trade Paperback

Café owner Shay O’Hanlon has never been to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, until her girlfriend JT Bordeaux persuaded her to give it a try. The busty wenches, the jousting knights, and the peddlers of strange medieval crafts amaze Shay. When JT goes in search of a pickle vendor, Shay sets out for the Porta-potties. Before she has a chance to sigh with relief, she catches sight of the man slumped on the toilet, the back of his head blown away. There’s a large green pickle protruding from his lifeless mouth.

The cops are called, and while Shay is interviewed, she wonders where JT went to. JT’s a cop, and knows how these things work. But to Shay’s horror, JT is arrested for the murder. Who is the victim, and why would the cops suspect JT of the crime? Shay, with the help of her friends, sets out to prove her girlfriend’s innocence.

Third in a series, this appealing comic cozy ends on a great cliffhanger—you’ll have to wait for the next book.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2014.

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ConquestConquest
The Chronicles of the Invaders, Book 1
John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4767-5712-4
Hardcover
(In UK: Headline, 8/24/14 pb, 496 pp., 978-1-472-20960-3, 7.99 BPS)

John Connolly is best known as the author of the Charlie Parker mysteries and has written a trilogy for younger readers and even a modern fairy tale. Now he has turned his attention to a new series called the Chronicles of the Invaders, sort of sci-fi aimed at teenagers, teaming up with his life partner, Jennifer Ridyard. It is the story of the invasion of the earth by a highly developed alien species, Illyri, and of resistance by humans to the occupation.

The main characters are two teen-age Illyri girls, Syl and Ani, daughters of the Governor and commanding general of the Illyra in the British Isles and Europe, headquartered in Edinburgh, and two human boys, Paul and Steven, members of the Resistance, and their interactions. Each, in turn, saves the other pair from either capture or death. And thereby hangs a tale.

This is the first of the Chronicles books, introducing the characters for what apparently will be a fairly long-term project.  Written with all sorts of scientific mumbo jumbo, the plot contrasts all kinds of human and other types of emotions.  As otherworldly as the subject may seem, when it comes down to basic values there does not seem to be much difference in either personalities or beliefs between the cultures.  Only circumstances.  While the book is mainly intended for a teenage audience, an adult also can easily enjoy the novel, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2014.

Book Review: Playing the Hand She's Dealt by David Fingerman

Playing The Hand She’s Dealt
David Fingerman
L&L Dreamspell, September 2011
ISBN 9781603183352
Trade Paperback

What’s the common denominator of a one-eyed Rottweiler, a blonde wig, Texas Hold ‘Em, and a man who’s attracted to his married half sister? They’re all part of David Fingerman’s latest Louise Miller thriller. Add in a determined investigator, a caring girlfriend, and a sadistic killer, and Playing The Hand She’s Dealt is a mystery I wanted to read in one sitting.

Walter Farkos is murdered and places the body in the newly purchased house of former Minneapolis police officer Louise Miller. Then the killer sets fire to Miller’s neighbor’s house and murders another neighbor. Who is trying to destroy Miller? One of the partners in Farkos’ investment firm? Walter’s son? Wife? Daughter or son in-law? Also why would this person be trying to frame Louise who has enough problems of her own dealing with moving into new house with her girlfriend, a gambling addiction, and pressure to return to the police force?

With quick action and likeable characters, Fingerman touches upon the addiction of gambling and some of the pressures suffered. This story has some tight writing and portrays several characters as prospective suspects. I knew when a major revelation was made I still had some surprises left. This one satisfied my need for a satisfying mystery and interested enough to keep an eye out for the next Louise Miller adventure.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Reviews: The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg, The Burning Lake by Brent Ghelfi, Buried Prey by John Sandford, and A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

The Preacher
Camilla Lackberg
Translated by Steven T. Murray
Pegasus Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60598-173-4
Hardcover

This Swedish author has written seven novels, of which this is the second to be published in the United States.  The first, The Ice Princess, was widely accepted as on a par with the best of the recent Scandinavian noir novels.  As with that debut book, this novel also is set in the small fishing village of  Fjallbacka and is a police procedural that seems to drag until the miracle of science, rather than good old-fashioned footwork, brings it to a conclusion.

The plot is relatively simple:  A body is discovered, with the remains of two skeletons over 24 years old underneath.  It’s up to the local police, led by detective Patrik Hedstrom, to conduct the investigation.  Customarily, they usually look into bicycle thefts. Then two more women go missing, increasing the pressure.  Attention centers on one family, the offspring of a man known to all as the Preacher:  misfits, religious fanatics and criminals.

The length of the novel seems overly long, and probably could have used some judicious editing.  And the translation does not seem to be up to the level of The Ice Princess.  Nevertheless, the story is clever, and the plot twists, which in a sense were somewhat obvious, keep the reader moving ahead.  Despite these misgivings, the book is an enjoyable read, and one hopes for US editions of the author’s other five novels. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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The Burning Lake
Brent Ghelfi
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-925-0
Hardcover

Unlike the previous three novels in the Volk series, this story is a little different.  It brings Volk into a sort of international plot involving the United States, France and Russia seeking to circumvent and hide the errors and dangers in atomic plants and spent fuel.  What brings Russian agent Alexei Volkovoy into the picture is the murder of a sometime girlfriend, a talented and courageous journalist, known professionally as Kato, who had uncovered two stories: one involving a wide area of radioactive contamination in Russia and an attempt to ship spent fuel from America to that location.

When Volk learns of Kato’s death, he remembers a notebook she had given him for safekeeping.  Upon reading her notes, Volk embarks on a trail to finish her work, and along the way, avenge her death by finding and killing her murderers.  The journey takes him to the radioactive village of Merlino and the burning lake, the dumping ground of spent fuel from a nearby facility, and then to Las Vegas and Mexico.

The author’s ability to capture contemporary Russia and its politicians, such as Putin, is impressive, as is his ability to cram into few pages the depths and insights of the subject of the dangers of atomic waste.  Written with tight prose, this fourth Volk novel is, perhaps, the most interesting and satisfying of the series, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.


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Buried Prey
John Sanford
Putnam, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15738-7
Hardcover

Discovery of the bodies of two young girls, murdered 25 years earlier, sets the stage for a look at the popular protagonist, Lucas Davenport, both as a rookie patrolman and later as the seasoned investigator of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension a quarter of a century later. Soon after joining the Minneapolis police department, Lucas worked with the Intelligence Division on a couple of murder investigations, especially the case of the two young Jones Girls.

He became so involved in the work that he solved one of them, and came close to discovering the identity of the culprit in the girls’ slaying.  The facts continued to haunt him and 25 years later, when the bodies are found during the excavation at a construction site, he pursues finding the killer with an obsession, using all his training and intelligence (and a lot of luck) in the chase.

The depth of the plot and taut writing give the reader incentive to keep turning pages.  The dialogue is sharp and the pace well-measured. Character development is extremely effective.  Another welcome addition to the series, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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A Drop of the Hard Stuff
Lawrence Block
Mulholland Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-12733-2
Hardcover

The Alcoholics Anonymous program is designed to provide sustenance and guidance to those seeking to remain sober.  Its 12-Step program is meant to provide them with a moral roadmap to atone for past abuse, mistakes and sins.  In this early-days Matthew Scudder novel, it instead leads to a series of murders.

An alcoholic himself, Matthews enters AA in an effort to stay away from alcohol, which had basically ruined his life.  Soon he meets Jack Ellery, another AA member with whom he grew up in The Bronx.  While Matthew became a cop, Jack went the other way, living a life of crime. Now he is trying to take the seventh and eighth steps of the Program by making amends.  The effort gets him murdered, shot in the head and mouth, presumably by someone who is afraid Jack’s endeavors would expose the killer for an act done in the past.  Jack’s sponsor retains Matthew to look into some of the people Jack went to in his attempts to make amends, if only to eliminate the innocent.

The novel is a look into not only a murder investigation, but other things as well: Matthew’s development as a sober person; love; loss; nostalgia; and most importantly, human relationships.  Written with a fine eye for dialog and penetrating insight into the characters, the book is an excellent example of why the Matthew Scudder series is so highly regarded, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

Book Reviews: Bad Weeds Never Die by Christopher Valen, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis, and Danger Sector by Jenifer LeClair

Bad Weeds Never Die
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001730
Trade Paperback

“Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives,” is a quote from my review of White Tombs, the book that introduced Detective John Santana.  The Black Minute, the second Santana book, was even more exciting than the first book.  Now author Christopher Valen has brought Detective John Santana back in Bad Weeds Never Die.  “Bad weeds never die,” is an old Colombian saying and turns out to be an excellent title for this book.

John Santana was born in Colombia.  He had avenged his Mother’s death and he was forced to flee leaving behind his younger sister Natalia.  Santana hopes someday to locate her.  He knows that his sister could be dead but his dreams and his senses tell him that she is still alive.

Santana’s current case is the death of Teresa Blackwood.  Teresa’s vehicle is found in a parking lot. The car is full of blood and some dirt and an orchid are on the floorboard of the car. Although the vehicle was empty, the police felt that someone had died in that car and that the body had been moved.  When Santana and his partner Kacie Hawkins call on Jonathan  Blackwood, Teresa’s father, they discover that Teresa has a twin sister, Maria.  Blackwood tells the detectives that although the twins are identical their personalities are very different. Teresa is head of an adoption agency.  Maria is a part time musician and mystery writer with a history of some drug problems.  The twins were adopted by the Blackwood’s when they were six months old. The twins were adopted in Colombia.

As Santana delves deeper into the case, he finds suspects at every turn.  Teresa lived with Steven Larson, a man who was cheating on her.  Blackwood’s family attorney was having an affair with the other daughter, Maria.  To make things even more tedious in the investigation Rita Gamboni, Santana’s boss, admitted that she had dated Jonathan Blackwood.

When the case becomes more complicated Santana decides that he has no choice but to travel to Colombia and investigate the agency that was working with Teresa’s adoption agency in the states.  No one wants Santana to make this trip since he has enemies in Colombia that would like to see him dead.

Santana feels that in order to solve his current case as well as face his demons and hopefully find his sister he must make the trip.  The trip does prove to be a dangerous move and readers will be shocked at the facts that Santana discovers in Colombia.

The case is finally solved but there are no end of surprises and no way to predict the final outcome.  An excellent book that will keep the reader on edge until the last page.  It is not necessary to read the first two books in the series to enjoy the current book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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The Good, The Bad and The Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, LLC, November 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

At the request of Jaz LeMieux, private investigator Sid Chance agrees to help Djuan Burden, who is accused of murder.   Djuan’s grandmother is a long time friend of Jaz’s live-in housekeeper, Marie Wallace.  Djuan has only been out of jail for about six months and now he is back in jail on a murder charge.   His grandmother is convinced that he is innocent and Jaz wants to do everything she can to help a friend of Marie’s.

Jaz is an ex-cop and wealthy business owner but enjoys being a sidekick on Sid’s investigations.  When the two visit Djuan’s grandmother, they discover that Djuan went to a small medical equipment store in Nashville’s Green Hills section. The purpose of his visit was to complain about charges on his grandmother’s Medicare account.  Djuan’s grandmother, Rachel Ransom, had not paid a lot of attention to the many notices she received from Medicare but when Djuan saw that she had been charged for items such as a power wheelchair he decided to complain.  Rachel has never owned a wheel chair and has no need of one.    When Djuan went to the equipment store to complain, he found a dead man behind the desk.  Frightened that he would be accused of murder because of his prison history, he ran.  A witness spotted Djuan leaving the scene of the crime and the police immediately charged him with murder. A crooked cop who had no qualms about planting evidence didn’t help Djuan’s case one bit.

Besides trying to assist Sid in the murder investigation Jaz was also dealing with a problem of her own. Jaz’ company has been accused of racial discrimination.  There was no basis for the accusation, but the fact that it had been made brought about a lot of bad publicity for Jaz and her company.

Before Sid can prove that Djuan did not commit murder, Jaz finds that she is in trouble with the police.  As the two work together to clear both Djuan and the false accusations against Jaz, it becomes obvious to Sid that there is a professional hit man in town and it would appear the hit man has decided that Sid will be his next victim.

This is a great addition to the Sid Chance series.  The problem of Medicare fraud needs to be addressed because so many older people like Djuan’s mother don’t take time to analyze all the information they receive from Medicare so phony charges many times are paid and go unnoticed.

Chester Campbell’s books always make good reads but the Sid Chance series is special.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Murder In the 11th House
Mitchell Scott Lewis
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-950-2
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

David Lowell is not your run of the mill detective.  David is an astrological detective and is very good at his job.  David has studied astrology and has become such an expert that he has used his knowledge of to buy and sell in the stock market and is now a wealthy man.

When Lowell is asked to use his skills to prove the innocence of Johnny Colbert, a woman accused of murdering Farrah Winston, a Judge in the Debit Claims Court in Lower Manhattan, Lowell’s first inclination is to decline.  The fact that Johnny Colbert is represented by Melinda Lowell, David Lowell’s daughter, is a convincing enough fact to make him take the case.

Johnny proves to be loud-mouthed and a rather rough person on the exterior but further investigation proves that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.  When Johnny is attacked in the jail Melinda talks her father into posting bail and letting Johnny stay in his townhouse.  Lowell is not too pleased with this arrangement but tends to do most anything his daughter asks.

Lowell is helped in the investigation by his assistant Sarah as well as Mort, a talented computer hacker.   Lowell’s bodyguard is always right around the corner when Lowell needs him.

It seems that Judge Winston had big plans for her future and, as Lowell finds out, that certain people did not want her plans to become a reality.

This first book in the Starlight Detective Agency series is a good one and shows that astrology can be used in many ways.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Danger Sector
Jenifer LeClair
Conquill Press, July 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001709
Trade Paperback

The last place you would expect to find a Minneapolis Police Detective on leave is working aboard a sailing ship but that is exactly what Brie Beaumont is doing.  The Maine Wind is a working ship owned by Captain John DeLuc.   Brie and John are very attracted to each other but Brie is still uncertain what the future holds for her and is unwilling to make a commitment to John on a personal level or to the ship as a permanent job.

Brie left the police department after her partner was killed and she felt she needed some distance from police work but when the ship makes a stop on Sentinel Island to help John’s friend repair an old lighthouse Brie is immediately caught up in a mystery surrounding the lighthouse and the small island.

Amanda Whitcombe is an artist, a prominent member of the Sentinel Island community and a good friend of Ben, the owner of the lighthouse.  Amanda has disappeared and when Brie finds her cottage unlocked she investigates and some clues lead Brie to believe that Amanda did not leave voluntarily.

Ben inherited the lighthouse when the previous owner died after an accident at the lighthouse.  The previous owner of the lighthouse was also a good friend of Amanda’s.  When John and Brie accidentally discover an old journal hidden in the lighthouse, belonging to the previous owner, the two decide there are mysterious happenings on the island that might bring danger to Ben as well as Brie, John and the crew of The Maine Wind.

Danger Sector is a good mystery.  The descriptions of the scenery around Sentinel Island and the food served by the cook on The Maine Wind makes the reader want to experience a trip by sailing ship although life aboard the ship is anything but easy.

This is the second book in The Windjammer Mystery series.  Rigged for Murder is the first in the series and both are recommended.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.