Book Review: The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer

The Middleman
Olen Steinhauer
Minotaur Books, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-2500-3617-9
Hardcover

A thriller wrapped in a mystery which cannot make up its mind where it is going, or even coming from.  At the heart of the plot, Special Agent Rachel Proulx of the FBI is studying and preparing a report on terrorist groups.  Consequently, she spearheads the FBI’s efforts to monitor a group whose leader does not favor active terrorism, but cerebral efforts to change society.

The FBI plants an undercover agent in the group and he is forced to act as a sniper on July 4, 2017, shooting a Congresswoman spearheading an investigation into a couple of financial institutions,  Three other members of Congress are killed, although the Congresswoman is only shot in the neck and survives.  One of the other three is also a leader in the investigation of the financial companies.  So much for peaceful demonstrations, and the group is now classified as a terrorist organization.

What remains is for Rachel and the undercover agent to team up and try to find out what really took place along the way and discover the answers to unexplained questions and events, making these attempts while outcasts from their own FBI.  While the novel is constructed to move along and keep the reader interested, it is buried in obscurity and sometimes difficult to follow.  For the most part, the story meanders back and forth, past to present, adding little to forward movement.  It really is a tale of conspiracies compounded by double-crosses, but not a bad read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

Advertisements

Teeny Reviews: A Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry and How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews

A Christmas Revelation
Christmas Novella #18
Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-17994-5
Hardcover

I stopped reading Anne Perry‘s books a few years back when they started getting so much longer than I care for but I’ve remained a fan of her stories about William and Hester Monk and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt plus a myriad of wonderful secondary characters. When this novella came along, I decided I needed to touch base again, so to speak, and I’m glad I did.

This episode is set in and around Hester Monk’s clinic where a young boy has found a family of sorts with a volunteer and a bookkeeper. When Worm sees a woman being abducted, he goes to Squeaky, the bookkeeper, for help and, against his better judgement, Squeaky jumps in. What the pair learns about the woman puts a real twist on things but, bottomline, the mystery surrounding the woman takes a back seat to the growing relationship—and mutual caring—between a child who’s had to grow up too fast and a rather crotchety older man. It’s a sweet story in many ways.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

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

How the Finch Stole Christmas
A Meg Langslow Mystery #22
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11545-4
Hardcover

When Meg Langslow’s actor/professor husband decides to put on a production of “A Christmas Carol”, it becomes a family affair with the twins and Meg actively involved but it’s the actor Michael hired to play Scrooge who becomes the star of his own self-important, drunken show. Meg follows him, hoping to find out who’s supplying alcohol to Malcolm and also accidentally discovers an illegal exotic animal trafficking operation. Naturally, Meg and her animal devotee family have to get involved but finding a dead body wasn’t part of the bargain nor did they expect Malcolm to be pegged as the killer. And is the killing connected to the smuggling outfit or something else entirely? Meanwhile, a rescue group has Gouldian Finches being fostered everywhere and more are coming.

Anybody who hasn’t read a Meg Langslow book needs to run right out and remedy that omission but, please, start with the first one in the series. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot of the humor and the family dynamics. Plus, you won’t get the full effect of Spike 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

Book Review: The Shadow Killer by Arnaldur Indridason

The Shadow Killer
The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers, Book 2
Arnaldur Indridason
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Minotaur Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-12404-3
Hardcover

Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, was occupied by British troops even if that country was neutral in World War II, and in the months before Pearl Harbor, U.S. Troops relieved the Tommies [as they were called] so they could return home and face the possible Nazi invasion.  Iceland, of course, was a prominent way station for naval shipping across the Atlantic, with U-boat activity quite active.  In the midst of this activity, a man is found murdered, shot in the head by a weapon commonly used by American troops.

The investigation is undertaken by Flovent, the only detective with the Icelandic CID.  He enlists the help of a U.S. military policeman by the name of Thorston.  Together they center their attention on a family of German extraction, a paralyzed doctor, his son and his brother-in-law, the headmaster of a school, as well as the doctor’s brother who lives in Germany.  The victim remains unidentified, while initially believed to be the resident of the apartment, when it turns out he was a boyhood friend of the resident, the doctor’s son, who is in hiding and becomes the focus of a hunt.

Various subplots complicate the story as Flovent and Thorston delve into possible leads, including any possible role of U.S. Intelligence and a possible visit to the island by Winston Churchill. The sharp prose and excellent translation enhance this second novel in the series.  Mr. Indridason continues to provide us with top-notch thrillers, and we look forward to his next effort.

The novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2018.

Book Review: Dying to Live by Michael Stanley

Dying to Live
A Detective Kubu Mystery #6
Michael Stanley
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN:  978-1-466-88156-3
Hardcover

The sixth in the series featuring detective Kubu (“hippopotamus” in Setswana, the language of Botswana), this novel has an unusual plot:  a secret plant indigenous to the desert, for which three men are murdered, is the basis for this mystery.  The pathologist Dr. Ian MacGregor, who does the autopsy on a bushman found dead in the desert, discovers an aged body containing youthful organs.  He calls Kubu when he suspects the man was murdered.  It turns out the victim was a highly respected witch doctor who treated a variety of “patients” with a secret potion promising a long life.

Thus begins a long, complicated investigation, in which Kubu is assisted by the first female CID detective, a case that expands when another witch doctor turns up murdered and a visiting anthropologist from the United States goes missing.  As if that’s not enough to keep him busy, Kubu is confronted by another case in which controlled substances, powdered rhino horn, is being smuggled out of the country.  Kubu suspects the two cases are inter-related.

Just as important to this novel, as well as the series, is Kubu’s home life, his relationship with his wife, Joy, and his daughter Tuni, and adopted daughter, Nono, who is HIV positive and suffers a breakdown causing considerable concern until a prescribed cocktail of medicines can be formulated to stabilize her condition.  These aspects give the writing team who authored the book the opportunity to show how human Kubu is, as well as the detective’s well-known appetite.  Other constant features of the series are the atmosphere and characteristics of the Batswana (the people of the nation).  We await the seventh novel in the series after recommending the sixth and current one.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2018.

Book Review: Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed by John Keyse-Walker

Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed
Teddy Creque Mysteries #2
John Keyse-Walker
Minotaur Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-14847-6
Hardcover

Constable Teddy Creque returns in Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed, the second book in a series set in the British Virgin Islands. The setting of these books alone makes them worth reading in the Winter. This time, readers get to go with Teddy to Virgin Gorda.

With a beach covered with fine white sand and clear aqua blue water, the section of the island known as The Baths is beautiful. Tourists with cash in hand flock to Virgin Gorda because of the beautiful beaches, so the last thing the island needs is a shark attack. But Constable Creque has been assigned to deal with just that thing. The trunk of a woman’s body has washed up onto the beach. Teddy’s assignment is to find the shark responsible and kill it.  With a multitude of people watching, Teddy goes out to track sharks and find the one responsible. A shark is caught and killed and when cut open, a human hand rolls out of its belly. But soon Teddy begins to suspect that it was not the shark that caused the woman’s death.  As one would expect, not everyone is happy to see Teddy nosing around.

Constable Creque has grown into his role since the first book in the series, Sand, Sun, Murder.  While he seems to have an innate ability for solving crimes, his methods are a bit unorthodox at times. Since his first case when he was nearly killed, Teddy has learned a bit more of what is expected of a good officer including how to get along with his bosses. Still, situations come up that are not in any manual and can’t fit into standard policing. Such is the case with this murder when Teddy’s only apparent witness is a young child who is mute. Again, Teddy figures out a way to work through the problem.

This book is, in my opinion, a much better book than the first book in the series.  The protagonist has grown into his job a bit more. The plot is well done leaving a trail of clues without giving too much away for readers to puzzle over. The entire book just seems to fit together better.

One of the best things in the first book that continues in this book is the excellent descriptions of the various places. Reading this during a bleak week of raw weather, it was a bit like taking a breezy warm vacation to the islands. If you are feeling a bit beaten down by the winter that won’t give up, let me suggest a quick trip to the British Virgin Islands.

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

Book Review: Death of an Unsung Hero by Tessa Arlen—and a Giveaway!

Death of an Unsung Hero
A Lady Montfort Mystery #4
Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-10144-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In 1916, the world is at war and the energetic Lady Montfort has persuaded her husband to offer his family’s dower house to the War Office as an auxiliary hospital for officers recovering from shell-shock with their redoubtable housekeeper Mrs. Jackson contributing to the war effort as the hospital’s quartermaster.

Despite the hospital’s success, the farming community of Haversham, led by the Montfort’s neighbor Sir Winchell Meacham, does not approve of a country-house hospital for men they consider to be cowards. When Captain Sir Evelyn Bray, one of the patients, is found lying face down in the vegetable garden with his head bashed in, both Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson have every reason to fear that the War Office will close their hospital. Once again the two women unite their diverse talents to discover who would have reason to murder a war hero suffering from amnesia.

Time has moved on since our last encounter with Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson and England is growing weary of World War I, only halfway through the horror, although their patriotism is still high and everyone wants to do his—or her—part. When a military hospital is opened in Haversham Hall, a property owned by the Earl of Montfort, some neighbors are not welcoming. This is no ordinary hospital treating the visible wounds one expects to see but, rather, a shelter for soldiers suffering a badly misunderstood emotional affliction. Shellshock is a condition that’s newly-recognized by the medical community but many civilians see it as a mere excuse for cowardice in the face of the enemy. Still, murder seems to be an unnecessarily strong reaction.

Lady Montfort and her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, are the perfect upstairs-downstairs team and their individual stations and personalities complement each other when they investigate. Unlike some similar situations, these women are equally intelligent and determined to seek truth and justice plus they truly like each other and work together like a well-oiled machine. Now, they turn their attention to the question of why someone would want to murder Captain Bray just when he was beginning to recover from his amnesia and who that someone might be.

Tessa Arlen has cemented her place among the best historical mystery authors and, in my opinion, each book is a wonderful evocation of period and setting. It was nice to learn more about Lady Montfort’s family and the earl has become another of my favorite members of the cast. This entry has the added drama of war and it’s clear that the author understands and has a passion for the times and her wonderful characters. I’ll be adding Death of an Unsung Hero to my list of best reads in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

************


Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

“The book is a delightful romp through a world of vividly
eccentric characters in a beautifully described setting. It was
pure pleasure to read, and it packed a punch.”
– Historical Novel Society

************

About the Author

TESSA ARLEN is the author of Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, Death Sits Down to Dinner and A Death by Any Other Name. She is the daughter of a British diplomat and had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi, and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the US in 1980 and worked as an HR recruiter for the LA Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

************

To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Death of an Unsung Hero,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Monday
evening, March 19th, and the book
will be sent after the tour ends.
Open to residents of the US.

************

“The way Arlen integrates the traumas of WWI into a
golden age whodunit plot will please Charles Todd fans.”
– Publishers Weekly

Book Review: The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason

The Shadow District
The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers #1
Arnaldur Indridason
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Minotaur Books, November 2017
ISBN:  978-1-250-12402-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  In the debut of a new series from international mystery giant Indridason, the murder of a woman in Reykjavik during WWII becomes a piece in the puzzle of a contemporary killing.  A retired detective named Konrad remembers the earlier murder from his childhood, and is surprised when, assisting in the case of a 90-year-old man who was smothered in his bed, he comes across clippings that the old man kept of the murder.  It happened in ‘the shadow district,’ a rough neighborhood bordered by the National Theatre where Konrad grew up. But why would someone be interested in that crime now?  Alternating between Konrad’s unofficial investigation and the original wartime police inquiry, The Shadow District depicts the two investigations, separated by decades, discovering that two girls had been attacked in oddly similar circumstances.  Did the police arrest the wrong man all those years ago?  How are these cases linked across the decades?  And who is the old man?  A deeply compassionate story of old crimes and their consequences.

And that this surely is.  This newest standalone from Mr. Indridason will resonate with his many readers, as it did with this reviewer.

The contemporary murder is that of a young woman of about twenty, the body discovered by a local Icelandic woman and her lover, found in a box in a doorway of that same National Theatre in the Shadow District.  The investigation is headed by Konrad and Marta, a young woman with whom he had worked in the CID, and they immediately realize the similarities between this murder and the wartime killing, the two victims and the circumstances of their murders being so similar.  The ensuing tale is riveting, in this author’s distinctive style, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.