Book Reviews: Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner and 19 Souls by J.D. Allen @SternerGregory @aperturepress @JDAllenBooks @midnightinkbook

Solving Cadence Moore
Gregory Sterner
Aperture Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-9973020-8-0
Trade Paperback

An intense novel fashioned in a very creative and unusual way, Solving Cadence Moore struggles to match its creative vision. It is rooted in the modern radio podcast phenomenon. Charlie Marx, successful radio podcast creator and star has a fine and lasting career in a fairly volatile professional area. He’s progressed through solid talent and the support of a major broadcasting executive, but he wants more. He thinks he’s found a vehicle, a ten-year old mystery.

Young talented and striking-looking (cliché?) Candace Moore is at the beginning of her career as a star vocalist and song creator. When she disappears and no trace has ever been found of her, the mystery endures and grows. Marx believes he can solve the murder and he exaggerates his proof to his boss in order to gain permission to create a star series of podcasts.

Things begin to fall apart when production time is squeezed down and witnesses become reluctant. Marx endures long and tense confrontations with his boss, with members of his production team and with some witnesses he turned up.

The novel, frequently written as a radio script, is long, tedious at times and is shot full of disagreeable language, confrontation after confrontation, and little consideration for the reader. Nine chapters divide a 362-page story. Long involved arguments detailing strengths and weaknesses of character’s positions, often with little or no descriptive language tend to give the narrative a slow and steady progression. Readers will assume, perhaps correctly, that the profession of radio broadcasting, especially when focused on the dramatization of true events, is replete with the kind of competition and repetitive tests of wills fostered by strongly opinionated, testosterone supplied males.

In sum an excellent idea burdened by a limited exposition, resulting in relief that the novel is done, rather than disappointment for the final period.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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19 Souls
A Sin City Investigation #1
J.D. Allen
Midnight Ink Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5403-1
Trade Paperback

An interesting if troublesome book about the search for a deteriorating psychopathic serial killer. The story has several things going for it, an unusual killer, a raft of police and FBI characters, and at least three sort-of-legal private searchers. The least likeable of the three, a shambling, bumbling private investigator named Jim Bean works alone, except when he needs help, which is frequently. The other two, O, a bounty-hunter, and Bean’s obligatory cyber/research expert add a little to the narrative, although O adds the least.

The setup is excellent and would have been even better if Bean wasn’t portrayed as so constantly second-guessing himself. A woman hires him to find her long-lost brother. She promptly drugs and seduces Bean which interferes with Bean’s thoughts and emotions, often at crucial junctures.

The story takes place in Texas, Nevada, California and Indiana. As the target descends gradually, logically, and cleverly into madness, the tension rises and more bodies litter the ground. Largely well-written and edited there are a few point-of-view shifts that are momentarily confusing but taking it all together, the novel is worth its price.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Salvation Station by Kathryn Schleich—and a Giveaway! @authorkschleich @shewritespress

Salvation Station
Kathryn Schleich
She Writes Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-63152-892-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Despite her years of experience investigating homicides for the force, Captain Linda Turner is haunted by the murders of the Hansen family. The two small children, clothed in tattered Disney pajamas, were buried with their father, a pastor, in the flower garden behind a church parsonage in Lincoln, Nebraska. But Mrs. Hansen is nowhere to be found—and neither is the killer.

In St. Louis, the televangelist Ray Williams is about to lose his show—until one of his regular attendees approaches him with an idea that will help him save it. Despite his initial misgivings, Ray agrees to give it a try. He can’t deny his attraction to this woman, and besides, she’d assured him the plan is just—God gave her the instructions in a dream.

Multiple story lines entwine throughout this compelling mystery, delving into the topics of murder, religious faith, and the inherent dangers in blindly accepting faith as truth. While Reverend Williams is swept up in his newfound success and plans for his wedding, Captain Turner can only hope that she and her team will catch the Hansens’ cunning killer—before more bodies surface.

Creepy cover, right? There’s something about a beat up, abandoned doll baby that immediately captures the  eye and the imagination and we know we’re in for an emotionally difficult read. Sure enough…

Linda Turner has seen a lot in her years on the Lincoln, Nebraska, police force but the discovery of the three bodies in the backyard of the pastorage and the seeming abduction of the pastor’s wife is a kicker and it’s hard to know where to begin her investigation. The missing woman is the primary concern, of course, since she might still be alive but the killings of the children, in particular, make this a high profile case. It’s always possible, of course, that Nicole Hansen is involved in the murder of her family but all anyone knows at first is that they had been expected on a missionary trip but had never arrived.

Meanwhile, another pastor, one who’s much more visible than Pastor Hansen, is ending his televangelist program in St. Louis because the revenue just isn’t supporting the expenses. Ray Williams’ heart was in the right place but he never managed to make a real success of this venture. When he’s approached by Susannah Baker, a fairly recent member of the church, with a potential plan to grow the ministry, Ray is initially disturbed by the appearance of fraud but Susannah does seem to believe in what she’s saying. Not far away, a mother and daughter have a disagreement about the mother’s attachment to Reverend Ray.

Early on, the reader learns who Susannah really is and the story arc lies in how Captain Turner will put the apparently unconnected pieces together. Linda is a woman of character, intelligent and driven by the search for justice, but can she get to the truth in time to prevent more tragedy? On the opposite end of the spectrum is Susannah, a manipulative, vicious woman compelled by greed and lacking any conscience. Blind faith plays a big part in her machinations and shines a light on how so many people are drawn into religious operations that may or may not be legitimate. Whether Linda can stop this unusual serial killer also involves a bit of blind faith of another sort.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for an advance
reading
copy of Salvation Station,

leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Sunday evening, May 24th.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Isenberg and Cogheart by Peter Bunzl @frumpenberg @HachetteBooks @peterbunzl @JollyFishPress

The Third Rainbow Girl
The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia
Emma Copley Eisenberg
Hachette Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-0-316-44923-6
Hardcover

The summer of 1980 gave the people of Pocahontas, and its neighboring Greenbrier county, something brand new to gossip and gripe about. A bunch of (probably) dirty, drunk and drugged-out dudes and chicks were about to descend. The Rainbow Family Gathering was moving east for the first time and the meeting place this year was in the Monongahela Forest in West Virginia.

Individually, the people are quite warm and welcoming. However, many did not want this Rainbow Festival happening on their pristine land. Some did long for a spectacle, eager to see a ‘freak show’ of nude, free-loving, tree-huggers dancing and skinny-dipping, flitting through their forests like true faeries.

I was only nine years old. I remember grumblings almost masking anticipation.

Before the gathering properly began, two female travelers were killed merely miles from their destination. Based on the location alone, there was no doubting that the shooter was a local. Determining who it was and why, though, would prove to be more challenging than anyone imagined.

Conducting an investigation when essentially everyone knows each other isn’t easy. There really aren’t secrets in small towns. Yet, the inexplicable killing of two “Rainbow Girls” was not a mystery to be solved quickly, or with collective satisfaction.

I remember watching an America’s Most Wanted episode about “The Rainbow Murders.” Jake Beard was a suspect, whereabouts unknown. Only, my younger sister piped up quickly, “He’s in Florida! I just got a letter from (his daughter).” Before leaving the mountains, Beard would pull his snazzy red convertible into our driveway and happily haul my sister and his daughter around town.

We did not immediately assume his innocence, though. Public opinion was absolutely split down the middle between the people who couldn’t believe Beard would flick off a flea, to the ones that swear he always had a wild, hateful streak.

Finally, there was a trial and a conviction. But that conviction was overturned.

Would the killer ever be identified? Or, do we already know who got away with murder?

I was excited to learn of The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg; although I admit to some apprehension due to a protective feeling towards my home state. I was pleasantly surprised and tremendously pleased with how well this author was able to understand the mountaineers and convey their way of life in an honest, objective manner.

I found her research and study of this criminal case to be tenacious and thorough without being too tough. The way that she shares what she learned was informative, but not suggestive. When I finished this book, my opinion of who killed those young ladies so many years ago has changed. And, I’m feeling a tiny bit homesick.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2020.

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Cogheart
A Cogheart Adventure #1
Peter Bunzl
Jolly Fish Press, February 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-287-7
Trade Paperback

Set in the skies above and the streets running through London, this scintillating story of clockworks, mechanimals, hybrids and humans is the book that will keep kids reading well past bed-times. It has to be hard for a young reader to step away from this fast-paced, perilous plot because as an adult, I found myself hurrying through a chore or four so that I could get back to the search for the oh-so-secret cogheart.

Professor John’s airship was attacked and it seems the sole survivor is Malkin, the mechanimal fox that serves as family pet and pseudo-protector. He must get a message to John’s daughter, Lily, but even a creature as clever as he cannot make that journey alone.

Slinking and thinking, Malkin has no idea he has been spotted. The teen-aged boy living above Townsend’s Horologist’s was having trouble sleeping and he spied the fox from his window. With a watchful eye, Robert realized the fox was a mechanimal and impulsively sought him out to see if he could be of assistance. He is his da’s apprentice, after all.

Robert and Malkin are indeed an unlikely duo, but it is apparent that they must work together to get to Lily, because they are definitely being pursued. Mr. Creepy-Mirror-Eyes Scary-Face (not his real name) and his equally alarming pal are popping up everywhere and it soon becomes obvious that the four share the same goal but for very different reasons. One pair wants to protect Lily and provide comfort, the other is after the Professor’s greatest invention.

When we finally meet Lily, and she pulls her little nose out of her beloved penny dreadful, we see a young lady that needs no protecting. But she’s no fool, so she is willing to let Robert and Malkin assist in her quest to obtain the elusive perpetual motion machine and to keep it safe from the heinous hybrids and whoever they are working for.

Cogheart could be categorized as an epic action-adventure and that would be accurate; but there are also some subtle, yet intriguing, conversations that provided unique points to ponder. I just love everything about this book and I cannot wait to give my copy to my favorite classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2019.

Book Reviews: Death and the Viking’s Daughter by Loretta Ross and Ghosts of Guatemala by Collin Glavac

Death and the Viking’s Daughter
An Auction Block Mystery #4
Loretta Ross
Midnight Ink, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5237-2
Trade Paperback

Auctioneer Wren Morgan with her fellow workers is preparing for an auction of a strange night club that was constructed on the plans of a Cincinnati nightclub that was the scene of a disastrous fire. A small level of nervousness is apparent.

At about the same time, her fiancé Death (pronounced Deeth) Bogart is tasked by a museum director to look into an apparent theft of a painting, a painting worth more to the owners due to the subject than for its artistic merit.

While preparing the site for the coming auction, a resident collapses upon seeing a figure in the nearby woods who looks like his long-missing daughter. Meanwhile, Wren and Death (pronounced Deeth) are looking for a home to buy. They find one at the end of a roadway not far away where a man, name unknown, is buried beneath rosebushes in the yard.

Get the picture? This is not a complicated mystery, but it has several threads that are cleverly woven together in this carefully and very well-written novel. Eventually all these threads will come together, along with tension-filled meetings between Wren and Death’s parent groups.

The tranquil setting becomes well-used as a foil against the tension that builds up. Private investigator Death Bogart wends his careful way through a variety of interesting experiences all while worrying about presenting a positive image to his about-to-be in-laws. A fun and intriguing novel that I recommend especially for those readers who are not wedded to intense and brutal violence on the page.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Ghosts of Guatemala
Collin Glavac
NIMA, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-9991631-6-7
Trade Paperback

Here is a terrific idea with some interesting characters in imperfectly realized circumstances. The novel begins with a bang, the attempted assassination of a Guatemalan drug czar. The scene is potent, rife with tension and murderous action. Unfortunately, although the assassination is successful, the assassin also dies in the attempt.

We then switch to scenes of dissention, corruption, loss of confidence and general incompetence in an important US government agency, the Central Intelligence Agency. Then commences a long and wandering dissertation about the life and development of a Seal, one John Carpenter. Sometime later in his career, he is mysteriously detached from the Navy to become an agent for the CIA, specializing in Latin America.

He is tasked with retaliation against the Guatemalan drug cartel, an assignment which takes the narrative deeply and in considerable detail inside that country. The narrative is wordy, resulting in an overlong novel which levels criticism against the U.S. government, the CIA specifically and the American public in general.

A good editor would have reduced the novel by at least a third and in the process elevated the action and tension. While some of the characters are unusual and more than passingly interesting, the novel’s potential is largely obscured in wordiness and a somewhat negative attitude.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Substitute Soloist by D.R. Ransdell

Substitute Soloist
An Andy Veracruz Mystery #4
D.R. Ransdell
Aakenbaaken & Kent, February 2019
ISBN 978-1-938436-77-2
Trade Paperback

Andy Veracruz, a mariachi musician who has won himself a place in the Tucson symphony orchestra, suddenly becomes the concertmaster when the present one is accused of murder. The evidence seems quite compelling, although the maestro insists she’s innocent. When she flees the scene, enlisting Andy’s help, he sets out to prove it. Their investigations take them to Europe and to Mexico before they’re done.

Thoughts: A lot of hustling here and there didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Why would Andy put himself in danger to go through these contortions to find this very difficult and unlikable woman? If the police thought the woman murdered a man, why didn’t they figure into the plot? A ticking time clock to prove innocence before the cops arrest her? Not mentioned. I don’t even understand why the maestro chose Andy to help him. The best part of the book was the music involved, but for a new, barely adequate violinist to be chosen concertmaster over the others strikes me as odd, especially when he keeps talking about making so many mistakes and how badly he’s playing. And then to put him into all these other symphonies as concertmaster when they go to Europe on a wild goose chase? Hmm.

Frankly, it took me several days to get through the book. For me, it fell flat although that may say more about me than it does about the author. But it certainly did not strike me as the page turner another reviewer called it. Everyone will need to judge for him/herself. The story did, when I got to the end, have a good twist, the writing is well-done, and the musical aspects are educating and interesting.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Flesh and Blood by John Harvey

Flesh and Blood
A Frank Elder Mystery #1
John Harvey
Otto Penzler Books
ISBN 978-0-15-603181-7
Trade Paperback

Frank Elder is a retired Detective Inspector and separated from his wife and sixteen-year-old daughter. He had a successful thirty-year career in the Nottinghamshire police force. Elder is retired and living alone with his nightmares in a small cottage on the Cornish coast. Now he’s waiting for a reunion of sorts with his daughter, Katherine.

Shortly after their reunion and her return to Nottingham, Elder is notified that the young perpetrator in one of his more lurid cases, Shane Donald, is being paroled. Donald spent seventeen years in prison for the abduction, rape and murder of a young woman about Katherine’s age.

The setup for the novel carefully establishes the detective, Elder, and those around him, the environment, down to daily clothing and meals, and many of the future characters in this long and thoughtful story.

The rich narrative travels through dozens of small towns as Elder is drawn into another missing girl case as a consultant. Author Harvey gradually develops a second plot, married to the first in clever ways, which draws readers ever deeper into a morass of depravity and murder.

Although the pace is slower than many readers of this kind of crime novel are used to, the measured raising of tension, questions floated and sometimes answered, the gradual reveal of links through logic and careful police work is mesmerizing. Gritty, direct and modern, this British crime novel is, in a word, excellent.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2019.
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: A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais

A Dangerous Man
An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel #18
Robert Crais
G.P.Putman’s Son, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-525-53568-3
Hardcover

After paying a visit to his Bank, Joe Pike is sitting in his Jeep Cherokee when he notices the young female Bank Teller who’d been helping him was being shoved into the rear of a car. Pike, once a member of the LAPD, decides to follow the car, and when it comes to a halt at a traffic light, he quickly rescues the woman, and together with her kidnappers, they wait for the police.

Isabel Roland, Izzy to her friends, has no idea why the two men tried to kidnap her. She explains to the police what happened and later when she calls Joe to thank him again she mentions that one of the men told her that he knew her secret, but Izzy thinks they must have the wrong person.

A few days later the police appear outside Joe’s house. They tell him that the two kidnappers made bail but they have been found murdered. Joe is worried about Izzy and after the police leave he goes to her house to check on her… She’s missing.

Joe calls on his friend and business partner Elvis Cole to help him find out what or who is behind these troubling events. As Elvis investigates he uncovers a decades old crime involving a whistleblower at a corporate level, and millions of dollars that went missing. But just how Izzy is connected is still a mystery.

This is a fast paced fun read, and if you haven’t been following these two friends then you can jump in here without needing to know too much about their past relationship. As a long-time fan, it’s always a treat to catch up with Elvis and Joe.

Check it out! You won’t regret it.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2019.