Book Review: Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle—and a Giveaway!

Idyll Hands
A Thomas Lynch Novel #3
Stephanie Gayle
Seventh Street Books,
ISBN 978-1-63388-482-3
Trade Paperback

Not to mince words, this is an excellent novel. The story travels between 1972 in Charleston, Massachusetts, and 1999 in Idyll, Connecticut. In its emotional beginning, Susan, the sixteen-year-old sister of a new policeman, Michael Finnegan, is running away from home, at least for a few days. Why, we don’t know for sure.

Twenty-six years later, in a town not far from Charleston, the new chief of police in Idyll, Connecticut, named Thomas Lynch, is confronted with allergies and the preserved bone of an unknown woman or girl, the cops in that town have named Colleen. The bone is from a body unknown and unnamed found years earlier.

And so the story begins. As it unfolds, Michael Finnegan, now an experienced detective and his boss, Chief Lynch, working together and separately, among the small force of law enforcement people, confront questions of other missing young women. And throughout the novel, the hard loss of Finnegan’s still missing sister is always present.

In carefully measured chapters, the search for the woman found in the grave in Idyll is laid out and the detectives draw ever closer to the murderer. At the same time, detective Finnegan continues to pick away at random small clues to the enduring mystery of his sister’s disappearance.

Scenes are carefully and sometimes elaborately described; the pace of the novel is intense, and readers will be treated to a small cadre of police individuals whose emotional investments in their careers are carefully laid out, along with the civilian sides of life. Readers will also be treated to an interesting look at the process of crime detection in this town where the authorities are anything but idle.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name will

be drawn on Thursday night, May 9th.
This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

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Book Review: Wrong Light by Matt Coyle—and a Giveaway!

Wrong Light   
A Rick Cahill Novel #5
Matt Coyle
Oceanview Publishing, December 2018
ISBN 978-1-60809-329-8
Trade Paperback

Rick Cahill is a San Diego private eye. He comes out of the hard-bitten lonesome cowboy tradition, one who spends a lot of time second-guessing himself and even agonizing over missteps and mistakes. But he is wedded to Truth. When he takes on a client, most of the time that client is law-abiding and honest–mostly.

Cahill’s history is, however, checkered and as a result, his new client, a radio talk-show host, with a sultry, warm voice that promises much in the dark hours of the night, does not immediately receive the kind of intense attention one usually expects from a PI in these novels. He needs to respond to a former contact or client whose demands for attention are fraught with intense danger for Cahill from the very beginning and Cahill’s activities and plans to protect the talk-show host are frequently interrupted by this other, persistent, obligation.

The novel is well-paced although Cahill’s sarcasm and jaundice occasionally drag the reader away from the main narrative. There are probably too many verbal cracks, tongue-in-cheek observations and philosophical bon mots than needed to fill out our perceptions of the main character, but the persistent drive of the narrative will overcome that minor difficulty, as it will slice over the occasional repetitious language.

With those minor caveats, I recommend the novel for fans of the hardboiled, down at the heels, persistent and upright investigator, one who feels deeply his past mistakes and missteps.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 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.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Wrong Light by Matt Coyle, just leave a
comment below. The winning name will
be drawn on Monday night, April 1st.
This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock—and a Giveaway!

This Story Is A Lie
Tom Pollock
Soho Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-911-1
Hardcover

When a book begins with the protagonist having just dealt with a major panic attack by crushing a porcelain salt shaker with his teeth, you can expect what follows to be a bit strange. And what does ensue exceeds that description in spades. Peter Blankman, age seventeen, is a twin and a mad math genius. He’s also bullied unmercifully by three classmates at his English high school. His only protection is his older, by eight minutes, sister Bel who is no slouch in the brains department herself.

Peter has been dealing with irrational fears and panic attacks for as long as he can remember. His mother is a world famous scientist and his absent father a mystery. All Peter and Bel know is the tidbits their mother drops on occasion, but the overarching message has always been that Dad was utterly evil and the less they know, the better off they’ll be.

A few hours following his attack, he, Bel and Mom are off to the Natural History Museum where Mom’s to receive an award for her work. Peter does his best to hold it together, but as the moment approaches for things to start, he loses it and bolts, running recklessly down one corridor after another. When he runs out of gas, he tries to find his way back, only to stumble on a body leaking copious amounts of blood. It’s his mother and it’s all he can do to stay with her and try to stanch the bleeding.

In short order, Bel vanishes, Peter’s grabbed by Rita, who claims to be a friend of Mom and one of her co-workers. She rushes him out of the museum and into a strange car that follows the ambulance transporting Mom. Peter’s paranoia starts ramping up as the convoy heads away from the two closest hospitals. It spikes even more as he overhears snippets of code-like conversations and senses that something highly suspicious. Little does he know how right he is. He manages to escape, but with Bel missing, where can he go?

What follows is like going in and out of a series of Alice in Wonderland rabbit holes. Every time Peter thinks he has something figured out, reality, or what passes for it, pulls another rug out from him. He’s unsure who to trust, how much of what he’s learned about mathematics can be counted on, he’s unsure who’s real or telling the truth, and as pieces fall into place, he finds himself on ever more fragile ground. Many details are revealed in flashback chapters going back anywhere from five days to seven years prior to the current story line. By the end, Peter, Bel and the reader are all still trying to sort things out. That’s not to say the ending is bad or incomplete, just nicely twisted. If you like industrial strength creepy, this book is for you.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2019.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of This Story Is A Lie, just leave a
comment below.
The winning name will
be drawn on Friday
night, March 1st.

This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Sulfur Springs by William Kent Krueger

Sulfur Springs
Cork O’Connor Mystery Series #16
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, August 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5011-4734-0
Hardcover

Krueger has become a spectacular writer. You can see his development if you read his entire output. His observational skills have always been first rate and his ability to refine and shape those skills to serve the story only get better. And unlike a few writers today, he hasn’t resorted to the use of formulaic plots and characters or settings, merely to meet another deadline.

Sulfur Springs also demonstrates the author’s willingness to explore new horizons for Corcoran O’Conner, ex-sheriff of Tamarack County in northern Minnesota. Now married to Native American Rainy Bisonette, and retired from regular law enforcement, Cork and Rainy’s life is upturned when Rainy’s son, Peter, leaves a garbled telephone message that provides only a sense of deep trouble in the hot Arizona desert.

Cork and Rainy travel immediately to southern Arizona where they discover Peter’s whereabouts are a mystery and the people of Sulfur Springs and surrounding towns are either lying or not talking at all. The story is complex and heavily peopled by many players, none of whom seem to be what they are on the surface. As they traverse the many layers of relationships, Cork is disturbed to learn there are parts of the life of his new wife of which he is completely ignorant. It disturbs him and part of the fabric of the story deals with his efforts and needs to resolve the questions arising in Rainy’s background.

As the couple persists in tracing her son, more and danger pivots to focus on them and the people around them. The novel works on several levels, as has become common in Krueger novels. The resolutions, legal, psychological and personal, while many and varied, are carefully handled. This is an eminently satisfying novel with a penetrating mystery at its heart.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 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.

Book Review: Forty Dead Men by Donis Casey

Forty Dead Men
An Alafair Tucker Mystery #10
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0937-6
Hardcover

This latest of the Alafair Tucker mysteries sees Alafair’s son, Gee Dub, home from WWI.  Unfortunately, although he reconnects with his large family and puts on a good face, Alafair knows something is wrong with her strong, quiet son. When he finds a young woman in a field behaving oddly and brings her home to his mother, the situation only grows worse. Alafair befriends the woman, but then a murder is committed and suspicion falls on Gee Dub. Even Alafair has her doubts when she finds an ammunition case that generally holds forty bullets, but now holds only one, which then goes missing.

Soldiers have always suffered from PTSD. In WWI it was called shell shock and Gee Dub has more reason to suffer from it than many. He often struggles with what is real and what is not, but even so, this story holds some surprising twists and turns.

This is a powerful story of family, love and kindness, and hardship, too. Not to be missed.

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

Book Review: The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

The Boy at the Keyhole
Stephen Giles
Hanover Square Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-335-65292-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Nine-year-old Samuel lives alone in a once-great estate in Surrey with the family’s housekeeper, Ruth. His father is dead and his mother has been abroad for months, purportedly tending to her late husband’s faltering business. She left in a hurry one night while Samuel was sleeping and did not say goodbye.

Beyond her sporadic postcards, Samuel hears nothing from his mother. He misses her dearly and maps her journey in an atlas he finds in her study. Samuel’s life is otherwise regulated by Ruth, who runs the house with an iron fist. Only she and Samuel know how brutally she enforces order.

As rumors in town begin to swirl, Samuel wonders whether something more sinister is afoot. Perhaps his mother did not leave but was murdered—by Ruth.

Artful, haunting and hurtling toward a psychological showdown, The Boy at the Keyhole is an incandescent debut about the precarious dance between truth and perception, and the shocking acts that occur behind closed doors.

On the surface, this book would seem to have elements of a dark, gothic story, something like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, with a looming, cavernous manse, a creepy, sinister housekeeper and a protagonist who becomes more and more suspicious about what’s going on. Really, the main difference is that the protagonist is a child rather than a new young wife being intimidated by the housekeeper while the husband is apparently distant emotionally.

Certainly Samuel has reason to be suspicious, lonesome, baffled, all the feelings a child would have when one parent is dead and the other disappears, supposedly legitimately but without even telling him goodbye. Right there, my empathy went to this little boy who surely deserved better. How disappointed he must have been each day when she didn’t come home.

Ruth is undoubtedly an unpleasant caregiver and it’s no wonder Samuel begins to have dark thoughts about this woman and her peculiar behavior. These feelings are exacerbated by Samuel’s friend who, intentionally or not, hints at nefarious goings-on and the suspense begins to build while Ruth understandably becomes more and more frustrated by this child who dares to snoop and raise questions. Is this all just a child’s imagination run amok?

A promising beginning doesn’t quite succeed, as least not as fully as it could have, and the very slow pace doesn’t help. I also felt the ending was a bit lacking but, overall, I think readers who like a slow-building suspense will be satisfied.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

Stephen Giles is the Australian author behind the lauded children’s series “Anyone But Ivy Pocket”, penned under the pseudonym Caleb Krisp. The series, published in the US by HarperCollins/Greenwillow and the UK by Bloomsbury, appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List, has been translated into 25 different languages and was optioned by Paramount Pictures.

Prior to selling his first book, Stephen worked in a variety of jobs to supplement his writing including market research, film classification and media monitoring. The Boy at the Keyhole is Giles’ first work for adults and the film rights for this book have been acquired by New Regency.

http://madeleinemilburn.co.uk/mm-authors/stephen-giles/

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Follow the tour here.

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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.