Book Review: The Line by Martin Limón

The Line
A Sueño and Bascom Investigation #13
Martin Limón
Soho Crime, October 2018
ISBN: 978-1-616-95966-1
Hardcover

There are two series of mysteries by Martin Limón that take place during or after wars in which the United States has participated.  One is the wonderful Billy Boyle series, which takes place just before and during World War II.  The other is the Sueño and Bascom investigations set in South Korea after the armistice.  This, the 13th in the series, is the most dangerous one yet for the irreverent pair, taking them directly into conflict with the North Koreans at the DMZ.

They are tasked with going right up to the line dividing North and South because of the murder of a South Korean corporal assigned to U.S. troops.  The body lies across the line and they drag it back to the south, nearly causing a new war on the peninsula.  An American private eventually is blamed, to assuage the North Koreans, but neither Bascom nor Sueño believes him guilty.  However, they are taken off the case (but that doesn’t stop them from pursuing it).  Meanwhile, they have another case involving a bored wife of a Corps of Engineers Captain who goes missing.

The author, who served a decade in the Army in Korea, applies his intimate knowledge to the fullest extent with detailed knowledge not only of Army life, but the conditions of the South Korean population.  Written plainly with clever plotting, the story will keep the reader turning pages until he/she reaches the extremely unexpected conclusion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2018.

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Book Review: Dig Your Grave by Steven Cooper

Dig Your Grave
A Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel #2
Steven Cooper
Seventh Street Books, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-480-9
Trade Paperback

This is the second mystery involving Phoenix police detective Alex Mills and his psychic friend, Gus Parker. The 25th anniversary of the disappearance of a university student while on spring break in Mexico is approaching. A young woman went to a party and never returned. But now men are dying, found in cemeteries in graves they have dug for themselves. Cryptic notes, which they wrote, are with their bodies. Moreover, these dead men aren’t just anybody. They’re all extremely wealthy men, prominent in the community. It’s Gus, with his paranormal abilities, who makes a connection between the men and the girl’s disappearance, but it’s Alex who breaks the case.

Meanwhile, Gus is happy with his girlfriend, famous musician Billie Welch. But someone keeps poking around her fabulous house, breaking through the security. Threats are made. But are they aimed at Billie or at Gus?

Material is often humorously posed in Cooper’s novels, but it’s all serious stuff. The story proceeds at a good pace, the characters for the most part are compelling, although some of the rich men’s wives seemed a little stereotyped to me. And the end comes to a satisfactory conclusion, as all books should do.  But even so, there’s something about this one that keeps me from totally believing the premise and freely suspending my disbelief. Bad people a little too wonky and over-the-top? Maybe not a lot of sympathy for college kids on benders? Someone waiting twenty-five years to make a move? I’m not sure. If any other reader out there can put her finger on it, let me know. That said, I truly did enjoy the book and can recommend it.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Red Labyrinth by Meredith Tate

The Red Labyrinth
Meredith Tate
Flux, June 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-034-7
Trade Paperback

In Trinnea, the citizens are Skilled or Blank. Enviable abilities set the Skilled apart and allow them to create their own hierarchy. Almost. Pathetic people possessing only the capabilities of mere human beings are Blanks; good for only hard labor and deplorable jobs.

Wonderfully walled to keep out criminals, the banished and Blanks…along with anyone who has insulted The Leader, the population of Trinnea is a proud one. And eerily of one mind. Except Zadie. Having been stripped of pride at a tender young age, she is one of the few Un-Skilled inside the city, and she certainly stands out.

As if her blatant lacking wasn’t enough to elicit sneers and jibes, Landon, the golden-boy of Skills and Trinneans alike, is inexplicably her best friend. Bitter jealously and undeserved anger permeate the air around her. While this leaves much to be desired, Zadie is soon to see how simple and safe this life is.

It is one thing to be among determinedly ignorant individuals that have banded together to support someone that seems to be a self-absorbed blow-hard; but when said crowd syncs into submission under rebels, simple survival is no longer enough for Zadie. She has others to save and, for once in her life, Landon is nowhere to be found.

Communications down, Zadie’s only option is to actually approach The Leader. She will need to outwit dark riddles and terrible tricks while traversing the terror-inducing twists and turns of the Labyrinth that separates The Leader from Trinnea. Worrisome, but the inevitable encounter with Dex, the psychopath who has made the maze his home, is what truly scares her.

Shoving her fear deep down, Zadie enters the Labyrinth. Challenges and lessons learned along the way show her that, even if she makes it out alive, every single part of her life will be drastically different.

I was immersed in Zadie’s quest, admiring her strength, selflessness, intelligence and inherent need to do the right thing. Quite frankly, if there isn’t a follow-up, Ms. Tate has firmly established herself as one of those ornery authors whom I adore, as I gnash my teeth, just a tiny bit.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2019.

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.

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

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.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

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.

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

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.