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.

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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.

Book Review: A Dying Note by Ann Parker

A Dying Note
A Silver Rush Mystery #6
Ann Parker
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0979-6
Hardcover

This book finds former Leadville, Colorado, saloon owner Inez Stannert moved to San Francisco where she, with her ward, Antonia Gizzi, intend to start over and make a new life. Inez tows the mark, guarding her reputation as a widowed lady. But that is not true. She is a divorcee, which is almost a crime in 1881.

Inez, who plays piano with concert quality, is working her way to a partnership in a music store, where she keeps the books, makes sales, and teaches piano. The store’s owner concentrates on building his reputation as a musician, playing for the upper echelon of SF. A good many musicians gather the in the store, and there is talk of forming a union.

And then a young violinist is murdered down on the San Francisco docks.

Meanwhile, an old business friend from Leadville, high class bordello owner Frisco Flo Sweet shows up. She’s with another acquaintance from Colorado, who is looking for his son who seems to have jilted a fiancee and disappeared. Harry Gallagher wants Inez to find him, threatening her with exposure if she doesn’t come through.

To this end, Inez is forced to work with Wolter Roeland de Bruijn, but it becomes an unholy mess when it’s discovered the murdered violinist and Robert Gallagher are one and the same. Revealing the murderer puts all the searchers at risk, especially Inez and Antonia.

As always, author Ann Parker has written a tightly plotted mystery filled with excellent characters, and spiced the story with lots of history. Authors often describe women’s clothing of the period, but this time readers will be delighted to learn what gentlemen of the era were wearing in old San Francisco. Recommended.

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

Book Review: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Tangerine
Christine Mangan
Ecco, March 2018
ISBN: 978-0-06-268666-4
Hardcover

From the publisher:  It’s about Alice Shipley and Lucy Mason, at one time the closest of friends, now wedged apart by a chilling secret.  They find themselves reunited in Morocco in 1956, where revolution is imminent, though it seems like the real warfare is between the two of them.  The dusty alleyways of Tangier have never felt so ominous.”

First things first:  “Tangerine” is what you are called if you are of, or from, Tangiers.  The chapters’ p.o.v. alternates between Lucy and Alice, fittingly enough. The first belongs to Alice, musing as she looks out the window at the streets of Morocco, thinking back to her days at Bennington College, in Vermont, where she and Lucy, both 17, were best friends and roommates [having met on their very first day at college.]”  And where she met John McAllister, to whom she is now married, although having decided not to change her name:  “It felt important, somehow, to retain some part of myself, my family, after everything that had happened.”  Trying “to not think each and every second of the day about what had happened in the cold, wintry Green Mountains of Vermont.”  It is now just over a year since that time.  (There are several references to “what had happened,” although the reader is not told what that “everything” was for quite a while, e.g., “It was perhaps too much to hope for, I knew, that things would simply revert back to how they had once been, before that terrible  night.”)

Lucy, who is a writer of obituaries for a local newspaper, first appears in Chapter Two, as she describes the intense heat of the city, where she finds “the promise of the unknown, of something infinitely deeper, richer, than anything I had ever experienced in the cold streets of New York.”  She has come to Tangiers for the express purpose of finding and joining Alice.  Born in a small town in Vermont, Tangiers is literally another world for her.  When she makes her way to Alice’s apartment, she finds it cluttered with books, by Dickens and others of that ilk, which is surprising to Lucy, as the Alice she had known was “not a big reader.  I had tried to encourage her during our four years as roommates, but try as I might to interest her, she had only stuck up her nose.  They’re all just so serious, she had complained . . . she was made, it seemed, for living, rather than reading about the experiences of other lives.”  When Lucy re-enters her life, Alice is delighted to see her “once friend, the closest friend that I had even known before it had all gone wrong.”  The tale goes along this way, with fascinating insights into the two women, and into this stifling city, and its people and places, so completely foreign to everything they have known till then.  The writing is fascinating, and the mystery, when it is finally made clear to the reader, well worth the time it took to get us there.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 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 Reviews: Durable Goods by Patricia Hale and Your Robot Dog Will Die by Arin Greenwood

Durable Goods
The Cole and Callahan Thriller Series #2
Patricia Hale
Intrigue Publishing, April 2018
ISBN 978-1940758695
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Detective John Stark approaches the PI team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan with a postcard he’s sure is from his estranged daughter, Kira. She’s been listed as a runaway for three years by Portland, Maine police but John isn’t convinced that her continued absence is by choice. As Stark’s long-time friends, Cole and Callahan agree to look into the postcard marked only with the letters OK. The postmark leads them to Oracles of the Kingdom, a farm where women sell fresh produce in return for a fresh start with God. But nothing seems right about the town or the farm and Britt goes undercover to look for Kira. Once inside, she realizes that Oracles of the Kingdom is not the refuge it appears.

I look forward to crime fiction that combines police work with private investigation because, while they’re very different occupations, they also are very complementary when each respects the other’s profession. A PI has limitations by virtue of not having access to national and international resources (unless it’s a huge security firm) while a police detective is restricted by laws intended to protect the public from overreach. That’s simplifying things, of course, but there’s no question that collaboration can make for a rich story.

When John Stark approaches his friends for help finding his daughter, it’s a logical thing to do. After all, his emotions and objectivity are compromised, just as a doctor’s would be if he tries to treat his critically ill child. Add to that, John has burned a few bridges in his department over the past three years that Kira has been missing and, when he finally gets a potential lead, he can’t drum up much interest in the police in localities near where he thinks she might be. Now, he’s come to Britt and Griff and they can’t turn him down; this man is too important in their lives. The plan they come up with will put all of them, especially Britt, in terrible peril.

Although the case in this book is very different from that in the first book, The Church of the Holy Child, the drama and emotion in that story are no less intense here and the subject matters, including sex trafficking, drugs and physical violence, are important topics in today’s world more than ever before. This is no tale for the squeamish but is nevertheless recommended.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Your Robot Dog Will Die
Arin Greenwood
Soho Teen, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-839-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Seventeen-year-old Nano Miller was born and raised on Dog Island: home to Mechanical Tail, the company behind lifelike replacements for “man’s best friend.” The island is also home to the last living dogs, all but extinct. When a global genetic experiment went awry and canines stopped wagging their tails, mass hysteria ensued and the species was systematically euthanized. Here, they are studied in a natural and feral state.

Nano’s life has become a cycle of annual heartbreak. Every spring, Mechanical Tail gives her the latest robot dog model to test, only to tear it from her arms a year later. This year is complicated by another heartbreak: the loss of her brother, Billy, who recently vanished without a trace. But nothing can prepare her for a discovery that upends everything she’s taken for granted: it’s a living puppy that miraculously wags its tail. There is no way she’s letting this dog go.

Take a good look at that doggie sitting next to you or at your feet and imagine, if you will, that you can only keep her for a year and then you’ll be given a replacement. Can you fathom the heartache? Would you even be willing to have a dog in your life?

Now, take it a step further—your dog is a machine, a robot, very cleverly built and every year’s model is better, more lifelike, than the last. Would you want your annual dog? Would you be as attached?

Nano is heartbroken when the “executioner” comes to end Derrick’s existence and brings her his replacement. Nano names this one Billy, for her brother who has been missing for a while. Nano and her friends, Jack and Wolf, grew up on Dog Island and have never left it. The few families on the island are kind of a marketing focus group that tests all the new mechanical dogs before they hit the shelves and they help look after the six remaining real dogs. When Nano discovers four living puppies, she hides one and what that act leads to will change life for every one, for better or worse to be determined.

On the surface, this seems like a fairly straightforward story but it actually has a lot of layers, so many that I don’t actually know what the author’s main intent was. Along with the idea of mechanical dogs, attention is given to the causes and repercussions of scientific experimentation, budding romance, severe drought, isolation, misguided societal control, the vegan lifestyle, euthanasia…the list goes on and one. Finally, I decided to not look for meanings and just enjoy this shaggy dog tale with a few twists.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.