Book Reviews: False Flag in Autumn by Michael Bowen and Footprints in the Butter by Denise Dietz @BowenMysteries @DeniDietz

False Flag in Autumn
Josie Kendall Washington Crime Stories #2
Michael Bowen
Farragut Square Publications, October 2019
Ebook

When reading detective/thriller/political fiction, one likes to believe that the author did adequate serious research or has reasonable experience or understanding of the primary field. Here is a novel that demonstrates such deep dives into political research, and apparent extensive knowledge of the political scene in the United States, it is just a little scary.

Josey Kendall is political spinmeister working for a small agency in Washington, D.C. She’s young, experienced and possessed of sometimes amazing and practical understanding of the way politics work in the modern republic. Ms Kendall not only understands how connected to media campaigns must be, but often how to manipulate that same media to achieve desired results. Kendall’s problem, if she has one, is her basic honesty sometimes gets in the way of the objectives her company’s clients desire.

Louisiana has one Congressman who is beholden to no one more than himself and is willing to do almost anything to stay atop the money machine. The novel begins with a contract for Josie’s company to frighten the aforesaid Congressman Bilbo into line with certain corporate interests by establishing a viable opponent for his re-election. Josie accomplishes the goal with alacrity and moves on but the untimely death of a local hood at Bilbo’s hand and the apparently botched investigation of the shooting bothers her. Circumstances draw Josie and her husband Raf more and more into the dim world of alternative and dark politics where they gradually discover not just the event referred to in the title, but something far more dangerous. The swamp was never deeper nor slimier.

The writing is crisp, fast moving, and frequently acerbic with well-placed caustic observations. The narrative is a fine commentary on modern politics and it moves with ever growing tension. The characters are many and varied and carefully drawn. Never do they step outside their roles.

In sum this novel will appeal to fans of the author, to political junkies, and to readers of detective fiction everywhere.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 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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Footprints in the Butter 
An Ingrid Beaumont Mystery #1
Denise Dietz
Delphi Books, 1998
ISBN: 0-9663397-2-x
Re-issued by Worldwide Library, October 2004
ISBN 978-0-373-26511-4
Mass Market Paperback

I think you have to come at this book with the right frame of mind and stay in it until you are finished.  Ingrid Beaumont and her ganglionic mutt are all over the murder of Wylie Jameston, who is anything but—wily.  Remember that phrase, ganglionic mutt.  The author uses it a couple of times and it appears on the jacket as well.

A wisecracking artist who constantly tells riddles and elephant jokes is murdered at a reunion of his high school class, of which the amateur sleuth, Ingrid, is also a member. With little discernible reason, Ingrid decides to charge in with Hitchcock, the mutt of reference above, and solve the murder, since it appears to her the cops are never going to manage that task.

There are lots of characters in this book and several scenes which by turns will make you laugh and shake your head or grind your teeth in frustration.  The solution is complicated and there are lots of characters to keep track of.  At times an unfocused sub-plot involving Ingrid’s ex, who may or may not be her ex, threatens to obscure the main theme which is that high school reunions can be hell.

I laughed some, ground my teeth a good deal, and wished the author had had an editor with a firmer hand at times. There’ll be more adventures with Ingrid and her ganglionic mutt.  In spite of its problems, this is the kind of mystery and engaging writing which will attract a large and loyal following.

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.

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: Last Things by Jacqueline West

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Title: Last Things
Author: Jacqueline West
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iTunes
Amazon // The Book Depository // Indiebound

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Last Things
Jacqueline West
Greenwillow Books, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-287506-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When strange things start happening to local music idol Anders Thorson, everyone blames his number-one-fan, Thea. But is she out to hurt him? Or protect him?

High school senior Anders Thorson is unusually gifted. His band, Last Things, is legendary in their northern Minnesota hometown. With guitar skills that would amaze even if he weren’t only eighteen, Anders is the focus of head-turning admiration. And Thea Malcom, a newcomer to the insular town, is one of his admirers. Thea seems to turn up everywhere Anders goes: gigs at the local coffeehouse, guitar lessons, even in the woods near Anders’s home.

When strange things start happening to Anders—including the disappearance of his beloved cat, then his sort-of girlfriend, and, somehow, his musical talent—blame immediately falls on Thea. But is she trying to hurt him? Or save him? Can he trust a girl who doesn’t seem to know the difference between dreams and reality? And how much are they both willing to compromise to get what they want?

As Last Things opens, we’re thrust into a world in which there are malignant entities waiting to take advantage of humans’ weaknesses but those same humans are unaware of the hidden dangers. Most humans, that is; Thea and her aunt are “sensitive” to such things but then we have to wonder, what are their motivations? Are they on the side of evil or do they hope to protect the other townspeople?

In particular, Thea’s behavior with regards to Anders raises many questions but Anders has secrets of his own, secrets that are eating away at his soul. After all, his explosive musical charisma is undoubtedly unusual but it may be due to an honest talent that surpasses the norm. Then again, perhaps he had a little help.

Thea’s obsessive interest in Anders seems a bit stalkerish at first but, when bad things start to happen, Thea and Anders are drawn almost inexorably to each other. What we don’t know is whether this is a good thing or not and Ms. West keeps us guessing—and, in my case, angsting about it—for quite a long ways into the story. This is by no means a complaint as I appreciate a creepy vibe in a thriller that won’t let me put the book down and the whole question of good versus evil is always a terrific hook. Most of all, I know I don’t want to go into those woods 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.

About the Author

Jacqueline West is the author of the NYT-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, and the new middle grade fantasy The Collectors.

She is also the author of two poetry collections, Cherma and Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions, and her poetry and short fiction appear in a variety of publications.

She lives in Red Wing, Minnesota, with her family.

Website // Facebook // Instagram // Goodreads

 

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Follow the tour here.

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GIVEAWAY

Prize: Win (1) of (2) copies of LAST THINGS
by Jacqueline West (US Only)

Starts: April 29th 2019

Ends: May 12th 2019

Enter here.

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Book Review: Deceptive Cadence by Kathryn Guare

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Book Reviews: Rescued by Eliot Schrefer and The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

rescuedRescued
Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-65503-3
Hardcover

Every child wants a pet at some time or another.  A dog, kitten, pony or orangutan.  Maybe orangutan isn’t typical, but if you grew up watching BJ and the Bear or Every Which Way But Loose, you may see the simian sway.  Whatever the animal, it is almost always up to parents to make the decision.  Children don’t always know what is best.

When John casually notes the potential appeal of ape ownership while watching an old movie, he was not actually asking for a pet.  His dad could dig the draw when he recognized the leading “man” as an orangutan because sometimes the adorable orange creatures would wander around his company’s plant in Indonesia.

In fact, he returned from a business trip bearing a baby-orangutan-in-a-barrel.  John was beside himself with wonder and joy.  His mother was also struck with wonder; but hers was the “in doubt” version, much different than the “filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel” version that burst from her son. John’s wonder won and Raja became the newest member of the family for four rambunctious years.  Until divorce divided them.

The two year separation of John and Raja was torture; for both boy and beast; but paled in comparison to their last days together leading up to their final farewell.   This relationship is written so well, it is as if I actually witnessed it.  The fondness, understanding, patience, support and tolerance between the “brothers” is palpable.  The range of emotions that rocket through John as he blindly battles the hardest decision of his entire life build the ultimate reader’s rollercoaster and recalling that this is a sixteen-year-old-boy, ties a knot and truly tugs the heart-strings.

I thoroughly enjoyed each and every bit of this tiny tome and would be remiss if I did not highly recommend Rescued to those searching for reads.  While the book may  technically tip into the Middle-Grade category (for the 12-year-old and older readers), I have no doubt that there are many Teen-Aged, Young-Adult and Not-So-Young-Adult readers that will love Raja’s story as intensely as I do, and I’m confident that I’m not the only reader to learn a lot from it.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

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The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death
Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-66834-7
Hardcover

The Game of Love and Death is positively packed with particulars to ponder.  Love is a man, Death a woman. Each chooses a competitor, a term I use loosely; the chosen do not actually compete.  Most people are unaware of the Game, even while participating.  Virtually no rules, a victor is declared; but the win seems superfluous.

Flora, an amazing aviation mechanic, is also a phenomenal pilot, possibly rivaling Amelia Earhart.  It is 1937 and she “has the brown skin, and here in America, (you) pay so very much heed to that.” Besides, she can trick herself into believing that she was meant for something else.  The death of her parents created a void she valiantly tried to fill with the jazz nightclub she inherited.  Flora chose work over a high school diploma, believing “…the club was her future and most white folk were hell-bent on keeping colored folk in their place, even if they were polite about it.”

Henry hasn’t had it easy, but he is a white male.  His dream is simple: eke out a living with his beloved bass.  Instead, he works for the newspaper of his almost-adopted family, often accompanying Ethan on interviews.  When Henry sees Flora working on a plane, it is as if he had been sleep-walking through life and is just now completely awake.

The harrowing story of Flora and Henry in the The Game of Love and Death is enriched by the secondary characters.  Ethan isn’t the golden boy he seems, and his secret struggles would tarnish his image if revealed; although there is nothing to be ashamed of.  Simple spoken statements throughout, “there hasn’t been a white newspaper that’s written about the likes of us unless some sort of arrest was involved,” reiterate bigoted opinions; making the book more than just entertaining to thought-provoking, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

Book Review: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death
Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-66834-7
Hardcover

Aren’t we all sometimes pawns in the game of life? Love and Death have been playing the same game over and over since the time of Cleopatra. Each chooses an infant, one male, one female who will meet when they’re older and fall in love…maybe. If love persists, Love wins, if love falters, Death wins and claims her chosen as a victim.

It’s 1920 and the latest round is about to begin, this time in Seattle with two babies who couldn’t be further apart given the times. Love chooses first by appearing in the nursery where Henry Bishop, a Caucasian, lies in his crib. Love pricks his finger and lets baby Henry suckle on his blood, thus setting his part of the game in motion.

One night later in a much poorer neighborhood, Death picks up a baby girl of African-American heritage named Flora Saudade. After carrying the child to the window where they watch snow falling, Death sheds one black tear which she captures on her fingertip, using it to write the word someday on the infant’s forehead. Thus is the game sealed.

While the rules of the game often seem arbitrary and stacked in Death’s favor, Love harbors little ill will toward his opponent (Love is male, Death, female). Both can assume whatever shape they choose, even appearing for extended periods as people familiar to their chosen players. In fact it is this very ability that factors into how both Flora and Henry interact when they meet seventeen years later.

By then, Flora’s parents have been dead a very long time, having perished when hit by a drunken police officer the night Death chose her. Henry is likewise an orphan. His mother and sister perished in an influenza outbreak and his father, terribly distraught by their loss, jumped to his death, leaving Henry to be taken in by his father’s best friend, the owner of the Seattle newspaper.

Flora has fallen in love with flying and has been taken under the wing of a French war hero who owns a fancy biplane that she maintains and flies whenever she’s allowed. Her other source of income comes from singing jazz in the club she and her uncle own, the only legacy left after her parents’ death. She’s an amazing singer, something Henry discovers when he convinces his best friend and son of his benefactor, Ethan, that they should check out the club. This isn’t the first time Henry has seen Flora. Ethan took him along when he went to do a feature on the plane and Flora was running a preflight check on it. Henry is also someone who has music in his blood as he plays the bass and loves to improvise.

While Death has never lost, there’s something about this match that worries her, so she pulls out all the stops, as if the fact that blacks and whites simply don’t mix in 1937 wasn’t sufficient to doom any sort of spark between Flora and Henry. The roadblocks thrown up in front of each lover, the direness of the times and all the gyrations both the players and their manipulators must go through by the end of the story will keep most readers enthralled. While the pace might be a bit slow for some, I loved this book, the characters and the sense of elegance it creates. Astute readers will also appreciate the relationship and insight Love and Death have with and about each other. Teens and adults who like an offbeat love story with some decidedly paranormal aspects will enjoy this book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2015.

Book Reviews: The Ranger by Ace Atkins, Dead Scared by S. J. Bolton, and Dinner with Lenny by Jonathan Cott

The RangerThe Ranger
Ace Atkins
Berkley, May 2012
ISBN: 978-0-425-24749-5
Trade Paperback

Quinn Colson, the eponymous protagonist, has returned home to Tibbehah County, in rural northeast Mississippi, to attend the funeral of his beloved uncle.  He is told that his uncle committed suicide, but refuses to accept that.  In trying to uncover the truth, he discovers much more than just what the former sheriff had been up to in the months leading up to his death.

Quinn is a man of many talents and skills who had joined the Army when he was eighteen.  The author says of him:  “The Regiment had whittled him down to a wiry, muscular frame built for speed, surprise, chaos, and violence . . . .He had a Choctaw grandmother about a hundred years back mixed with the hard Scotch-Irish who settled the South.”  He has not been home for six years, is now a platoon sergeant with the Rangers, having done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and back again.  He returns home to find a town that had seen hard times, getting harder, and a bunch of good ol’ boys spreading drugs, money and corruption wherever and whenever they can.  The town is perhaps typified by the following:  “Nobody has real names out here.  We’re all just kind of passing through until we can get to Memphis or Jackson,” and a chancery clerk at the Courthouse whose “job was elected, but unless you ran away with half the county’s budget or performed an intimate act in public you could pretty much keep the job as long as you wanted it.”

All the action – – and there is a lot of it – – takes places over a one-week period, the time frame allowed to Quinn for his bereavement leave from the Army.  There is a recurring theme of lost young women and the families – – and babies – – they leave behind.  And finally the inevitable showdown that you knew had to be coming, but that packs a punch nonetheless, with some plot developments that perhaps should have been expected but were not, at least for this reader.

I have to admit that this was my first Ace Atkins book.  It is one which is recommended, and I am looking forward to the next one.  [He has written four standalones, plus four books in the Nick Travers series, and, recently, The Lost Ones, a sequel to The Ranger.   In addition, the author was selected by the Robert B. Parker estate to continue the Spenser series, the first of which, titled, aptly enough, Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby, was also published in the past few months.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2012.

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Dead ScaredDead Scared
S. J. Bolton
Minotaur Books, June 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-60053-2
Hardcover

The brief prologue sets the scene for the reader:  Near midnight; one of the tallest towers in Cambridge, England; D.I. Mark Joesbury, racing up the stairs to its roof; and a young woman perched near the ledge at the top.  And then the reader is brought back eleven days in time to see how they got there, with a 1st person p.o.v. of D.C. Lacey Flint, which alternates with third-person perspectives.  Flint has been “loaned out” from the Southwark Police to the Special Crimes Directorate of the Metropolitan Police which deals with covert ops, typically being sent on “difficult and dangerous situations.”  As we are introduced to them, the slightly flirtatious banter underlying their meetings hints at the least of a possible romantic entanglement between them at some point in the relatively recent past.

Lacey goes undercover as a student at Cambridge University after the latest in a number of suicides, with a suspicion that there is more going on than meets the eye.  The death was only the latest of three suicides during the current academic year.  The only one outside of her police colleagues who knows the truth is Dr. Evi Oliver, head of student counseling.  The belief is that there is “something decidedly sinister” happening. Lacey’s remit is to “keep a lookout for any unhealthy subculture that might be unduly influencing young people.”

Initially Lacey feels out of her element:  “I knew I’d never get used to it,” in a place where “Wordsworth and Wilberforce weren’t characters from history but alumni.”  But she is there to do a job, and it becomes increasingly urgent.  Within several days, one more death occurs.  And further investigation indicates that there have been a total of nineteen suicides over the past five years, far more than the general statistics on suicide would bear out.  And the manner of death chosen is not what might be expected, including self-immolation by one girl and another who’d decapitated herself.  As the days go on, whatever is going on threatens to ensnare Lacey herself.

This is a book at once not an easy read and yet difficult to put down, much more so on both counts as the book progresses. The fifth novel from Ms. Bolton, this is the first I have read, but it will certainly not be the last.  It is a nail-biter, beautifully written, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.

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Dinner with LennyDinner with Lenny
Jonathan Cott
Oxford University Press, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-1998-5844-6
Hardcover

This is a book, sub-titled “The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein,” that is slight in size only, but which provides hefty and fascinating insight into the mind of the internationally renowned “Lenny” Bernstein, brilliant conductor, composer of orchestral works as well as legendary musical scores for Broadway, including On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story, and lecturer at innumerable Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie Hall.

The author conducted a twelve-hour interview at Bernstein’s country home in Fairfield, Connecticut in November of 1989, not long after his 71st birthday – he passed away less than a year later.  The book opens, fittingly, with a Prelude, and concludes with a Postlude, in which the author discusses his subject, with many details of his career, e.g., it was on his 25th birthday that he was appointed the conducting assistant to Artur Rodzinski, then the music director of the NY Philharmonic, who told the young man that he had “gone through all the conductors I know of in my mind and I finally asked God whom I should take, and God said, “Take Bernstein.”  Three months later, he made his “legendary conductorial debut with the New York Philharmonic substituting for an ailing Bruno Walter on only a few hours’ notice at a Sunday afternoon Carnegie Hall concert on November 14, 1943.”

Bernstein states that he “was fourteen when I attended my first concert, and it was a revelation.  It was a Boston Pops benefit for my father’s temple – – he had to go because he was vice-president of the temple.”  He did jazz gigs as well as weddings and bar mitzvahs to defray the cost of his piano lessons.  There is discussion on Freud; the family seders; political references, e.g., Bernstein was blacklisted for years and the FBI had a file on him 700 pages thick, and the fact that he made the front page of the NY Times and Washington Post – –  which included his picture, he was quick to note – – when he refused to attend the White House luncheon awards ceremony given by President Bush; gave six lectures at Harvard University in 1973; famously took the all-Catholic Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, whose players didn’t know what a Jew was before he conducted them, to Israel; among many other anecdotes.  Bernstein’s enthusiasm, erudition and brilliance shine through these pages.  This is a book to be savored by musicians and non-musicians alike, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.