Book Review: Water Signs by Janet Dawson

Water Signs
A Jeri Howard Mystery #12
Janet Dawson
Perseverance Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-56474-586-6
Trade Paperback

Methodology is at the forefront of this story. There’s really never any doubt as to who the criminals are. The problem PI Jeri Howard has to work through is proving what happened to her friend Cal Brady who was discovered drowned in the Estuary. Why would anyone want to murder a lowly security guard? Well, unless he’s seen something he shouldn’t have and begun investigating it. Because when thugs turn to murder, there must be more at stake than keeping the homeless off a building site.

I think this story might find its audience with native Oaklanders. The book is filled with local political agenda items. I admit to skipping much of the driving directions and what building is on what corner and which business faces onto the Estuary and such. I’ve never been there, probably never will be there, and beyond a general setting, really didn’t care about reaching the closest Starbucks in the least time. IMO, all this doesn’t add to the plot, unless perhaps you live in Oakland.

That said, I sympathize with the problems of gentrification and can certainly see, with the big money involved, how it could lead to criminal activity. In fact, there’s probably not too much fiction in the plot. It’s all happened at one time or another.

But I wanted to read about Jeri solving her friend’s murder. The investigation sometimes got lost in the details. Besides, Jeri will go broke handing out all those business cards.

Even so, Jeri is sharply drawn. The reader definitely knows what makes her tick. I liked her friends. I liked the way she worked her way to the truth, and I  liked the way she took the murderers down, even though it happened a little fast at the end. Go Jeri!

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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Book Review: Fox Hunter by Zoe Sharp

Fox Hunter
A Charlie Fox Thriller #12
Zoë Sharp
Pegasus, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-6817-7438-1
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Zoë Sharp’s tough-as-nails Charlie Fox returns this summer in the latest thriller in this energetic series:  Fox Hunter, which finds the indomitable ex-special forces soldier on a mission into the Iraqi countryside to track down a missing comrade-in-arms.  Special forces soldier-turned-bodyguard Charlotte “Charlie” Fox can never forget the men who put a brutal end to her military career, but a long time ago, she vowed she would not go looking for them.  Now she doesn’t have a choice.  Her boss, Sean Meyer, is missing in Iraq, where one of those men was working as a private security contractor.  When the man’s butchered body is discovered, Charlie fears that Sean may be pursuing a twisted vendetta on her behalf.  Charlie’s “close protection” agency in New York needs this dealt with – – fast and quiet – – before everything they’ve worked for goes to ruins.  They send Charlie to the Middle East with very specific instructions: Find Sean Meyer and stop him – – by whatever means necessary.  At one time Charlie thought she knew Sean better than she knew herself, but it seems he’s turned into a violent stranger.  He was always ruthless, but is he capable of such savage acts of slaughter?  As the trail grows ever bloodier, Charlie realizes that she is not the only one after Sean and, unless she can get to him first, the hunter may soon become the hunted.

In its early pages, this newest Charlie Fox novel describes a series of suspense-filled, exciting chase scenes, the initial outcome not a good one.  We are allowed to see occasional displays of Charlie’s vulnerability, especially apparent where Sean is concerned.

The only blurb on the front cover, from Lee Child, captures her completely:  “If Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Charlie Fox.”  What more can – or needs to – be said?

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2017.

Book Review: Escape Claws by Linda Reilly

Title: Escape Claws
Series: A Cat Lady Mystery #1
Author: Linda Reilly
Publisher: Lyrical Underground/Kensington
Publication Date: December 26, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Cozy

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Purchase Links:

              

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Escape Claws
A Cat Lady Mystery #1
Linda Reilly
Lyrical Underground/Kensington
ISBN 978-1-5161-0419-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Here, killer, killer, killer . . .

For the first time in sixteen years, Lara Caphart has returned to her hometown of Whisker Jog, New Hampshire. She wants to reconnect with her estranged Aunt Fran, who’s having some difficulty looking after herself—and her eleven cats. Taking care of a clowder of kitties is easy, but keeping Fran from being harassed by local bully Theo Barnes is hard. The wealthy builder has his sights set on Fran’s property, and is determined to make her an offer she doesn’t dare refuse.

Then Lara spots a blue-eyed ragdoll cat that she swears is the reincarnation of her beloved Blue, her childhood pet. Pursuing the feline to the edge of Fran’s yard, she stumbles upon the body of Theo Barnes, clearly a victim of foul play. To get her and Fran off the suspect list, Lara finds herself following the cat’s clues in search of a killer. Is Blue’s ghost really trying to help her solve a murder, or has Lara inhaled too much catnip?

When Lara goes back to Whisker Jog (don’t you just love that name?) for a short visit, it’s mainly because an old friend has let her know that her aunt needs help and Lara decides it’s time to get past all the years they’ve been out of each other’s lives. Soon after arriving in town, Lara learns that, besides Fran’s physical troubles, she’s also being bullied by a land developer who wants her property.

As it turns out, the bully is murdered and there are legitimate reasons for both Fran and Lara to be prime suspects. Since Lara really doesn’t know who can be trusted, it’s natural that she’d set out to do her own sleuthing, with a little help from Blue, a cat only she can see. This is no easy investigation with its multitudes of possible killers and plenty of red herrings.

A nice touch is the cast of characters…feline characters, that is, and it’s needed because there are so many of them and, as you might anticipate, they demand attention. The pacing of the story is a bit slow but, since character development is so important in a cozy, I kind of expect an author to focus on that in the first book. I liked Lara and Fran but I did wonder at first why Lara would ignore her “beloved” aunt for so long yet stay in touch with an elementary school friend. Ms. Reilly settled my misgivings about that as the tale progressed and, at the end, I was ready for more adventures with these people and cats, not to mention the charming town of Whisker Jog.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Over the low clamor sifting through the coffee shop, a
feminine voice suddenly rang out from the doorway.
“Cheer up, everyone—don’t look so glum. Theo Barnes is dead!”

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About the Author

Armed with a degree in Criminal Justice, Linda Reilly once contemplated a career in law enforcement. But life took a twist, and instead she found her niche in real estate closings and title examinations, where the dusty tomes in the Registry of Deeds enticed her into solving mysteries of a different sort. A dyed-in-the-wool New Englander, Linda lives in New Hampshire with her husband, who affectionately calls her “Nose-in-a-Book.” A member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, she loves solving mysteries of the cozy type. When she’s not pounding away at her keyboard, she can usually be found prowling the shelves of a local bookstore or library.

Website // Facebook Author // Facebook CLM // Twitter

Pinterest // Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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A thread of unease wound through Lara. She wasn’t sure why, but
she couldn’t help thinking that the driver of the black car had been
watching her before he took off. Unfortunately, through the car’s
tinted windows, Lara hadn’t been able to get a glimpse of his face.

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Book Review: An Aegean April by Jeffrey Siger

An Aegean April
A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery #9
Jeffrey Siger
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0945-1
Hardcover

Summary: A respected citizen with an idea as to how to end the refugee crisis in Greece is slaughtered outside his home. A man, himself a refugee involved in the humanitarian aid for refugees movement is found at the murder scene and is charged with the crime.

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis returns in his ninth case when he is asked to investigate the murder of a well known and respected citizen on the island of Lesvos. Lesvos is the destination for many of the refugees passing though Turkey on their way to Northern Europe, and the small island is overwhelmed with the numbers.  The murder victim, Mihalis Volandes, thought he had a solution for the refugee problem, however he was having trouble getting anyone with authority to listen. The night he was killed – slaughtered really – outside his home, a young man, Ali Sera, a refugee himself, had received a message asking him to meet with the victim at Volandes home. When he arrived, he found the victim sliced nearly in half. When the police arrived, they found a bloody Sera standing near the body.

Chief Inspector Kaldis is asked to look into the crime since while Sera was at the scene, much of the evidence doesn’t support him as the murderer.

Siger has chosen to have readers know very early on who the murderer is and tells the story from a shifting point of view. On one hand we are with Kaldis and his team as they investigate, but we are also with the killer as he moves through the aftermath of the crime. A third voice, that of Dana McLaughlin, a worker with a non-government organization (NGO), is heard occasionally. Sera was one of her workers. This allows readers  from almost the beginning know exactly how despicable the murderer is and how savvy the Chief Inspector is. Through Dana, readers are given a composite shot of how many things can go seriously wrong when idealistic people with good intentions become involved in high profile situations. Siger paints a grim picture of humanity. It is a picture of profiteers making money on the backs of the very people they are supposedly helping.  Surely Dante has a special ring of hell reserved for such people.

On a brighter note, the book is set during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. Readers are treated to the ongoing preparations for Easter. Highlighted are some things unique to the Greek Orthodox faith, others even more unique to those living in Greece and finally, things that many Christian readers of any denomination will recognize. I read the books for the crime fiction, but the parts I personally enjoy the most are the glimpses into Greek culture. Siger does not disappoint in this part in An Aegean April.

As with the other books in this series, Siger has taken a political issue in Greece, mixed in a heavy dose of Greek Culture and served up a delicious tale straight from the headlines that is almost as much travelogue as it is crime fiction. While An Aegean April is the ninth book in the series, each stands very much on its own merits. There is a large cast of characters who appear to varying degrees throughout the series, but sub plots are wrapped up in each book so readers can pick up any book in the series to read without feeling lost trying to straighten out the characters.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, December 2017.

Book Review: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-13092-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

Twisted and deliciously chilling, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

Read between the lies.

Take a good look at that cover. Don’t those two women look an awful lot alike? When I first saw it and read the description, I couldn’t help wondering if this was going to be like one of those serial killer things where the guy has an obsession for women who resemble each other and someone who was once very important to him (yes, I’m being sexist; it’s simpler and it’s almost always men killing women). So, was I right? I’m not telling because that would ruin the enormous surprise at the end 😉

Without a doubt, The Wife Between Us is one of the most intense and page-turning books I’ve read and it turned my expectations completely on end. Most of all, I was impressed by how often I was surprised, perhaps because I trusted too much, like at least one of the three people in this tale of treachery and love. Then again, are any of them really on the up-and-up? Vanessa, Richard, Nellie—are any of them real?

I’m in awe of any author who can create a story and characters as compelling as in this book but I’m purely amazed that two authors could collaborate so extremely well. I suspect their ability to do this has at least something to do with one being an already accomplished author and the other being her editor; they had a certain connection, if you will, and it really shows in the quality of their writing. I really hope this is the beginning of a long-running partnership that will bring us many more books to keep me up at night.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

Book Review: The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe

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Title: The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
Series: An Anna Blanc Mystery #2
Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Publication Date: December 6, 2017

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
An Anna Blanc Mystery #2
Jennifer Kincheloe
Narrated by Moira Quirk
Jennifer R. Kincheloe, Ltd.,
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook
Also available in trade paperback from Seventh Street Books

From the author—

Los Angeles, 1908. In Chinatown, the most dangerous beat in Los Angeles, police matron Anna Blanc and her former sweetheart, Detective Joe Singer, discover the body of a white missionary woman, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. Her lover has fled. If news gets out that a white woman was murdered in Chinatown, there will be a violent backlash against the Chinese. Joe and Anna plan to solve the crime quietly and keep the death a secret. So does good-looking Mr. Jones, a prominent Chinese leader who has mixed feelings about helping the LAPD and about Anna.

Meanwhile, the Hop Sing tong has kidnapped two slave girls from the Bing Kong tong, fuelling existing tensions. They are poised on the verge of a bloody tong war that would put all Chinatown residents in danger.

Joe orders Anna out of Chinatown to keep her safe, but to atone for her own family’s sins, Anna must stay to solve the crime before news of the murder is leaked and Chinatown explodes.

There’s something about turn-of-the-century fiction that really appeals to me and I can’t truly put my finger on just what it is. Maybe it’s the knowledge that things are on the very edge of tremendous change and that life is going to become quite different as well as a good deal less innocent.

Anna is the epitome of these coming changes. Raised in a privileged society, she yearns for something that will engage her intelligence and her interest in people who aren’t nearly so well off and she’s willing to fight for her ambitions (although “ambition” isn’t entirely the right word). Having found that she’s good at detective work—she’s curious and very smart, not to mention bold enough to go after what she considers justice—she goes where no woman has gone before, so to speak, throwing societal mores to the wind. Anna isn’t allowed to be an actual detective but she gets a lot done as an assistant police matron.

This time, Anna is involved in investigating the murder of a white woman in Chinatown which, of course, exposes her to a world very different from anything she’s known before with tongs, brothels, opium dens and the like. At first, she’s assigned to work with Joe Singer but, due to some unfortunate circumstances, she soon has to develop her own leads, much to the dismay of every man she knows.

With a lot of humor from Anna, we get a good taste of how things were at that time and how a feisty young woman could get around some of the restrictions placed on women (and the painful consequences of defying society). The narrator, Moira Quirk, does a wonderful job of bringing Anna to life and, in fact, she makes me think of an older Flavia de Luce transported to America in an earlier day. The combination of Ms. Kincheloe’s well-researched and lively story and characters along with Ms. Quirk’s talent make for a wonderful tale, the first I’ll be adding to my list of favorite books read in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

About the Author

Jennifer has been a block layer, a nurse’s aid, a fragrance model, and on the research faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting studies to inform health policy. A native of Southern California, she now lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and two teenagers. She’s currently writing book three in the Anna Blanc Mystery series. Book two, THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK, came out in Fall of 2017 from Seventh Street Books.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads // Pinterest

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About the Narrator

Moira grew up in teeny-tiny Rutland, England’s smallest county, which is fitting as she never managed to make it past five feet herself.  Moira’s work spans the pantheon of the voiceover world: plays for BBC radio, plays for NPR, video games, commercials, television promos, podcasts, cartoons, movies and award winning audiobooks. She’s won Multiple Audie Awards, Earphone Awards, as well as Audible’s prestigious Book-of-the-Year Award. She has lately set foot in front of the camera again, appearing in “Pretty: the Series” and the Emmy-winning “Dirty Work.”

Website // Facebook

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Book Review: Lucky by Henry Chang

Lucky
A Detective Jack Yu Investigation #5
Henry Chang
Soho Crime, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5784-1
Hardcover

The protagonist in this series, Jack Yu, is a Chinese detective.  The action centers in New York’s Chinatown.  The novels offer a brutal look into the poverty and violence, the gangsters and crime of the society.  The “Lucky” of the title is Jack’s boyhood friend, a Chinatown gang leader name Louie who was shot in a Chinatown OTB establishment and lay in a coma for 88 days, finally awakening on Easter Sunday.

Jack believes his blood brother friend has run out of luck, and tries to get him to enter the witness protection program.  But Lucky eschews Jack’s advice, and upon his recovery after leaving the hospital puts together a small crew in an attempt to regain his position as the crime boss of Chinatown.  He masterminds several daring operations against other crime bosses’ gambling dens or massage parlors, stealing large sums of money.  It is a race with one of two results.

Meanwhile Jack is called upon to perform his duties as a New York City cop, giving the author the means to describe the culture and people of Chinatown (and the satellite areas in Queens) , portraying the streets, buildings and environment as only a native can.  Henry Chang writes simple, hard prose, tightly plotted.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.