Book Review: Dig Two Graves by Kim Powers

Dig Two Graves
Kim Powers
Tyrus Books, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-4405-9192-1
Trade Paperback

Skip Holt’s world as she knew it ended the day her mother died in a car crash [always bringing to her mind a poem she had had to learn in school by Robert Frost].  There is much erudition here, as Skip’s father makes his living “by teaching about the past, the very long ago past.  The Classics, Greece, Rome, Latin.”   Indeed, the novel begins with a quote from Confucius:  “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  And revenge is what this book is all about.  “The classics were all about it – – getting revenge, declaring enemies, going to war.”

From the publisher:  In his 20’s, Ethan Holt won the Decathlon at the Olympics and was jokingly nicknamed “Hercules;” now, in his late 30’s, he’s returned to his ivy-covered alma mater to teach, and to raise his young daughter Skip as a single father.  After a hushed-up scandal over his Olympics win and the death of his wife in a car accident five years ago, Ethan wants nothing more than to forget his past. Skip is not only the light of Ethan’s life – – she is his life. Then, Skip is kidnapped.  A series of bizarre ransom demands start coming in that stretch Ethan’s athletic prowess to its limits, and he realizes with growing horror that they are modern versions of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, demanded in tricky, rhyming clues by someone who seems to have followed every step of Ethan’s career.  To solve the mystery and get his daughter back, Ethan teams up with a force-of-nature female detective, Aretha Mizell, who carries some secrets of her own.  As Ethan races from Labor to Labor, we enter the mysterious abandoned schoolhouse where Skip is being held captive, and we begin to hear the fantastic and strangely heartbreaking story of the kidnapper and his link to Ethan’s past. The clues begin to point not only to Ethan’s athletic career, but to his childhood, and to a family history as troubled and bizarre as those of any
of the legendary, mythic character he teaches.

The novel opens on a late Fall day in New England, the day Ethan turns 39 and receives tenure at the college where he teaches, and where Skip, now 13, has planned a party for him.  Suddenly things take a decidedly ugly [well, uglier] turn, one as to which the reader has been given a hint, with a glimpse of a stalker, “the man with a plan,” and things escalate beyond anything the reader might expect.  The writing is riveting, with one shocking turn at Chapter 31, and the identity of the kidnapper not known until Chapter 55, with the book ending on a somewhat enigmatic note 50 pages later.  A page-turner of a book, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

Book Review: Facials Can Be Fatal by Nancy J. Cohen

Facials Can Be Fatal
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #13
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3282-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

During the frenzy of the December holidays, the last thing salon owner Marla Vail needs is a dead body slathered in a green facial mask at her new day spa.The victim, Valerie Weston, had been a major donor for Friends of Old Florida, a nonprofit historic preservation society.Marla’s stylists are scheduled to work backstage at their upcoming gala fashion show, but Val’s demise might put a crimp in their plans.

Hoping to salvage her reputation, Marla determines to track down the suspects. Although Val had been well liked by most people, she may have stumbled onto secrets that others would kill to keep. What are the connections between a greedy land developer, a dress designer whose husband may have links to the Asian mob, a mortician who might be involved in the human hair trade, and members of the nonprofit group’s board of directors? Are the latter as dedicated to their cause as they’d like Marla to believe, or do they have their own self-interests at heart?

Sparks are sure to fly when this smart stylist joins forces with her sexy detective husband to solve a decades-old mystery that includes a secret journal, pirate tales, and shipwrecks along the Florida coast. With the rollercoaster excitement, you might need a trip to the day spa to relax.

When a philanthropist dies in Marla Vail’s day spa while having a facial, the police step in since it was an unattended death but early thoughts are that Val Weston had a medical condition. Marla is horribly sorry, of course, but can’t help being trepidatious when she realizes the woman’s connection with an upcoming fashion show for which Marla and her stylists are contracted to do the models’ hair.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk going on about babies as in when will Marla and Dalton have one. Why does everybody think babies must necessarily follow marriage? Isn’t a teenaged stepdaughter enough? Even Dalton is talking about it even though he knows why Marla doesn’t want a baby.

Marla’s also stressed just thinking about the upcoming gala, holiday plans, a pending lawsuit and the educator position she’s applied for but, when Dalton tells her Val was murdered, her snooping instincts come out. That predilection for finding useful information soon leads to a plethora of odd things that may or may not have anything to do with the murder…but someone clearly wanted Val dead.

The nice thing about this series—one of the nice things, that is—is that Dalton, Marla’s police detective husband, actually values her input in his investigations. It’s always a pleasure to see familiar folks in Marla’s life and a cast of characters was most welcome in keeping track of potential suspects. I’ve stuck with this series since the beginning and enjoyed this installment as much as any of them. I wonder what Marla and her crew will be up to next time 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: The Last Sin by K.L. Murphy

The Last Sin
A Detective Cancini Mystery #3
K.L. Murphy
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-249163-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

Detective Mike Cancini has seen some dark days, but his skills are put to the test when a priest is discovered, brutally murdered in a run-down church in Washington, D.C. The man who discovered the body is none other than Cancini’s longtime friend and confidant, Father Joe Sweeney. The murdered priest, Father Matthew Holland, was adored by the congregation, and it seems clear that this was a crime of opportunity in a deteriorating neighborhood.

However, Cancini soon learns some shocking details from the church secretary, and begins to suspect that Father Holland was not as saintly as he may have appeared. This new information leads to a trail of bribes and decades of corruption polluting the church. Cancini must confront his own struggles with his faith and uncover the truth of the conspiracy before more people are killed.

It’s rare for me to know in just the first few pages that I’ve found a book that truly grabs my attention and hangs on with a vengeance but that’s exactly what happened with The Last Sin. What I expected to be a fairly routine police procedural (which I’m very fond of, by the way) turned out to be much more.

When a priest is killed at St. William in Washington, DC, everyone is truly surprised. Who would have wanted Father Matthew Holland dead, this priest in a rundown church located in one of the city’s poorest communities? Certainly, Detective Michael Cancini wasn’t prepared for such a thing and he’s very surprised when he sees the elderly priest who found the body. Cancini is a lapsed Catholic but he’s kept close ties with Father Joe Sweeney.

Naturally, such a crime is high profile and Cancini’s connection to Father Joe causes a momentary blip but that’s soon overcome and he and his partner, Smitty Smithson, begin the arduous task of investigating what seems to be a senseless murder, aided by another pair of detectives, Bronson and Jensen. As things develop, it becomes clear that there’s a lot that needs looking into what with hints that Father Holland, who had a rocky past, may have been involved in criminal activity, perhaps even corruption of a different sort, and those aren’t the only possible motives. By the time Cancini figures out what really happened, Father Joe is missing and a killer just might escape justice.

There are a number of aspects of this novel that stood out to me. Ms. Murphy has a certain quality in her writing that’s a nice blend of pathos, tension and passion and she has a real grasp on how to put words together in such a fashion as to compel the reader onward. The mystery—and its denouement—here was not at all what I expected and, although I had not read the first two books, I never felt I was missing information.

Finally, there are the characters. Cancini has found a place for himself among my favorite police detectives and Smitty is not far behind. What really struck me, though, were the nuances of Cancini’s interactions with other people, including less stellar detectives, a local reporter and Father Joe himself. Even the killer is a very interesting player, the type that fascinates students of abnormal psychology. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mike and Smitty and will begin by reading the first two books. In the meantime, The Last Sin is going on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

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An Excerpt from The Last Sin

CHAPTER 1

Sunday, February 21st: The Day Of

The smell of incense lingered in the air, temporarily masking the odor of rotting wood. Father Matthew Holland inhaled. The bitter scent stung his nose. Three years had passed since he’d taken over the church and nothing had changed. Even with the increased attendance and community outreach, the church offerings remained meager. Without offerings—without money—the parish church would die.

The priest sat down on the front pew, his robes gathered around his feet. His gaze shifted to the empty pulpit. Two large and colorful plants graced the altar, but they weren’t enough to hide the worn carpet or faded paintings, nor could the soft candlelight make him forget the plywood that covered the cracked stained glass. There was so much to do, so much need. He sighed and looked to the cross over the altar. Not for the first time, he asked for forgiveness, for understanding. There would be money now—he’d made sure of that—but at what cost? He’d done it for the church. His pulse quickened and his stomach clenched. Bending forward, he forced himself to take one deep breath after another until the moment passed.

He loosened his cleric collar and yawned. The evening’s mass had been long and difficult. The drunks in the back of the church had refused to leave, in spite of the old deacons’ best efforts.

“S’our right to be here,” the man with the long, stringy hair had said. His words slurred, he’d leaned forward as though he might topple straight into the next pew. “Worshipin’ God,” he’d said, although it had sounded like something else judging by the gasps from the congregation. The drunk had pointed a dirty hand toward the altar. “Here to see Father Holland. Tol’ us to come anytime.”

The drunk had swayed again, and his companion had reached out with a strong arm to catch him. Father Holland’s mouth had gone dry at the sight of the tattoo on the man’s forearm—a black dagger plunged into a white skull. Three drops of blood extended in a single line from the tip of the dagger to the man’s wrist. He knew that tattoo, knew what it meant.

The awkward moment had passed although not before Father Holland caught the disdain on the faces of the ladies in the choir. Still, none of the parishioners had said a word, all looking to him instead. He’d hidden his trembling hands in the folds of the heavy cassock and swallowed. “St. William is open to everyone, our members and our guests. However, since we are about to have communion, I would ask that everyone who is not singing remain quiet. Guests may come forward for a blessing, of course.” He’d been careful to keep his voice steady. Thank the Lord it had been enough. The man with the oily hair had quieted down and then stumbled out during the Eucharist. His friend with the tattoo had stayed a moment longer, then followed.

Silence filled the sanctuary now. Father Holland rubbed his hands together and shivered. He could still feel the cold eyes of the tattooed man and the curious glances from the congregation. The man’s presence at the evening mass had been no accident and no drunken whim. The message had been clear.

After the church had emptied, he’d walked to the corner market and made the call. He’d done the best he could. Money changed everything. It always did. He opened his hand and stared at the crumpled paper with the phone number. He was not a stupid man. Nothing came without a price. He murmured a prayer until his shoulders relaxed and the drumbeat of his heart slowed.

His stomach growled, the gurgling loud and rumbly, and he realized it had been hours since he’d eaten. Breaking the quiet, a sound came from the back of the church, a click and a swish as the heavy outer door swung open. He stood and smoothed his cassock. Dinner would have to wait. He strained to see, but the vestibule was dark. “Who’s there?” he asked.

The door clanged shut and heavy steps sounded on the dingy marble floor. Father Holland replaced his collar and ran his fingers through his hair. There was only silence. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. “Is somebody there?” he asked again.

A figure shrouded in black stepped out of the dark.

Father Holland stiffened. “Why are you here?”

From the shadows, the eyes of the visitor glittered in the candlelight. “I’m a sinner, Father.”

Father Holland’s shoulders slumped. “We are all sinners in God’s eyes.”

Excerpt from The Last Sin by KL Murphy.  Copyright © 2017 by Witness Impulse. Reproduced with permission from xxx. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

K.L. MURPHY was born in Key West, Florida, the eldest of four children in a military family. She has worked as a freelance writer for several regional publications in Virginia, and is the author of A Guilty Mind and Stay of Execution. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two very large, very hairy dogs.

To learn more about the Detective Cancini Mystery series or future projects, visit her Website, Twitter and Facebook pages.

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3/13 Guest post/showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
3/14 Interview @ Mythical Books
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3/17 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
3/18 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
3/20 Review @ Buried Under Books
3/21 Guest post @ Mystery Suspense Reviews
3/22 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
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3/24 Interview @ BooksChatter
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3/26 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
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4/03 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
4/10 Review @ Beths Book-Nook Blog

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Book Review: Reservations by Gwen Florio

Reservations
A Lola Wicks Mystery #4
Gwen Florio
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5042-2
Trade Paperback

Journalist Lola Wicks is finally on a honeymoon/vacation with her husband Charlie Laurendeau and their daughter. It will be her first meeting with Charlie’s brother and his wife, who are big wheels on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Charlie and his brother Edgar are Blackfoot; Lola is white, which provides a lot of tension.

No welcome awaits them in Arizona. There’s been a bombing outside a large coal mine on the reservation, and an elderly Navajo man killed. Tribal members are protesting the taking and exploitation of the their land. Their water is poisoned, and alcoholism runs rampant. Edgar and his wife, Naomi, a high-powered tribal lawyer, are busy trying to sort out the murder.

But Lola’s journalist tendencies come to the fore, as do Charlie’s, as he’s the top cop on the Blackfoot Reservation. Trouble between them looms, raising an ugly racist head. As rivals, they investigate the bombings and murder, and death lays in wait.

Ms. Florio’s depiction of the waterless heat in desert country is very real. I enjoyed the care the family had for Bub, their three-legged dog. I believe there are previous books and I want to know what happened to the pooch. The little girls in the story, who in less able hands might be overlooked, are also amazingly well-done characters.

All in all, an enjoyable story with a realistic, if sad premise. It might just turn a reader into an Indian Rights activist.

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

Book Review: Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Elementary, She Read
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #1
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-096-9
Hardcover

In Elementary, She Read, author Delany introduces quite an interesting set of characters along with a new twist on mysteries set in bookshops. While Gemma Doyle is the protagonist of this new series, the history behind the story begins when Gemma’s Great Uncle Arthur seized the opportunity to buy a building at the famous address of 222 Baker Street- though this Baker Street is located in West London, Massachusetts rather than London, England. With such a well known address, it was a given that her mystery loving uncle would open a Sherlock Holmes bookstore.  When he found a bookstore alone wouldn’t make it, he expanded to include any and all things pertaining to Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, the opportunity arose to open a tea shop, named appropriately Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, next door but connected by an internal door. That shop is run by Gemma’s good friend Jayne. That is the story behind the story.

In a nutshell, the main plot of Elementary, She Read is this. The store is swamped one afternoon by a traveling bridge group, and while tidying the store after the group has left, Gemma finds an old Strand magazine that is not part of the store’s inventory hidden among the other magazines. Curious as to how it came to be there, she thinks back over the people who had just left the store and remembers one lady who was carrying a plain white plastic shopping bag that did not appear to be part of the group. She searches the store, finds the bag the woman was carrying and in it found a clue as to where the woman might be staying. Puzzled as to why the woman left what could well be a valuable magazine in the store, she puts the magazine to her home safe and sets off to find the woman. From there the plot follows a familiar path of amateur sleuths. Gemma tries to do the right thing and ends up finding a dead body or two and lands in the middle of a police investigation as a prime suspect. Eager to clear her name she starts snooping around trying to solve the murder, as well as unravel the original mystery as to why the magazine was placed in her store. The plot is well done with plenty of twists to keep readers on their toes. When the solution was finally revealed, I have to say I had figured out that the guilty person was involved but had not worked out how or why. I felt like Delany played fair with the readers by giving them clues to follow yet making the puzzle complicated enough to keep us working at it.

Readers don’t see much of Uncle Arthur in the book, and I hope that changes as the series moves forward. He seems to be a character ripe for development. Gemma is a great protagonist and has the eye for noticing details like Sherlock himself. There is a book about thinking like Sherlock mentioned several times throughout the book. The book actually exists (I checked on Amazon) and I plan on getting a copy. Readers get to know Jayne a bit but I suspect we’ll get a better read on her in future books. There were a couple of “villains” among the characters giving readers people to despise. One was a police woman who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Gemma, while the other was a fellow shopkeeper who has the need to control everyone else’s business. I’m sure we’ll get more of them as well.

There are the standard animals in the book-Gemma’s pet dog and the store’s resident cat who seems to like everyone except Emma.

Elementary, She Read is a wonderful beginning to what I hope is a long running series.

I volunteered to read and review this book which I received from the publisher.

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

Book Review: A Death by Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen

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Short Story Review: Wildcat by Sara Paretsky—and a Giveaway!

Wildcat
V. I. Warshawski’s First Case
Sara Paretsky
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 9780062689504
Ebook Single

From the publisher—

Sara Paretsky, one of the most legendary crime writers of all time, presents an exclusive and thrilling short story featuring beloved investigator V.I. Warshawski as a ten-year-old girl on her first investigation.


V.I. Warshawski developed her strength and sense of justice at a very early age. It’s 1966 and on the south side of Chicago racial tensions are at an all-time high. Dr. Martin Luther King is leading marches at Marquette Park and many in the neighborhood are very angry.

With nothing but a bicycle, eighty-two cents in her pocket, and her Brownie camera hanging from her wrist, Victoria sneaks off to Marquette Park alone to protect her father Tony, a police officer who is patrolling the crowds.

What begins as a small adventure and a quest to find her father and make sure he is safe turns into something far more dangerous. As the day goes on and the conflict at the park reaches a fever pitch Victoria realizes she must use her courage and ingenuity if she wants to keep herself and her family members out of harm’s way.

I don’t know if it’s actually true but, for years, I’ve thought that Sara Paretsky and V. I. Warshawski have one thing very much in common—they’re both total badasses. Now, I know that V. I. was that way even as a child and I couldn’t be more delighted.

I’m not going to say much about the plot of this story—it’s so short the description given above by the publisher is almost longer. Just kidding, of course, but this IS a very short short story. Still, Ms. Paretsky packs a lot into these few pages and it serves its purposes, to entertain and to give us a little insight into what makes V. I. Warshawski aka Victoria tick.

Chicago in 1966 was deep in the civil rights era and even a 10-year-old felt the tension so, when Victoria believes her dad is at risk, her first reaction is to rush off on her bicycle to his aid. As young as she is, Victoria has been raised by her Holocaust survivor mother to be aware of the evil that can begin with words of hatred. In fact, it’s this sense of right and wrong that’s at Victoria’s core, that will in later life lead her to work for justice whenever she can. Her venture this time is also her own personal introduction to police corruption, the Mafia, extreme prejudice and violence.

And a private investigator is born.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

               

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About the Author

Hailed by P.D. James as “the most remarkable” of modern crime writers, SARA PARETSKY is the New York Times-bestselling author of nineteen previous novels, including the renowned V.I. Warshawski series. She is one of only four living writers – alongside John Le Carré, Sue Grafton, and Lawrence Block – to have received both the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She lives in Chicago with her husband.

Before there was Lisbeth Salander, before there was Stephanie Plum, there was V.I. WARSHAWSKI. She took the mystery world by storm in 1982 with her first appearance in Indemnity Only. A gifted private eye with the grit and smarts to tackle the mean streets, V.I. transformed a genre in which women were typically either vamps or victims. As a “courageous, sexually liberated female investigator,” she “has a humility, a humanity, and a need for human relationships which the male hard-boilers lack” (P.D. James). She lives in Chicago with her dog.

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copy of Wildcat, leave a comment
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Thursday evening, March 16th and the
ebook will be sent out after the tour ends.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

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