Book Reviews: Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum and Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

Infamy
A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller #28
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-4767-9321-4
Mass Market Paperback

This novel is not up to the usual standards of the author.  Usually, the first half of the book recounts a situation which sets the stage for the other half, which, ordinarily, few do better than Mr. Tanenbaum: a dramatic courtroom scene.  So it is with Infamy.  Unfortunately, however otherwise well-written the novel is, the courtroom scene is flat and perfunctory.

The novel opens with an intelligence raid by a secret U.S. Army unit in Syria which was supposed to capture at least one suspect.  Instead, they find the suspect had shot and murdered other important enemy subjects and obtained important documents which point to a conspiracy to evade sanctions on ISIS and Iraqi oil.  Butch Karp, the New York DA and protagonist of the series, enters the plot when a U.S. Army Colonel is shot and killed in Central Park, and slowly a conspiracy begins to unfold.

There are all sorts of subplots and side issues which add little to the tale, except to make it more complicated than it really is.  This reader was clearly disappointed, especially when the author decided to vent his own political views, sometimes crudely or bluntly chastising those holding conservative views.  It’s too bad, because basically Infamy began with a solid idea, but lost its way along the way from front cover to back cover.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

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Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet
A Jesse Stone Novel #16
Reed Farrel Coleman
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7144-4
Hardcover

This is the fourth Jesse Stone novel Reed Farrel Coleman has written in the series begun by the late Robert B. Parker.  And he has kept the faith.  Moreover, he has done something the master never did.  He brings in Spenser to play a minor role in solving the mystery which begins with the death of an old woman, a member of the founding family of Paradise, and the ransacking of her home.

Jesse, still reeling from the death of his beloved Diana in his presence, is slowly drinking himself into oblivion.  But that doesn’t stop him from performing his duty as Police Chief, despite the hindrance of the Mayor and her hatchet woman.  The plot basically revolves around the recovery of a supposedly long lost tape made by a now has-been rock star in time for his 70th birthday party.

Coleman performs up to the standards of the late master, while offering a clever plot of his own, written in a slightly different style (few can duplicate the pithy sentences of a Parker novel).  He gives us a deeper insight into Jesse’s personality and presumably shows the force of his iron will.  Well at least let’s hope so.  Presumably we’ll find out in the next volume in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

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Book Review: The Elizas by Sara Shepard

The Elizas
Sara Shepard
Atria, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-6277-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

The Elizas is an interesting kind of crime fiction in that much of the story has the protagonist, Eliza, questioning her own mental faculties and the reader is just as baffled as she is. Eliza isn’t very likeable—some of her behavior, particularly in the past, can be called unpleasant at best—and most of us are not saintly enough to blithely overlook some aspects of mental issues so connecting with her takes patience and effort. After all, having someone in our lives who may or may not be psychologically damaged is just not easy but I did sympathize with Eliza as she struggled to understand what was real and what wasn’t.

There’s a scene near the end that I wondered about because it seemed so unlikely; a police detective tells Eliza something about the authorities not doing an autopsy and it struck me as a strange accommodation for the police to make. Perhaps the approach is different in Los Angeles and I was just unaware.

The impact this novel could have had on me was lessened somewhat by the use of first person present tense. I know many other readers feel otherwise but I just don’t understand why any crime fiction author does this. Instead of heightening the tension, it pulls me out of the story because (1) unless something supernatural is going to happen, I know the speaker is going to survive so I really don’t need to worry and (2) I can’t help wondering how the protagonist is telling the story as he runs down the street, gun blazing. But then that’s just me and I’m quite sure others will find this perfect for the reader who wants a thriller that is less intense than so many.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks
Google Play // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound // Simon & Schuster

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About the Author

credit Danielle Shields

Sara Shepard is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Pretty Little Liars series. She has also written other Young Adult series and novels, including The Lying Game, The Heiresses, and The Perfectionists. Sara now lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Find Sara:

Website
Twitter
Instagram

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“A story blending Hitchcock,  S.J. Watson, and Ruth Ware.”
—Entertainment Weekly (EW.com)

 

“Shepard brings her knack for the tightly-wound thriller that
earned Pretty Little Liars its runaway success to a whole new
demographic… Clever and attention-grabbing, this is one book
you won’t be able to leave sitting on the nightstand for long.”
—Harper’s Bazaar, 10 New Books to Add to Your Reading List in 2018

 

“With a cast of dodgy characters and twists you won’t see coming,
the New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Little Liars
will keep you on your toes until the very last page.”
—Redbook, 14 Books You Won’t Want to Miss in 2018

Book Review: One to Watch by Rachel Amphlett

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Title: One to Watch
Series: A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #3
Author: Rachel Amphlett
Narrator: Alison Campbell
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Publication Date: October 3, 2017

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Purchase Links:
The Author // Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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One to Watch
A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #3
Rachel Amphlett
Narrated by Alison Campbell
Saxon Publishing, October 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

Sophie Whittaker shared a terrifying secret. Hours later, she was dead.

Detective Kay Hunter and her colleagues are shocked by the vicious murder of a teenage girl at a private party in the Kentish countryside.

A tangled web of dark secrets is exposed as twisted motives point to a history of greed and corruption within the tight-knit community.

Confronted by a growing number of suspects and her own enemies who are waging a vendetta against her, Kay makes a shocking discovery that will make her question her trust in everyone she knows.

At a large country estate in Kent, a teenaged girl is murdered at a private party and Detective Kay Hunter and her colleagues are shocked at the brutality of the crime and at the reactions of the people involved. Sophie was the daughter of a snooty British aristocrat and her more mild-mannered husband and the party was intended to celebrate a rather odd ceremony for Sophie, one of purity. Some of the tenets of this purity pledge carried their own very creepy tones, not least of which is the idea that the teen girl must be chaste until marriage but the teen boy is forgiven all his behavior once they marry.

This particular crime is a lot more difficult to investigate than some because of the roadblocks put in the team’s way due to the wealth and position of the various parties. DI Sharp assigns Kay and Barnes to follow certain leads while other detectives look into different aspects of the murder but each path brings them to confusing tangents that introduce ever more urgent questions. All the while, DCI Larch seems to be bent on protecting the sensibilities of Sophie’s family as well as another family whose American money apparently make them off limits.

It soon becomes obvious that this is no “routine” killing and an ultra-conservative religious program is in the mix along with greed on all sides while two very different young men are devastated by Sophie’s death…or are they? Could a major secret have been the impetus for the crime and just who was Sophie, anyway? Meanwhile, Kay is still trying to conduct her own investigation into why someone wants to destroy her career and she and her husband, Adam, begin to see that this could ultimately be much more dangerous than they initially thought.

All the characters I’ve come to like so much, and even one or two I don’t like so much, are back in this series entry and I really enjoyed the time I spent with them and the investigative efforts needed to solve this awful murder, sunk in a bog of corruption that is as unpleasant and distasteful as can be.

Once again, narrator Alison Campbell pulled me in with her outstanding work and she is fast becoming one of my favorite audiobook readers. It doesn’t hurt that she had such a good story to work with and the entire series so far has kept me riveted. For anyone looking for a British police procedural series on audio, you cannot do better than this one 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.

She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, Stuart MacBride, and many more.

She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

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About the Narrator

I’m a Bristol-based actress who trained at Bretton Hall and the University of Leeds. I’ve been involved with a huge range of projects and love a bit of variety of life!

I’m lucky to be a verstile performer – think everything  from Shakespeare, to  interactive theatre, comedy, solo shows and a whole host of different voice work.

I’m experienced in devising, improvisation, multi-roleing, immersive theatre and voice acting,

I have a lot of fun performing across the UK and round the world with the award-winning Natural Theatre, specialising in immersive, interactive theatre in surprising places.

I also teach youth theatre, facilitate theatre workshops and am experienced in corporate roleplay and presenting.

I’m represented by Louise Alexander at BAM Associates

Website

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed by John Keyse-Walker

Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed
Teddy Creque Mysteries #2
John Keyse-Walker
Minotaur Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-14847-6
Hardcover

Constable Teddy Creque returns in Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed, the second book in a series set in the British Virgin Islands. The setting of these books alone makes them worth reading in the Winter. This time, readers get to go with Teddy to Virgin Gorda.

With a beach covered with fine white sand and clear aqua blue water, the section of the island known as The Baths is beautiful. Tourists with cash in hand flock to Virgin Gorda because of the beautiful beaches, so the last thing the island needs is a shark attack. But Constable Creque has been assigned to deal with just that thing. The trunk of a woman’s body has washed up onto the beach. Teddy’s assignment is to find the shark responsible and kill it.  With a multitude of people watching, Teddy goes out to track sharks and find the one responsible. A shark is caught and killed and when cut open, a human hand rolls out of its belly. But soon Teddy begins to suspect that it was not the shark that caused the woman’s death.  As one would expect, not everyone is happy to see Teddy nosing around.

Constable Creque has grown into his role since the first book in the series, Sand, Sun, Murder.  While he seems to have an innate ability for solving crimes, his methods are a bit unorthodox at times. Since his first case when he was nearly killed, Teddy has learned a bit more of what is expected of a good officer including how to get along with his bosses. Still, situations come up that are not in any manual and can’t fit into standard policing. Such is the case with this murder when Teddy’s only apparent witness is a young child who is mute. Again, Teddy figures out a way to work through the problem.

This book is, in my opinion, a much better book than the first book in the series.  The protagonist has grown into his job a bit more. The plot is well done leaving a trail of clues without giving too much away for readers to puzzle over. The entire book just seems to fit together better.

One of the best things in the first book that continues in this book is the excellent descriptions of the various places. Reading this during a bleak week of raw weather, it was a bit like taking a breezy warm vacation to the islands. If you are feeling a bit beaten down by the winter that won’t give up, let me suggest a quick trip to the British Virgin Islands.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, March 2018.

Book Review: The Fools in Town Are on Our Side by Ross Thomas

The Fools in Town Are on Our Side
Ross Thomas
Thomas Dunne Books, May 2003
ISBN 978-0-312-31582-5
Trade Paperback

Ross Thomas was a skilled and highly accomplished novelist and storyteller.  He wrote a lot of mysteries, most excellent,  Morrow originally published this one in 1971.  Except for a few words and some financial stuff in which the amounts are way too low, this suspense thriller could have been written yesterday.

Thomas is able to keep us grounded in a story that moves back and forth through three separate time periods in the life of protagonist Lucifer Dye, born in Montana in December, 1933.  He comes of age a few years later on the streets of Shanghai when his father is blown apart by a bomb, leaving this American boy, fluent in Chinese but not in English, holding the bloody stump of an arm with his father’s wristwatch still attached.

He is rescued by the owner and operator of Shanghai’s most prestigious sporting house, where he learns several other languages, a good deal about variant sexual tastes and the venality of most people in high places.  Lucifer C. Dye goes on to experience more war as a soldier in Korea, then higher education, espionage and graft.

The core story focuses on a strange group of individuals brought together by a wealthy genius-level young man named Victor Orrcutt who makes money by corrupting already corrupt public officials in order to inflame the good citizens to revolt and throw the original thieves out of town.  A most interesting concept.  There is Carol Thackerty, ex-whore, Homer Necessary, ex-police chief with one brown and one blue eye, Victor and then, Lucifer Clarence Dye, man of all tools, an accomplished raconteur, cynic and wise manipulator of people and systems.

None of these central characters are the fine upstanding and highly moral individuals we’d like them to be.  On the other hand, their illegal and questionable immorality are a far cry from those of their adversaries. Homer and Dye in particular throughout this fine novel manipulate their greedy and power-hungry enemies in ways that eventually lead to their defeat and destruction.  But, they are the bad guys, right?  So we wink and feel, at least a little, that it’s okay.  Sorta.

The action moves briskly along, and this novel is excellent in all aspects.  Thomas’ genius lies not only in his exceedingly strong writing and compelling characters, but in his ability to carry these separate plots in Lucifer’s life forward with interest and clarity for the reader.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2017.
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: The Rat Catchers’ Olympics by Colin Cotterill

The Rat Catchers’ Olympics
A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery #12
Colin Cotterill

Soho Crime, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-825-1
Hardcover

First of all, I’ve got to admit I’m horribly musophobic, so the mere title of the book put me off. Then there is the cover. A lurid graphic of a black rat caught in a red fist. What the title had going for it was the word “Olympics” considering the opening ceremony to the winter Olympics in South Korea was, as I write this, only a couple days ago.

Okay, so the Olympics referred to in the book are the Moscow Summer Olympics of 1980, but . . .

Anyway, I delved into the book whose cover led me not to expect much. Boy, was I ever wrong. Only a few pages in I was already in love with the characters, a group of very political Laotians. Old folks, for the most part, including the ex-national coroner of Laos, Dr. Siri Paiboun and his wife Madame Daeng. What a couple, both still filled with youthful exuberance.

In a nutshell, Siri has been invited to head up the Laotian contingent of athletics invited to the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow, Russia, and, in between spurring on some national pride, investigate a nebulous plot to blow someone up. He, nor any of the Laotians, whether the support group or the athletes, give a hoot that the only reason they’ve been invited to Russia is because so many of the competitive countries are boycotting the games. None of them expect to win anything. Just participating is honor enough.

In what could’ve turned into either slapstick humor–the story is written with spot-on timing for the many humorous parts–or centered on the sad history of Laos, with its poverty and political upheaval, the plot is a perfect blend of both. Each is treated with respect for the diverse characters, every single one who is capable of surprising you.

A murder mystery? Well, yes, that’s in the plot, too, but sort of faded into the background on the strength of Cotterill’s characters. As for the rat catchers in the title? They do play their parts and amusing as it is, I’m still musophobic. Even a story this good isn’t going to change that.

Rat Catchers’ Olympics has been added to my Best Books read in 2018 list. I highly recommend it.

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

Book Review: Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Best Day Ever
Kaira Rouda
Graydon House, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-5258-1140-1
Hardcover

From the publisher:   Paul Strom has the perfect life:  a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb.  And he’s the perfect husband:  breadwinner, protector, provider.  That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them.  And he’s promised today will be the best day ever.  But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise.  How much do they trust each other?  And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really?  Forcing us to ask ourselves just how well we know those who are closest to us, “Best Day Ever” crackles with dark energy, spinning over tighter towards its shocking conclusion . . . . a gripping, tautly suspenseful tale of deception and betrayal dark enough to destroy a marriage . . . or a life.”

 

The novel begins at 9 AM on its fateful day, continues at intervals ranging from half an hour to an hour and a half, on that same day, with the penultimate chapter taking place at 4:45 AM the next morning, and the final chapter one year later, with Mia saying, a few pages before its end, “This day would forever be the start of the rest of my life.  The best day ever, in fact, just not the one Paul envisioned.”

An understatement, to say the least.

Paul and Mia have been together for nearly ten years, their youngest boy now six, and have what Paul deems to be a “traditional suburban household.,” with Paul as the breadwinner and Mia raising the boys and taking care of the house.  They have left their beautiful home in Columbus, Ohio for a somewhat earlier visit to their lakeside home in a town called Lakeside, located on a peninsula, halfway between Toledo and Cleveland, at the edge of Lake Erie, the shallowest Great Lake in the US, we are told, “in a place where nothing bad ever happens.”  And just the two of them, with the boys in the care of their sitter.  Perfection, it seems, until Mia tells Paul she is seriously considering accepting a job she has been offered, something totally unacceptable to Paul on so many levels.  Slowly things begin to disintegrate, and Paul finds himself undertaking “Operation Make Mia Love Me Completely Again Tonight,” something he never anticipated.  At dinner, he makes a toast:  “Happy best day ever.”  But things go downhill from there, including a couple of things the reader never could have guessed.

The book has been called “a riveting psychological thriller about the perfect marriage.”  The writing is gripping and suspenseful, with an ending you won’t see coming.  This is a well-written, fascinating novel, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2017.