Book Review: The Black Kachina by Jack Getze

The Black Kachina
Jack Getze
Down & Out Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-943402-69-4
Trade Paperback

San Diego Reporter Jordon Scott finds himself on the trail of a hot story involving a missing bomb, a terrorist and falling in love with a tough military officer at the same time. These are the interesting plot lines in this unusual novel. Author Getze is a former LA Times reporter so he knows the territory and if the activities of this fictional reporter at times get a little questionable, well, this is realistic fiction, after all. Scott is a bright, good-looking, aggressive reporter who, while pushing leads on the loss of an aging USAF bomber in the mountains of southern California, encounters Colonel Maggie Black, USAF.

Black is an intriguing character. A former combat pilot—unusual in itself—she can no longer fly due to loss of one arm, but she’s actively working with a secret unit of the service on special weapons. She’s bright, good-looking, aggressive and dedicated to her assignment. While monitoring a test flight carrying her experimental weapon, she discovers the flight has crashed and her weapon is missing.

Then we have the third character in this novel, he of the title. Kachina’s are an intimate part, along with their influences, of the lives and lore of southwestern native tribes and bands. Whether or not they, like other religious icons, were real, their influence is wide and important. Asdrubal Torres believes in Kachina and he comes to believe, aided by his hatred for the white man, that he is destined to return the Salton Sea and surrounding area to its original state as the huge Lake Cahuilla in the Santa Rosa Mountains. Asdrubal Torres will become a modern Kachina.

How these forces maneuver their complicated way through the limitations and dangers of modern technology and personal relationships forms the texture, structure and movement of this interesting and intriguing thriller. I recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 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.

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Book Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Song of the Lion
A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel #2
Anne Hillerman
Harper, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-062-39190-2
Hardcover

Anne Hillerman continues to demonstrate she is a solid author in her own right, albeit using the characters developed by her late father, Tony, in the series featuring Jim Chee, Bernadette Manuelito and Joe Leaphorn.  And by expanding Bernie’s role, she has added her own stamp on the series, which began in 1970, and in which this is her third novel.

The action begins when a bomb explodes, destroying a BMW belonging to a local hero who is mediating a hearing on a proposed resort on Navajo land adjacent to the Grand Canyon.  A young man is killed while sitting in the car.  The owner is playing in an alumni-student basketball game, and Jim Chee is assigned to be his bodyguard, driving him to the hearing and watching over him.  The plot develops in unexpected ways and as it unfolds, Bernie gets to play a deeper role than that of a bystander.  She takes over uncovering the real reason for the explosion, enlisting the assistance of Leaphorn, who still suffers from a bullet wound in his brain, but recalls an earlier incident, which helps Bernie resolve the case.

Common to the series are the descriptions of the arid Navajo country, the rituals, myths and customs of the people so well-done by Tony Hillerman and now continued on an equal footing by his daughter.  Her plotting is similarly on a par with the series’ founder.  And by introducing an environmental issue in the plot, she has brought the series up to date, while maintaining the integrity of the basic story and its characters.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

Book Reviews: The Highwayman by Craig Johnson and Fallout by Sara Paretsky

The Highwayman
A Longmire Story
Craig Johnson
Penguin  Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2090-4
Trade Paperback

The author prefaces this Longmire novel by stating he always wanted to write a ghost story.  And now he has, thrusting Walt Longmire and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, into the middle of an enigma.  At the request of the head of the Highway Patrol, Walt and the Bear seek to determine what is happening to Rosie Wayman, who patrols a stretch of highway in the Wind River Canyon, an area where radio communication is almost nonexistent.

On the other hand, Rosie begins receiving calls from Bobby Womack saying “officer needs assistance.”  The problem is that Womack, a respected highwayman who patrolled the same route, died 35 years previously.  Walt and the Bear have to determine whether Rosie really is hearing the signal, or is in need of psychiatric evaluation.  What follows during the investigation is a series of events which might be ethereal, or explained by logic in the real world.  It is up to the two men (along with the reader) to determine which.

It is a clever plot and, while it is a deviation from the 11 prior entries in the series, The Highwayman is a welcome addition to the earlier books, and it is recommended.

The 13th novel in the series, The Western Star, will be published by Penguin on September 5th!

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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Fallout
A V.I. Warshawski Novel
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0662-584-2
Hardcover

It all begins in Chicago, and ends up in Kansas, but VI Warhawski needs more than ruby read slippers to return home.  Apparently, a black retired movie star decided on a moment’s notice to leave the Windy City, ostensibly to visit the town where she grew up, dragging a young man man along to film her reminiscences with stops along the way to Lawrence, KS.  When the two seem to disappear, VI is retained by the woman’s concerned neighbors to find them.  The young man also is a person of interest in a drug theft at his place of employment, and Vicky becomes more wary when she discovers his apartment ransacked.

So off goes VI on the long drive to Kansas, tracing the woman’s journey and attempting to pick up a trace of the pair.  She visits Fort Riley, where she learns they stopped, but little else.  So Vicky continues on to Lawrence, where she encounters all kinds of obstructions, and becomes involved in all kinds of side issues, other than her original purpose to locate the actress and her photographer.

The reader has to plow through a rather dry start to the novel, about one-third the length of the book, before the plot begins to develop.  Then it turns into a complicated story that probably could have served as the basis for one or more novels.    All in all, Fallout is an interesting work and can be recommended despite these reservations because the author and the series are so deservedly popular.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

Book Review (Audio): Double Duplicity by Paty Jager

Double Duplicity
Shandra Higheagle Mystery, Book One
Paty Jager
Narrated by Ann M. Thompson
Patricia Jager, February 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she witnessed fleeing the scene is just as innocent. With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever, but just as determined to discover the truth.

Detective Ryan Greer prides himself on solving crimes and refuses to ignore a single clue, including Shandra Higheagle’s visions. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Ryan believes in them and believes in her.

Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?

Shandra Higheagle literally comes across a dead body accidentally and things begin to happen with meteoric speed for this small town. Actually, the name Huckleberry Mountain Resort is a bit misleading because while “Huckleberry” implies very rural and homespun, this is a ski resort with tourists and money to spare, not to mention multiple art galleries, and the upcoming art show is a premier happening. It’s in Detective Ryan Greer’s best interest to solve this murder quickly and he’s not averse to a little assistance.

Shandra and Ryan are both intelligent, attractive people and the almost instantaneous spark between them is perhaps not surprising. It’s more apparent at first to Ryan than to Shandra but, once she gets it, she’s not entirely above using her “influence” to get away with a bit of investigating on the side. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t always make the brightest decisions and can be accused of a tiny bit of TSTL behavior. Never mind, I still like her and I also like Ryan, especially because he gives credence to the visions Shandra has apparently inherited from her Nez Perce grandmother.

A fair amount of comic relief comes from the very young and very untried police officer, Blane. As so often happens with someone new to any position of authority, poor Blane is overeager and way out of his element with Shandra who can pretty much put him in his place, especially when he’s determined to treat her as a suspect. Blane is a likeable overgrown kid and his enthusiasm helps make up for a lot. The other secondary character who got my attention (in a good way) is Shandra’s hired ranch hand, Lil, who you might say is the female version of the crusty oldtimer.

Ann M. Thompson is a good narrator, giving warm, earthy tones to Shandra and handling other voices with noticeable differences from one character to the next. In particular, I immediately picked up on Blane’s immaturity and brashness just from Ms. Thompson‘s interpretation.

Double Duplicity is the first of eight books in the series but, so far, only this one and the second are in audiobook format. That will not stop me from continuing on with this entertaining series but I do hope more audio editions will become available before too long. Not only do I like Ms. Jager‘s stories but I also enjoy Ms. Thompson‘s narration and that’s a pleasant combination.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

Book Review: Seldom Traveled by Marilyn Meredith

seldom-traveledSeldom Traveled
Tempe Crabtree Mystery Series #15
Marilyn Meredith
Mundania Press, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-59426-433-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three.

One of the things that makes the Tempe Crabtree series by Marilyn Meredith so appealing is its setting in a mountain community where the issues facing law enforcement that can be common in urban areas are rather unique in a more rural environment. Certainly the fugitive seen near Bear Creek could have just as easily headed for a big city but he didn’t do so, meaning Tempe will have to deal with the situation along with…or, rather, in spite of…the dismissive Marshal Gallegos. Unfortunately, that isn’t all she has on her plate; a woman, Mariah Konstanzer, has gone missing from her family’s remote vacation home and is found murdered.

Detectives Morrison and Richards take control of the murder investigation but it isn’t long before Tempe is pulled in to assist and is soon interviewing a lengthy list of potential suspects. Before she can shorten the list, a third crisis erupts, a wildfire high on the mountain. Tempe races to warn residents to evacuate and it isn’t long before all three issues intersect.

Tempe is a deputy I’ve followed for years and, once again, she’s the diligent, thoughtful investigator I’ve come to expect as well as a caring wife and member of the Bear Creek community. For some reason, Tempe always gives me a sense of confidence that all will be right with the world when it’s all said and done and she pulls it off once again. I hope we won’t have to wait long for the next adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Review: Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller And Manitou Canyon by William Kent Krueger

freedoms-childFreedom’s Child
Jax Miller
Crown, July 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8041-8680-3
Hardcover

Foul-mouthed Freedom Oliver is a bartender in Oregon, shielded by Witness Protection.  The reason is that 20 years before she was arrested for murdering her husband and held for two years, before the evidence she planted resulted in the arrest and conviction of her brother-in-law.  But upon her arrest she gave up her two children for adoption, fearing life imprisonment.  Incidentally neither she nor he had actually fired the gun.

The children were placed in the home of a religious zealot in Kentucky, the head of a cult.  Now, 20 years later, the brother-in-law is freed and is seeking revenge.  Meanwhile, her daughter goes missing and Freedom leaves to find the child, who may have been kidnapped.  Along the way she meets her son, now a successful attorney.

This is a debut novel, and for all its interesting plot, it also suffers from superfluous and foul language and other excessive attributes of an unpolished author, especially the novel’s conclusion, which can only be described as a neophyte’s bright idea.  Nevertheless, despite all of that, the time it took to read the story was worthwhile because it is more than interesting.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016.

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manitou-canyonManitou Canyon
A Cork O’Connor Mystery #15
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-476-74928-0
Hardcover

Of the fifteen volumes in the excellent Cork O’Connor series, this latest is one of the best.  It finds Cork in the midst of at least two conspiracies during which he probably learns more about himself than he has in a long time.  It is November, a month in which he has undergone several tragedies, including the death of his wife.  In a depressed mood, his daughter’s wedding looms in a couple of weeks.

The Cork is approached by the grandchildren of a boyhood friend he has not seen in decades, who has gone missing in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to try to find the man despite a two-week search-and-rescue operation having failed and efforts called off.  Instead of the couple of days by which Cork promised his daughter to return, he and the accompanying granddaughter go missing as well.  And this leads to some of the best writing and descriptions in a series that abounds in such efforts as Cork and the woman are captured and with their captors trudge and canoe northward to Canada.

Meanwhile back home Cork’s family and friends realize something has gone wrong and they fly to Raspberry Lake looking for him. With winter setting in, it becomes a race not only for survival for the group that captured Cork, but also for his rescuers.  As is usual, the author gives the reader deep insight not only into Ojibwe culture but the Northwoods environment in which the story takes place.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2016.

Book Review: Buffalo Jump Blues by Keith McCafferty

Buffalo Jump BluesBuffalo Jump Blues
A Sean Stranahan Mystery #5
Keith McCafferty
Viking, June 2016
ISBN 978-0-5254-2959-3
Hardcover

From the publisher:  In the wake of Fourth of July fireworks in Montana’s Madison Valley, Deputy Sheriff Harold Little Feather and Hyalite County Sheriff Martha Ettinger investigate a horrific scene at the Palisades cliffs, where a herd of bison [a/k/a buffalo] have fallen to their deaths.  Are they victims of blind panic caused by the pyrotechnics, or a ritualistic hunting practice dating back thousands of years?  The person who would know is beyond asking, an Indian man found dead among the bison, his leg pierced by an arrow.  Farther up the valley, fly fisherman, painter and sometime private detective Sean Stranahan has been hired by the beautiful Ida Evening Star – – a Chippewa Cree woman who moonlights as a mermaid at the Trout Tails Bar & Grill  – to find her old flame, John Running Boy.  The cases seem unrelated, until Sean’s search leads him right to the brink of the buffalo jump.

This is the fifth entry in the series, and to call it eclectic would be an understatement.  Both the fishing and wildlife aspects of it, which predominate in the early sections, are entirely foreign to this reader, whose usual preference is for character-driven novels.  But the header for Chapter 8, “A Mermaid, an Arrowhead, and True Love,” captures the elements of most of the rest of the book.  The aforementioned Ida is the first of these, the arrowhead a piece of evidence in the search for the murderer of the Indian Man, and true love is – well, as Sean says: “True love knows not logic nor lust, but the synchronized bearing of hearts.”

The bison was the “icon of the West” that only a century ago had stood at the brink of extinction.  When Harold comes upon the first body, he puts the dying animal out of its misery.  He muses, “The irony of what he had done, killing the first bison to have returned to these ancient hunting grounds in one hundred and fifty years, was not lost on him.”  But he had done what he had to do, and cannot second-guess himself.  Shanahan is a terrific protagonist, of whom Martha says “You’re what I call a Montana Renaissance man.  You have about five different jobs and still you have to stick a hose down a gas tank to siphon up enough fuel to get to the store.”  (He guides during the trout season, writes for fishing magazines and paints in the winter (or when he gets a commission).  He says of himself “I’m a better artist than I am a detective.  Or fishing guide.”  But he is selling himself short, as he demonstrates during the ensuing investigation, assisting Martha in the search for the man or men behind the events.  The geography of Montana is vividly presented.  The writing is terrific and filled with humor, e.g., “Fishermen are born honest, but they get over it.”  The beauty of Montana is vivid, and that and the wonderful writing have pointed me to the fourth novel in the series which I had somehow missed, Crazy Mountain Kiss, next up for this reader.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2016.