Book Reviews: Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner and 19 Souls by J.D. Allen @SternerGregory @aperturepress @JDAllenBooks @midnightinkbook

Solving Cadence Moore
Gregory Sterner
Aperture Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-9973020-8-0
Trade Paperback

An intense novel fashioned in a very creative and unusual way, Solving Cadence Moore struggles to match its creative vision. It is rooted in the modern radio podcast phenomenon. Charlie Marx, successful radio podcast creator and star has a fine and lasting career in a fairly volatile professional area. He’s progressed through solid talent and the support of a major broadcasting executive, but he wants more. He thinks he’s found a vehicle, a ten-year old mystery.

Young talented and striking-looking (cliché?) Candace Moore is at the beginning of her career as a star vocalist and song creator. When she disappears and no trace has ever been found of her, the mystery endures and grows. Marx believes he can solve the murder and he exaggerates his proof to his boss in order to gain permission to create a star series of podcasts.

Things begin to fall apart when production time is squeezed down and witnesses become reluctant. Marx endures long and tense confrontations with his boss, with members of his production team and with some witnesses he turned up.

The novel, frequently written as a radio script, is long, tedious at times and is shot full of disagreeable language, confrontation after confrontation, and little consideration for the reader. Nine chapters divide a 362-page story. Long involved arguments detailing strengths and weaknesses of character’s positions, often with little or no descriptive language tend to give the narrative a slow and steady progression. Readers will assume, perhaps correctly, that the profession of radio broadcasting, especially when focused on the dramatization of true events, is replete with the kind of competition and repetitive tests of wills fostered by strongly opinionated, testosterone supplied males.

In sum an excellent idea burdened by a limited exposition, resulting in relief that the novel is done, rather than disappointment for the final period.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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19 Souls
A Sin City Investigation #1
J.D. Allen
Midnight Ink Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5403-1
Trade Paperback

An interesting if troublesome book about the search for a deteriorating psychopathic serial killer. The story has several things going for it, an unusual killer, a raft of police and FBI characters, and at least three sort-of-legal private searchers. The least likeable of the three, a shambling, bumbling private investigator named Jim Bean works alone, except when he needs help, which is frequently. The other two, O, a bounty-hunter, and Bean’s obligatory cyber/research expert add a little to the narrative, although O adds the least.

The setup is excellent and would have been even better if Bean wasn’t portrayed as so constantly second-guessing himself. A woman hires him to find her long-lost brother. She promptly drugs and seduces Bean which interferes with Bean’s thoughts and emotions, often at crucial junctures.

The story takes place in Texas, Nevada, California and Indiana. As the target descends gradually, logically, and cleverly into madness, the tension rises and more bodies litter the ground. Largely well-written and edited there are a few point-of-view shifts that are momentarily confusing but taking it all together, the novel is worth its price.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess @nikkigrey_ @fluxbooks

The Quiet You Carry
Nikki Barthelmess
Flux, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-028-6
Trade Paperback

Teens face many troubles. From typical to uniquely terrible, talked-to-death to barely touched; there is a tie that binds: this part of life is a different kind of tough.

The Quiet You Carry ponders points that may not be particularly prevalent in publishing yet, but actually affect many children today. Certainly domestic-abuse situations are beginning to be addressed and recently, I’ve read about characters in foster-care and adoption. Still, I’m admittedly overwhelmed with what I’ve learned here and a bit ashamed of my ignorance. Taboo topics turn to thoughtful talking points when Ms. Barthelmess brilliantly blurs lines.

Contrary to popular belief, first impressions are not always accurate. The very person that seems aloof and uncaring may have the biggest heart. Only, it has been so badly broken, on multiple occasions, that it has hardened in self-preservation. After all, enthusiasm and an earnest need to make a difference can definitely be dampened by a laborious, under-staffed system. Add in the horror humans inflict on one another, and that intuitive good nature is bound to become buried beneath metaphorical armor in a vain effort to hold onto the very last bit of a kind, caring and conscientious soul.

Abuse does not need to be physical to invoke very real pain and suffering. Victoria’s story is not just about how her father changed after her mother’s death. Equally important examples of manipulation in her parents’ marriage paint a bigger picture. Accompanying this sweet, sheltered teen through her trials and tribulations evokes every kind of tear, from heartache to hope. Being that teens tend to be resilient creatures; bending, never breaking, there is also some humor.

I cannot imagine a better way to enlighten and empower our adolescents.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

Book Review: Desert Kill Switch by Mark S. Bacon

Desert Kill Switch
A Nostalgia City Mystery #2
Mark. S. Bacon
Black Opal Books, 2017
ISBN 978-1-626947-19-1
Trade Paperback

A great cover for a novel with excellent possibilities. Unfortunately, the opportunities were never quite realized. To be clear, this is a largely enjoyable story with an eminently satisfactory conclusion. The characters are interesting and have elements which are unusual, intriguing and certainly worth following in future stories.

The beginning of the novel is particularly interesting. Lyle Deming, the stepfather of a college girl, is driving her through the desert so she can get some pictures for a class project. They happen on a murder scene and Deming is desperate to shield the girl from the bullet-riddled body. He drives away, calls the local sheriff and a short-time later learns they can’t find either the body or the vintage 1970 Pontiac that was parked next to the body. The car is important because Deming is working as a cab driver for a new Arizona tourist attraction called Nostalgia City, designed as a trip back to the nineteen seventies.

The public relations and marketing office of the Arizona nostalgia site is run by Kate Sorenson. Readers meet her first in Reno where she is attending Rockin’ Summer Days, an annual Reno event, as a vendor for Nostalgia City to recruit travelers. When she has a confrontation with a local auto dealer of questionable reputation, things get complicated.

The two characters come together, become entangled at several levels and ultimately murder and thievery get sorted. The use of kill switches is explained, although the kill switch of the title seems to almost be an afterthought. The novel is neither memorable or inferior, it just is, neither memorable nor especially disappointing.

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.

Book Review: A Disguise to Die For by Diane Vallere

A Disguise to Die ForA Disguise to Die For
A Costume Shop Mystery #1
Diane Vallere
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2016
ISBN: 978-0-425-27828-4
Mass Market Paperback

When Margo Tamblyn’s father has a heart attack, she returns to Prosper City, Nevada to help out in her dad’s costume shop. The shop has the intriguing name of Disguise DeLimit. In fact, the whole fictional town is filled with shops with imaginative names.

Raised by Ebony Welles and her father, Jerry, Margo is tremendously loyal to Ebony. When Ebony, a party planner, is framed for the murder of a wealthy client, Margo takes a hand to clear her friend’s name. Along the way, she meets old friends, finds a prospective love interest, and almost gets herself killed.

There’s never a dull moment in the story. I found the background of the costume business interesting, as dressing up as someone else is something I’ve never done. Sounds like fun. I liked the characters, and even the murderer, whom I did guess, was more likable than some of the others. It all worked out well, in my opinion.

By the end, Margo will take over the family business, leading the reader into another Margo Tamblyn story, which, from the teaser, sounds just as good as this one. I hope we’ll find some of the same characters.

The book also gives us a few recipes, as well as a list of costume ideas. Get ready for Halloween–or any other time you feel like throwing a dress-up party.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Nemesis by Jo Nesbo, Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins, The Litigators by John Grisham, Defending Jacob by William Landay, and The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

Nemesis
Jo Nesbo
Harper, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211969-8
Mass Market Paperback

There have now been several Harry Hole novels, but this was only the second to be published in the United States (the first was The Redbreast). Both demonstrate the author’s uncanny ability to continually lead the reader astray with one red herring after another before disclosing, in a final twist, a most unexpected dénouement.

In the present novel, these principles apply to two separate story lines.   One involves a bank robbery in which a woman is shot in the head. The other finds a woman with whom Harry had a short affair shot in her bed the day after Harry had dinner at her home (but he can’t remember a thing about the evening).  In fact, there are clues implicating him in the deed and in fact, the cover asks the question: “How do you catch a killer when you’re the number one suspect?”

The translation by Don Bartlett from the Norwegian flows smoothly. The novel was a number one best-seller in Norway, spending 39 weeks on the best seller list.  Past novels from this author saw Bangkok and Australia as settings, and the next to Hong Kong – Harry certainly gets around!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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Quarry’s Ex
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-08-5768286-4
Trade Paperback

Max Allan Collins writes noir crime novels which read very much like Mickey Spillane, with whom he was a close friend and collaborator [and completed some started by the late author].  This novel is no exception, and is full of sex, violence and hard-boiled prose.  It is a prequel to a long-running series about a hit man who has turned the tables on other assassins by developing a new business: collecting his fees from intended victims by eliminating killers and those who hired them.

This novel takes us back in time, providing the back story for the Quarry series, when he was a young marine, met Joni and married her, returned from Vietnam to find her in bed with another man (who he murders) and then going off the deep end.  After a while, he is contacted by the “broker,” and becomes a paid assassin, until he kills his “employer” in a double-cross and stealing his files which identify other murderers.  With this information, Quarry turns the tables, targeting them for elimination and saving the intended victims.

This brings us to the present story during which, purely by accident, Quarry finds his ex-wife married to a movie director, the latter the target of a pair of killers Quarry knows from the files.  The ex is really incidental to the story, which revolves around Quarry’s efforts to save the director’s life and identifying who retained the killers. It is fast and furious, with colorful characters, entertaining with panache, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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The Litigators
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53513-7
Hardcover

Early in his career, John Grisham wrote novels that whacked a home run every time.  But even Babe Ruth couldn’t do that every time.  This book is workman-like, perhaps a double.  But then, if you can do even this often enough, you’re an All Star.  And John Grisham certainly is that.

The story is extremely contrived, with sort of caricatures for characters.  It might have been more fun if they were less predictable and more cartoonish, if that’s possible. Attorney David Zinc belongs more in a soap opera than a legal novel.  His two partners, Finley & Figg, are even more unbelievable, other characters even more wooden.

But all this criticism doesn’t negate the fact that Grisham can still write an entertaining novel, albeit somewhat stilted and predictable. About the only interesting character in the book is a 90-year-old Federal judge, presiding over a comical case.  So, despite all this negativism, the novel is recommended with caveats.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2012.

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Defending Jacob
William Landay
Delacorte Press, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-385-34422-7
Hardcover

Is this novel a courtroom drama, a psychological study of a family, an introspective study of a man, or is it about truth and justice?  Or all of the above?  It’s hard to tell in this rambling book which attempts to keep the reader in suspense and leaves much to the imagination.

Andy Barber, the First Assistant DA in Newton, MA, is the man who faces the questions posed by the story and really doesn’t come to grips with the essential problems raised.  His 14-year-old son is accused of murdering a fellow student and goes to trial for Murder One.  Did he or didn’t he? Andy, who initially ran the original investigation, does not believe his son is capable of doing the deed. The effect of the pressures of the trial on Andy and his wife are weakly described.  The courtroom drama is, to some extent, extremely well done, but, for the most part, drawn out to a great degree.  And the snideness of the comments about Andy’s replacement when he’s taken off the case and during the trial are too often petty.

On the whole, the novel is an interesting presentation, but could have been edited severely, especially the front end which drags on slowly until the book picks up steam toward the middle.  It is no spoiler to note that there is more than one surprise waiting for the reader at the end, some attention-grabbing, others a little far-fetched.  That said, it is an off-beat novel that is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2012.

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The Lost Years
Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster, April 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6886-5
Hardcover

A good idea wrapped in a lot of superfluous schmaltz sums up this latest effort by Mary Higgins Clark.  The plot involves the discovery by a Biblical scholar, Dr. Jonathan Lyons, of the only letter supposedly ever written by Jesus, and Lyons’ subsequent murder, presumably as a result. The mystery, of course, is which of his various friends and co-workers wants the manuscript to sell on the black market instead of it being returned to the Vatican library from which it was removed in the 1400’s.

Instead of a straight police procedural, the story becomes bogged down in several side issues:  Dr. Lyons’ daughter’s guilt over her alienation from her father over the issue of his mistress and her own “love life;” a couple of characters, Alvirah and Willy, who outwit the police and the perpetrator; and Lyons’ wife’s dementia, among other things.

The author can still write smoothly, but the novel smacks of a manufactured outline, rather than a carefully developed plot, with each step carefully constructed to fit.  It is unfortunate because the idea for the story is excellent, and if the characters were more deeply drawn, and the irrelevancies omitted, the novel could have been more intriguing.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2012.