Book Review: An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch @CharlesFinch @MinotaurBooks

An Extravagant Death
A Charles Lenox Mystery #14
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, February 2021
ISBN: 978-1-250-76713-4
Hardcover

In Victorian London, Prime Minister Disraeli has asked Charles Lenox to cross the Atlantic to take on a diplomatic mission that concerns international crime. Upon completion, a knighthood is in store. Charles has been rethinking his course in life, which, as a detective, often puts him in danger and separates him from his wife, Lady Jane. Besides, he loves to travel and this may be his last chance to visit America.

Blithely, he sets sail, and soon is the toast of New York high society, partly because of his own reputation, and partly because of  Lady Jane’s societal position, renown on both sides of the Atlantic. He meets everyone of importance and is moving on to visit Philadelphia when he receives a telegram from his New York acquaintances calling him back. A young woman has died in a mysterious fashion. But how? And why? Can he help?

Taking on this case puts Charles in touch with highest New York society, but also makes him a target of a cold-blooded killer. Can he discover this murderer before he becomes the next victim?

The case moves slowly a good part of the time, but I didn’t find the mystery as interesting or as entertaining as the in-depth look at Victorian mores in 1878. From both sides of the pond, the differences are astounding. Plus, the author has given the reader a look from the differing viewpoints of highest rank with the most money, to the servant class who sees to their every need. The depiction of Caroline Astor’s party is a revelation.

This is a big novel well worth your time. The writing is excellent, the characters fully fleshed and believable.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2021.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

Book Reviews: Fatal Score by John Baird Rogers and Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering @Gotuit @carolatlovering @AtriaBooks

Fatal Score
Mayfield-Napolitani #1         
John Baird Rogers
Gotuit Publishing LLC, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-7322262-0-3
Trade Paperback

Here’s a novel for late-night reading. Or, depending on your belief, daytime/sunshine reading. The author has grasped both the marvelous advances and future of technology, big medicine big government and the insidious dark and dangerous aspects of human greed. Human greed, when exposed to opportunities to corrupt and steal, is almost a foregone conclusion, and in the author’s vision, fraught with hosts of bright accomplished people on the dark side as well as standing in the light.

Joe Mayfield, an accountant, happily married, does his job efficiently, and life is good. Then his wife is diagnosed with a cancer, her medical records are altered so her insurance is minimal and Mayfield’s life takes a nosedive. Why was her medical coverage designation altered? Was the national medical database hacked? Why this one woman?

Mayfield sets out to find some answers and that involves some penetration of a huge national database nicknamed YAK. He runs up against a highly intelligent security agent named Louise Napolitani. Her job is to protect the YAK against hackers. The author has set up the novel to follow these two separate but linked protagonists.

The pace of the writing is fast, persistent and occasionally furious. It is a well-written and cleanly resolved story, peopled with interesting characters. Through it all readers will learn in the most positive and comfortable way, a good deal about potential future developments in big data, data processing, government and the unchanging venality of people when confronted with opportunities to steal. I recommend this debut novel without reservation and look forward to the continuing adventures of Joe Mayfield and Weezy Napolitani.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Tell Me Lies
Carola Lovering
Atria Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-6964-9
Hardcover

A long, conflicting narrative of a young woman who goes away to college, meets and falls for a flawed fellow, and as a result suffers some emotional mountain peaks and deep valleys. Lucy Albright is the woman. Bright, good-looking, energetic, positive of outlook, she has the instincts to recognize and resist the questionable charms of Stephen DeMarco. But she doesn’t.

DeMarco is charming, handsome, confident and a little slimy. The two form a relationship, not a bond, that carries them through college experiences and into adulthood.

The novel is well-written, well-paced, lengthy, sexy and ultimately unsatisfying. Its tension and angst rise through the first half of the story and then levels off so there are fewer and fewer surprises and readers suspect an unsatisfactory and unhappy conclusion looms closer on the horizon.

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

Book Reviews: Last Call by Elon Green and Thirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton @elongreen @CeladonBooks @DaveShelton @DFB_storyhouse

Last Call
A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York
Elon Green
Celadon Books, March 2021
ISBN 978-1-250-22435-4
Hardcover

The world was not warm or welcoming for gay men in the 1980s. Discrimination, bias and inexplicable hate made for an uncomfortable existence, at best. Not only was homosexuality grossly misunderstood; but AIDS was becoming a familiar fear for everyone.

Repercussions could be very real for any openly-gay man. Life turned from unpleasant to terrifying with the discovery of a dismembered male body. And later, another grisly, heart-wrenching find. More would follow.

Law enforcement was not convinced that the scarily-similar manner of disposal connected the crimes. Faint lines leading to New York City piano bars— where gay men felt somewhat safe—seemed more than a stretch.  Prejudices towards the victims’ “life-styles” and the lack of a crime scene, coupled with “dump sites” in different jurisdictions, meant that these crimes were not priorities.

Family members, friends, Lesbian and Gay Advocate Groups would not allow these deaths to be ignored, though. Patrons, pianists, and bartenders all mentioned one man, in particular. The suspect was a nurse at a NYC hospital, but no one knew more than that.

In the same way that stellar wait-staff are inconspicuous when their service is spot-on, Mr. Green simply sets everything up, almost allowing each man to tell his own story.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with a huge “Thank You!” to Celadon Books for the Advance Review Copy, which I will donate to my favorite high-school classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2021.

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Thirteen Chairs
Dave Shelton
David Fickling Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-1-910-20044-5
Trade Paperback

Inside of a dilapidated, abandoned home— that is most assuredly haunted, per the neighborhood children—one room appears to be in use. A long table is set with flickering candles, casting strange rays on the oddly assembled group gathered around.

Jack had heard the wicked rumors; but standing outside and seeing a soft light within, his curiosity has passed piqued. Compelled, he enters the house and follows the glow. He is welcomed to the table, where there is, uncannily, one empty chair.

Each person has a story to share and every one of the scary shorts could stand alone. Some of the narrators appear to know one another quite well, while others seem less comfortable with the eclectic individuals sharing their space. Jack is clearly the freshest face to the table, and perhaps, he has the most to fear.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.

Book Review: Here We Are by Aarti Namdev Shahani @aarti411 @CeladonBooks

Here We Are
American Dreams, American Nightmares
Aarti Namdev Shahani
Celadon Books, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-20475-2
Hardcover

I want to be Aarti Shahani when I grow up. Not just adult Aarti, author of this exquisite memoir, but the young girl that, after exhausting all other avenues, wrote directly to the judge presiding over her father’s case. So often, in fact, that the judge called her his “pen-pal”. In a way, that sums up her essence. In no way does it encapsulate her whole-hearted determination or accomplishments.

Ms. Shahani shares her story, alongside her father’s, generously and honestly. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares is a courageous and remarkably thoughtful way to illustrate stunning errors, inconsistencies and absolute apathy within the immigration system of the United States.

Her self-education started in adolescence when her family’s American-Dream-Life was demolished. The successful electronics store that her father and uncle were so proud of, was ensnared in the criminal investigation of so many cash-based-businesses on Broadway. A Columbian cartel was laundering money. No one within the judicial or legislative system mentioned that it would be highly unusual and unlikely for Indians to be Cali foot-soldiers.

At that time, Ms. Shahani did not imagine the volume of mistakes that had been made and ignored throughout her father’s processing. She did know that things were not right. For her family and, to her initial surprise, many of her immigrant neighbors. As she learned, she passed on her knowledge. Her assistance and action created ripples all across the continental U.S.

Ms. Shahani’s tone elevates this already compelling narrative. She does not attempt to hide her feelings or opinions, but they are clearly separated from explanations of policies and procedures. The objective, but not unfeeling, telling also shows that other countries have issues as well. It was not the U.S. that errantly issued a new passport to someone…immediately after London’s highest court had revoked all travel papers.

I finished this book with a new awareness of the intricacies and gaping holes in the immigration and deportation system. Ms. Shahani’s conversational tone, warmed by her obvious affections and admirations, make reading her memoir like catching up with a cherished friend in the comfiest of coffee shops. I am so glad that I get to take this gem to ‘my’ students next week; I don’t think I could wait any longer.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2019.

Book Review: The Man in Milan by Vito Racanelli @racanelliauthor @PolisBooks

The Man In Milan
Vito Racanelli
Polis Books, November 2020
ISBN 978-1-951709-27-3
Hardcover

On an April evening at Sutton Place in New York City, NYPD detective Paul Rossi finds a well-dressed dead man in the gutter. He’s been terminated by two carefully placed bullets, one in the chest, the other to the back of his head. It’s obviously an execution. Turns out the deceased is a former fighter pilot from the Italian Air Force.

The murder, then the precision-like burglary and destruction of the pilot’s estranged wife’s apartment, lead the detective team of Rossi and partner Hamilton P. Turner, into a morass of international intrigue, corruption, and more death.

Rossi, Italian-American and Detective Turner, a multi-talented African-American poet, opera buff and former lawyer are sent to Rome, following leads and beset by a nasty reporter from a New York rag who had been contacted by the dead pilot. The question is why?

The answers apparently lie in an old mystery. And while the story winds its convoluted way through Italian society, several more deaths occur, including three women who are casually cast aside, leading, I suspect, some readers to question the attitude of the author to the values of women in the story line.

The plot moves at a reasonable pace, logically follows discovery after discovery, with some clever bits to strengthen the narrative, to a rational conclusion. The narrative concludes with the open possibility of further adventures of these two detectives.

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

Book Review: Murder Off the Page by Con Lehane @clehane @MinotaurBooks

Murder Off the Page
The 42nd Street Library Mysteries #3
Con Lehane
Minotaur Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-31792-6
Hardcover

When Raymond Ambler, librarian in charge of the crime fiction collection at the 42nd Street Library, and his friend and co-worker Adele Morgan are out for a drink one evening, they see an attractive and somewhat drunk woman in her early thirties, surrounded by a group of men harassing her. Adele recognizes the woman—she had been at the library earlier in the day. The woman notices Adele, and comes over to join their table, sitting on Ambler’s glasses, which he left on a stool. She introduces herself as Shannon Darling. Bartender McNulty steps in, and insists on taking her back to her hotel room.

Shannon told Adele she was writing a book on women mystery writers, focusing on Jayne Galloway. She seemed to be an inexperienced researcher, unfamiliar with how to do archival research, and appeared at the library more elegantly dressed than most researchers. Adele suspects Shannon is hiding something.

When a man is discovered shot in a hotel room registered to Shannon Darling, NYPD detective Mike Cosgrove investigates. He discovers that during Shannon’s visits to the city, she has bouts of uncontrolled drinking and one-night stands with men she meets in the cocktail lounges of posh hotels. Bartender McNulty and Shannon both disappear, and become suspects in the case.

Ambler and Adele investigate, wanting to clear the name of their friend McNulty. What they discover is that Shannon seems to be leading a double life. When not in the city she is a doctor in the suburbs with an upscale Greenwich Connecticut home and a successful husband and a young daughter.

For mystery readers that enjoy librarian amateur sleuths and lots of New York City color, this is reminiscent of Michael Jahn’s Bill Donovan series. This is the third book in the series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, July 2020.

Book Review: Trafficked! by Thomas A. Burns, Jr. @3Mdetective

Trafficked!
A Natalie McMasters Mystery #3
Thomas A. Burns
Tekrighter LLC,  April 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-44718-6
Trade Paperback

Natalie McMasters is a private investigator trainee and the narrator of this emotional, terror-steeped and frank novel of love, loss, desperation, enslavement and retribution. She’s good at surveillance, patient, calm and alert. She hasn’t had much training or experience in developing projects that consider all possible events and outcomes, so she travels on grit and instinct.

She’s married, to a young Latino lady who is in the states illegally and thus has no standing with ICE. When ICE comes looking, Lupe runs, leaving a distraught Natalie to wonder about the future. Natalie’s decision, after very little consideration, is to go looking for Lupe. The trail leads to New York where Natalie becomes tangled with city law enforcement, a gaggle of street people, a detective from her hometown, and finally, an evil band of Albanian sex traffickers.

This explicitly written novel starts slowly and ramps up to a frenetic pace almost immediately as Natalie and her detective friend wander through some of the seamier sections of New York and encounter interesting characters on both sides of the law. Scenes are well developed and often gripping in substance. The author captures a good sense of the scenes and characters in the city and on the Albanian’s ship, in a very adult and explicit fashion.

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