Book Review: Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks

Weave a Murderous Web
Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks
Melange Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-68046-252-4
Trade Paperback

Jane Larson, a high powered litigator with Adams & Ridge, a big New York law firm, takes on a domestic case as a favor to a friend. The friend is a legal assistant at the firm, Francine, who has a friend with a troublesome divorce. Gail is model-beautiful but seems more interested in extracting cash from her lawyer husband than the welfare of her daughter. There is a suitcase full of cash that Larry Hawkins, the ex-husband, is hiding from her, and she wants Jane to find it.

After attending a Young Lawyers dinner, Jane is shot and wounded by Larry . Although this attempt on her life failed, will someone try again? Carmen Ruiz, a cable news reporter, is investigating a story about another local attorney who was believed to die of a drug overdose. Carmen, who knew that the dead attorney had dealings with Larry, thinks he was killed.  A tip from Carmen leads to the discovery of a safe deposit box with cash and two insurance policies. But Gail claims that the there’s still that suitcase out there, and she is desperate for the cash.

Unfortunately, the author telegraphed the killer early on, in a bit of back story that was out of place. It was difficult to find something sympathetic about any of the characters in this tale of lies, drugs, and murder.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

Book Review: Murder Between the Lines by Radha Vatsal—and a Giveaway!

Murder Between the Lines
A Kitty Weeks Mystery #2
Radha Vatsal
Sourcebooks Landmark, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-4926-3892-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Intrepid journalist Kitty Weeks returns in the second book in this acclaimed WW1-era historical mystery series to investigate the death of a boarding school student.

When Kitty’s latest assignment for the New York Sentinel Ladies’ Page takes her to Westfield Hall, she expects to find an orderly establishment teaching French and dancing-but there’s more going on at the school than initially meets the eye.

Tragedy strikes when a student named Elspeth is found frozen to death in Central Park. The doctor’s proclaim that the girl’s sleepwalking was the cause, but Kitty isn’t so sure.

Determined to uncover the truth, Kitty must investigate a more chilling scenario-a murder that may involve Elspeth’s scientist father and a new invention by a man named Thomas Edison.

The early 1900’s have always been a favorite historical period for me with its blend of innocence and the beginnings of the fights for social justice, whether it be the push for women’s rights or perhaps the protection of workers, adults and children. Murder Between the Lines has all the charm and interesting setting I look for in this type of historical.

Kitty Weeks is a natural if unintended sleuth in her zeal to be a “real” reporter and perhaps find justice for those in need and her editor has agreed to let her do more than cover society. A country with high-flying ideals on the precipice of war and coping with suffragettes and the like presents plenty of opportunity for Kitty, herself a wealthy member of society, but she’s drawn to the death of a young lady, a death she finds quite suspicious even after it’s ruled accidental. Kitty had met Elspeth while doing a piece on her boarding school and found her focus on scientific matters most interesting but wonders if that could have led to her death.

With an easy pace and an appealing protagonist determined to solve an engaging puzzle, Ms. Vatsal kept me entertained and following Kitty down several paths before  finally reaching a solution. I thoroughly enjoyed my first adventure with this intrepid young woman and really appreciated the author’s attention to the details of the period. While she’s perhaps not as well-developed a character as I would like, Kitty’s intelligence and her own reactions to the issues of her day make her a young woman I want to meet again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

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To enter the drawing for print
copies of both Murder Between
the Lines and A Front Page Affair,
the first book, leave a
comment below.
The winning name
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Book Review: The Inheritance by Jacqueline Seewald—and a Giveaway!

The Inheritance
Jacqueline Seewald
Intrigue Publishing, December 2016
ISBN 978-1-940758-50-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Jennifer Stoddard is a 35-year-old widow who has just found out she is the sole heir of her grandmother’s estate, located in the midwest town she grew up in. But there is a catch; she must live in the house for two years before she can claim the estate and someone doesn’t want her there. The threats begin soon after her return. A rifle shot whizzes through her car window, her brakes are tampered with, and her tires are slashed. Police Chief, Grant Coleman, is called upon to investigate. Unfortunately, the history between Jen and Grant from high school causes them to mistrust each other. However, Grant is a professional and intends to do his job. Together they explore who might want to drive Jen out of the house, while trying to understand their feelings of anger, mistrust and desire for each other. With Jen’s life on the line, will they be able to put the past behind them to work together and save her and her son’s lives?

We’ve seen this premise before, that of someone having to fulfill usually difficult conditions in order to receive an inheritance. The differences with this particular story lie in the questions that immediately arise in the reader’s mind, starting with wondering why Jen had to learn through an attorney that her grandmother had passed a month earlier. That in itself isn’t the puzzle—that sort of thing isn’t unheard of—but, in this case, the attorney got Jen’s address from her mother so why didn’t the woman tell her? And, if her grandmother played such a large role in her youth, why did Jen essentially cut her out of her life?

Those questions and more are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when Jen returns to her hometown and accepts the challenge of the will. The mansion is in dire need of repair and she hires a contractor, Rob Coleman, who turns out to be the brother of Grant Coleman who broke her heart in high school. Unfortunately, Grant is the police chief and has a distinctly hostile attitude towards her. When it starts to look like someone really doesn’t want her in town, that attitude is going to cause problems of its own.

Along with the mounting tension of the attacks, there’s an enjoyable sidestory involving Jen’s visiting friend, Maryann, and Rob. These are two likeable characters I couldn’t help rooting for and they helped lighten the suspense. That suspense builds and builds until a dramatic ending that held even more surprises. All in all, The Inheritance is a finely-crafted story that held my attention from the very first page to the last.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of The Inheritance, leave a
comment
below. The winning name
will be drawn Fri
day evening,
May 5th. Open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Jimmy and Fay by Michael Mayo

Jimmy and Fay
The Jimmy Quinn Mysteries #3
Michael Mayo
Open Road/Mysterious Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-5040-3607-8
Trade Paperback

Jimmy and Fay reads like one of those old gangster films from the thirties, mixing noir and glamour with a touch of the illegal thrown in to keep it interesting. Jimmy Quinn runs a speakeasy in New York City; his girlfriend Connie Nix and right-hand man Arch Malloy keep the business going. Someone has made dirty photos of the film “King Kong” but anyone can see the woman in the photos in not Fay Wray. Even so, the studio is anxious to make the story go away. They will pay $6000 to the blackmailers and Jimmy is tapped to be the go-between for ten percent.

“Jimmy the Stick” is not your usual good guy battling evil. He’s short, has a bum leg, and sometimes uses his cane as a weapon. The story focuses on the seedy world of stag films, corrupt cops and blackmail. Real life gangsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano provide background for the world of Prohibition in 1933 New York City. Plenty of colorful slang and details from the time period add to the solid mystery at the center of this story.

The author writes on film for the Washington Post and the Roanoke Times, and is the author of American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media. This is the third in the Jimmy Quinn series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2017.

Book Reviews: The Bid by Adrian Magson and Jacqueline by Jackie Minniti

the-bidThe Bid
A Cruxys Solutions Investigation #2
Adrian Magson
Midnight Ink Books, January 2017
ISBN: 978073875043
Trade Paperback

Modern warfare is a featured bit player in this novel of suspense. The story opens a window on a rich theme of warfare and crime in the coming twenty-first century and beyond. Indeed, one of the problems with the novel is the number of possibilities it raises for both criminals and law enforcement.

The target is no less than the President of the United States and the process of funding and carrying out the assassination is a clever idea rooted in very modern financial life. The author, an experienced British crime-novelist, has written over a dozen thrillers, most would be classed as spy or conspiracy thrillers. The action is tension-filled, mostly consistent and relentless. The writing is top-notch, the characters are mostly interesting and/or intriguing and the settings are appropriate.

A business consultant with operations in the US and overseas has a specialized insurance contract on his life. If he goes missing for a short period of time, unusually trained operatives go active, searching for the client and setting up protection for the client’s family. It sounds expensive and I wanted more explanation of the basis for the character, James Chadwick, to buy what must have been an expensive policy. The policy is administered by a company called Cruxys. This interesting security policy allows the writer to introduce a pair of company operatives who soon fly off to the US where most of the action takes place.

Over several chapters we learn that the company seekers, Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vasilk, have unusual and relevant training and employment backgrounds, including the ability to take lives when necessary to protect their employer and themselves. It is easy to see the range of possibilities for this free-wheeling pair to get into trouble and to rescue clients from a wide range of dangerous circumstances.

Were it not for the author’s penchant for slipping strong critical editorial commentary into the narrative voice from time to time, the pace of the novel would make this book truly a compelling page turner. One wonders if there is anything about American life he finds favor for. In spite of these asides, The Bid is enjoyable, attention-holding and well-worth the readers’ time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2016.
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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jacquelineJacqueline
Jackie Minniti
Anaiah Press, July 2015
ISBN
Trade Paperback

Jacqueline Falna of the title is a French child, twelve years of age, living in Rennes, France. When the story opens, in 1943, she and her mother have just learned that her father, a French aviator, is missing in action. Now they must cope with poverty, the Nazi occupiers, the coming of American forces all while maintaining a semblance of normal chiildhood.

Jacqueline, bright, energetic, with all the attributes one hopes to observe in a daughter or niece, is desolated by the news, but holds to the thread of possibility that her father may have been captured and will one day, after the war return to their home in Rennes. When a nearby family of Jews is abruptly taken away, the boy, David, remains and is hidden by Jacqueline’s family with help from neighbors.

In a simple, straight-forward style, through the eyes of this twelve year old child, we follow her daily challenges to help her mother find food, keep themselves warm in the winter and for Jacqueline, school and church. The novel is written for a middle school audience but the author’s craft does not pander, assuming readers may occasionally have to struggle with the language and some of the more mature considerations.

This is a fine, realistic novel, very well balanced with tragedy, happiness and it will not only engage readers in this age range. It also provides a way for young people to learn something about World War Two on an important personal level. Finally, after reading the novel, you may want to remind yourself of the name of the author.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2016.
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 Reviews: Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly and Trap by Robert K. Tanenbaum

innocenceInnocence Or, Murder on Steep Street
Heda Margolius Kovaly
Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker
Soho Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-6169-5645-5
Trade Paperback

This murder mystery was written to disguise a political tract describing the author’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia during which her husband, an ardent party member and an assistant minister of trade, was falsely arrested, jailed and murdered.  Both had survived Nazi concentration camps.  The form the book takes was to somehow evade the censors and it surreptitiously tells his story as part of the plot, describing one of the characters.

Essentially, the plot revolves around the murder of a detective on a street on which a movie theater is located.  There are seven women who serve as ushers, each with a secret life, complicating the investigation into the death.  The stories of their lives unfold, together with the secrets they share with each other.

The promotional material recounts the author’s fame as a translator, and especially her love of Raymond Chandler.  It is doubtful that this work measures up to his standard of writing, and has to be judged on its own merits.  On that level, the reader has to cope with various obfuscations and, of course, the obscure Czech names and places which divert attention.  The conclusion is somewhat disappointing and really is somewhat ambiguous, whether by design or inadvertence.

The author really is known for her memoir, Under A Cruel Star, in which she describes her time in Auschwitz and the early years of Communism in her native land.  For its historical importance, the present novel deserves to be read.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016

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trapTrap
A Butch Karp – Marlene Ciampi Thriller #27
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-9318-4
Mass Market Paperback

The customary courtroom drama in the Butch Karp series takes up about half of this novel, but it isn’t as dramatic as most of the prior episodes.  Although the legal description is proficient, it is highly technical in nature and less dramatic than many of the previous legal battles, which are always a highlight of a Robert K. Tanenbaum story.  This tale is a mixture of a Karp family saga, hate crimes, deranged arsonist and bomber, religious beliefs combined with Nazi sympathizers and events during the Holocaust and World War II, and the conflict between the public school system, the teachers union as led by corrupt officers and charter schools.  How’s that for a mouthful?

What leads up to the courtroom scene are a series of events and even a murder or two.  The Teacher’s Federation president is attempting to head off a bill in Albany which would result in an audit that would expose him and his cohorts for stealing funds from the union’s coffers.  The author certainly knows better than this premise.  Certainly unions are subject to regular audits.  But for the plot to work, this fact has to be ignored.

So the battle between proponents of the charter school legislation, who want a mandatory audit of the Teacher’s Federation, and the corrupt union and public officials, ultimately sets the stage for the dramatic trial.  As side issues, we have a scraggly group of Nazi sympathizers who conveniently serves as a red herring in the lead-up to murder charges, and Karp’s twin sons’ wishy-washy approach to their religious beliefs and late (by several years) Bar Mitzvah.

All in all, however, this was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.

Book Review: Confessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard by Thomas Fitzsimmons

confessions-of-a-celebrity-bodyguardConfessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard
Thomas Fitzsimmons
Thomas Fitzsimmons Inc., March 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9789-7626-2
Trade Paperback

As with the earlier novel by Thomas Fitzsimmons, Confessions of a Catholic Cop, which introduced readers to Police Officer Michael Beckett, and its sequel, Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman, the current book’s authenticity is immediately apparent.  With good reason:  Following his service in the Navy during the Vietnam War, the author was an NYC cop for a decade in the notorious section of the South Bronx known as Fort Apache.  Not surprisingly, Michael Beckett has a similar background, which also includes acting on tv, the fictional aspect having Beckett portray – what else? – a cop, on the show “Law & Order.”  (His creator did work on NBC TV shows as well.  So he definitely knows whereof he speaks.)

Beckett is still dealing with the emotional aftermath of his sister’s death, of a drug overdose, at the age of 18, with all the attendant guilt and desire for revenge against the drug dealers who’d sold her the poison that had ultimately killed her.  That desire for revenge is perhaps what led Beckett to become involved with some former and current members of the NYPD known as “rockers” – a group of vigilantes who, for a price, do what the “legitimate” cops can’t do – among other things, rid houses of the drug dealers who inhabit them, “evicting” them by whatever means necessary, violent or otherwise.  The history of that group, who became known as “Beckett’s Rockers,” leads to a current investigation by the Feds, who seem determined to take over the NYPD altogether.

The more prominent investigation here revolves around the search for a serial celebrity stalker known as The Angel of Death.  Some of the celebrities he stalked have died from tainted heroin.  The first of these was six years ago, when a 21-year-old superstar was found dead by her bodyguards, then off-duty police officer [and moonlighting] Michael Beckett and his father, a retired NYPD police lieutenant.

The book opens with the current client of Lisi & Beckett Protective Services Inc. [owned by “Sweet Tommy” Lisi, mob-connected and his father’s business partner before his father’s death], a 19-year-old D-list reality TV star Francine “Tata” Andolini.  Beckett is working with his former lover, Destiny Jones, with whom he has a they-still-love-each-other relationship, complicated by all his former lovers who are still in the picture from time to time.  Tata is described as a “barely literate whack-a-doodle on an inane reality TV show.”  (That speaks for itself with no further commentary needed from me.)

There are several other tragic deaths in the background here, and some other horrific criminal acts, e.g., the night Destiny was gunned down in the line of duty, Beckett killing the perpetrator.  Also prominent is the death by apparent suicide of the fiancée of Tommy McKee, one of the Rockers, McKee still traumatized by her death years later.

Beckett is recently retired from the NYPD, after 18 years in the 41st Precinct, and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself, feeling like a “dinosaur” who didn’t fit in any more.  His father had been a cop for 35 years, as had two of his uncles. The author certainly brings to life the Yorkville section of Manhattan and its denizens, and other areas of the tri-State area, and has the patois – well, down pat!  He brings the book to an exciting conclusion, and I found the pages turning more and more quickly, reading it in less than 72 hours.  As with its predecessors in the series, this newest entry is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2016.