Book Review: Run Away by Harlan Coben

Run Away
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-5387-4846-6
Hardcover

First I have to confess I am a big fan of Harlan Coben. His latest book RUN AWAY is a complex tale about the Greene Family who live in New York City. Simon Greene and his wife Ingrid have three grownup children, Paige, Sam and Anya. Simon runs a financial company and Ingrid is a Pediatric Surgeon.

Life had been fairly normal until Paige, away from home attending Lanford College, became involved with a man named Aaron Corval, a drug addict. Stunned at the changes in their daughter, they tried to intervene, but Paige refused to listen and to their horror, left college with Corval and became an addict.

Months have passed and now, unbeknownst to his wife, Simon has been trying once again to find Paige with the intention of persuading her to leave Corval and enter rehab. A tip takes Simon to Central Park where he does find Paige, but Corval confronts him. A fistfight ensues and while Paige escapes, bystanders call the police. Simon is arrested.

A month later Aaron Corval is found brutally murdered in a run-down apartment in Mott Haven, The Bronx. The police pay Simon a visit. When he asks about Paige, thinking she might be a possible suspect in Corval’s death, he learns she is missing. Simon and Ingrid decide to check out the apartment where Corval was killed in the hope of finding a clue to where their daughter might have gone. They find no trace of Paige but as they leave they are confronted by a couple of armed drug dealers and in the contentious exchange Ingrid is shot.

Meanwhile we are introduced to two new characters, Ash and Dee-Dee and quickly realize they are killers, working their way through a list of people they have been hired to kill. While there seems to be no connection between the victims there is a strange and eerie logic to what they are being paid to do.

A combination of guilt, frustration and anguish over all that has happened to his daughter and wife (who is still in hospital), drives him to attend Aaron Corval’s funeral in the faint hope he’ll unearth a clue to where Paige is hiding. He gets an opportunity to talk to Corval’s step-mother at the bar she runs but learns little. But when he is approached by a woman who turns out to be a Private Detective looking for a missing young man they discover both Corval and the missing man were both adopted. Can this be the connection that will unravel the mystery?

This is indeed a twisted tale but at no time did I lose focus or interest in what was going on. As always the author did a commendable job of juggling the different story lines as they sped toward an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, April 2019.

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Book Review: The Beethoven Conspiracy by Thomas Hauser

The Beethoven Conspiracy
Thomas Hauser
Tor Books, December 1985
ISBN 0-812-50451-8
Mass Market Paperback

A detective team of an older experienced New York cop, Richard Merritt and his young partner, Jim Dema, are confronted with a triple murder outside Lincoln Center. The three victims are young, unidentified and all have been shot to death. The case explodes when their identities are revealed along with their talents. All three are rising stars in the classical music field and missing from one is an expensive violin worth upwards of $300,000.

The detectives begin with little or no knowledge of the classical music but intense interviews and library research gradually elevates Richard Merritt’s level of understanding to useful levels. After many interviews, he meets Judith Darr who is instrumental in helping Merritt navigate the intricacies of the inflammatory case. Along the way the author has inserted sizeable quantities of the history of Beethoven and his era. It is cleverly and engagingly written and only adds to the richness of the narrative which gradually draws the reader in.

The writing is crisp, the pace appropriate for this kind of thoughtful detective novel. The violence is tastefully presented with the right kind of impact.

The novel is rich in context, both in New York and Salzburg and will satisfy readers of historical and detective fiction.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Trimmed to Death
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #15
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-9985317-6-2
Trade Paperback

This is a series I’ve been enjoying ever since the author came to our store and, if I recall correctly, met with one of our book clubs. Nancy may have also participated in a big mystery authors gathering we hosted but I honestly am not sure about that and my records from back then are gone, burned up in a computer surge. At any rate, we go back to at least 2000 or 2001 and I haven’t missed a book since. There’s a reason for that—these are really good books with a protagonist I like a lot and, unlike some amateur sleuths, Marla Vail has a brain.

This time, hair salon owner Marla has entered a baking contest at a farm festival and joins in a scavenger hunt during the wait for the judging. As you might expect, Marla finds a body in the strawberry field, a competitor in the contest. Naturally, she’s compelled to investigate, especially after a friend asks her for help. Fortunately, her husband, Dalton, is tolerant of her stepping in even though he’s the investigating detective.

As Dalton says upon seeing the body, “Good God, Marla. Not another one.” Not a surprising comment after so many bodies over the years but at least he’s used to Marla doing her sleuthing thing 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Bono
The Amazing Story of a Rescue Cat Who Inspired a Community
Helen Brown
HarperCollins/ABC
ISBN 978-0–7333-3804-5
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-4607-0797-5
Ebook

Look at that cover—is that not just about the cutest cat you ever saw? Of course, that’s what I say about pretty much any cat I see, especially rescues, but there’s something about Bono that really catches the eye, right?

Helen Brown has written about cats before or, rather, cats and her own life, telling tales about how these little beasties have influenced her and made her life so much more complete. This time, Helen was talked into fostering a cat for just one month while visiting New York City but Bono turned out to be not at all like the sweet, docile sweetie she envisioned; instead, Bono was an opinionated, demanding guy with special needs, badly in need of a forever home.

Needless to say, Bono and Helen develop a fierce fondness for each other and their story is one of love and the search for Bono’s forever home. I cried and I smiled and fell in love with this beautiful Persian as I’m sure you will.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Darkest Before the Dawn
A Sgt. Windflower Mystery #7
Mike Martin
Ottawa Press and Publishing, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-988437-13-2
Trade Paperback

There’s something about Canadian police procedurals that really appeals to me and I can’t really put my finger on it. Sure, I love the whole idea of red-jacketed Mounties on their grand steeds—who doesn’t?—but those guys don’t show up all that often and most of the procedurals are with cops and detectives that could just as easily be found in Phoenix or Cleveland. I do know one thing and that’s that Canadian police procedurals tend to have a gentler tone, easier on the psyche than many American books of the same subgenre.

Now, as it happens, Sgt. Windflower really is a Mountie based in a small village in Newfoundland. Even tiny towns in remote places have their issues with crime and, not surprisingly, this one is also dealing with the dissatisfaction of its youth. Still, life is pretty pleasant until Winston and his colleagues are faced with a a rash of violence and financial crimes and he starts looking into potential connections to the Dark Web.

On the whole, Darkest Before the Dawn and, I believe, the whole series, is a feel-good kind of story. Sgt. Windflower and his family, including Lady the Collie, have a happy life. Winston, a member of the Cree tribe, has dreams that he ties to his First Nation status and sometimes interprets in his criminal investigations and those investigations are good puzzles. At the same time, we get to spend a lot of time with the family and with Sgt. Windflower’s fellow officers, not to mention the townspeople. All in all, this was an exceedingly enjoyable read and I intend to go back to the beginning of the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

Book Review: A Major Production by Thomas B. Sawyer

A Major Production
A Barney Moon, P.I. Mystery Thriller 
Thomas B. Sawyer
Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc., April 2018
ISBN 978-1-7320918-0-1
Trade Paperback

What could be an entertaining caper story is marred by inattention to formatting and editing details. Barney Moon is an irascible New York private investigator sent on a case to Los Angeles, his least favorite city. Since he doesn’t drive, he teams up with college student Melodie Seaver, who drives him  while he investigates an inept scheme by a couple of disgruntled federal agents, the murder of a mobster’s wife, and a threat to Barney himself.

The reader is distracted by the unconventional punctuation and formatting. Business names and agencies are italicized, generic nouns are capitalized, and some words are both italicized and underlined. There is an overly generous use of hyphens, dashes, and ellipses. Compound nouns are hyphenated, as are some nouns and their modifiers. Some of this can be explained by the author’s background, which includes many years of screenwriting. Emphasizing words by italics and bolding may be a common practice in screenwriting, but it’s not the norm for novel readers, who can find it distracting. There are also numerous other errors which should have been corrected in proofreading. Not recommended.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Coffee by Mary C. M. Phillips

Pride and Prejudice and Coffee
Mary C. M. Phillips
eBookIt.com, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-4566-3070-6
Ebook

From the book’s “Introduction”:  Hundreds of years ago, before the world enjoyed their favorite beverage, coffee beans were chewed.  The refreshing jolt that native Ethiopians experienced might be similar to what we now encounter as we sip upon a freshly brewed cup of java; however, the method of delivery left much to be desired.”

This charming tale, sub-titled “A Caffeinated Romance and Brief Exploration of the Coffee Industry,” is just that.  While describing a protest at the premises of The Pemberley Corporation, a public corporation whose interests included coffee growers in Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia, the reader is made aware of the dire working conditions extant for those farm workers, who, along with their children, “labored in the hot sun without any respite of shade.”  Pemberley held large positions in these publicly traded stocks, and is now being held to account for “the exploitation of workers.”

I suspect that I am not alone in my ignorance of situations such as those described here, which I have no doubt reflect the actuality of the conditions described, at least in some if not all of these farms.  I suspect that I am also not alone in my complete enjoyment of a good cup of coffee [which, of course, does not excuse the conditions endured by these farm workers!].

Along with the personal lives of the protagonists, which is completely charming, each section [not denoted as ‘chapters’] is followed by a paragraph or so of fascinating tidbits of information, headed “Sip on This,” e.g., “Coffee and Romance,” “Gluten-free Food,” “Etiquette,” “Corporate Greed [discussing the Enron bankruptcy],” et al.  These take place in, among other disparate places, Jones Beach [New York], Costa Rica, and Central Park!  One does not normally think of the exploitation of workers as we sip our morning cups of coffee [apparently the most heavily traded commodity in the world, next to oil], until one reads this mind-opening book!

A complete change of pace, this short, fast-moving novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2018.

Book Reviews: The Dark Clouds Shining by David Downing and The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Dark Clouds Shining
Jack McColl Series #4
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-606-6
Hardcover

With this, the fourth Jack McColl spy story, David Downing concludes the series.  It takes place just as the civil war in Soviet Russia is ending and developments are dire with respect to the original high hopes that accompanied the Revolution, and the nation suffers from all kinds of shortages, especially food for a starving populace.  Jack is not faring any better, languishing in jail for assaulting a Bobby, when his Secret Service boss visits him and presents Jack with a way to get out if he accepts an unofficial assignment.  Jack is disillusioned by the slaughter of so many in the Great War and can’t abide spying for his country any more, but accepts the assignment to get out of jail.  So he goes to Russia to learn what other British spies are planning at the behest of MI5.  And unknown to him, he will again meet with the love of his life, Caitlin, who is now married to one of the men involved in the MI5 scheme which Jack was sent to investigate and possibly foil.

The author’s ability to recreate the environment of the historical period, along with descriptions of the economic and political atmosphere, is outstanding, as is the recounting of the action resulting from the hunt by both Jack and the Cheka, the Russian secret service and forerunner of the GPU, for the plotters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

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The Cutting Edge
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel #14
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-3641-2
Hardcover

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a multi-faceted conspiracy in the latest Lincoln Rhyme novel.  It begins with the murder of a prominent diamond cutter in the heart of New York’s jewelry district on 47th Street, although the murderer apparently left behind a small fortune in gems, so the motive remains obscure.  A young apprentice walks in during the murder and is shot at but is saved when the bullet hits a bag filled with rocks instead.

Subsequent murders take place, ostensibly by a psycho who is out to save diamonds from being defaced as engagement rings and who trails young couples in the act of making purchases and killing them.  Meanwhile Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are analyzing the few clues available and seeking to locate the apprentice, who is hiding from view.  Then a series of explosions take place, believed to be earthquakes in the heart of Brooklyn.

And as a sidelight, Rhyme agrees for the first time to assist a defendant, a murderous Mexican drug lord on trial in Federal court for illegal entry and murder, by reviewing the evidence in the hope of establishing an error.  This gives the author another chance to fool the reader with another twist.

Of course, the whole plot is premised on Mr. Deaver’s ability to surprise readers by leading them down a path only to divert them finally by revealing something else in the end.  The series is long- standing and always diverting, especially when forensics are analyzed and explained.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto

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Title: The Body in the Ballroom
Series: An Alice Roosevelt Mystery #2
Author: R.J. Koreto
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: June 12, 2018

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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The Body in the Ballroom
An Alice Roosevelt Mystery #2
R.J. Koreto
Crooked Lane Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-577-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

President Teddy Roosevelt’s daring daughter, Alice, leaps into action to exonerate a friend accused of poisoning a man just about everyone hated.

Alice Roosevelt, the brilliant, danger-loving daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, has already risked an assassin’s bullet to solve one murder. She never expected to have to sleuth another, but she’d never pass up the opportunity, either. Anything to stave off boredom.

And such an opportunity presents itself when Alice is invited to a lavish ball. The high-society guests are in high spirits as they imbibe the finest wines. But one man, detested by nearly all the partygoers, quaffs a decidedly deadlier cocktail. An African-American mechanic, who also happens to be a good friend of former Rough Rider-turned-Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, is suspected of the murder-by-poison, but Alice is sure he’s innocent and is back on the scene to clear his name.

From downtown betting parlors to uptown mansions, Alice and Agent St. Clair uncover forbidden romances and a financial deal that just might change the world. But neither Alice nor her would-be protector may survive the case at hand in The Body in the Ballroom, R. J. Koreto’s gripping second Alice Roosevelt mystery.

The irrepressible Alice Roosevelt is back and, if her father or anyone else thought she would settle down after her adventure regarding the McKinley assassination, they were very wrong. When Secret Service agent Joseph St. Clair is re-assigned to Alice as her bodyguard, he first finds her practice shooting a Smith & Wesson she’s not supposed to have and not doing it very well; he knows at once that his charge hasn’t settled down in the least.

Alice and St. Clair head to New York City and the chaperonage of Alice’s Aunt Anna Cowles for a round of high society social events and, when a guest who’s pretty much universally hated is poisoned at a ball, Alice can’t resist the opportunity to snoop. This time, St. Clair is not entirely averse to her activities because a friend, Peter Carlyle, has been accused of the murder and St. Clair is sure he’s innocent.

In a way, this episode in Alice’s adventures is an homage to the large immigrant population that existed in New York City at the turn of the century and a look at racial relations as well. At times, the solving of the murder takes a bit of a back seat but, for the most part, The Body in the Ballroom is a nice blend of history, social injustice and criminal investigation that I enjoyed very much. Alice and St. Clair have become one of my favorite crime-solving duos and their third book can’t come too soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

An Excerpt from The Body in the Ballroom

President Roosevelt and I were just finishing out talk when a moment later, the office door opened, and Mr. Wilkie, the Secret Service director, walked in. I stood to greet him.

“St. Clair. Glad to see you’re back. Very pleased with the way it went in St. Louis.” He turned to the president. “Have you spoken to him yet, sir?”

“Yes, and he’s agreed.” Wilkie looked relieved, too.

“Very good then. If you’re done, sir, I’ll take St. Clair to her. My understanding is that arrangements have been made for Miss Roosevelt to leave tomorrow afternoon.”

“Exactly. We’re all done then. St. Clair, thanks again. And I’ll be up in the near future, so I expect to see you again soon.” We shook hands, and I followed Mr. Wilkie out the door.

“Is she smoking on the roof again, sir?” I asked. That’s what happened the first time I met Alice in the White House.

He grimaced. “No. My understanding is that she is in the basement indulging a new hobby of hers. But you’ll see.” He led me downstairs, and that’s when I heard the unmistakable sounds of gunfire. Mr. Wilkie didn’t seem worried, however. “Miss Roosevelt somehow got hold of a pistol and has set up her own private firing range in a storage room. We launched an investigation to figure out how Miss Roosevelt obtained such a weapon but were unable to reach a formal conclusion, I’m sorry to say.”

No wonder they wanted me back.

And just as when Mr. Wilkie had sent me to get Alice off the roof, he once again cleaned his glasses on his handkerchief, shook my hand, wished me luck, and departed.

I heard one more shot, and that was it. She was probably reloading. The sound came from behind a double door at the end of the hallway. I carefully opened it, and she didn’t notice at first.

I watched her concentrating on the pistol, her tongue firmly between her teeth as she carefully focused on reloading. It was an old Smith & Wesson single-action, and she was damn lucky she hadn’t blown her own foot off. She was shooting at a mattress propped against the far wall, and from the wide scattering of holes, it was clear her marksmanship needed a lot of practice.

“A little more patience, Miss Alice. You’re jerking the trigger; that’s why you keep shooting wild. And that gun’s too big for you.”

It was a pleasure to see the look of shock and joy on her face. She just dropped the gun onto a box and practically skipped to me, giving me a girlish hug. “Mr. St. Clair, I have missed you.” She looked up. “And I know you have missed me. They say you’re back on duty with me. We’re heading to New York tomorrow, and we’ll have breakfast together like we used to and walk to the East Side through Central Park and visit your sister Mariah.”

I couldn’t do anything but laugh. “We’ll do all that, Miss Alice. But I’m on probation from your aunt, so we have to behave ourselves. You have to behave yourself.”

“I always behave.” She waved her hand to show that the discussion had ended. “Now there must be a trick to loading revolvers because it takes me forever.”

“I’ll teach you. Someday.” I made sure the revolver was unloaded and stuck it in my belt. Then I scooped up the cartridges and dumped them in my pocket.

“Hey, that’s my revolver,” said Alice. “It took me a lot of work to get it.”

“You’re not bringing it to New York, that’s for sure, Miss Alice.”

She pouted. “I thought you’d relax a little after being in St. Louis.”

“And I thought you’d grow up a little being in Washington. You want to walk into the Caledonia like a Wild West showgirl? Anyway, don’t you have some parties to go to up there?”

“Oh, very well. But promise me you’ll take me to a proper shooting range in New York and teach me how to load and fire your New Service revolver.”

“We’ll see. Meanwhile, if you don’t upset your family or Mr. Wilkie between now and our departure tomorrow, I’ll buy you a beer on the train.” That made her happy.

We walked upstairs as she filled me in on White House gossip.

“Oh, and I heard you were in a fast draw in St. Louis and gunned down four men.” She looked up at me curiously.

“A little exaggeration,” I said. I hadn’t killed anyone in St. Louis, hadn’t even fired my revolver, except for target practice.

“You didn’t kill anyone?” she asked, a little disappointed.

“No. No one.”

But then her face lit up. “Because your reputation proceeded you, and they knew there was no chance of outdrawing you.”

“That must be it,” I said.

“But look on the bright side,” she said, still full of cheer. “New York is a much bigger city. Maybe you’ll get a chance to shoot someone there.”

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Excerpt from The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto. Copyright © 2018 by R.J. Koreto. Reproduced with permission from R.J. Koreto. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

R.J. Koreto has been fascinated by turn-of-the-century New York ever since listening to his grandfather’s stories as a boy.

In his day job, he works as a business and financial journalist. Over the years, he’s been a magazine writer and editor, website manager, PR consultant, book author, and seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He’s a graduate of Vassar College, and like Alice Roosevelt, he was born and raised in New York.

He is the author of the Lady Frances Ffolkes and Alice Roosevelt mysteries. He has been published in both Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He also published a book on practice management for financial professionals.

With his wife and daughters, he divides his time between Rockland County, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Catch up with R.J. Koreto on Website , Goodreads , Twitter , & Facebook !

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