Book Review: Edited Out by E.J. Copperman

Edited Out
A Mysterious Detective Mystery #2
E.J. Copperman
Crooked Lane Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6295-3599-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Rachel Goldman is getting used to the idea that her fictional creation, Duffy Madison, has somehow taken flesh-and-blood form and is investigating missing person cases not far from where Rachel lives. Wait. No. She’s not getting used to it at all, and the presence of this real-life Duffy is making her current manuscript – what’s the word?  – – lousy.  So she doesn’t want to see Duffy – the living one – at all.  To make matters worse, when he shows up at her door and insists on talking to her, it’s about the one thing she doesn’t want to do:  find a missing person.  But the man Duffy seeks this time around might be able to solve Rachel’s problem.  He might just be the man Duffy was before he became Duffy five years ago.  The only problem is she could be letting Duffy lead her into danger yet again.

This is the second in a new series by E.J. Copperman, which finds author Rachel Goldman working, with some difficulty, on the next book in her Duffy Madison series, due to her publisher in three months.  Duffy is the consultant to the county prosecutor’s office, whose forte is finding missing persons.  Thinking back on the origin of her fictional character, she ruminates that she flashed on the idea of a consultant to the police, a very specific kind of genius who would be able to find lost things and, more important, lost people when the authorities could not.  It is now 6 months since a man had called Rachel “claiming to be the living incarnation of my fictional character.  He called himself Duffy Madison. .. . he believed I had actually created him four years earlier, because he had no memory of anything before that time.”  She speaks of him as “the raving lunatic who is using my character’s name and personality.”

Rachel is hard pressed to decide whether the man is insane, or if there is some other – or no – explanation as to his claims.  But after he had saved her life [in the events in the first book], she tries to give him some benefit of the doubt. This time their quest takes her from her home in Adamstown, New Jersey, to Poughkeepsie, New York [necessitating several trips across the barely passable Tappan Zee Bridge] where Duffy apparently went to high school, although proving that is difficult.  This time we learn a bit more about Rachel’s love life, such as it is.  Speaking of her invaluable assistant, she says “Paula dates more than I do, but then the pope probably dates more than I do.”

As I wrote in my review of the first book in the series (Written Off) this could only be an E.J. Copperman creation, as any reader of the author’s Asperger’s and Haunted Ghosthouse series can attest.  There is a mystery here, and quite creative and suspenseful it is, but the overriding aspect of this book is the author’s singular and trademark humor.  I can attest to the fact that every page, and nearly every sentence, of this delightful book is literally laugh-out-loud funny, and the smile almost never left my face for the two days it took me to read it.  As was the predecessor book, it is simply terrific, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2017.

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Book Review: The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott

The Christie Curse
A Book Collector Mystery #1
Victoria Abbott
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-425-525528-5
Mass Market Paperback

The Christie Curse is the first book in Victoria Abbott’s Book Collector series. This book, first published in 2013, deserves a second look for folks who may have missed it when it first came out because it sets up and introduces the wonderful characters for the series which is still going strong four years later. The “author” is a mother-daughter team and unlike some collaborations, this team gets it right.

Jordan Bingham is back in her hometown of Harrison, New York without a job or a place  of her own to live. She’s broke, alone and really needs to reboot her life. Through a want ad, Jordan falls into what appears to be the perfect position-working for an interesting if odd boss and ends up living in quite an unusual household. Vera Van Alst, the last of her family, is seeking a research assistant to work for her researching works for her massive library. Desperate for a job and with no other prospects apparent, Jordan accepts the job, moves into the house and settles in as best as she can. The household is run with near military precision with rules that seem to pop up for everything from how to dress to when and how much Jordan should eat (Vera basically doesn’t eat whereas Jordan eats just about everything in sight especially since Signora Panetone’s meals are so delicious.)

It seems Vera is a bit of a mystery buff and has long sought rare books by Agatha Christie. The one she is after now is what Jordan is hired to research–a play supposedly written during Christie’s legendary disappearance. Of course if such a play exists, it’s a safe bet that Vera is not the only collector who is hot to own it. And so the mystery begins.

There are several excellent characters in the book besides Vera and Jordan.  Readers find out that Jordan was raised by her two uncles who sometimes might not quite be on the right side of the law. The cook Signora Panetone who mothers over Vera and now Jordan,  and the police officer who Jordan calls Officer Smartypants. Some of the minor characters such as the rival book collectors and book sellers are also well developed.

This book The Christie Curse is definitely worth reading to set up the series, which continues with The Wolfe Widow, The Sayers Swindle, The Marsh Madness and The Hammett Hex, with hopefully more to come.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, June 2017.

Book Review: The Will to Kill by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

The Will to Kill
A Mike Hammer Novel

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Titan Books, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-7832-9142-7
Hardcover

Another uncompleted Mickey Spillane manuscript finished by Max Collins finds Mike Hammer walking along the Hudson River in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and discovering half a body, the upper torso, on an ice floe.  It turns out the half a corpse was the trusted butler of a wealthy inventor who was the captain of Pat Chambers, Mike’s homicide detective buddy, when he first joined the police force.  Pat suspects his friend’s death may have been a murder and “retains” Mike to investigate.

Mike travels to dead man’s Sullivan County estate where he meets the various members of the man’s dysfunctional family and employees.  The daughter also retains Mike, who suspects not only that the father was murdered, but that the butler was as well.  Each of the grown children, two older brothers, and their younger half siblings (the daughter and a brother) has a motive to murder the others.  Under the terms of their father’s will, the inheritances don’t kick in until age 40 and in the event of a death, that portion reverts to the corpus, fattening the eventual amount for the survivors.

The novel is slightly different from the accustomed Spillane genre: it is more akin to a traditional detective mystery, albeit with Mike Hammer wisecracks, a smattering of sex and firearms.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach.  But somehow it left this reader with a desire for something more.  In any event, it is a good read and can be recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2017.

Book Reviews: The Candidate by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart and The Cuban Connection by M.L. Malcolm

The Candidate
A Newsmakers Novel #2
Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart
Thomas Nelson, October 2016
ISBN:978-0-7180-3768-0
Hardcover

This is a finely crafted, taut modern thriller. It takes readers inside the current explosion of news and comment electronic channel, of blogging, punditry, false panic, alternative facts and similar fact and fiction. The multiple levels of conspiracy are interesting and reflect the background of the author. In a general sense, the pace is relentless and largely compelling, if a little predictable at times.

Protagonist Erica Sparks, under almost constant pressure to improve her standing, in spite of the fact she’s at the top of the ratings list, seeks interviews with presidential candidates. The assignment takes her all over the country, where she encounters bombs, murder and suicide by gun, and a cabal of nasty characters aimed at the ultimate power grab. To explain more would reveal too much.

The author has devised a cast of intriguing characters, some beset with the kind of domestic problems many readers will recognize. The story is well-grounded in modern realities for the professional working mother. Still, therein lies the principal difficulty of the narrative. Every so often, Erica Sparks succumbs to the stupid bug. For a top reporter and anchor she misses several obvious clues that would have revealed the identity of her adversaries or at least warned her of impending danger.

Even with these lapses, the book, well-described, carefully plotted, should raise the alarms in any reader who is aware of today’s society’s conflicting pressures, and the inimical forces of evil arrayed against us, regardless of constant protestations to the contrary.

The novel is intense, relentless and compelling. In spite of our awareness of the very contemporary setting and potential realities, it is, in the end, a novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 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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The Cuban Connection
M.L. Malcolm
A Good Read Publishing, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9815726-3-5
Trade Paperback

An intriguing well-written examination of the realities that have existed in the mysterious island nation of Cuba since the revolution. The novel—and it is an exceptionally carefully researched novel—is set in the early years of the 1960s. The story is narrated by an intrepid reporter named Katherine O’Connor. She’s an experienced reporter working on general assignments for the Reuters news agency out of London.

Her first intimation of major change coming to her life is when she is recalled to the New York office of the agency. She’s still not a bylined reporter. That’s the next career step up and she’s getting desperate to make the grade. Unfortunately, her fortunes at Reuters seem to be on a downward track until she wangles a freelance assignment to Cuba.

Cuba is a dangerous place for honest reporters as the Castro regime tightens censorship and moves to total control of the country. With help from clandestine intelligence resources, O’Connor goes to Cuba and headlong into a series of adventures while falling for a man who may be a Soviet spy.

Anyone who wants a good spy story and to join some devilishly clever characters on a series of nicely conceived adventures strongly rooted in the realities of the time, will enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 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: Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes and Surrounded by Witnesses by Jeff Foster

hidden-bodiesHidden Bodies
Caroline Kepnes
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-8562-2
Hardcover

Joe, narrator and protagonist of this turbulent novel is arrogant, smart, clever and well educated. He is also misogynistic, athletic, immoral, talented and a serial killer. As an adept seducer of women, he travels the nation, expounding on his distorted philosophy, scamming various people and murdering those who get in his way, often for the flimsiest of reasons. He is an extremely engaging modern character.

The story begins in a New York bookstore and ends in a California lockup. In between, Joe rambles both physically and intellectually about the human condition, about relationships and about what he should do next. And he pursues a distorted nihilistic philosophy of life that leads him into a morass of morally questionable actions that take place in often unusual and well-described locations. Yet he is a charmer and as pursued by his chronicler, author, Caroline Kepner, he is successful in persuading a great many people to buy at least some of his arguments and actions.

Of course, it is the skill and talent of the author that helps persuade us to continue to pay attention to this most reprehensible of characters and to give his oft-times hare-brained philosophizing serious consideration. A well-conceived, finely written effort that somehow seems peculiarly relevant in today’s world.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 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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surrounded-by-witnessesSurrounded By Witnesses
Jeff Foster
North Star Press, January 2007
ISBN: 978-0-87839-258-0
Trade Paperback

The novel has an interesting premise: a Muslim terrorist scout team is heading for the middle of the middle west in order to set up some kind of attack. They travel as a family and with typical short-view planning, come down from Canada into the Upper Midwest during the height of winter. This of course means blizzards, disruption of timing and attendant growing rage from the family’s controllers.

The novel centers on the family’s interaction with an intensely rural Minnesota family of taciturn Scandinavians. Swede and Heidi and their children are the epitome of type. Manifold difficulties rise to hamper the progress of the terrorist unit toward their intended target. The novel is replete with high tech maneuvering which at times gets in the way of human interaction and the pace of the novel.

I was bothered by the remote language of the narration, disconcerting shifts of points of view and a few clichéd characters. That said, the story line is interesting, but at 330 pages, this trade paper novel could have benefited from some judicious editing. At times the language including the dialogue is stilted and awkward. Those caveats aside, this is an enjoyable novel, worth a few hours of leisure.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 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 Review: Blue Moon by Wendy Corsi Staub

Blue MoonBlue Moon
Mundy’s Landing Book 2
Wendy Corsi Staub
William Morrow, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-06234975-0
Mass Market Paperback

Mundy’s Landing is famous for the murders that occurred years ago.  Three girls were found dead in three different houses and the murderer was never found.  The houses came to be known as the Murder Houses.

Even though they had second thoughts about purchasing a “Murder House”  they went ahead and bought the house.   Annabelle Bingham and her husband Trib were thrilled with all the room the house provided for the couple and their son Oliver.  The couple felt they could put the bad memories of the house behind them.

That is hard to do in Mundy’s Landing particularly at the time of Mundy’s Landing Sestercentennial Vault to be opened in 2016.  People are gathering to see the town and stare at the Murder Houses which isn’t making Annabelle Bingham very comfortable but living where she does she is bound to have tourists coming around.

But girls are disappearing again in Mundy’s Landing.  No way could the killer of years ago return but it seems there is a pattern being followed and there will be murder before the festivities are over.

I am anxiously awaiting Book 3 Bone White.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2016.

Book Reviews: The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens and License to Dill by Mary Ellen Hughes

The Guise of AnotherThe Guise of Another
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63388-076-4
Trade Paperback

Following the success of his debut novel, The Life We Bury, author Allen Eskens has produced another winner. Intelligently constructed and almost perfectly written, this dark, dangerous and fast-paced noir thriller will be an example to study for budding writers in the genre.

The story begins with an auto accident in which a man abruptly dies on a highway in Minneapolis. Award-winning detective Alexander Rupert, facing a potentially troubling appointment with a grand jury, suddenly discovers a possible way out of his dilemma. If he can solve the mystery of the deceased James Putnam, who appeared to have fallen to earth fully formed a mere three years before, he might escape serious censure.

His case takes him to New York, and entanglement with a company engaged in government contracted black ops. He returns to Minneapolis, carrying the seeds of an insidious conspiracy. The plot is up-to-date, the action is relentless and the characters are consistent in their language and actions. While the outcomes, different for different characters, may become fairly obvious, the author is clever and fresh in his resolutions. This is an excellent novel and will be welcomed by readers of black arts, conspiracy theories, and multiple merciless murder.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
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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License to DillLicense to Dill
A Pickled & Preserved Mystery #2
Mary Ellen Hughes
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-26246-7
Mass Market Paperback

Piper Lamb fled her job at a New York state tax office and opened a shop, “Piper’s Picklings,” in upstate Cloverdale. She sells pickles, spices, and canning equipment, has met Will Burchett—a tall, blond Christmas tree farmer—and life couldn’t be better.

The town is excited about the arrival of a semi-pro Italian soccer team, which will play a tournament against an all star team from Cloverdale. It turns out the coach of the Italian team was once an exchange student at the local high school, and all the high school girls had a crush on him. All the boys envied his position as a star on the soccer team.

All these years later, he’s still a flirt, and stirs up resentment among the women and their husbands. When the Italian’s body is found in a farmer’s dill field, everyone suspects a jealous man did the deed. Piper is shocked by the murder, and her shock grows when her ex-fiance, lawyer Scott Littleton, comes to town with a surprising announcement. For fans of foodie mysteries, like Laura Childs and Diane Mott Davidson. Of course, recipes are included.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2015.