Book Review: Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road
Christopher J. Yates
Picador, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-2501-5028-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  1982:  In an Edenic hamlet some ninety miles north of New York City, among craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three teenage friends – – Patrick, Matthew, and Hannah – – are bound together by a terrible crime.  2008:   In New York City, living lives their younger selves never could have predicted, the three meet again – – with even more devastating results.  What really happened in those woods twenty-six years ago?

The answer to that question is not made clear to the reader until very near the end of this novel, in what Patrick calls “the final part of a letter I’ll never send,” followed by the words “August 18, 1982.  The clearing. The truth.”

This is a novel that displays varying emotions, including love, anger, and jealousy, and abusive relationships, in a very affecting manner.    Part I begins from the p.o.v. of Patrick, whose nicknames includes Patch, the name he is most frequently called in these pages.  He is twelve years old as the tale begins, which it does in a forest area, where his friend, Matthew, whose nickname for Patrick is “Tricky,” who on the opening pages is shooting Patrick’s Red Ryder BB gun into a tied-up Hannah, their friend, 49 times, the forty-ninth and final time into and through her eye, leaving her of course blind in that eye but, almost miraculously, alive, her left eye socket looking “like it was housing a dark smashed plum.”  Years later, he thinks back and muses “How did that make me feel, having watched a girl tied to a tree and shot forty-nine times?  Flesh, blood, death.”  Further thinking that “at the time, Matthew just felt like an older brother to me – – even more so than my actual older brother.  I feared him and loved him in equal measure.”

The next chapter takes place in New York, in the year 2008.  Patrick is  38 years old and suddenly jobless.  He is now married to Hannah, who tends to have nightmares from which Patrick calms and soothes her.  They have been married for four years, and Hannah is a crime reporter.  Patrick is a food blogger and a gourmet chef.  The story has twists and turns, with varying chapters told from the p.o.v. of each of our protagonists, whose relationships are complex, to say the least.  This is a tale and characters the reader won’t soon forget, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2018.

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Book Reviews: Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum and Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

Infamy
A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller #28
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-4767-9321-4
Mass Market Paperback

This novel is not up to the usual standards of the author.  Usually, the first half of the book recounts a situation which sets the stage for the other half, which, ordinarily, few do better than Mr. Tanenbaum: a dramatic courtroom scene.  So it is with Infamy.  Unfortunately, however otherwise well-written the novel is, the courtroom scene is flat and perfunctory.

The novel opens with an intelligence raid by a secret U.S. Army unit in Syria which was supposed to capture at least one suspect.  Instead, they find the suspect had shot and murdered other important enemy subjects and obtained important documents which point to a conspiracy to evade sanctions on ISIS and Iraqi oil.  Butch Karp, the New York DA and protagonist of the series, enters the plot when a U.S. Army Colonel is shot and killed in Central Park, and slowly a conspiracy begins to unfold.

There are all sorts of subplots and side issues which add little to the tale, except to make it more complicated than it really is.  This reader was clearly disappointed, especially when the author decided to vent his own political views, sometimes crudely or bluntly chastising those holding conservative views.  It’s too bad, because basically Infamy began with a solid idea, but lost its way along the way from front cover to back cover.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

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Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet
A Jesse Stone Novel #16
Reed Farrel Coleman
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7144-4
Hardcover

This is the fourth Jesse Stone novel Reed Farrel Coleman has written in the series begun by the late Robert B. Parker.  And he has kept the faith.  Moreover, he has done something the master never did.  He brings in Spenser to play a minor role in solving the mystery which begins with the death of an old woman, a member of the founding family of Paradise, and the ransacking of her home.

Jesse, still reeling from the death of his beloved Diana in his presence, is slowly drinking himself into oblivion.  But that doesn’t stop him from performing his duty as Police Chief, despite the hindrance of the Mayor and her hatchet woman.  The plot basically revolves around the recovery of a supposedly long lost tape made by a now has-been rock star in time for his 70th birthday party.

Coleman performs up to the standards of the late master, while offering a clever plot of his own, written in a slightly different style (few can duplicate the pithy sentences of a Parker novel).  He gives us a deeper insight into Jesse’s personality and presumably shows the force of his iron will.  Well at least let’s hope so.  Presumably we’ll find out in the next volume in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

Book Review: Louisiana Catch by Sewta Srivastava Vikram

Louisiana Catch
Sweta Srivastava Vikram
Modern History Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-61599-342-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:

A grieving daughter and abuse survivor must summon the courage to run a feminist conference, trust a man she meets over the Internet, and escape a catfishing stalker to find her power.

Ahana, a wealthy thirty-three-year-old New Delhi woman, flees the pain of her mother’s death, and her dark past, by accepting a huge project in New Orleans, where she’ll coordinate an annual conference to raise awareness of violence against women. Her half-Indian, half-Irish colleague and public relations guru, Rohan Brady, who helps Ahana develop her online presence, offends her prim sensibilities with his raunchy humor. She is convinced that he’s a womanizer.

Meanwhile, she seeks relief from her pain in an online support group, where she makes a good friend: the mercurial Jay Dubois, who is also grieving the loss of his mother. Louisiana Catch is an emotionally immersive novel about identity, shame, and who we project ourselves to be in the world. It’s a book about Ahana’s unreliable instincts and her ongoing battle to determine whom to place her trust in as she, Rohan, and Jay shed layers of their identities.

 

This book is a thoughtful contribution to the examination of a couple of societal issues, one as old as time, domestic violence, and one quite recent, online deception. Savage men have used the women in their lives as punching bags throughout history. These women have been coerced to remain in a vicious and often fatal environment by economic and societal factors, leading lives of abject misery and raising children who believe brutality at home is the way everyone lives, thereby perpetuating the cycle of fear and hurt into the next generations.

Internet friendship, on the other hand, is something our grandmothers never had to cope with. Social interactions were generally limited to individuals known by family and friends so misrepresentation by anyone was unlikely. As countless people have learned the hard way during the past 20 years, it is possible, if not downright simple, to create a credible fictional persona on the Internet that stands up to superficial investigation. Ahana’s naivete about both of the men she meets on the Internet is not new.

This book offers a view into daily Indian life and customs that helps foreigners like me understand the country and its people a bit more. The book’s action is spread across New Delhi and New York and New Orleans, three lively but quite different cities. All of the characters, from the protagonist to the bit players, of which there are many, felt authentic and none of them seemed to blend into each other. The ending is predictable but I enjoyed watching Ahana find her sense of self and a new direction for her life.

Prospective readers need to know that sexual abuse is described in a matter-of-fact but graphic manner. Some sections may be difficult to read.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, March 2018.

 

About the Author:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning author of eleven books, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, mindfulness writing coach, wellness columnist, global speaker, and certified yoga and Ayurveda holistic health counselor. Sweta’s work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Louisiana Catch (Modern History Press) is her debut US novel. Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, and mindful living to female trauma survivors, writers and artists, busy women, entrepreneurs, and business professionals in her avatar as the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife (www.nimmilife.com). She also uses her holistic wellness training to combine creative writing strategies with Ayurveda and yoga to help poets and writers improve their writing. She lives in Queens, New York, with her husband, Anudit.

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.

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.