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
will be drawn
Sunday evening,
May 21st. Open to
residents
of the US and Canada.

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Book Reviews: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, Some Like It Hot by K.J. Larsen, and Lifetime by Liza Marklund

The Winter PeopleThe Winter People
Jennifer McMahon
Doubleday, February 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-53849-7
Hardcover

There are many forces alive in the world, mysterious and powerful, evil and benign. In the Maya culture, prominent in Meso-America in the centuries before the Common Era (more than 2,000 years ago) it was normal to bury one’s dead at home. That way, the family could keep track and hopefully influence the passage of the dead loved one from the underworld around the circle to heaven. The Maya were heavily influenced by mysterious forces and had already developed such a Christian-like religious culture they readily absorbed Spanish Catholic religious teachings in the Sixteenth Century. It’s unfortunate there were no Maya priests in West Hall, Vermont, during the early Twentieth Century to make sense of the forces that swirled around the Devil’s Hand, the winter people, and the too-frequent disappearances and murders that occurred.

Explanations in this moody, dark “literary thriller” are hard to come by. It is not a novel of the occult. What raises its quality to a high level is the careful character illuminations, the consistency of strong writing and the internal logic of the piece.

Sara Harrison Shea dies in 1908, not long after her daughter, Gertie also dies. Now move ahead a whole century. A young woman, Ruthie, living in the same isolated farm house, wakes one morning to find her mother missing. In her search she finds parts of a diary written by Sara Shea. The diary becomes a substantial part of the narrative which shifts the reader between the early part of the last century and our modern day. The author is adept at using appropriate language and construction of the narrative to evoke the periods which adds immeasurably to the atmosphere. No matter where in the book one is, the open pages seem to send a subtle atmosphere into the reader, so we are transported at times, into the world of the woman we come to know intimately, the victim, Sara Harrison Shea.

The novel is excellent in all aspects. The moody, limited view of the untrustworthy narrators, in the last and in the present centuries, work well and while the thoughtful reader will be left with many questions, in the end, we close the book with a satisfied feeling and we will wonder.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Some Like It HotSome Like It Hot
A Cat DeLuca Mystery
K.J. Larsen
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0096-0
Hardcover

Continues the frequently outrageous efforts of a Chicago feminist private investigator. Her name is Cat DeLuca and she owns an agency called Pants on Fire Detective Agency. Her principal focus—when she has a client—is to make cheating and divorce as painful and expensive for the male member of the marriage as possible. She is aided and frequently abetted by members of her family who are cops and sometime denizens of the lower orders of Chicago thuggery.

It is an amusing set-up. The characters are neatly funny and multi-dimensional. The writing, like the plots, is slick, fast and clean. There are no deep insights here, unless unintentional, these stories are not meant to make us sit back with thoughtful mien and think, “Ah, there’s an original idea.” No, these novels are meant to amuse, entertain and divert readers and that requires careful thought, writing expertise and good plotting. You get that in shovelfuls here. The language is frank and sassy. The author pulls few punches.

The beginning of the book finds Cat observing a cheating fellow and his latest inamorata in a Chicago hangout. The beginning of the plot starts two pages later when Cat’s ex-classmate, Billy Bonham, attempting to establish his own detective business appears on scene disguised as Santa Claus. Suddenly unmasked and un-pantsed, Cat is forced to save the semi-nude Santa from pursuers with guns and the keepers of morality in the city who take a dim view of nearly naked men running down the streets of the town. From this auspicious beginning, the story ascends (or descends, depending on your point of view) into a morass of cross and double-cross and some delightful mayhem, thievery and all-around bad moves.

I received the book as a gift from the publisher with the usual lack of expectations regarding this review. I recommend Some Like It Hot, as a pleasant divertissement and note that yes, la Monroe is present here. Sort of.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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LifetimeLifetime
Liza Marklund
Emily Bestler Books/Washington Square Press, September 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-0700-0
Trade Paperback

A problematic difficult suspense thriller with deeply flawed characters swimming in a dangerously corrupt and somewhat dysfunctional society. The novel’s title refers to the sentencing structure of the Swedish criminal legal system. It is a gritty, sometimes shocking, story of betrayal, corruption, bad marriages, newspaper reporters in emotional hell, and what appears to be a vast shadowy network of thugs for hire.

Patrol officer Nina Hoffman responds to a call of shots fired. The street and block are instantly recognizeable as close to two people she knows well. One is Julia Lindholm, her ex patrol partner and long-time friend. The other person is Julia’s husband, one of the most revered police in in all of Sweden, David Lindholm. To her deep consternation, the altercation appears to have taken place in the Lindholm home. Ethically, Nina Hoffmann should stay away from the scene, but her superiors insist she lead a team of officers in to secure the site. What she finds is devastating. David Lindholm has been murdered. He was dispatched by one shot through the head. A second bullet has destroyed his genitals. His wife lies in the bathroom in shock and their four-year-old son Alexander is missing.

Meanwhile, across town, newspaper reporter Annika Bengtzon is in a taxi with her two young children, fleeing a fire that has destroyed her home and all her belongings. It was a fire deliberately set. The fire further complicates her life because her husband has just nastily walked out after admitting an affair.

The story follows the patrol officer and the reporter on conflicting and reluctant paths that ultimately intersect as Annika tries to prove that Julia is innocent of murder and Nina continually tries to distance herself from the entire affair. Both women are frequently driven to the edge of despair by the case and complicating personal issues. Nowhere in the novel can any stalwart male supporters be found, which is interesting and refreshing. But at times the emotional turmoil seems overwhelming.

This was not a fast, slick read. The author has taken on a large number of perceived shortcomings in Swedish society which left this reader shaking his head in wonderment. She also examines in sometimes painful and rich detail the struggles of two talented women. The most fascinating thread of the novel is the painstaking efforts of the reporter Bengtzon to find evidence supporting her belief that the accused is not guilty of murdering David Lindholm. Following the tangled well-twisted threads of the novel are not helped by a really rough translation. At times the dialogue is so stodgy and stiff as to bring a smile and at others a groan of frustration.

In spite of its shortcomings in the English language version, this novel is strongly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

Book Review: The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan

The Other WomanThe Other Woman
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Forge, September 2012
ISBN 978-0-7653-3257-8
Hardcover

When you have a political campaign in full ‘go’ mode, there is always a scandal waiting to bring down someone. Usually, it’s infidelity. Maybe it’s murder. With Ryan’s latest political thriller, you get both…or maybe not. Confusing? The Other Woman kept me guessing and wondering what connections were waiting on the next page.

Jane Ryland is a new reporter for the Boston Register, trying to distance herself from a controversial time as a television reporter. She’s assigned to interview Moira Lassiter, whose husband, Owen, is running for the Senate. She suspects an affair when Moira won’t agree to meet. She’s also seeking information about an enigmatic woman in a red coat who makes regular appearances on the campaign trail.

Jake Brogan, homicide investigator, is two bodies deep into a murder case the press is attributing to the ‘Bridge Killer’. When a third victim is discovered to be directly related to Ryland’s past, she and Brogan agree to-somewhat-work together to find the answers.

Other parties are interested in Owen Lassiter, ones with devastating connections to Owen…and to each other. Individuals who are so determined, they won’t let anything stand in their way…

Solid tight writing and a plethora of characters keep the story on a high level of tension throughout. Slick and stylish. Ryan steps above the ordinary political thriller because she doesn’t let you know what’s going to happen until she’s good and ready. Just when you think you know the answer…think again.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Review: A Nose for Hanky Panky by Sharon Love Cook

A Nose for Hanky Panky
Sharon Love Cook
Mainly Murder Press, LLC, 2010
ISBN 978-0-9825899-8-4
Trade Paperback

Rose McNichols is a reporter for a small town New England newspaper, the Granite Cove Gazette.  A lot of her job is routine, sometimes even tedious.  Covering the murder of Vivian Klinger is not routine or tedious.  It is big news in Granite Cove.  Vivian Klinger knew many of the town’s secrets; she was the local therapist.  She came from money and a good family.  She was very pretty.  So who killed her and left her in her office wearing only her slip?  As Cook says, “The only missing ingredient was a Kennedy.”

There were plenty of people in town with motive.  Some people didn’t want the development going in.  Was she having an affair with the attorney next door?  Did his wife think so?  Was it the local drunk, who used to be the high school football star?  Or somebody else altogether?

Rose has an ally in Cal Devine, a drop-dead gorgeous local police officer who may or may not be putting the moves on Rose.  Problem?  Cal is very married.  Her editor, on the other hand, is not an ally.  She really doesn’t want to cover anything controversial, like the Mayor and his deals with his buddies.  Or this murder.  She keeps giving Rose other stories to cover, stories that are not in any way likely to upset anyone.  Rose does a lot of digging on her own.

Cook has done a lot of work on this book and it shows.  Her characters are people we might know.  The setting is lovely, although “Granite Cove” sounds a bit too much like “Cabot Cove” for my personal taste.  The mystery and solution work, so she passes the plotting test.  This is not a “can’t put it down” absolutely wonderful mystery.  They can’t all be.  If you are looking for a pleasant read, “Hanky Panky” will probably suit you just fine.

According to the website www.mainlymurderpress.com, if you buy on-line directly from them, they are cheaper than Amazon is.  It’s a small press; support them if you can.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, June 2011.