Book Review: Poison Flower by Thomas Perry, Champagne for Buzzards by Phyllis Smallman, Under the Dog Star by Sandra Parshall, The Good, the Bad and the Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, and Baronne Street by Kent Westmoreland

Poison FlowerPoison Flower
Thomas Perry
Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic, March 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2605-4
Hardcover

Thomas Perry has brought back his wonderful protagonist, Jane Whitefield, in his 19th novel, and the seventh featuring the part-Seneca woman whose credo has always been that “to save innocent people from the enemies who wanted them dead, there would be times when she must fight.” When her plans to free James Shelby from jail go immediately awry, she is forced, as perhaps never before, to make her own life and safety as much a priority as that of her client.

Shelby, described as “a man in his late twenties with light hair and a reasonably handsome face,” is still recovering from a stabbing two months prior while wrongfully imprisoned.  His sister had come to Jane at her home in Deganawida, New York, to enlist her help after he had been convicted of killing his wife, of which crime he is innocent, and given a life sentence.

For the uninitiated, “over the years she had taken dozens and dozens of them away.  Shelby was only the most recent.  They had almost all come to her in the last days of wasted, ruined lives, sometimes just hours before their troubles would have changed from dangerous to fatal.  She would obliterate the person’s old identity and turn him into a runner, a fugitive she would guide to a place far away, where nobody knew him, and certainly nobody would ever think of killing him. She would give him a new identity and teach him to be that new person for the rest of his life.”

The author once again has crafted a terrifically entertaining, meticulously plotted and suspenseful novel, one I couldn’t put down until the final page.  It is, obviously, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Champagne for BuzzardsChampagne for Buzzards
Phyllis Smallman
McArthur & Company, September 2011
ISN 978-1-55278-912-4
Trade Paperback

In the fourth of Phyllis Smallman’s Sherri Travis mysteries, the protagonist, who co-owns a restaurant/bar with her lover, Clay Adams, is planning his surprise birthday party at his ranch, 300 acres of jungle in Riverwood, Florida, near that state’s west coast.  The title derives from the fact that champagne is high on her shopping list, the ‘buzzards’ part from those unexpected carrion birds who have discovered and feasted upon a body under the tarp covering the back of her pickup truck  [The truck had been her husband’s, murdered two years prior and the subject of an earlier book.]

Also living at the ranch are Sherri’s father, Tulsa (“Tully”] Jenkins, and “uncle” Ziggy [not related by blood but might as well be], both in their sixties but still as feisty as Sherri, which is saying something.  She describes herself and Clay as “cultured and refined met smart-mouthed trailer trash,” she being the latter [called by Clay his “little beach-bar Mona Lisa].”  Their differences include the fact that she is 31, and he about to turn 45.  With her best friend, dental hygienist Marley, the two women start out bringing the upcoming party to fruition, but end up trying to solve the murder of the man who had gotten the attention of the aforementioned buzzards, to their peril. [The women, that is, not the buzzards.]

What ensues is a terrific and fast-paced mystery, complete with psychotic neighbors with a secret that they would do anything to protect, and a missing employee from whom Clay had earlier bought the ranch.  I had been unfamiliar with the work of this author [who apparently divides her time between Salt Spring Island, British Columbia and Manasota Beach, Florida], but will certainly keep an eye out for future offerings.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable novel, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Under the Dog StarUnder the Dog Star
Sandra Parshall
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-878-9
Hardcover

This is the fourth entry in Sandra Parshall’s Agatha Award-winning series, which brings back Rachel Goddard, veterinarian in Mason County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where there has been a rash of mysterious disappearances of family pets from all over the area, posters of which cover the walls of Rachel’s animal hospital. At the same time, reports have been coming in of a pack of feral dogs attacking ranches and homes at night, stealing eggs and killing chickens, threatening the safety of the homeowners and the local farmers’ livestock, and causing somewhat of a panic among the citizenry.  Some of them are up in arms, literally, and want nothing more than to form hunting parties, rifles at the ready, to find and kill the animals.  Rachel has other plans:  She is setting up a sanctuary, where she can house the animals and try to get them to bond again with humans, rather than the other members of the pack.

The stakes suddenly escalate in fast and furious manner when a local man is viciously killed, and when it appears that an animal is to blame, those already planning to hunt them down become crazed.  But Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger, with whom Rachel has been living for the past month, sees the evidence as pointing to a human killer who uses a trained and vicious dog as his weapon.  The powerful novel details some very real horrors and ugliness in our society [a hint of which was provided in real life by football player Michael Vick].

The ensuing investigation and chase becomes more and more complex: The victim was not without enemies, outside of and perhaps within his own household, which includes several adopted children and not a small amount of animosity.  The author has created some beautifully drawn characters, who come vibrantly alive in the hands of a terrific storyteller.  The suspense mounts to very high levels as the tale draws to an end, much too soon.  I loved it, and it is highly recommended.  [It should perhaps be noted that the book is also available in trade paperback and as an e-book.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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The Good, The Bad and The MurderousThe Good, the Bad and the Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

In his seventh novel [six have featured p.i. Greg McKenzie], Chester Campbell has brought back for only the second time Sid Chance.  Chance is a former member of the Army Special Forces in Vietnam, and had been a National Parks ranger for nineteen years, as well as a small town police chief for ten.  He has now set up shop as a private investigator in Nashville, Tennessee, occasionally but ably assisted by his good friend, “Jaz” LeMieux.  At Jaz’ behest, and despite Sid’s skepticism, he agrees to look into the arrest of a young man accused of murder.  One of the major factors in how convinced the cops are of his guilt is the fact that he had served several years in prison after killing another young man when he was all of twelve years old in the aftermath of a drug deal.  The current murder, of which he protests his innocence, and as Sid and Jaz investigate it, appears to have connections to a Medicare fraud set-up.  As the investigation proceeds, Sid becomes more and more convinced that the boy is innocent, and that moreover his own personal integrity is at stake, and things heat up.  On a more personal level, Jaz herself has been accused of racial harassment of an employee of her company, which morphs into something much more serious as the tale unfolds, and she and Sid believe that they are both being set up.  The good, the bad and the murderous indeed.

Jaz is a fascinating character:  Now a successful businesswoman, she had served in the Air Force Security Police, and spent a few years as a professional boxer before becoming a patrolwoman with the Metro Nashville police force.  This is a well-written and strongly plotted novel, and is a welcome addition to the series.  I loved the regular poker group to which Jaz and Sid belong, which they call the Miss Demeanor and Five Felons Poker Club, among whose members are a former Criminal Court Judge and a retired reporter, as well as the tip of the hat from the author to Tim Hallinan and his Bangkok mystery novels, and to Lee Child and his Jack Reacher books.

A very enjoyable read, and one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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Baronne StreetBaronne Street
Kent Westmoreland
CreateSpace, September 2010
ISBN: 978-1-45370271-0
Trade Paperback

This first novel by Kent Westmoreland introduced Burleigh [“Burr”] Drummond, and takes the reader on a wild ride down Baronne Street, home to, in less than equal parts, sleaze, beautiful women, horny men, free-flowing liquor, old money, drugs, prostitutes and corruption of all kinds. Shocking, to find all that in N’Awleens, right?  A place where, among the tantalizing smells emanating from the wonderful restaurants, it takes “a little longer to identify the sickly sweet odor of unearned wealth.”

Now a private investigator for three years, twenty-eight-year-old Drummond is hired by a beautiful, moneyed woman to find out why her husband is suddenly behaving in a ‘peculiar’ manner, paying him very handsomely for the privilege.  The ensuing investigation turns up much more than either the client or Drummond bargained for, much of it very, very personal to the detective.

He is assisted in his endeavors, as usual, by Morgan Cross, 35 years old and ‘the coolest guy’ he’d ever known, reputed to be many things [among them mercenary, hit man, and spy], and indispensable to Drummond.  The latter has his own “special talent,” to wit, to “manipulate delicate situations discreetly and keep the consequences quiet.”  A tall order in this case, as it turns out.

This was a delightful read, with believable characters and terrific setting and dialogue, and one I highly recommend.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Burr Drummond and his New Orleans in the next book, one I certainly hope is in the pipeline.  [It should be noted that the book is available in paperback or as an e-book online or by ordering through your favorite bookstore.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

Book Reviews: Bad Weeds Never Die by Christopher Valen, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis, and Danger Sector by Jenifer LeClair

Bad Weeds Never Die
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001730
Trade Paperback

“Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives,” is a quote from my review of White Tombs, the book that introduced Detective John Santana.  The Black Minute, the second Santana book, was even more exciting than the first book.  Now author Christopher Valen has brought Detective John Santana back in Bad Weeds Never Die.  “Bad weeds never die,” is an old Colombian saying and turns out to be an excellent title for this book.

John Santana was born in Colombia.  He had avenged his Mother’s death and he was forced to flee leaving behind his younger sister Natalia.  Santana hopes someday to locate her.  He knows that his sister could be dead but his dreams and his senses tell him that she is still alive.

Santana’s current case is the death of Teresa Blackwood.  Teresa’s vehicle is found in a parking lot. The car is full of blood and some dirt and an orchid are on the floorboard of the car. Although the vehicle was empty, the police felt that someone had died in that car and that the body had been moved.  When Santana and his partner Kacie Hawkins call on Jonathan  Blackwood, Teresa’s father, they discover that Teresa has a twin sister, Maria.  Blackwood tells the detectives that although the twins are identical their personalities are very different. Teresa is head of an adoption agency.  Maria is a part time musician and mystery writer with a history of some drug problems.  The twins were adopted by the Blackwood’s when they were six months old. The twins were adopted in Colombia.

As Santana delves deeper into the case, he finds suspects at every turn.  Teresa lived with Steven Larson, a man who was cheating on her.  Blackwood’s family attorney was having an affair with the other daughter, Maria.  To make things even more tedious in the investigation Rita Gamboni, Santana’s boss, admitted that she had dated Jonathan Blackwood.

When the case becomes more complicated Santana decides that he has no choice but to travel to Colombia and investigate the agency that was working with Teresa’s adoption agency in the states.  No one wants Santana to make this trip since he has enemies in Colombia that would like to see him dead.

Santana feels that in order to solve his current case as well as face his demons and hopefully find his sister he must make the trip.  The trip does prove to be a dangerous move and readers will be shocked at the facts that Santana discovers in Colombia.

The case is finally solved but there are no end of surprises and no way to predict the final outcome.  An excellent book that will keep the reader on edge until the last page.  It is not necessary to read the first two books in the series to enjoy the current book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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The Good, The Bad and The Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, LLC, November 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

At the request of Jaz LeMieux, private investigator Sid Chance agrees to help Djuan Burden, who is accused of murder.   Djuan’s grandmother is a long time friend of Jaz’s live-in housekeeper, Marie Wallace.  Djuan has only been out of jail for about six months and now he is back in jail on a murder charge.   His grandmother is convinced that he is innocent and Jaz wants to do everything she can to help a friend of Marie’s.

Jaz is an ex-cop and wealthy business owner but enjoys being a sidekick on Sid’s investigations.  When the two visit Djuan’s grandmother, they discover that Djuan went to a small medical equipment store in Nashville’s Green Hills section. The purpose of his visit was to complain about charges on his grandmother’s Medicare account.  Djuan’s grandmother, Rachel Ransom, had not paid a lot of attention to the many notices she received from Medicare but when Djuan saw that she had been charged for items such as a power wheelchair he decided to complain.  Rachel has never owned a wheel chair and has no need of one.    When Djuan went to the equipment store to complain, he found a dead man behind the desk.  Frightened that he would be accused of murder because of his prison history, he ran.  A witness spotted Djuan leaving the scene of the crime and the police immediately charged him with murder. A crooked cop who had no qualms about planting evidence didn’t help Djuan’s case one bit.

Besides trying to assist Sid in the murder investigation Jaz was also dealing with a problem of her own. Jaz’ company has been accused of racial discrimination.  There was no basis for the accusation, but the fact that it had been made brought about a lot of bad publicity for Jaz and her company.

Before Sid can prove that Djuan did not commit murder, Jaz finds that she is in trouble with the police.  As the two work together to clear both Djuan and the false accusations against Jaz, it becomes obvious to Sid that there is a professional hit man in town and it would appear the hit man has decided that Sid will be his next victim.

This is a great addition to the Sid Chance series.  The problem of Medicare fraud needs to be addressed because so many older people like Djuan’s mother don’t take time to analyze all the information they receive from Medicare so phony charges many times are paid and go unnoticed.

Chester Campbell’s books always make good reads but the Sid Chance series is special.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Murder In the 11th House
Mitchell Scott Lewis
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-950-2
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

David Lowell is not your run of the mill detective.  David is an astrological detective and is very good at his job.  David has studied astrology and has become such an expert that he has used his knowledge of to buy and sell in the stock market and is now a wealthy man.

When Lowell is asked to use his skills to prove the innocence of Johnny Colbert, a woman accused of murdering Farrah Winston, a Judge in the Debit Claims Court in Lower Manhattan, Lowell’s first inclination is to decline.  The fact that Johnny Colbert is represented by Melinda Lowell, David Lowell’s daughter, is a convincing enough fact to make him take the case.

Johnny proves to be loud-mouthed and a rather rough person on the exterior but further investigation proves that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.  When Johnny is attacked in the jail Melinda talks her father into posting bail and letting Johnny stay in his townhouse.  Lowell is not too pleased with this arrangement but tends to do most anything his daughter asks.

Lowell is helped in the investigation by his assistant Sarah as well as Mort, a talented computer hacker.   Lowell’s bodyguard is always right around the corner when Lowell needs him.

It seems that Judge Winston had big plans for her future and, as Lowell finds out, that certain people did not want her plans to become a reality.

This first book in the Starlight Detective Agency series is a good one and shows that astrology can be used in many ways.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Danger Sector
Jenifer LeClair
Conquill Press, July 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001709
Trade Paperback

The last place you would expect to find a Minneapolis Police Detective on leave is working aboard a sailing ship but that is exactly what Brie Beaumont is doing.  The Maine Wind is a working ship owned by Captain John DeLuc.   Brie and John are very attracted to each other but Brie is still uncertain what the future holds for her and is unwilling to make a commitment to John on a personal level or to the ship as a permanent job.

Brie left the police department after her partner was killed and she felt she needed some distance from police work but when the ship makes a stop on Sentinel Island to help John’s friend repair an old lighthouse Brie is immediately caught up in a mystery surrounding the lighthouse and the small island.

Amanda Whitcombe is an artist, a prominent member of the Sentinel Island community and a good friend of Ben, the owner of the lighthouse.  Amanda has disappeared and when Brie finds her cottage unlocked she investigates and some clues lead Brie to believe that Amanda did not leave voluntarily.

Ben inherited the lighthouse when the previous owner died after an accident at the lighthouse.  The previous owner of the lighthouse was also a good friend of Amanda’s.  When John and Brie accidentally discover an old journal hidden in the lighthouse, belonging to the previous owner, the two decide there are mysterious happenings on the island that might bring danger to Ben as well as Brie, John and the crew of The Maine Wind.

Danger Sector is a good mystery.  The descriptions of the scenery around Sentinel Island and the food served by the cook on The Maine Wind makes the reader want to experience a trip by sailing ship although life aboard the ship is anything but easy.

This is the second book in The Windjammer Mystery series.  Rigged for Murder is the first in the series and both are recommended.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.

Book Review: A Sporting Murder by Chester D. Campbell

A Sporting Murder
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-9846044-0-1
Trade Paperback

In his fifth fictional appearance, Greg McKenzie, a former cop who had worked for 25 years as a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, has been hired to look into the proposed arrival in Nashville of an NBA team, and to check out the rumor that something shady was going on among the NBA franchise seekers.  As the city already has both professional football and ice hockey teams, it seems like a bit of overkill to further dilute the sports fan base to a point where none of the three could be truly viable.

Combining a terrific mystery with professional sports – what could be better?

Greg and Jill, his “bride of nearly forty years,” who together comprise McKenzie Investigations, receive a call from Arnold Wechsel, a young German who is the nephew of Greg’s old OSI colleague, asking for a meeting, telling him only that he has information about the NBA matter that will “blow the mind.”  When Greg arrives at the designated meeting place, he finds the young man’s dead body.  Greg is determined, on both a personal and professional level, to track down the killer.  In the process, they survive a couple of serious attempts on their lives.  And there is also the presence of a ubiquitous [and somewhat menacing] black Escalade to add to the mystery.  As Greg says, “the professional sports franchise business [is] getting deadly.”

This reader by now feels an affinity for this husband-and-wife team, and cannot also help but feel a knowledge of and affection for their creator and his wife, who seem to be the models for the protags.  A thoroughly satisfying holiday read [it is the week before Christmas as the book opens], and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

Book Review: A Sporting Murder by Chester D. Campbell

A Sporting Murder
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, LLC, September 2010
ISBN No. 978-0-9846044-0-1
Trade Paperback

It’s the Christmas season in Nashville but a few people aren’t feeling joy, peace, or goodwill towards men.  Greg and Jill McKenzie, husband and wife, are partners in McKenzie Investigations.  The company has been hired by a local attorney to investigate a group that seeks to bring an NBA basketball team to Nashville.  McKenzie’s client represents a group that feels the NBA promoters are not on the up and up.  The client also feels that there is just not room in Nashville to support both pro hockey and pro basketball.

The investigation is barely underway when Greg receives a phone call from Arnold Wechsel.  Arnold asks Greg to meet him because he has important information for him.  When Greg questions Arnold, he will only say it is about the National Basketball Assoication matter.  Greg goes alone to the meeting place as requested but finds Arnold’s body but is too late to help Arnold.  The first officer to arrive on the scene is not fond of Greg and suggests he might have something to do with the murder.

Greg and Jill soon realize that what they assumed would be a simple investigation is quickly turning into a situation where their own lives are put in danger.  To add to the mix a man that Greg helped send to prison is on the loose in Nashville and doing his best to make Greg’s life miserable.

Chester D. Campbell has written four previous Greg McKenzie mysteries.  There is plenty of suspense and excitement to be found in the McKenzie mysteries and A Sporting Murder is no exception.  It is also a pleasant experience to read about a couple that works so well together both in their marriage and in their business dealings.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2010.