Book Review: Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Veil of Lies  
A Crispin Guest Novel #1
Jeri Westerson
Minotaur Books, October 2008
ISBN 978-0-312-37977-3
Hardcover

Not being a fan of medieval crime fiction, I approached this story with a small amount of trepidation. By the time I reached page fifteen, I was hooked. The author invites us back in time to the late Fourteenth Century in England, specifically, London. A young Richard is on the throne and our protagonist, who backed the wrong horse in a recent scrum over ascension to the English throne, is making a new life for himself.

Crispin Guest is a defrocked knight who escaped his mistake at court by the merest margin of luck and the backing of his patron, the Duke of Lancaster. Without that support Crispin Guest would be dead. But here he is stripped of everything, struggling to make his way on the mean and cold and rainy streets of the city.

Now called the Tracker, Guest is tasked by a wealthy merchant to prove whether or not his wife is unfaithful. It’s a small task and Crispin is quick to the task. But the mystery explodes in his face when he returns to report to the merchant and discovers him dead. In a room locked from the inside with no key.

If one can find fault with this steady intriguing narrative which is full of interesting and unusual characters, it is the bad weather, the extensive descriptions and the length of the narrative. But if readers are even slightly interested in the life and times of the English people, as different from the royals and the gentry, the vivid tasty narrative will take them deep into the mean and dangerous streets of ancient London. Crispin, with help from various street people and even the Lord High Sheriff of London, solves the mystery and expands his lower class reach and influence. Recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
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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Book Review: Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis

Baby Blue
Stratos Gazis Series, Book 1
Pol Koutsakis
Translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife
Bitter Lemon Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-908524-91-1

Modern day Athens is rife with corruption. Stratos Gazis makes his living by dealing with that corruption. He doesn’t consider himself a hit-man, although plenty of other people do. He sees himself as more of a problem solver; often the problem requires removing a person from a given situation on a permanent basis. Stratos is OK with that; some people deserve their fate. Stratos does have a code: if a client lies to him, he keeps the deposit and doesn’t do the job. Many people don’t believe this. Stratos believes that when you’re the best, you can afford to make the rules for your job.

One evening a friend, Angelino, calls in a favor. Angelino has a protégé, Emma. Emma wants Stratos to find out who killed her adoptive father several years ago. Definitely a cold case. Emma is blind, and has an amazing talent for card tricks. Angelino, who normally deals in information in and around Athens, plans on making a bundle of money by promoting Emma. Concurrently, there is a group (or maybe just one person) who killed pedophiles; there is a definite signature to the killings and this resembles the way in which Emma’s father was killed. Was Themis Raptas, once a well-known and respected reporter, a pedophile?  Why is there virtually no trace of him on the Internet?  Why was his adoption of Emma expedited?  The more Stratos looks into this old case, the worse everything looks for practically anyone and everyone involved.

There is a sub-plot related to Stratos and his past. The woman he is living with, Maria,  is pregnant. Stratos is not sure he is the father; there is at least one other potential candidate, who happens to be Maria’s previous boyfriend and a man Stratos considers to be his best friend, Kostas Dragos. Drag is also a policeman, a detective. He is investigating the pedophile murders; there may be some overlap with Emma’s situation. Maria isn’t sure where her relationship with Stratos is going, considering his occupation. Life is complicated.

Koutsakis paints a very dark portrait of Athens. Corruption is the rule and there seem to be almost no exceptions to that rule. Good people are difficult to find in this city, and their lot is not generally a pleasant one. Stratos comes by his world view via American film noir; references to classic films are scattered throughout the novel. Like back alleys in some Greek neighborhoods, the plot twists and turns many, many times before the truth (if that what it actually is) is revealed. There are lots of dead bodies, most of them justifiably so. This is the second book in the Stratos Gazis crime series; if one is prone to dark reads, tracking down ATHENIAN BLUES (the first) would probably be time well spent. BABY BLUE can stand quite well on it’s own two feet.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2019.

Book Review: Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

Macbeth
Jo Nesbø
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Hogarth Shakespeare, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-553-41905-4
Hardcover

Since Shakespeare’s Macbeth was first performed in 1606 it has been reenacted in many guises and venues.  For instance, Orson Welles staged the play in 1936 with an all-black cast.  Jo Nesbø’s Macbeth is the most recent of six books in the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which the play is retold by various authors.  However, this is the first time the tale has been written as a crime story, Nesbø’s forte as a top Scandinavian writer well-known for his noir fiction, especially the Harry Hole novels.  As the author notes, the play is one of his favorites and provides an outline for the novel, a tale of love, corruption and lust for power.

Set in a decaying unnamed town, abandoned by industry, ridden by drugs and unemployment, the story has at its heart Macbeth’s grab for power using his position on the police force and his pact with the drug lord, Hecate.  Coupled with his love, Lady, whose ambition for power even exceeds his, Macbeth murders his way to the top, becoming police commissioner and grabbing to become Mayor and complete control of the town.  It is a gruesome story that only Mr. Nesbø could write, with a force so powerful only a Bard could have written it.]

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors
B. A. Paris
St. Martin’s Press, August 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-12100-4
Hardcover

Some have labeled this novel noir domestic fiction. I found it darker and more dangerous than that. The novel is also brilliant, in its structure, its characteristics, descriptions and stunning in its conclusion.

Grace falls in love with a slick, handsome well-educated lawyer. Jack is highly trained careful in his preparations and courtroom tactics and had never lost a case. He is also arrogant, cunning, manipulative and consummately evil.

The structure of the novel carries readers from present to past and back again several time. The story explores the marriage of Grace and Jack and details their relationship and its change over time, in a London suburb and in their travels to Thailand.

Grace has a younger sister, Millie, who is developmentally damaged and Jack cleverly manipulates the girl to maintain his control over his new wife. The relationship between the married couple forms the core of the story, but as the tale unwinds, it is an acquaintance named Esther who ultimately becomes the rock on whom Grace is able to secure a real future.

Well-written, intense, and elaborate, author Paris is destined for wide readership and many discussions.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 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.

Book Review: Pen 33 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom

Pen 33
An Ewart Grens Thriller #1
Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom
Translated from the Swedish by Elizabeth Clark Wessel
Quercus, December 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4013-2
Hardcover

The authors, a crime reporter and an ex-convict, concentrate their efforts on grim, noir fiction.  And Pen 33 does not stray from the mold.  Part of the Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens series, the theme of the novel is pedophilia.  It centers on Bernt Lund, who escapes from prison while serving time for the brutal rape and murder of two very young girls, and repeats the crime on the six-year-old daughter of Fredrik Steffansson while free.

What results from this act is questioned by the authors.  To begin with, the victim’s father shoots Lund. The prosecutor pleads for a life sentence for murder; the defense attorney pleads self-defense on the theory that it was not an act of revenge but prevented Lund from committing similar acts on other children (he was already staking out other girls at day care centers).  Hero or murderer?  That is a basic question asked by the authors, who go on to demonstrate other consequences when Steffansson is initially acquitted.

Unlike the United States, where double jeopardy would apply (this anomaly goes unexplained), the prosecution appeals the verdict and Steffansson is sentenced to ten years and is incarcerated in the very prison from which Lund escaped.  The events and consequences resulting from Steffansson’s shooting affect the entire country, resulting in riots, and raises basic questions regarding duty, the law, and what people are capable of. What is questionable is how the authors choose to end the book. While certainly dramatic, one could envision other solutions. Nonetheless, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

Book Review: Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky—and a Giveaway!

Down to No Good
Charlie Miner Book 2
Earl Javorsky
The Story Plant, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-61188-253-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Private investigator Charlie Miner, freshly revived from his own murder, gets a call from Homicide Detective Dave Putnam. Self-styled “psychic to the stars” Tamara Gale has given crucial information about three murders, and the brass thinks it makes the Department look bad. Dave wants Charlie to help figure out the angle, since he has first-hand experience with the inexplicable. Trouble is, Charlie, just weeks after his full-death experience, once again has severe cognitive problems and may get them both killed.

Charlie Miner is a most unusual man. He’s a private investigator, a single father to a teenaged girl, a drug addict and, oh yeah, he can’t die. That last is because of an experimental therapy that resulted in a very unexpected side effect. Not many people know this about Charlie but his friend, Dave, does and has pretty much accepted this state of affairs even if he doesn’t understand it and finds it really hard to believe. Dave has his own failings but he and Charlie are good friends.

Dave asks Charlie to help him look into a psychic, Tamara, who has raised red flags about herself with her statements about some murders. When another investigator who may have had information about Tamara is murdered, the stakes get higher and Charlie’s ability to leave his own body may be just what is needed to get to the bottom of who Tamara is and the truth behind several killings.

One of my biggest pet peeves about crime fiction comes into play when the tale is told in first person present tense and that’s the case here. It’s impossible for me to become really engaged because I’m so distracted at the idea that I’m supposed to believe the protagonist is telling me what’s happening in real time. What, is he speaking to me as he goes about his investigative business? Because of this, I can’t say I was totally enthralled but I did like Charlie and Dave and their weird story. In fact, I’d say the author’s strength really lies in his characters, likeable and not.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Purchase Links:

              

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An Excerpt from Down to No Good

Chapter 2

Wednesday, August 31

Dave Putnam had been a cop for over thirty years, but nothing had prepared him for the last thirty-six hours.

The whole fiasco had started with Charlie Miner, whom he had known and even occasionally worked with over the years, calling him and asking for a favor. Offering him a deal. Twisting his arm a bit with a preposterous story, telling him he’d prove it and that Dave could take several murders off the books. Celebrities. Big money. An investment scam.

And, against his better judgment, Dave had gone along. Two days ago, he had transported Charlie’s daughter over the border from Tijuana—the favor—and that night met Charlie at a restaurant to hear him pitch his case. Later, when he got Charlie’s text, he went to the agreed-upon location to back Charlie’s play and round up the perpetrators.

In the meantime, he’d had a few too many. It made him sloppy, and it made him late. So, instead of calling for backup and showing up fresh and ready, he played cowboy. He took his biggest gun, an unregistered Desert Eagle .50 caliber that his father had given him, out of his trunk and left the restaurant parking lot with the gun on the passenger seat, squinting out at the road and concentrating on staying in his lane.

He got lost in Santa Monica Canyon and had to backtrack to the Coast Highway and try again. This time he wound up on Amalfi Drive, heading up toward Pacific Palisades. The frustration called for a hit off the pint he kept under the seat.

When he finally got to the site, he came around the side of the house and saw a man with a silenced gun standing over two bodies. One of them was Charlie Miner’s. When he saw the silencer swing up to point at him, Dave fired. The bullet blew the man into a hole that had clearly just been dug in the yard. The noise was ridiculous, but it clarified the situation: Dave hoisted Charlie’s body over his shoulder and started back toward his car. As an afterthought, he went back and picked up one of several SentrySafe H2300 cases nestled in the dirt.

^
Now he was sitting in his apartment, watching Charlie Miner’s corpse, studying it as if for a clue, an answer, perhaps, to the mystery of why he, Dave, had behaved so badly. Leaving the scene of an officer-involved shooting. Stealing from a crime scene. Hiding a body.

The first two he could justify: he was tanked, and the case he took out of the ground just looked interesting.

But taking Charlie Miner’s body, with three bloody holes in its face, and dumping it in the back seat of his car, and then driving home and carrying it to his apartment—there was no explaining that.

Except . . .

Dave had known there was something off about Charlie. Not just off, but weird. More than weird—inexplicable. Dave had dug up morgue photos of an unidentified DOA, gunshot wounds, that had somehow disappeared. And though he had denied it, Charlie Miner was the guy in the photos.

And so the vigil. Turn the phone ringer off. Stick to beer. Wash the blood off Charlie’s face. Watch the body. Nod off now and then.

Watch the body.

It happened at noon. He was about to doze when he saw a finger twitch. Then the fingers on both hands flexed, curled into fists, and flexed again.

Excerpt from Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky. Copyright © 2017 by Earl Javorsky. Reproduced with permission from The Story Plant. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Daniel Earl Javorsky was born in Berlin and immigrated to the US. He has been, among other things, a delivery boy, musician, product rep in the chemical entertainment industry, university music teacher, software salesman, copy editor, proofreader, and author of two previous novels, Down Solo and Trust Me.

He is the black sheep of a family of high artistic achievers.

              

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Follow the tour:

10/30 Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
10/31 Guest post @ Mythical Books
11/02 Showcase @ Chill and read
11/03 Excerpt @ Suspense Magazine
11/06 Guest post @ Writers and Authors
11/06 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
11/08 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
11/09 Reviewe @ Cheryls Book Nook
11/10 Guest post @ Loris Reading Corner
11/12 Review @ Buried Under Books – GIVEAWAY
11/14 Interview @ Cozy Up With Kathy
11/15 Showcase @ 411 on Books, Authors, and Publishing News
11/17 Showcase @ Aurora Bs Book Blog
11/20 Review @ CMash Reads
11/21 Interview @ CMash Reads
11/26 Review @ The World As I See It
11/27 Blog Talk Radio w/ Fran Lewis
11/27 Review @ Just Reviews
11/29 Interview @ A Blue Million Books
12/01 Review @ Its All About the Book
12/01 Review @ The Literary Apothecary
12/05 Review @ Quiet Fury Books
12/06 Review @ Lets Talk About Books
12/12 Review @ Lauras Interests
12/30 Review @ Bound 4 Escape
01/05/18 Review @ Celticladys Reviews

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Down Solo, 1st in the
series,
leave a comment below.
The winning
name will be drawn
Wednesday evening,
November 15th,
and the book will be
sent out after
the tour ends in early January.

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Book Review: Jimmy and Fay by Michael Mayo

Jimmy and Fay
The Jimmy Quinn Mysteries #3
Michael Mayo
Open Road/Mysterious Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-5040-3607-8
Trade Paperback

Jimmy and Fay reads like one of those old gangster films from the thirties, mixing noir and glamour with a touch of the illegal thrown in to keep it interesting. Jimmy Quinn runs a speakeasy in New York City; his girlfriend Connie Nix and right-hand man Arch Malloy keep the business going. Someone has made dirty photos of the film “King Kong” but anyone can see the woman in the photos in not Fay Wray. Even so, the studio is anxious to make the story go away. They will pay $6000 to the blackmailers and Jimmy is tapped to be the go-between for ten percent.

“Jimmy the Stick” is not your usual good guy battling evil. He’s short, has a bum leg, and sometimes uses his cane as a weapon. The story focuses on the seedy world of stag films, corrupt cops and blackmail. Real life gangsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano provide background for the world of Prohibition in 1933 New York City. Plenty of colorful slang and details from the time period add to the solid mystery at the center of this story.

The author writes on film for the Washington Post and the Roanoke Times, and is the author of American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media. This is the third in the Jimmy Quinn series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2017.