Book Reviews: That Left Turn at Albuquerque by Scott Phillips and Where Privacy Dies by Priscilla Paton @soho_press @priscilla_paton @CoffeetownPress

That Left Turn at Albuquerque
Scott Phillips
Soho Crime, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-64129-109-5
Hardcover

The author has assembled here an engaging and substantial cast of characters. That he is able to keep track of their criminal activities and their attitudes toward their fellow humans, as well as their active lives is quite impressive.

Most of the characters engage in illegal and scurrilous acts without apparent concern for the morality or humanity of their lives. Or for the impact their actions have on others, often innocent others. That most of their criminality is directed at other criminals may be seen by many readers as a mitigating factor. A significant number of the characters are imbued with some level of humor and see their fellow humans as actually funny at times.

Central to the story is down and out attorney, Douglas Rigby. His small, now solo practice is falling to pieces and he engages in several illegal enterprises in his attempts to stave off bankruptcy and total ruin.

Readers will be treated to bare-knuckle humor, tongue in cheek satire, up-tempo action, murder, mayhem, and a good deal of action. A somewhat peculiar, jaundiced look at society, propels the book from start to finish.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Where Privacy Dies
A Twin Cities Mystery #1
Priscilla Paton
Coffeetown Press, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-665-6
Trade Paperback

From the striking cover to the final resolution of murky death and the corruption by power and money of numerous characters, this rich and at times difficult novel will attract, enthrall and sometimes irk readers. Central to the story is the gradual growth of understanding and appreciation of two detectives in a Twin Cities law enforcement force titled G-Met. It’s an intriguing amalgam of special cops whose franchise covers multiple jurisdictions in the metropolitan region of East Central Minnesota. It’s an authorial creation with much interesting and intriguing potential.

Lead detective is tall lanky Erik Jansson, divorced father of a young son. He is not a typical cop one frequently finds in this genre. He’s paired with a new hire from a small city in southern Minnesota, Deb Metzger, a six-foot plus lesbian, who could competently handle the physical requirements of a corporate bodyguard. The two are not instantly simpatico and thereby inhabit a running source of minor conflict and mutual support which adds a fine level of benign conflict to the novel.

Although the title of the novel is a quickly understood clue to an important dimension of the mystery, this story turns on the deviousness and sometimes nasty inclinations of human beings who have enjoyed a high degree of success without the leavening factor of ethics and moral suasion. The narrative is tight, solid and delves neatly into ego, intrusion of technology, moral failure and the entanglement of those who would ignore their childhood schooling. A multiplicity of characters, crisp dialogue and an absence of unnecessary description adds to the richness of the novel. The novel competently reveals a fresh voice and a thoughtful look into the modern world of computer crime and our almost universal entanglement therein. I recommend this fine novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford and Murderabilia by Carl Vondereau @joeclifford23 @DownAndOutBooks @CarlVonderau @midnightinkbook

The One That Got Away
Joe Clifford
Down & Out Books, December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-948235-42-6
Trade Paperback

An upstate small town where almost everyone has at least one scurrilous or dangerous secret, is the fall setting for this story. Alex Salerno is the flawed, inept and persistent hero of this long and winding tale.

A decade ago she was one of several girls in the town, located in upstate New York, who was abducted and held for unnamed assaultive practices in a dark space. Waiting there, she knew the other girls had been killed. And then, a small miracle, she is rescued by the local detective who becomes her lover. Her abductor now resides in prison.

The experience, naturally, has permanently damaged Alex’s psyche and her life in New York State, at least as she relates it, is fraught, unrooted and filled with booze, drugs and impermanence. For uncertain reasons she has now returned to her home town to meet a reporter who may or may not be preparing a story for the local paper on the history of that time when so many young women and girls had been abducted and murdered.

She knew her abductor was in jail and the reporter was focusing on the later disappearance of another teenager named Kira Shanks. The rambling torturous plot is further obscured by the belief in some corners of this conflicted community that the man now held in a nearby mental institution was not responsible for Kira Shanks disappearance.

As the plot slowly unwinds and layer after layer of a depressing community are revealed, against her better judgement and with menace ever closer, Alex Salerno persists in sticking her nose in unwanted sometimes dangerous places. She is physically and mentally abused and even her tenuous family ties in the town are stressed. The narrative blends the viewpoints of several characters and at times readers may be confused as to who is speaking. Ultimately some of the mysteries and secrets of this town are resolved but one is left wondering about the future life of Alex Salerno.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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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Murderabilia
Carl Vonderau
Midnight Ink Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-007387-6130-5
Trade Paperback

A dark, intense story of murder and family destruction, this novel, after a slow start, will engage readers in a way that will leave them in thoughtful contemplation of family relationships.

Will McNary has a successful career as a private banker who works with individual clients on their financial investments and other monetary activities. He’s married with two young children and living in San Diego. His life is generally calm and ordinary, although he’s feeling a little heat in the form of competition from other officers of the bank. His sister Polly and their aging mother share an unsettling secret.

When Will was a child of only eight, his father was sent to prison for murdering and butchering several women. He compounded his heinous crime by posing and photographing the women, pictures that were circulated and sold on the underground market. McNary’s father was convicted and when the novel opens, has been in prison for more than thirty years. Now, a copy-cat killer linked to Will’s father has emerged, one who appears to be targeting Will and his family.

The story follows Will along a sordid twisting trail as he attempts to protect his loved ones, help law enforcement find the vicious copy-cat, and plumb the emotional depths of the knowledge that he is the son of an incredibly twisted killer.

The novel is well-written and once moving along its trail, enthralling. I hesitate to call it a page turner, however, for those readers attracted to the truly dark side of humanity in several of its manifestations, this carefully crafted story is insistently engaging.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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: 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.

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.