Book Reviews: Carl Brookins: The Case of the Purloined Painting and The Case of the Yellow Diamond

The Case of the Purloined PaintingThe Case of the Purloined Painting
A Sean Sean Mystery #1
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-8783-9708-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  When an American Army unit arrived at the end of World War II, some soldiers appropriated items in what appeared to be an abandoned building.  A small painting by a mid-level Polish painter is used by an ex-GI to float a bank loan which results in the founding of a manufacturing firm in Minneapolis.  Now the painting and the ledger become the center of murderous attempts by the descendants of the veteran to conceal the painting’s journey.  World-wide efforts at repatriation of stolen art from World War II is a major ongoing effort and the story links to that effort as international operatives descend on the Twin Cities.  Enter private detective Sean Sean.  He is a short but effective operative who, unlike many PIs of the modern era, doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t shoot people unnecessarily, and has many friends among various local law enforcement agencies.

The title of this novel puts one in mind of the great Erle Stanley Gardner, most if not all of his Perry Masons novels bearing titles which begin “The Case of . . .” But this book borrows nothing from great writers of the past; it is entirely Mr. Brookins’ own.  And that is a good, no, a terrific, thing.  Not entirely surprising, since I’d read many of this author’s reviews, and his writing is simply great.

The publisher’s notes quoted above reference the protagonist’s short stature.  He is, in fact, just over five feet tall, to the six foot tall Catherine Mckerney, massage therapist with her own school, variously described as his lover, his apartment-mate, friend and sometime partner.  Sean has been an active private investigator for a couple of decades.  He describes himself as a “tracer of lost persons, collector of evidence of malfeasance, revealer of fraudsters and thieves. . . not only am I very good at my job,I’m also persistent.”  Three days after the discovery of a body in the Mississippi River, on which body was found a “faint series of numbers tattooed on one forearm,” indicating that the man had been in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII, Sean finds himself with two different new clients, each of whom relates a tale that his instincts soon tell him are related.  The first of these is a woman who tells him she witnessed the scene on the bridge which culminated in the body of a man being thrown to his death.  The second is a man who hires him to find a woman he’s been dating who seems to have disappeared.  This latter client soon neither returns calls nor shows up at Sean’s office.

The tale is one that touches upon art work and other stolen property taken during or just after the war in Europe, whose descendants are still searching for them, a search that is ongoing.

Mr. Brookins makes the reader very palpably feel the brutal weather of February in Minneapolis.  I loved the author paying homage to both Raymond Chandler, a wonderful mystery writer of days of yore, and the very current [and also wonderful] author named Michael Connelly, and acknowledges a beloved mystery novel discussion group named after Dorothy L. Sayers, appropriately named DorothyL.  I also loved his note, after an evening at a blues bar:  “Blues music is a label not given to precise definitions.  It bears some similarities to crime or mystery fiction in that regard.”  A sentiment with which I must agree.

Highly recommended.

Next up for this reader is Mr. BrookinsThe Case of the Yellow Diamond – I can’t wait!!

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2016.

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The Case of the Yellow DiamondThe Case of the Yellow Diamond
A Sean Sean Mystery #2
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-8783-9816-4
Trade Paperback

The title of this novel, as was the case with Mr. Brookins‘ last book, The Case of the Purloined Painting, puts one in mind of the great Erle Stanley Gardner, most if not all of his Perry Masons novels bearing titles which begin “The Case of . . .”   And this book, as was the last one, is also absolutely delightful, with the author’s trademark sly sense of humor much in evidence throughout.

This book deals, as did the last one, with events which took place in the waning days of WWII.  In this book, those events began in the Pacific Theater, and involve “thefts, smuggling, and the acquisition of wealth and influence through illegal means.”  The tale opens with the protagonist, Sean Sean, entering his office and finding a dead body lying on the floor.  He immediately calls his good friend, Minneapolis Police Detective Ricardo Simon. What follows is a flashback to Sean being hired a few weeks before by Josie and Tod Bartelme to assist in their efforts to locate the wreckage of a B-24 bomber that had taken Josie’s granduncle to his death near Yap Island, “a speck of coral in the Pacific Ocean.”  In the ensuing investigation, the dead man had been the principal suspect.

Members of both families and even Josie’s college buddies had offered their assistance, and financed their efforts as well.  Josie and Tod were planning to embark on a trip to the Pacific to continue their search for the wreckage, and hire Sean to assist in their efforts, notwithstanding that it had taken place nearly 70 years ago.

The protagonist, just over five feet tall, lives with the self-proclaimed love of his life, the six foot tall Catherine Mckerney, a successful massage therapist with her own school, with whom he shares her apartment in  Kenwood, Minnesota as well as his home and ranch in Roseville.  Sean has been an active private investigator for a couple of decades, the sign on his door reading “Sean Sean, Private Investigator, Ltd.”  He describes himself as a “tracer of lost persons, collector of evidence of malfeasance, revealer of fraudsters and thieves. . . not only am I very good at my job, I’m also persistent.”  Sean says of himself “Family dynamics were always convoluted and frequently hard to sort out, which was one reason I didn’t do divorces.  Give me a nice clean street robbery or random serial killer any time.”  In this instance, that is an understatement

The cast of characters is large, mostly consisting of family and friends of Sean’s clients [including one particularly oversexed and buxom female], some of whom try to dissuade him from continuing his investigation, even going so far as to bad-mouth him in the industry, putting them at the top of Sean’s list of suspects, which grows exponentially with incidents of murder, attempted murder, and vandalism taking place.

In his last book, the author paid homage to fellow mystery writer Michael Connelly; this time around the references are to Carl Hiaasen, Bill Crider, James Lee Burke, and Wilkie Collins. I love it!

As was the earlier book, this one as well is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2016.

Book Review: The Case of the Yellow Diamond by Carl Brookins—and a Giveaway!

The Case of the Yellow DiamondThe Case of the Yellow Diamond
A Sean Sean Mystery #5
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-87839-816-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A dead man on the floor of his office in Minneapolis won’t lead P.I. Sean Sean to journey to Yap Island to protect his new client. Bombs in lawyers’ cars only jostle him. This short investigator knows the value of research and asking questions in the right places. World War II, Asian diamonds and concrete in Des Moines combine to almost destroy a Minnesota family. In the end, Sean detects flaws in the plans and brings down a criminal enterprise.

Sean Sean has a way…with words, with the ladies and with investigations. He’s a man’s man even though he’s shorter than most and his height never slows him down. He’s the quintessential hardboiled private eye except this isn’t the 40’s and, at his core, he’s much too nice to be one of those guys. He’s the inimitable Sean Sean.

As he puts it, Sean’s latest case really began “many years earlier and a long way away”, having its roots in an obscure event on an even more obscure island in the Pacific, Yap Island. When Tod Bartelme hires Sean to find out who’s sabotaging his and his wife Josie’s next trip to search for her long-lost granduncle, shot down near Yap Island in 1944, he has no inkling that he’ll soon be looking into old allegations of smuggling and current-day suspicions of construction irregularities that point back to Josie’s own family. The big question, of course, is what all these tangents have to do with each other but, if anybody can ferret out the answers, it’s Sean, hopefully before he gets added to the growing pile of dead bodies.

Sean is an old-style P.I., one who eschews technological aids as much as he can and relies on his wit and natural nosiness as well as his snarky sort of charm. Catherine, Sean’s lovely, rich—and tall—girlfriend shows us the other side of this gent’s life and their relationship is as heartwarming as it comes, especially considering their differences. Loaded with humor and plenty of twists and turns, Sean Sean is my kind of hardboiled private eye, one I’ll look forward to seeing again and again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

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You have two chances to enter the
drawing for a signed paperback copy
of The Case of the Yellow Diamond
by Carl Brookins. Leave a comment
below and then again on Tuesday,
January 19th, after Carl’s guest post.
The winning name will be drawn on
the evening of Thursday, January 21st.
Open to residents of the US.

Book Review: Silver’s Bones by Midge Bubany

Silver's BonesSilver’s Bones     
Cal Sheehan #2     
Midge Bubany
North Star Press of St. Cloud, March 2015
ISBN: 978-0-87839-787-7
Trade Paperback

This is a fine, well-put-together story. It is second in what may become a long-running series of detective novels. Chief among the many excellent characters is young county investigator, Cal Sheehan. He’s still finding his way as a member of the county sheriff enforcement unit. His fellow investigator is a cranky and older experienced cop who has just lost the election for sheriff to a woman, Patrice Clinton.

That’s only part of the complex social net the author weaves around the investigator in this sequel to her first novel, The Equalizer. Sheehan is now married to a cop, a widow who comes with two young boys. The book opens with Cal Sheehan just back on duty after his honeymoon when he gets a call from an ex-girlfriend. A skeleton has been unearthed on her property.

The story quickly devolves into a turbulent bog of detection and vandalism, domestic abuse, internal competition and other developing relationships. Cal has to somehow tread a narrow path between rising jealousy on the part of his new wife and proving his abilities as an ace investigator.  Throw in some dysfunctional family members, a fifteen-year-old disappearance and you realize it takes a careful hand to sort it all out in logical and realistic fashion. That Bubany is able to accomplish these tasks with efficiency, dispatch and all while entertaining and keeping readers attached is a tribute. She’s a good writer and we quickly attach to some of the characters.

As readers of this review will already realize, I liked this novel a lot although I’m not happy with the title. It has a few editing problems, but nothing that is deeply disturbing. I was presented with a copy of the novel by the author in exchange for nothing. I should also call attention to the fact that the publisher of Silver’s Bones is also my publisher. Make of that what you will.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2015.
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 Reviews: Carbon by Daniel Boyd, The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and The Equalizer by Midge Brubany

CarbonCarbon
Daniel Boyd
Illustrated by Edi Guedes
Caliber Comics, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-9857493-3-0
Trade Paperback

There is a shared admiration for super-heroes. Respect, fondness, amazement, perhaps a twinge of jealousy; all are valid emotions upon consideration of caped crusaders. On the other side of the coin, genuine heroes tend to slip under the radar. Self-effacing members of society lead their lives without creating adverse effects for their community. These people seem to always be the first to react in a situation by lending a hand, even when putting themselves into precarious places. Why? It is not a cognizant decision; rather a natural inclination to do the right thing.

Carbon, like all good graphic novels, is packed with heroes and villains (and yes; a few hot, scantily clad females). Initially, coal-miners painted with a heroic brush may seem peculiar. On second thought though, living in coal counties means bearing witness to endless sepia tones created by coal dust coating every surface and embedding in each crevice. Social gatherings revolve around funerals for those ripped away far too soon and support for the families suddenly without a cherished loved one; robbed of the much needed income. Dismal, yes; but abominable because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Mr. Boyd would be the first to say that he writes to entertain and that Carbon is no exception. To that end, it is a masterpiece of action and adventure. This graphic novel provides unique perspectives on all things; beginning at the true beginning: creation. Compelling, genuine characters are relatable and unattainable. This cast includes a bad-ass baseball player; the gruff, grizzled, yet essentially kind mine workers, my personal favorite: the River Rat (aka as White Water River Guide), and The Man (He Who Gets Rich From The Fruit of Their Labors). His greed endangers the lives of his producers, yet he has no qualms. There aren’t many career opportunities in these areas. The Human Resources pool is large, rendering individuals expendable. For all of his brilliance in cutting corners to grotesquely increase his wealth, he makes an integral mistake.

He underestimates the miners. The Man, focused only on monetary values, is willfully oblivious to the reasons these men work under such dire conditions. Love, family, friendship and community create a strong, unbreakable bond, thus turning apparently ordinary folks into true, awe-inspiring heroes.

So much happens in this volume that I’ve carried it around with me for months now. There are some (who shall remain nameless) that only refer to me as “Comic-Con Girl”. I’m good with that. I want to be seen with this publication. I hope to generate curiosity, and I aspire to pique curiosity for what will be a fascinating trilogy. My fellow readers, if you seek something absolutely unlike anything you’ve read, this is it.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2014.

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The Iron TrialThe Iron Trial
Magisterium #1
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Scholastic Press, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-52225-0
Hardcover

I am sure this series will be compared to Harry Potter and yes, there are similarities to that series as well as moments that made me remember the beginning of The Hunger Games and Divergent. But The Iron Trial really has its own story and Callum Hunt does not turn out to be the next Harry Potter.

The Iron Trial refers to the entrance exam into the Magisterium, a five-year school of magic: Iron, Copper, Bronze, Silver and Gold. First year students are in their Iron year. Callum does not want to attend the Magisterium and tries to fail. Still, he is selected and forced to go over the objections of his only living parent, his father.

Where The Iron Trial really excels, I think, is in its wonderful descriptions of the imaginative surroundings at the Magisterium. It’s exciting to picture the place and watch the characters discover its many delights. The Iron Trial drags a little, I think, when boring tedious tasks are assigned to be mastered by our group and it takes so long that this reader felt the tedium right along with the characters.

I hope that as the series develops, so will the main characters. There is little Callum knows about himself, about who he is and so we are kept in the dark as well, for most of the book. I knew it is the first book in a five-book series and I liked the twists and turnabouts sprinkled throughout the plot. I particularly enjoyed the ending. It’s satisfying as a novel on its own as well as an inviting set up for the series. If you’re unsure whether or not you want to keep reading, I strongly suggest that you do. People and things are not as they appear.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, September 2014.

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The EqualizerThe Equalizer
Midge Bubany
North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-87839-737-2
Trade Paperback

Young County Deputy Sheriff Cal Sheehan is reveling in his recent ascension to the title of deputy investigator. Now he needs a serious crime to work on. Alas, his day does not begin well. While responding to the call to investigate the discovery of a body at a local park, he is rear-ended at a stoplight in town. The impact puts his small vehicle directly in the path of a heavier auto which proceeds to T-bone Cal, putting his transportation in wrecking candidacy. The acquisition of a new vehicle, plays a useful element in the novel.

This is Ms. Brubany’s debut novel and if it is successful, as this reviewer hopes it will be, this cast of small-town characters and mystery readers will be in for some fraught and enjoyable times.

Central to the story is Cal Sheehan, young, horny, attractive, bright and alert to nuances of mannerism during suspect and witness interviews. His efforts to find the truth and the necessary evidence to solve this interesting multiple-murder are worth watching. The writing is first rate and characters and settings are well developed. If a sojourn to Las Vegas seems a bit beyond the pale, well, those scenes are nicely handled and the conclusion of the tale is logical and satisfying.

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

Book Review: The Black Minute by Christopher Valen

The Black Minute
Christopher Valen
North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 2009
ISBN No. 13-978-0-87839-332-9
Trade Paperback

Detective John Santana of the St. Paul Police Department escaped from Colombia and the fear is still in his mind that one day assassins will find him.  His sleep is often disturbed by dreams and nightmares.  He sometimes has the feeling that the nightmares become more vivid as he gets close to solving a case.

When a beautiful young Hmong woman is found dead it seems that this will be a simple case to solve.  As Santana proceeds with his investigation he finds that the case is anything but simple.  The girl’s name is Mai Yang and she is identified as a prostitute. Santana learns that she is the daughter of General Yang, a prominent Hmong political figure.

Mai Yang’s death is not the only one Santana is investigating.  Soon Santana has several bodies to deal with and must decide if the deaths are the result of one murderer or a matter of revenge.

Grace Chandler discovered the body of Mai Yang.  When Santana interviews Grace, he discovers that she is the daughter of another prominent political figure, David Chandler.  Santana is attracted to Grace and the feeling is mutual.   The relationship is on rocky ground before it begins because Santana is forced to investigate Grace’s family as well as incidents in her past.

John Santana was introduced in Christopher Valen’s first book White Tombs.  This second book is just as exciting as the first and one that keeps the reader guessing right up to the final page. Either book can be read as a stand-alone but I hope Valen brings us more stories involving Detective Santana.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, November 2009.